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Marshall Lord (Whitehaven, UK)
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His Unusual Governess (Mills & Boon Historical)
His Unusual Governess (Mills & Boon Historical)
by Anne Herries
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing regency romance on a very familiar theme, 20 Aug 2014
"His unusual governess" by Anne Herries is a reasonably amusing and entertaining tale, and yet another Regency take on one of the oldest chestnuts in the Romance canon.

E.g. a "she stoops to conquer" type story in which a lady or a wealthy woman decides to pose as a nanny or governess and insinuates herself into a household where a new nanny or governess is needed for one or more orphaned children or teenagers, and then a romance with their father or guardian follows as night follows day ...

In this book the heroine is Sarah Hardcastle, wealthy middle-class heiress to number of mines and mills following the death of her father. High society in the regency era looked down on those who were in "trade" e.g. earned a living from actually working or owning any business other than land, but there were always enough aristocrats who through fecklessness or the need to maintain a crumbling estate were very short of money, that a woman who came with a large fortune would have plenty of noble suitors for her hand. At the start of the book, Sarah is becoming exceptionally tired of such offers from aristocratic fortune-hunters and gentlemen who as she puts it, think they can manage her fortune better than she can.

Then, while returning to her home in the North of England from a visit to check on her copper mines in Cornwall, Sarah agrees to give a lift in her carriage to a governess, Hester Goodrum, who is moving to a new position at a country estate, Cavendish Park, near to Sarah's route home.

Learning that the Miss Goodrum, unlike herself, is desperate to marry but has taken the position at Cavendish Park so that she and her fiance can buy an inn together, Sarah sees an opportunity to disappear for a while from her unwanted suitors' attentions: she gives Hester the money to buy the inn, and takes her place at Cavendish park.

Taking up the post of governess to the teenage grandchildren of the elderly Marquis of Merrivale, who himself lives in London, appears at first to go very smoothly - but Sarah has reckoned without the appearance of the handsome Lord Rupert Myers, who describes himself as a "tulip of fashion" and a "notorious rake." Lord Rupert is the Marquis's nephew and has been asked by him to keep an eye on his grandchidren's progress.

Sarah realises that she has jumped out of the frying pan into the fire - Lord Rupert is far more attractive to her than the unwelcome suitors she had been trying to evade, but in a sense that makes him all the more dangerous ...

This story is amusing and entertaining but quite exceptionally implausible. Several of the characters are very charmingly drawn, particularly Sarah and Rupert, and I did enjoy reading it.

To be honest this book could have done with a better editor: I was initially thrown by a confusing typo in the prologue when the Marquis of Merrivale's refers to his grandchildren as his niece and nephew, and in the next chapter there are sentences on consecutive pages where the real Miss Goodrum is referred to as being in her "late twenties" and "not a young woman." Which does reflect the attitudes of the time but that could have been better explained.

If you like this book you might also enjoy "A Very Unusual Governess (Mills & Boon Historical)" by Sylvia Andrew, "My Lady Governess (Zebra Regency Romance)" by Wilma Counts, "The Defiant Governess (Lessons in Love, Book 1)" by Andrea Pickens, "Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess (Mills & Boon Historical)" by Christine Merrill, or "Daring Deception (Legacy of Love)" by Brenda Hiatt, all of which are alternative Regency takes on very similar themes to "His Unusual Governess."

This is not Jane Austen or even Georgette Heyer, and probably not one to read if you enjoy detailed and historically accurate descriptions of the glittering London society of what T.H. White called "The Age of Scandal." But it is an amusing way to while away an hour or so as a little piece of light reading.


Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria: 1
Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria: 1
by Ki Longfellow
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Feminist novel about the philospher and astronomer Hypatia of Alexandria, 18 Aug 2014
Hypatia of Alexandria was a brilliant philosopher and mathematician who lived in Alexandria in the late 3rd and early fourth centuries. She was educated at Athens and became head of the Platonist school in Alexandria in 400AD: according to the only known contemporary account, that of the contemporary Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus, she was murdered by a Christian mob in 415AD.

"Flow down like silver" by Ki Longfellow is an imaginative novel which explores the life of this remarkable woman and the conflicts which led to her tragic and terrible death. It is the second book in a loose trilogy "about the divine female" which begins with "The Secret Magdalene" and will be concluded in "The Woman who knew the All."

Longfellow's book explores these conflicts from a number of perspectives including those of Hypatia herself, her father Theon who was also a great philosopher and astronomer, her younger sister Jone, her adversary the Patriarch Cyril, and an Egyptian called minkah who in this interpretation is Hypatia's lover (some historical accounts say that she was celibate and died a virgin.)

You could argue all day about what really happened on that tragic day sixteen hundred years ago next year, but there is no doubt that Hypatia was a remarkable woman and this book is well designed to get the reader thinking about her.

Socrates Schoasticus, who strongly disapproved of Hypatia's murder and argued that "nothing can be further from the spirit of Christianity" than such actions, described Hypatia as follows in his Ecclesiastical History:

"There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more."

Hypatia's teachings were based on those of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, who taught that there is an ultimate reality which is beyond the reach of thought or language. The object of life was to aim at this ultimate reality which could never be precisely described.

Hypatia taught these philosophical ideas with a greater scientific emphasis than earlier followers of Neoplatonism. She is described by all commentators as a charismatic teacher and came to symbolise learning and science.

Some early Christians identified learning, and by implication Hypatia, with paganism. However, among the pupils who she taught in Alexandria there were many prominent Christians. One of the most famous is Synesius of Cyrene who later became Bishop of Ptolemais towards the end of her lifetime. Some of the letters that Synesius wrote to Hypatia have survived and demonstrate that the Bishop admired and revered Hypatia's learning and scientific abilities. Among other things they ask her advice on the construction of an astrolabe and a hydroscope.

In 412 Cyril (later St Cyril) became patriarch of Alexandria. Cyril and the Roman prefect of Alexandria, Orestes, became bitter political rivals and a battle became church and state developed. Hypatia was a friend of Orestes and this, together with prejudice against her philosophical views, led to her becoming the focal point of riots between Christians and non-Christians. It has been suggested by some historians that Hypatia

" ... by her eloquence and authority ... attained such influence that Christianity considered itself threatened ... " (Heath,T L Heath, A History of Greek Mathematics )

There are a number of conflicting accounts of the life and death of Hypatia, but her murder appears to have either been at the hands of a fanatical sect of Nitrian monks, a Christian order loyal to Patriarch Cyril, or according to Socrates Scholasticus by an Alexandrian mob under the leadership of a church leader called Peter the Reader.

Whatever the precise motivation for the murder, the departure soon afterward of many scholars marked the beginning of the decline of Alexandria as a major centre of ancient learning, and this novel presents the life of Hypatia as a battle to preserve the light of civilisation and learning against the rise of darkness - with which the novel associates the early christian church as it operated in Alexandria at the time.

Hypatia assisted her father Theon of Alexandria in writing his eleven part commentary on Ptolemy's Almagest. It is also thought that she either assisted him in producing a new version of Euclid's Elements which has become the basis for all later editions of Euclid, or that she did most of the work but he got much of the credit. In addition to the joint work with her father, we are informed by Suidas that Hypatia wrote commentaries on Diophantus's Arithmetica, on Apollonius's Conics and on Ptolemy's astronomical works.

Sadly all Hypatia's work is lost except for its titles and some references to it.

Hypatia's later life and tragic death were the subject of the recent film "Agora [DVD] [2009]" in which she was played by Rachael Weisz.

You can argue until the cows come home about the accuracy of certain parts of this book, but it is certainly much closer to the truth about Hypatia than the film, which anachronistically protrayed her as an atheist rather than a teacher in the mode of Plato and Plotinus.

This is a book to read if you want to stretch your mind a bit and learn something of the legacy of a great woman.


The House of Janus
The House of Janus
by Donald James
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding thriller of a man with no memory seeking to recover his past ..., 18 Aug 2014
This review is from: The House of Janus (Paperback)
"The House of Janus" by Donald James is an exciting and entertaining novel which begins in a military hospital in the days immediately after World War II, as one of the last casualties of the war is gradually coming round from a coma.

The central character of the story, who is apparently an American army officer, was blown up and seriusly injured by a mine on the last day of the war, and had at first been assumed to be dead by the medics who found him. His dog-tags had been separated from his body when it was realised that he was alive, and a brilliant job by army medics stitched him together - though possibly with some slight changes to his appearance.

But when he comes out of the coma he has complete amnesia in respect of his personal history. He has no memory at all of his name, his identity or his family - he cannot even be absolutely certain that he is an American who speaks good German and French, rather than a German who speaks good English and French.

As his physical health returns only the vaguest glimmerings of memory come with it, and at first he cannot be clearly identified with any of the American personnel who went missing on or around the last day of the war. He adopts the name of Daniel Lingfield after the place in Germany where he was found in May 1945.

As the man who has adopted the name of Daniel Lingfield searches for his past a stolry of family power struggles gradually emerges - a story which balances ambition and greed against courage and heroism, betrayal against loyalty, incest and lust against fidelity and love. The family to which he appears to belong uses as an all-too appropriate symbol the head of Janus, the Roman God with two faces.

Some of the members of his family - on both sides of the Atlantic - were staunch anti-Nazis and died for it - or did they? Others committed terrible crimes - or did they? Most disturbing of all, was Daniel himself one of the heroes or one of the villains? Is the fact that his memory refuses to return a sign of a guilty conscience - or is the evidence out there which will clear his name? Any who is still trying to betray him?

The author himself suffered from amnesia as a result injuries sustained from German bombing raid during the Blitz and some of the ideas in this book were inspired by that experience.

A real page turner with twist after twist which kept me reading to the very end of the book.

I gather that there is a sequel, The House of Eros.

Not all books so categorised really deserve the title of "Thriller" but this one does: I enjoyed "The House of Janus" and can recommend it.


To the Resurrection Station
To the Resurrection Station
by Eleanor Arnason
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Very imaginative standalone SF novel, 7 Aug 2014
"To the Resurrection Station" by Eleanor Arnason is an exceptionally clever and imaginative science fiction novel which begins hundreds of years in the future on a colony world, but in which the main characters return to an Old Earth devastated by war and climate change, and Earth turns out to be very different from what they had expected.

(The above is not a spoiler as it is given away on both front and back covers of the book.)

The story is brimming with ideas, often surprising ones, in a manner which reminded me of some of the works of Barrington Bayley such as "The Zen Gun or The Fall of Chronopolis, or Lloyd Biggle Junior's books like "The World Menders" or "The Light That Never Was."

The story begins on the planet known to it's earth-human population as New Hope after the colony ship which brought their ancestors to the world a couple of centuries before. Earth human colonists and the humanoid natives coexist uneasily, with more than a dash of racism on both sides, from which the heroine, Belinda Smith, is not at first immune.

At the start of the book Belinda is withdrawn by her guardian from the college where she is studying by her guardian, and appraised of her real identity and parentage, which comes as a considerable shock. An even larger shock is that he expects her to obey a native law which requires her to marry a native, Claud, in spite of the fact that both of them are in love with someone else.

Belinda and Claud find an unlikely ally in an elderly robot called number 39 who at first seems to be exactly like a cross between C3PO from Star Wars and Marvin the paranoid android from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

But after an increasingly unlikely series of events, Belinda, Claud and the robot find themselves on a trip of many light years to Old Earth in search of a remarkable facility known as a resurrection station ...

The characters in the story are all beautifully drawn, flawed, but delightfully human - and that includes those characters who are not human.

The plot is a bit loose and rambling and some readers will think "OK but what happens now" on reaching the conclusion, but real life can be a bit like that and it didn't spoil the book for me. Many of the scenes in the novel are delightfully written.

I'm surprised this wasn't more of a best-seller but it may be that in the 1980's it ruffled too many feathers - Eleanor Arnason has been described as an outspoken author. For example, scenes in this book involving a religion in which Darwin and Mendel are worshipped as Gods and which enjoins ruthless eugenic policies may have achieved the rare feat of simultaneously offending both some religious believers and some readers who are the kind of atheist who thinks science is an alternative to or has disproved religion.

Nevertheless I think this is an extremely entertaining book which I had difficulty putting down, and after reading it I decided to look out for some of the author's other novels.


Heartsease (Puffin Books)
Heartsease (Puffin Books)
by Peter Dickinson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Sequel to "The Weathermonger", 5 Aug 2014
"Heartsease" by Peter Dickinson is the second in the "Changes" trilogy which were published in the following order:

1) "The Weathermonger (The Changes Trilogy, Book 1)"
2) This book, "Heartsease"
3) "The Devil's Children (Changes Trilogy)."

The series has also been published as one volume. (Link: The Changes: A Trilogy).

The stories can be read in the order they were published, but I understand that the order in which they books came out does not correspond to the sequence of events, and a reader who wanted to follow the events in chronological order should probably read the first book published, "The Weathermonger," last.

The story is set in West Country England in a time which when the trilogy was published (the late 1960s) was the near future. A note by the author describes the geographical setting as being between Gloucester and Bristol, with the slight change that he put a smaller village of about 700 people in the place which in the real world is occupied by the village of Painswick. And in the story Gloucester and Bristol are dead, abandoned cities: people had moved out because in the absence of technology cities that size cannot exist.

The first novel, "The Weathermonger" describes the society which resulted after almost everyone on mainland Britain suddenly turned against all kinds of machines - not just nuclear reactors but tractors, buses, central heating, electric stoves or razors. Anyone who tries to use a machine is called a witch, and killed, usually by burning, stoning, or drowning.

"Heartsease" is set five years after the change. At the start of the book two of the children from the first story, Jonathon and Margaret, who are now fourteen, rescue a "witch" who had been stoned and left for dead.

When he has sufficiently recovered from his injuries to speak, the "witch" tells them that he is called Otto and is an American agent come to find out what has happened in Britain.

And so begins an adventure as the children try to get Otto safely home ...

This is a reasonably well-crafted, entertaining story which is aimed at children but can be read by adults. The three stories in the trilogy can be read together but each is sufficiently self-contained that they do not have to be.


Tea with the Black Dragon
Tea with the Black Dragon
by R. A. MacAvoy
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual fantasy novel which mixes ancient and modern genres, 3 Aug 2014
"Tea with the Black Dragon" by R.A. Macavoy" is an unusual blend of historical fantasy and modern - well eighties, my copy which is the Bantam edition, the first edition published in Britain, gives the copyright date as 1983.

It is the first of two books: there is a sequel, "Twisting the Rope."

Martha Macnamara, a Zen practitioner and Irish fiddler, comes from New York to San Franciso, to see her daughter Liz. She checks into the hotel which Liz had reserved for her. In the hotel bar while waiting for Liz to return her call to say she has arrived, Martha meets and takes tea with Mayland Long. He is a sophisticated and distinguished-looking man of oriental origins who among other things has a great appreciation of music and has heard and greatly enjoyed some of Martha's violin recordings.

But then Liz is nowhere to be found and Mayland Long offers to help Martha search for her missing daughter. It is to be a most unusal search ...

This is very much a "marmite" novel in that most of those who have tried it either think it is one of the best novels they have ever read or had trouble getting into it.

In my opinion it is beautifuly written, interesting and good fun. If you like to try something different you shold read this.


The Lost Flying Boat (Panther Books)
The Lost Flying Boat (Panther Books)
by Alan Sillitoe
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Novel of high adventure in a flying boat on a mysterious mission over the Indian Ocean in the late 1940's., 3 Aug 2014
"The Lost Flying Boat" by Alam Sillitoe is an exciting novel about a mysterious mission in a flying boat shortly after World War II. The story is narrated in the first person by the flying boat's new radio operator, Adcock who has just joined Captain Bennett's crew of eight on the big flying boat "Aldebaran."

The rest of Captain Bennet's flight crew served with him in the RAF during the war. Adcock, who is also ex RAF, and is looking to make another new start after his brief postwar marriage failed, fits the missing slot as wireless operator.

"Aldebaran" is on a private contract which will begin with a flight of more than 2,000 miles from South Africa to the Kerguelen Islands, where the crew will do some survey work, and collect a cargo which Bennett says will be secret until they get there, and then fly a further 2320 miles to Freemantle to deliver it. The crew are promised a year's pay for two month's work.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, of course, it turns out that it is.

The author has a distinctive style of storytelling, which does jump about a bit, but it didn't spoil the tale for me. Not everyone will like this novel, but if you can cope with the somewhat discontinuous style and you enjoy tales of high adventure you will probably like this.


Last Orders: The War That Came Early
Last Orders: The War That Came Early
Price: 8.07

4.0 out of 5 stars Sixth in an alternative history series: what if WW2 had started in 1938?, 1 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the sixth book in a series which speculates about what might have happened if World War II had started in 1938 after a different outcome to the Munich peace. Like the previous books in the series this is very much a "marmite" book which some people will like and others hate.

The books in the series to date and planned are:

1) "Hitler's War"

2) "West and East (War That Came Early)"

3) "The Big Switch: The War That Came Early"

4) "Coup D'Etat (War That Came Early (Del Rey Paperback))"

5) "Two Fronts (the War That Came Early, Book Five)"

6) This book, "Last Orders: The War That Came Early."

This book reads like the conclusion to this particular group of novels in that it reaches a possible finishing point for most, though not quite all, of the plotlines affecting the viewpoint characters. It also gives a pretty clear idea of how the world of this group of novels would be left at the end of a series of wars between 1938 and 1944 which were similar in many ways to the historical World War II but quite different in others.

After apparently completing a series of books, Harry Turtledove has frequently come back and written a further book or series about what happened next. I assume from the fact that there is a gigantic loose end at the close of this book, and a surprise twist in the last few pages, that he is leaving open the option of a "what happened next" story here too.

"The War that came early" is yet another alternative version of World War II from Harry Turtledove. It is quite astonishing that he can still find new perspectives from which to write about that war, but he does.

Nothing in this review is a spoiler for "Last Orders" but it is difficult to describe this sixth and apparently final book in the series without major spoilers for the third, fourth and fifth books in the middle. I shall try to avoid completely giving away the major plotlines for "The Big Switch" and "Coup D'Etat" here but if you have not read the third and fourth books, might wish to do so and you don't want to know what happens in them, I recommend that you don't read further here or any other reviews or descriptions of the fourth and subsequent books. There is also a minor spoiler for the fifth book a few paragraphs down.

In the opening of the first book Turtledove made two changes in real history, and the first two volumes in the series work from there. First, in 1936 General Jose Sanjuro wasn't killed in a plane crash and consequently Sanjuro rather than Franco becomes leader of the Nationalist side in the Spanish civil war. Secondly, during the Munich negotiations, Henlein (leader of the Sudeten Germans) was assassinated, giving Hitler an excuse to press for even more punitive terms against Czechoslovakia.

In this history Chamberlain and Daladier finally recognised that Hitler was determined on war, and suspected that he had actually ordered Henlein's murder himself. They found the spine to tell Hitler that if he invaded Czechoslovakia Britain and France would honour their obligations to the Czechs. Hitler did order the invasion of Czechoslovakia on the spot, and the war started a year earlier than in real history.

There was (and is) a commonly held view, at the time of Munich and subsequently, that the democracies were not ready for war in 1938 while Germany was. Many years ago my late father summarised this view in seven words when I asked him why Chamberlain failed to stand up to Hitler at Munich: he answered "We would have lost the war then." My dad was ten at the time of Munich and his view reflected that of his elders, but he was faithfully repeating a very common view among my grandfather's generation.

This series is entertainment rather than a serious academic study, but the first two books tried to address the question of whether that view is right, by projecting through what might have happened, taking account of the fact that the lineup of countries on each side would not have been identical, of the state of preparedness of various nations, and of the military and naval kit which would have been available to the combatants in a war which began in 1938.

Both Britain and Germany would have been forced to make more use of armoured vehicles armed only with machine guns (Bren carriers and the Panzer I), or very light tanks such as the Panzer II: biplane fighters and bombers would have been used much more by all sides.

In real history, German war plans in 1938 for war against France were based on a slightly updated version of the Schlieffen plan which had been tried and failed in 1914. However, at the start of the war a copy of those plans fell into British hands. Knowing this, the Germans changed their strategy to the "Manstein Plan" for a punch through the Ardennes, a strategy which succeeded brilliantly and knocked France out of the war in 1940. In "Hitler's war" the Schlieffen plan is tried again with pretty much the results which most military historians think would have resulted if the Germans had been daft enough to stick with it.

By the start of the third book the Germans had clearly failed to secure the rapid victory against France which they actually achieved in 1940, and are slowly and painfully being driven back, though their armies are well inside French territory: in the East the Germans and Poles are gradually driving the Russians back.

At this point Turtledove posits a further "What if" change in events from the real World War II - what if there were a change around in the pattern of alliances? Hence the title of the third book.

Now if asked whether such an event would have been remotely likely I'd say definately not. Particularly in the timeline proposed in this series, because some of the same people who showed more spine in the first book "Hitler's War" than they did in reality, and were actually more willing to stand up to the evils of Nazism in 1938, diverge from historical events in precisely the opposite direction in the third book. Furthermore, some of the events in real history which reinforced Western hatred of Soviet communism and nearly did lead to British and Soviet troops fighting one another - such as Stalin's invasion of Finland - were in this timeline forestalled by the earlier start to the war against Germany.

Having said that, there was an element within Britain and France, small minority though they were, who hated communism more than nazism and argued for a course of action similar to the way in which the third book diverges from real history. Which makes it a legitimate "what if" to ask provided you don't pretend it is a likely one.

Turtledove went out of his way to recognise that there would also have been many people in Britain and France who strongly opposed any rapprochement with Hitler, and indeed, by the start of the fifth book, the pattern of alliances had switched back to something similar to that in real history.

Two final major differences between this series and real history is that in the latter Pearl Harbour came at a moment when Hitler thought he was winning the war and was overconfident enough to declare war on the United States. I'm not going to give the details, let's just say that in this history the timing is rather different. And finally, the Manhattan project was suspended in a previous book, so the reader who has read up to the start of this one knows that however the war ends, it's not going to be terminated by a US nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or anywhere else.

If there are any exact dates given in the fifth or sixth book I didn't spot them, but "Two Fronts" included a US mid-term election which has to be that of 1942, and in this book there are references to the series of wars which Hitler began in 1938 having dragged on for nearly six years, so the year must be 1944.

Different aspects of the harm done by various regimes in this history, particularly Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Imperial Japan, are sometimes even worse, sometimes slightly less so than in real history. In particular, although Hitler's regime in the books is absolutely abominable to Jewish people throughout the area if controls, the Nazis do not appear to have made any attempt to implement complete genocide in the way that the "Final Solution" was attempted in real history.

This is presumably because, in one of the greatest ironies of the series, Poland has remained allied to Hitler in all six books since he came to their aid against a Soviet attack. About half the Jews who were murdered in the real Holocaust were citizens of Poland. In this story the Nazis are not in a position to take millions of citizens of one of their few important allies to death camps and kill them, so the idea of wiping out the entire Jewish population of Europe is not just mad and evil but so obviously impossible that even Hitler and Himmler do not attempt it.

In most respects other than this, however, the war is developing in a way which is as brutal and destructive as the real one if not even more so: The Germans cause havoc everywhere they go, the RAF knocks hell out of German cities, and the Japanese army, who in real history were outclassed in barbarism and murder only by the Holocaust, manage to do even more damage than they did in real history including a campaign of bacteriologial warfare.

As usual for a Harry Turtledove book, the war is seen through the eyes of a large number of fictional viewpoint characters, one or more from each of the countries involved. These include an American woman caught in Prague by the outbreak of war who finally got home in the third book, a Jewish family in Munster, a German panzer wireless operator, infantryman, stuka pilot, and U-Boat skipper, French, British and Japanese infantrymen, a Czech corporal who found himself fighting in the Spanish civil war when the free Czech forces in France were allowed to escape there when France changed sides, two Russian Air Force pilots one of whom is now leading troops on the ground, and an American Marine.

The brother of the Jewish girl viewpoint character is hiding from the Nazis by having enlisted in the Wehrmacht under a false name. Turtledove kept us guessing for a while about this, but it was clear by book five that he is the driver of the Panzer in which a Wehrmacht viewpoint character is radio operator. In most of the books including this one major historical figures like Hitler, Hess, Churchill Roosevelt and Donitz appear very occasionally as they impact on the lives of the viewpoint characters or vice versa. But for most of the books the story is told from the viewpoint of ordinary people and their main interaction with major historical figures is when they experience the results of what those people have done, or when they hear them on the radio.

Turtledove's homework on the tactical capabilities of equipment available to the armed forces of all sides between 1938 and 1944 is mostly pretty good. Having previously depicted the problems the germans had in dealing with soviet tank designs, such as the T34 and KV1, which reflected the problems those machines actually caused the Germans during the first year of Operation Barbarossa, Turtledove depicts in the fifth book how Germany hit back with machines like the later Panzer IV variants and the Tiger. In this one the Allied and Russian characters are working out how to deal with the Tiger and not enjoying it any more than they did in real life, thought they have a few nasty surprises of their own for the Germans.

Wanting to see what will happen to the viewpoint characters is one of the things which holds my interest in this series: killing the occasional viewpoint character is one of the ways Turtledove brings home the cost of war, especially how an action which is the work of seconds and then forgotten for one person can be a complete change or the end of everything for another. There was a particularly poignant example in the fourth book when Turtledove described in a couple of sentences how one viewpoint character, noting someone doing an effective job for the other side, quickly and effectively gunned him down as one might swat an insect. At the start of the next paragraph Turtledove introduced a character by his full name who had previously been described only by his ranks and surname. The individual concerned had been the comrade and boss of a previous viewpoint character throughout the four books up to this point, but that viewpoint character turns out to have been the man who the soldier on the other side shot and killed in the previous paragraph.

There is a similar instances in both "Two Fronts" and "Last Orders."

This is the fifth alternative version of World War II which Turtledove has written. He has previously done a series with aliens from Tau Ceti invading in 1942 (the "Worldwar" series which starts with Worldwar: In the Balance (New English library)). He's also done a parallel history following pretty much the real track, in a world where technology uses magic rather than engineering (known variously as the Darkness, Derlavi, or 'World at War' series) which starts with Into the Darkness. There is an alternative World War II in his massive ten volume history of a Confederate States of America which survives for nearly a century following a Rebel victory in the US Civil War, and in which the same roles as in the historical WWII are carried out by different people - this is the "Settling Accounts" quartet. Finally there is a pair of novels, "Days of Infamy" and "End of the Beginning" which explore the possibility that Japan might have followed up the Pearl Harbour attack with an invasion of Hawaii.

Turtledove has a few annoying weaknesses, particularly his bad habit of repeating the same information time after time, and there is some of that in this series, such as instances of him repeatedly introducing characters and reminding the reader who they are with details about their past history which anyone with an attention span longer than a gnat's will already remember. To be fair, there was not nearly as much of that in "Last Orders" as in some of the preceding books. Overall the writing and characterisation in this series is good.

Overall I have enjoyed enjoyed reading all six books in this series and I think many Turtledove fans will likewise enjoy them, though there will undoubtedly be some who do not.


Starswarm
Starswarm
Price: 3.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Science Fiction novel by the co-author of "The Mote in God's Eye", 27 July 2014
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This review is from: Starswarm (Kindle Edition)
"Starswarm" by Jerry Pournelle is an intelligent and highly entertaining novel about growing up and about contact with an alien species.

Jerry Pournelle has written some excellent military Science Fiction on his own, and some ground-breaking books about first contact with aliens and about how human society might develop after space travel. He often writes in collaboration with other writers, particularly Larry Niven with whom he co-wrote one of the best "first contact" novels ever written, The Mote in God's Eye.

"Starswarm" is nearly as good as "The Mote in God's Eye" and that is saying something.

The story begins with a young boy called Kip, who is growing up under the care of his Uncle Mike at a research institute called Starswarm station on a dangerous colony world which has the ironic name of Paradise. The good thing about Paradise is that it's ecology is close enough to Earth's that humans can breathe the air and that Terran and Paradise fauna and flora can eat each other. The bad news is that there are a lot of dangerous animals on Paradise which are keen to try it.

Many children have an imaginary friend when they are growing up, but Kip has a voice in his head which is real. She's called Gwen, and she can answer almost any question he asks her, and occasionally even affect the real world. For example, when an accident ruins the teddy bear which had been given to Kip by his mother, who has since died, and was therefore one of the few things Kip has by which to remember his mother, Gwen arranges for a replacement teddy bear to mysteriously arrive with the next supply shipment.

But a mysterious voice in his head is not the only strange thing which Kip has to cope with when growing up. Something peculiar has happened to the people who own the company which controls the human presence on Paradise - and then it becomes apparent that there is a real danger of a conflict between the humans on the planet and indigenous life forms which are far more complex, intelligent and dangerous than had originally been thought possible ...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can strongly recommend it.


In the Forests of the Night
In the Forests of the Night
by Vanessa de Sade
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Collection of Illustrated erotic novellas, 26 July 2014
"In the forests of the night" by Vanessa Sade is a collection of seven illustrated erotic novellas. These are stories in a modern setting but which are written like erotic fairy tales, and most of them have one or more twists which the reader will not be expecting.

Some of the stories are heterosexual, some have gay or lesbian elements, some have both or contain transgender elements.

The author's choice of pen-name is rather misleading - the good news for those who do not like spanking stories, or bad news for those who do, is that despite the author calling herself De Sade these stories are about as vanilla as any work of erotica gets these days. on that front.

The stories are far more sophisticated and well written than a great deal of what passes for erotic writing in the 21st century. Because of the sense of strangeness which pervades some of the novellas in this book, however, it is fair to say that they will probably suit some tastes but not all.

Should not be given to anyone under 18.


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