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Great Teacher Andrew

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Fire and Sword (Throne of the Caesars, Book 3)
Fire and Sword (Throne of the Caesars, Book 3)
by Harry Sidebottom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling conclusion to a great series, 6 Jun. 2016
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Once again, Harry Sidebottom has produced a superbly-researched novel in an exciting setting. Floowing on immediately from the events of book 2, this volume sees the culmination of all the intriguing and backstabbing that's marked the series so far. It's very reminiscent of Game of Thrones, only with the advantage (to me, at any rate) that it's all based on real history. Almost all the characters are real people, and they think and act appropriately. I'm rather fussy about my historical fiction and will discard a book if the research isn't there, or the characters are a bit too 21st century, but with Harry Sidebottom's books, the risk is never there. The varied settings and cast give us a good look at a range of people and places across the 3rd-century Roman Empire, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys political skulduggery, battles and a detailed look at the world of Ancient Rome. One caveat - it's Book 3 in a series, so pick them up first before tackling this one!


Milligan and the Reluctant Shogun: Volume 2 (Milligan Adventures)
Milligan and the Reluctant Shogun: Volume 2 (Milligan Adventures)
by Simon Alexander Collier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much like its predecesor, 23 Feb. 2016
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Much like its predecesor, this book's a fun, breezy read that takes the reader on a tour of the main points of Japan's encounter with the West in the mid-nineteenth century. Starting in 1864 with the misadventures of Milligan and some travelling companions in Kamakura (a true incident) we get an insight into draconian Japanese justice, the machinations of the Japanese government, and an good depiction of one of the more interesting characters of the period, Keiki (though the period did contain more than its fair share of interesting people!) The Shinsengumi swordsmen get a look-in, and I was pleased to see them getting a historically-accurate depiction as murderers and bloodthirsty savages, rather than overly-handsome defenders of the Shogun as is often seen in Japanese popular culture. This part of Japan's history was violent and full of turmoil, both social and political, and this comes through well. Despite the politics of the era being rather complicated, with clans and individuals flip-flopping from one side to another, the reader is steered neatly through these and will come away with a good overview of the history. Milligan's more personal adventures are as amusing as the previous volume's, and he's got a likeable cast of characters, and one very villainous foe who I hope we see more of. I trust a sequel is in order - with the book ending in 1867, there's still the actual fighting of the Boshin War to go, and I just know Milligan's going to somehow wind up in the Ezo Republic...


Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part One
Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part One
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I recommend starting with the first one, 19 Feb. 2016
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As usual with the Tom Swan series, we get a high-quality novella set in the 15th century. In this one, he's untangling a mystery concerning the Pope's banker. Needless to say, all is not as it seems and life quickly gets complicated for Tom...
If you've read the previous installments, you know what to expect. If not, I recommend starting with the first one. Tom Swan's a great series, full of life and detail. Christian Cameron does more than any other writer I've read to make the Medieval period feel authentic, from belief systems to warfare to buying new clothes. Add great characterisation and you've got a wonderful series.


The Madagaskar Plan
The Madagaskar Plan
by Guy Saville
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking read, 2 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: The Madagaskar Plan (Hardcover)
Well, it was worth the wait. Four years after The Afrika Reich, we get a sequel - and what a sequel! While TAR was a fine book, The Madagaskar Plan is its superior in almost every way. The characters are deeper, more faceted, particularly the antagonist, Hochburg; we see so much through his eyes that he almost becomes likeable. The other characters are also interesting, with a lot of conflict and distrust even between allies making for a tense read.
The action scenes are great; very cinematic and visual, with lots of destruction. It's easy to see this being made into a film. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I won't spoil the details, but suffice to say that the action is fast and furious.
Special mention must go to the integration of plot and setting, too. Far too often in alternate history books we get a cool concept married with a limp, predictable plot and cardboard characters. Not here. The Nazis' African domain is well-realised and fascinating, with some things only hinted at (what happened to the black population? Book 3 has the answers, apparently). I liked the scenes in the German holiday resort in Roschershafen/Dar Es Salaam, based on the actual Nazi beach resort at Prora in the Baltic. Details like this really add to the book, giving us a fully-fleshed out world for the action to occur. Most of the book is set in Madagaskar, which is based on the Jewish ghettos of WWII, but transplanted to the tropics. It's not a good change for the Jews. The details of life in Madagaskar, again, are based on life in the ghettos, including the uprisings, Jewish collaboration with the authorities, and the difficulties of daily existence. The result is a convincing backdrop for the action.
Overall, I can't really think of any serious flaws with the Madgaskar Plan. It's a superb read in the best thriller tradition, drawing on a whole host of classics for inspiration - The Man in the High Castle, The Wild Geese, Where Eagles Dare...if you enjoy any of these, you'll almost certainly love the Maagaskar Plan. I know I did. Roll on Book 3!


Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Seven
Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Seven
Price: £0.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Usual superb dose of historical fiction, 2 Aug. 2015
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Another excellent instalment in the Tom Swan series, as usual. The culmination of the siege of Belgrade is suitably epic, with a long fight scene to top it all off. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Swan takes a childish enjoyment in bombarding the Turkish camp. The characterisation is similarly of high standard; Tom Swan is not enjoying his war, and it shows. However, there's some tantalising hints at a sequel, perhaps with a more peaceful role? Whether it's back to war or not for our long-suffering hero, I'll be getting the next in the eries to find out. Highly recommended!


Sino-Japanese Armageddon
Sino-Japanese Armageddon

1.0 out of 5 stars Shockingly badly translated, 15 Sept. 2014
It seems like this has been run through Google Translate - it's almost comically unreadable. A sample sentence reads "Japan's Imperial Army China halt a Tun soldier commander officer joss-stick month the pure department lieutenant general immediately orderany two troopses of divisions and attackstone the soup boon of south Bo Jun". The rest of the Kindle sample is the same, and there's no reason to think the whole book is any better. Avoid.


Orders from Berlin
Orders from Berlin
Price: £4.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very mixed bag, 7 May 2013
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My overall impression of this book is that Tolkien isn't quite sure who he's writing for. He seems to be trying to cover a number of genres and succeeds in none of them. The cover (which is what attracted me) hints at a shadowy world of espionage, perhaps reminiscent of Alan Furst's tarnished Europe, or Eric Ambler. Spying is the strongest influence throughout, and Tolkien is clearly following the le Carre mould here - traitors in MI6 who must be hunted down at all costs (he even uses the word 'mole', which was invented by le Carre and not used during WWII!) but doesn't really follow this up with the cynicism or tradecraft of le Carre. Moreover, as anyone aware of the history of espionage in WWII knows, the Germans didn't have any agents in Britain in such a high position - they were all poorly-trained and caught on arrival, often after stupid mistakes. The specifics of the Churchill assassination plot are amateur at best, and full of holes. Overall, the spy angle has been done better by other authors, so espionage aficionados aren't getting much out of the book here; none of the technical details of espionage, or the murky, ambiguous atmosphere of other writers.

There's an element of mystery in the book - the protagonist is a detective - but incredibly little detection. The identity of the spy is given away in their first appearance - it's not explicit, but so obvious that I'm wondering if it would really be a spoiler to give it away. This is then confirmed half-way through, so the mystery is gone and we are left plodding through the motions and trying to guess if Churchill will be saved, which isn't much fun, as we all know the answer. Usually, authors will either hide the identity of the villain completely, throwing out red herrings and ambiguities, until the very last possible moment, or make it obvious to the reader (but not to the other characters) so we can enjoy the cat-and-mouse chase from the bad guy's perspective. Tolkien opts for a sort of middle ground that satisfies no-one.

There's a murder in there, too, but it's secondary to the spy plot and not really dwelt upon. Despite their being a plucky heroine with a failing marriage, there's no romance here either. The detective's already happily married, and his affections are strictly platonic, leaving any hint of a love story dead in the water; not even a hint of attraction.

There are good parts, though. It's well written, with deft character sketches, and though it's nowhere near as redolent of the period as Alan Furst or David Downing, there's a sense of Britain under siege and how people felt at the time. For me, though, the most enjoyable aspect was the historical characters. Tolkien has obviously done his research, and produced compelling portraits of Hitler and Heydrich, the latter being the stand-out character for me. The complexity of the man is well captured - a brave fighter pilot, capable of playing the violin beautifully, yet an utter sociopath responsible for the death of millions (the final scene in the book is chilling, for those who know what Heydrich got up to next). Churchill gets less screen time, but is still excellent.

Whilst reading Orders From Berlin, I kept making the inevitable comparisons to Jack Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed (another book about Germans trying to assassinate Churchill in 1943, and well worth a look). Despite being a better-written work, Orders From Berlin is let down by its poor mystery elements, thin plot, and lack of action or suspense. We go from A to B to C, watching the characters find out stuff we already know, including if Churchill survives or not. Higgins' book relies on its fast pace and tense action scenes, together with the thrill of rooting for the bad guys, to carry its action along. I can't say I'd be tempted to try another one of Simon Tolkien's books, to be honest - Orders From Berlin just isn't exciting enough.


Opening Moves (The Red Gambit Series Book 1)
Opening Moves (The Red Gambit Series Book 1)
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overall, an excellent piece of alternate history, 28 Dec. 2012
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I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. The concept of a 1945 Soviet invasion of Western Europe's pretty cool, and it's handled well by the author. The book's clearly a labour of love, and the plans for rest of the series suggest that it's well-planned and researched. The battle scenes were very good, with plenty of action, and they were usually easy enough to follow, even without the slightly too small maps (that's the fault of the Kindle format, not the author). Characters were better than I usually see in an alternate-history work, with details fleshing out even minor individuals. It was also nice to see both sides given their fair due. Far too often I read about cackling Germans/Russians/Japanese with no redeeming features, capable of only brutality and aggression. Well done Mr Gee for recognising that the Russians are human too!
There were a few minor points that I didn't enjoy, though many of these are subjective. I felt that the 1940's setting didn't come across strongly: it was hard to remember that this was all taking place in the aftermath of WWII, rather than in the more common late-80's period. Secondly, the sections when Eisenhower is reflecting on the day's events were too long; ultimately it boiled down to "Russians doing well here, Allies holding here", rather than the overly-detailed breakdown of the front. The same goes for the order of battle that we get before a big fight; it's nice that we know who's engaging who, and it's indicative of the amount of work that's gone in, but perhaps an appendix at the back? Lastly, during the battle scenes (which are otherwise superb) the insistence on referring to the order of battle means that sometimes the action comes across as a bit clinical.
Overall, though, Red Gambit: Opening Moves stands head and shoulders above the usual gamut of alternate history, and is easily better than Red Storm Rising! The concept is sound and well-thought out, the "bad guys" are equally as valorous as the "good guys", and the battle scenes are exciting and brutal. I just finished Opening moves this morning, about an hour ago, and I've already started the next in the series!

As an aside, I'm not one to nitpick the details, but I did notice two mistakes that kept popping up again and again: it's 'Marshal' not 'Marshall' for the ilitary rank - an over-zealous spellchecker I think - and the Soviets never called the Mosin-Nagant rifle the 'Nagant'; it's simply known as the 'Mosin', as Nagant was a Belgian who contributed little to the overall design, and Lt. Sergei Mosin was a Russian, so pride dictates that the rifle's the Mosin, when Russians refer to it.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2013 7:13 AM GMT


Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great instalment, 15 Oct. 2012
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Even though it's only the second book, the Tom Swan series has hit its stride. The first story was relatively self-contained, as befitting a pilot chapter so to speak, but in this one there's more of a sense of an overarching plot developing. Despite the title, the action is fairly far-flung, starting in Rome, and moving swiftly through Venice to Constantinople. Christian Cameron's clearly done his homework on daily life in the Middle Ages, and he manages to make topics such as selling antiques and buying new clothes engaging and humorous. The characters are developed, too. Tom Swan's likeable and quick with his wits, but it turns out he's also too quick with his blade, with interesting results. Suffice to say that Tom has a lot of potential as a recurring character.
All in all, it's a short, breezy read, and one that's highly recommended. I've heard through the grapevine that Tom Swan's not selling too well, but hopefully the solid reviews it's getting will convince people to buy more - and it's only 99p! How could you go wrong, really?


Milligan and the Samurai Rebels (Milligan Adventures Book 1)
Milligan and the Samurai Rebels (Milligan Adventures Book 1)
Price: £1.85

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable intro to the Bakumatsu period, 23 Sept. 2012
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I picked this one up on a whim, as I normally steer well clear of the numerous successors to Flashman that are popping up on the e-book market. However, one of my biggest regrets was that Flashman never made his way into the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868) when Japan suddenly discovered the world. It's a really cool era in world history, with loads going on and lots of iconic people and happenings. 'Milligan and the Samurai Rebels' manages to cover most of the most notable events between 1862 and 1865, when things started getting really interesting.
The action's fast-paced, sending the lily-livered hero careening across most of Japan in an entertaining fashion - it's not Flashman, but I wasn't expecting it to be so, so I wasn't disappointed. The plot stretches the boundaries of credibility in places, but it works well enough and keeps Milligan on the move.
The best part of the book is the historical and cultural aspects. I'm quite well-versed in Japanese history, so I didn't learn much that was new, but for someone fresh to the topic, they couldn't go far wrong with this. The historical background (Perry, the coming of the Black Ships) is all there. It's nice to see the French getting a look in as well. Viewers of the Tom Cruise film 'The Last Samurai' may be surprised to learn that the character he plays is based on a Frenchman. Trust Hollywood to obfuscate history to pander to the US market. I enjoyed the breezy factual parts so much, it was quite a shock to reach the end and find no historical note! Definitely a failing - a historical fiction novel needs one, even if here it's quite easy to sort out fact and fiction. Similarly, a list of real historical personages wouldn't go amiss. Saigo Takamori's significance might well escape a casual reader; ditto with Sakamoto Ryoma.
This brings me on to the most necessary thing: a sequel! The Bakumatsu has yet to reach its dramatic climax in 1865. Milligan's started off very promisingly: it would be a real shame if this was an orphaned series. Surely he has to cover the Boshin War? There's hints too of waht will become the Satsuma-Choshu alliance - will we see it come to fruition?
Finally, two trivial things: I was saddened not to see Milligan get mixed up in the fight at the Ikedaya, one of the cooler swordfights in Japanese history, with the iconic Shinsengumi swordsmen duking it out with fanatical Choshu rebels. And as for Choshu, having lived in what was once Choshu Han, it was a novelty to see them portrayed as a bunch of fanatical maniacs: not how the museums in Hagi tell it at all!
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 12, 2016 10:02 AM GMT


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