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M. J. Bourne "vandering" (Cumbria UK)
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The Hinges of Battle
The Hinges of Battle
by Erik Durschmied
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A great hinge that only swings one way, 20 Mar. 2010
This review is from: The Hinges of Battle (Hardcover)
It has long been realised by military historians that battles are usually won by the side that makes the fewer mistakes, rather than by immense tactical skill. "Hinges of Battle" looks at the way eight conflicts from history have been decided by minor decisions, trivial incidents or freaks of fortunes. They range from the middle of the fifth century to the middle of the twentieth.

The subject matter is a bit suspicious. Basically, it looks like the author has a political agenda. If I were asked to choose eight history-altering battles that were decided by chance or incompetence, I certainly wouldn't have more than one or two of these. You could argue that the obvious candidates have already been done to death, so Mr Durschmied is doing us a favour here. Still, although "Custer's last stand" was of immense importance to it's participants, has it really altered history or the way we look at the world?

What all eight stories have in common is that they were defeats (morally if not physically) for what might be called "the reaction" - imperialists and colonialists. "Progressives" apparently cannot ever be stupid. Nonetheless this is a very well researched book indeed. The narrative is strong and combining it with dramatisations based on actual quotes really brings the stories to life. The purple prose is overdone occasionally but the tales are genuinely both enlightening and exciting.


A Christmas Guest
A Christmas Guest
by Anne Perry
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Christmas Grinch, 20 Mar. 2010
This review is from: A Christmas Guest (Hardcover)
Hinted at bad things have turned Mariah Ellison into a cranky old woman who is put up with rather than liked by her relatives. With her usual hosts deciding to visit France for Christmas, the crotchety Mariah is dumped at her daughters. She is joined there by another exile from a family, Maude, a woman who has indecorously spent forty years abroad. In spite of herself, Mariah takes a shine to this stranger. When Maude is found dead, apparently of heart failure, Mariah suspects she was murdered. Is the answer to be found with the dead woman's family?

This is the latest in a series of detective novellas set around Christmas. You don't get a lot for your money - this is only about 30,000 words - but on the plus side what you do get is superb characterisation and excellent period feel. The snobbery, pretension and strait-laced rules of Victorian society are beautifully illustrated in a most clear and pleasing way. This is not my usual kind of historical novel, but I found this a real page-turner. Unfortunately, the actual resolution of the plot at the end is very disappointing, and Mariah's conversion to Christmas cheer doesn't convince. Still, there are worse ways to spend a holiday than reading this!


To Play The Fox
To Play The Fox
by Frank Barnard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So?, 20 Mar. 2010
This review is from: To Play The Fox (Paperback)
The fighter pilots in question are an urbane Englishman, a licentious American and a cynical German. We follow their wayward paths separately, but at the back of our minds we just know that they will all meet up at some point.

This is not just a "shoot-em-up" novel. Our heroes (realistically) do a lot of non-combat duty - PR work, aircraft ferrying, and photo-reconnaissance. Unfortunately, there are numerous true-life biographies that illustrate the more humdrum aspects of a fighter pilot's life much better than a work of fiction can. This wouldn't matter so much, except that the conflict scenes in this novel also lack emotional punch. I found the history side convincing, but I also felt curiously detached from it all.


The Tide of War (Nathan Peake Trilogy 2)
The Tide of War (Nathan Peake Trilogy 2)
by Seth Hunter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not completely all at sea, 20 Mar. 2010
There is a French frigate causing trouble in the Caribbean. The British have a frigate there too, but she has lost her captain in decidedly strange circumstances. Newly promoted Nathan Peake is sent to take command, unravel the mystery of what happened to his predecessor, and of course eliminate the French ship.

The first third of the book is background. It takes forever to actually reach the Caribbean but things pick up as soon as we arrive, although the emphasis is on character rather than action. There are lots of coincidences and Peake makes some decidedly dodgy decisions. Mr Hunter has a wonderful knack of painting interesting characters but unfortunately their main effect is to make the hero seem pallid in comparison. Still, there is a lot of tension and a good air of mystery, and I wanted to know how it all ended.


Wounds of Honour: Empire I (Empire series)
Wounds of Honour: Empire I (Empire series)
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars That Roman experience...again..., 20 Mar. 2010
Marcus Valerius is a young Roman aristocrat whose family is judicially murdered on a trumped up treason charge. Keeping just ahead of the Emperor's death edicts, he flees to the edge of the Roman world, becoming a centurion on Hadrian's Wall. Unfortunately, overwhelming numbers of the locals are plotting a revolt, and as the posh, junior officer, Marcus has been saddled with more than his fair share of the Cohort's rejects. Can he weld them into an effective fighting force in time?

Well, let us just say this is a story full of clichés. It's a "new recruit" drama, and it could be easily transposed to any barracks in any time. For a self-confessed aficionado of the Roman experience, I didn't think Mr Riches conveyed a great deal of period feel into his first book. How did Romans and Celtic Brits speak, think and go about their business? According to "Wounds of Honour", they went in for a lot of angst-ridden dialogue, which frankly surprised me.

The point of view jumps round a lot. I don't know if this is a beginner's mistake or deliberate policy. Either way it's confusing. The pacing is uneven, with many pages devoted to some events, and others skimped over.

This is the first in a projected series. Let us hope for better things to come.


Sure and Certain Death (Francis Hancock Mysteries)
Sure and Certain Death (Francis Hancock Mysteries)
by Barbara Nadel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unsure and uncertain, 20 Mar. 2010
Francis Hancock is a middle-aged, half-English, half-Indian undertaker whose London "manor" is being systematically dismantled by Hitler's Luftwaffe in World War Two. Now horribly mutilated women are showing up in the rubble, and it is clear a madman is murdering them. The police are undermanned and overworked, and Hancock finds himself pressured via family connections to investigate.
Hancock has been severely traumatised by his experiences in the First World War, and he frequently exhibits odd behaviour, such as running around the streets at night when the bombs are falling. He makes an interesting detective, although personally I find the idea of a man who regularly has nightmares of severed heads persisting in a profession where he regularly comes into contact with dead people a touch unlikely.
The supporting cast are much less clearly defined. Mostly they are similarly dressed, similarly spoken, similarly aged females. Not to give too much away, that's one of the main points of the book, but still I found it quite hard work keeping track of them all. I'm not the only one - the author mixes them up at least once. She also describes Lascars as being "mostly Hindus" and yet in the very next sentence says they are "Christians to a man".
As a "whodunit" this novel doesn't work too well. The vagueness of the characterisation and the paucity of clues make it difficult for the reader to engage with Hancock's detection work, and the resolution is unmoving. As an exposition of social history it is much better, and there are great insights into mid-war life and attitudes.


Gods And Generals [DVD] [2003]
Gods And Generals [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Stephen Lang
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.20

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fundamentally flawed, 6 July 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I loved "Gettysburg", and I had high hopes for this movie, but I'm afraid I was disappointed.

This doesn't mean there isn't merit here. "Gods and Generals" is very faithful to the book on which it is based (probably over-faithful in fact. They are, after all, very different media). It is beautifully filmed, it is painstakingly historically accurate. The acting is superlative, especially Stephen Lang as "Stonewall" Jackson. It is well produced, and well directed. There are some very touching moments - especially during the battle of Fredericksburg, when opposing Irish regiments clash, and the famous display of the Northern lights after nightfall.

One thing I particularly like about it, and also about "Gettysburg", is that there is no conventional "good guys vs bad guys". Fundamentally, "Gettysburg" is a pro-Union movie, while "Gods and Generals" is more sympathetic to the South, but in both movies at least the other side is given the courtesy of explaining their side of the argument, and to point out the reasons why they are fighting this bloody war. This enables you to see that neither side has a monopoly on virtue or vice, and that helps to show them as real characters.

The fundamental problem with "Gods and Generals" is that it is too ambitious. While "Gettysburg" shows what everyone was doing in an intense period of three days, this movie covers the activities of even more major characters over two whole years. With a book that is a difficult act. In a film, even a long one like this, it inevitably means that events are going to be skipped over, and the result is a huge sprawling mess of a movie. The individual scenes are excellent, but they just don't connect to each other with any kind of coherence. If you are a Civil War "buff" the ommissions will irritate you. If you are a general viewer, you are just going to get lost. Really, it would have been better to have expanded this and made it into a 26 part series. Instead, the makers were unable to decide which of the very interesting characters they had would be the focus of the film, so they tried to show all of them, and the net result is that the film has no focus at all.

One for the history affectionados only (which admittedly includes me!)


Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book 1)
Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book 1)
by Jack Campbell
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars curiously riveting, 15 Jun. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a very odd book. It's not great literature. It's not a revolutionary leap forward in the genre of military Sci-Fi. There are no startling revelations. The plot is transparent. The space battles are repetitive. There are cloistered nuns who have a better grasp of tactics than the commanders of the opposing space fleets. The military situation is ludicrous - the Human race seems to have stopped inventing things for a century. You can pick hole after hole in the assumptions and the tech.

And yet, and yet, I found it impossible to put this book down - and for a long time I really didnt know why, beyond recognising that it's easy to read.

I think the real reason is the superb characterisation of the major characters, particularly Rione. The best battles in this are fought with words, not missiles, and in conference rooms, not deep space. You can spot what is going to happen 90% of the time, but actually reading it come to fruition is immensely satisfying.

The one unique aspect I really liked was the religious angle. Its just made clear how important it is (a form of ancestor worship in fact) to most of the characters, without swamping with pious mumblings.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 13, 2015 11:54 PM BST


Tales Of The Dying Earth (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
Tales Of The Dying Earth (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
by Jack Vance
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An acquired taste, but delicious!, 2 Feb. 2009
Tales of the dying Earth is just that: a compendium of several stories set around the theme of a far, far future when the sun is on the verge of finally going out. Because it is a compendium, it is rather bitty. The early stories are a bit labored, as Mr Vance obviously hadn't quite worked out the style and the tone. But if you persevere, you are amply rewarded, especially with the arc about Cugel.
This is fantasy that a medieval writer might have written, if they ever could do such a thing. The tales are quirky, full of all kinds of strange and exotic magic and technology, and very, very funny. Because they really are so different not everyone will "get them" and it's hardly surprising that there are mixed reviews. I would suggest that reading "tales of the dying earth" is a risk well worth taking, just in case you are one of the many (like me) who couldn't put the book down!


The Terror Before Trafalgar: Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War
The Terror Before Trafalgar: Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War
by Tom Pocock
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into the Napoleonic wars, 18 Jan. 2009
This is a history of the years 1801-1805, known as the "Terror". In this period Britain was threatened with an invasion by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte, and ultimately saved by Nelson's decisive victory at Trafalgar. Mr Pocock is an expert on Admiral Nelson, and the great man is prominently displayed on the cover. In fact he was actually rather peripheral to the various British counters to the French invasion plan, apart from suffering one of his few defeats. Such little known history is always intriguing.

The opening third of the book consists of anecdotal reminisces of British visitors to Paris during the peace. It's curiously bland. Things pick up when the author gets onto plans to subvert the French republic. The problem is that spying, subterfuge and fomenting royalist plots is a very secret business. Looking over the distance of two centuries there isn't actually too many hard facts to describe.

The descriptions of the British attempts to destroy the French invasion fleets are the most compelling. Conventional means having failed, the British dabbled with unconventional weaponry - rockets, torpedoes and fireships. It's not well known because everyone concentrates on Nelson's decisive victory at Trafalgar. And that makes this quite compelling reading.


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