Sunday, October 24, 2010

Defense against the U-boat and how it was accomplished.

In the narrative A Measureless Peril,  Richard Snow writes of the need, tactics, and outcome of convoying merchant ships with military escorts across the Atlantic Ocean during WWII.  The policy of convoying was necessary due to the Nazi’s successful use of wolf-pack tactics employed by their submarines - U-Boats - to sink ships carrying men and material to the European theater of war.

Each chapter is an individual story that is interconnected to the overall theme of the book.  Many chapters link to one another through a common character, ship, or incident.

In this very entertaining and enlightening read, the author takes us back in maritime history to lay background for the development of the U-Boat tactics that were so successful during WWII.  British, American and German perspective is given to the conflict in the Atlantic.  He tells the history of the development of the torpedo in the late 1800's, the torpedo-boat (the precursor of the submarine), and the torpedo-boat destroyer (the forerunner to our present day destroyer class warships).  Snow describes the evolution of the destroyer from the original USS Bainbridge at 400-tons to the 2,000-ton Fletcher Class destroyers of WWII.  Best of all he answers the question of the differences between a Destroyer and a Destroyer Escort.

Snow’s father was an architect who joined the Navy at the outbreak of the war and served aboard a destroyer stationed in the Atlantic.  He wrote vivid letters, many accompanied with sketches, home to his wife throughout his service.  Snow draws on his father’s personal correspondence as well as research in presenting this history. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hicks has fascination with one legged men

In Robert Hicks two offerings - The Widow of the South and A Separate Country, his characters are disfigured veterans of the Civil War battle of Franklin, Tennessee.  Whether Sgt. Zachariah Cashwell or Gen. John Bell Hood, both men left Franklin less than a whole man.  Cashwell arrived at Franklin with the Army of the Tennessee a battle-hardened veteran that, by the grace of God, had escaped physical harm in the war.  Hood, on the other hand, was crippled well before the 1864 winter campaign in middle Tennessee, having lost a leg at the Battle of Chickamuaga and the use of an arm at Gettysburg.  Cashwell would lose his leg to a musket ball, but find a new lease on life while convalescing at the home of Carrie McGavick; Hood would leave his soul on the battlefield, and carry the guilt of senselessly sending so many men to their death for the remainder of his days.

The books feature strong women and weak men.  Cashwell had Carrie McGavick to renew his hope; Hood had Anna Marie Hennen, a Creole beauty that saw past his physical limitations to give him eleven children.

Death and/or impending death are prevalent throughout both novels set for the most part in the postbellum south.  The pages are filled with tales of the disfigured – men who are dwarfs, eyeless, limbless, and scarred - physically and emotionally.  Young men who must adapt to functioning in non-military situations after years of campaigning on the battlefield; men who’s injuries have left them so grotesque that civilians turn their heads and look away when they pass – the lower half of their face shot away, nose and eye missing, legless – men who want to cry out I didn’t do this to myself, I did it for you, I’m still the same man inside as I was before receiving these battlefield wounds.

Both books are heavy – depressing, defeated, despondent, dreary, filled with pain, betrayal, anguish, and agony.

A Separate Country is set in New Orleans and gives insight into the Creole culture both antebellum and postbellum.  It also tracks some well-known Civil War figures in their attempt to adjust to civilian life.  This was my favorite of the two Hicks historical novels.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bounty Trilogy

Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, Pitcairn's Island published in the early 1930's by by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.

The trilogy, based on a true story, is a fictionalized account of the confrontation between William Bligh and Fletcher Christian which culminated in a mutiny on the high seas aboard British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty in 1789, and its aftermath for these two men.  In the flow of these books villain becomes hero and hero becomes villain.

The keystone to this three part saga is Mutiny on the Bounty, narrated by a Midshipmen aboard the Bounty.  After sailing from England to Tahiti on a scientific expedition to collect breadfruit plants in the hopes of introducing them as a new food source in the West Indies colonies, the crew of the Bounty become enamored with the warm weather and easy way of life among the natives on the island.  Living ashore with the Polynesians for several months, the crew, newly tattooed in the style of the Tahitians, begrudgingly set sail for the West Indies, leaving romantic relationships in their wake.  The novelist contrast the beauty of the South Pacific islands with the harshness of life at sea in the 18th century.  Mutiny, romance, injustice, duty verses desire, set adrift at sea, running from authorities, attempting to start a new life -- all transpire in this first novel.

Most have seen at least one of Hollywood's renditions of this story, but the  cinema is unable to provide the depth the written word can, nor the detail the story deserves.  Does Bligh misuse his power as Ship's Captain, can Christian justify this mutinous actions as an act of romantic necessity, these are questions the reader must answer.

Men Against the Sea is the story of William Bligh and his 18 men that are marooned on the ship's 23-foot open launch and set adrift. Their fight for survival on the high seas as they navigate through over 3,600 miles of open water is detailed by the narrator in a most compelling way.  I list Men Against the Sea as one of my all-time favorite adventure books; it is short enough to be read in a single sitting.

The final piece to the trilogy is Pitcairn’s Island, the story of Fletcher Christian and his mutineers as they are joined by their Tahitian wives and other Polynesians and flee to an uncharted island in the South Pacific to live out their lives in seclusion.  The worst of human nature materializes as they realize they are trapped on the island with no chance of escape; greed, jealously, paranoia all takes a toll on the small band of inhabitants. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Andy Andrews inspirational books

The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success - Andy Andrews
“Like a serpent easing up his spine and wrapping itself around his throat, it wasn’t a quick, devastating attack, but a slow, gripping realization that life, as he knew it, was over.  He was forty-six years old.  He had no job.  He had no money.  He had no purpose.”  

Driving to nowhere in a patched up used car after losing his part-time job loading trucks at a hardware store, David Ponder stops and attempts to pray.  With what he considers no result from his prayer, he starts to drive again with the thought of suicide in his mind, culminating in a head-on collision with a tree by the roadside.

Though a half-dozen years older than Ponder, the protagonist of Andy Andrews’ The Traveler’s Gift, I had instant empathy with Ponder and his predicament, having recently closed my business of twenty plus years due to the recession and taking an hourly position at a local factory to put food on the table.  I thought to myself – that could be me he is describing.

In a coma, Ponder visits seven historical figures that each impart a life lesson to him.  He titles these lessons ‘Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success.’  Readers may find different elements that hit-home.  My personal epiphanies while reading the book were “choose to be happy,” and “forgive yourself and others.”  A close friend keyed in on “have a decided heart.”  According to your current life situation, different points discussed by these historic figures may prove influential in guiding you in your attempt to overcome whatever obstacle may currently lie in your life’s path.

This thought provoking read will give you pause for inter reflection. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Charles Frazier follows up the success of Cold Mountain with another offering set in the mountains of North Carolina - Thirteen Moons.  Frazier continues to write about a region he has much familiarity, having been born in the scenic mountain town of Ashville, and schooled at nearby Appalachian State University, in Booneville.

Will,  the protagonist of Thirteen Moons, is a twelve-year-old sold by his parents into indentured servitude and required to manage a trading post at the edge of the Cherokee Nation.  Overtime he is adopted by a Cherokee chief; as an adult he fights for the rights of a small group of Cherokee and mixed-bloods who remain after the Indians were forced to relocate to Oklahoma Territory in the 1830's during Andrew Jackson's presidency.  

There is an active love story between Will and a mixed-blood named Claire embedded in the novel.  The romance is laced throughout the story, tying together the decades the book spans.  Here lies the Gordian Knot of the tale, winning and keeping Claire's love.

Though the author has a disclaimer in the book to the contrary, the novel seems to be based on William Holland Thomas, the man who helped gain citizenship and thus the right to remain in the Carolinas for the Indians that remained behind in the Smokey Mountains after the forced removal.  This group that stayed became the nucleus of what is now known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Fraizer's strength as a story teller is his ability to paint vivid scenes. His descriptions of people, places and events jump off the page. His words bring to life the smell of sweat on a hard ridden horse as well as the taste of a kiss; he pulls the reader into the moment with his descriptions, whether it is the beauty of a misty sunrise on a mountain top or the seediness of a hunting cabin poker game, Frazier captures the scene. 

I highly recommend this offering as historical fiction for its adventure, romance and Frazier's abilities as a wordsmith.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Presidential Children

We are all aware of John Q. Adams and George W. Bush, for they followed in their father’s political footsteps; most are probably familiar with Margaret Truman, the noted author, but few are aware of many other notable children of US presidents.  Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant’s son, Fred Grant, rose to the rank of General?  He was an outstanding leader but was overshadowed by the fame of his presidential father.  Did you know that President Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons all served in the Army during WWI and that his youngest son, Quentin, a pilot, was shot down in a dog-fight and killed at the young age of twenty.  His remaining three sons also served again during WWII, with his oldest, Ted Jr., advancing to the rank of General and winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nations highest military award for valor.  Did you know that his cousin FDR also had four sons who served in the military during WWII?  Jimmy Roosevelt served in the Marine Corps with the famed Carson’s Raiders and fought on Guadalcanal and Tarawa, earning the Navy Cross and Silver Star (he retired from the Marine Corps at the rank of Brig. General).  FDR, Jr. commanded the USS Culvert Moore, a destroyer, during the war and won the Purple Heart, Navy Cross and Legion of Merit.  His son John, served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp; his son Elliot rose to the rank of General in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 combat missions and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Here’s a presidential son I bet you never have heard of – Webb Hayes, son of our 19th president, Rutherford Hayes.  This guy was a millionaire-adventurer and soldier.  He fought at San Juan Hill (Cuba), Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War; he marched with the International China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion, and participated in the Russo-Japanese War as an observer.  During WWI Webb served on the Italian front.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war.  On the business side of life, Webb formed the company that later became Union Carbide Corporation!  What an exciting book a biography of Webb Hayes would make.
Did you know that Presidents Tyler and Taylor had sons who fought for the south during the Civil War?  John Tyler’s son Robert was the Registrar for the confederate treasury, and his son David served in the confederate army as a private at age 16, while son Alex enlisted in the confederate navy at age 14.  Richard Taylor, son of President Zackary Taylor, rose to the rank of Lt. General while serving with the CSA.  He commanded troops at the battles of Bull Run, Shenandoah Valley campaign, Seven Days Battles, Red River Campaign, Battle of Mansfield, and the Battle of Pleasant Hill.
Doug Wead has written an intriguing book about the men and women sired by US Presidents.  His work, All The Presidents’ Children is packed with the successes and failures of these individuals.
I have listed two other offerings that are biographies of a pair of extraordinary presidential offspring.  Paul Jeffer’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., In the Roughrider’s Shadow, if phenomenal and a must read.  Richard Taylor, Soldier Prince of Dixie, by Michael Parrish, gives a good account of this son of a US President who was also brother-in-law to the President of the CSA – Jefferson Davis.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mo Hayder crime drama author

Mo Hayder writes suspense in a perversely erotic style. I first became aware of this author when I read Tokyo (also published under the name The Devil of Nanking). In Tokyo, Hayder describes a young British woman obsessed with the Japanese atrocities perpetrated on the citizens of Nanking China during the early years of WWII. Following in Hayder’s own footsteps, the protagonist, Grey, takes a job as a hostess in a Tokyo men’s club to finance her continued research into the events surrounding the massacres at Nanking, and the possibility of the existence of an unreleased 16mm film that depict the atrocities. Grey is an emotionally disturbed women working through her own fears to uncover the truth about the present and the past.

Hayder tells the story by alternating chapters between present day Tokyo and Nanking in 1937. She reveals her characters as one would peel and onion, layer-by-layer, and often with the accompaniment of tears. The seedy nature of life and Grey’s dingy surroundings are captured vividly by Hayder, as she pulls the reader deeper and deeper into this crime drama the spans decades and generations.

I followed up Tokyo by reading Hayder’s first offering – Birdman, which proved to be almost as perversely erotic. Her characters have tortured souls and warped minds, social deviates looking at the world through dirty, or should it be, blood stained glasses. This novel about a sadistic serial killer is very suspenseful and emotionally troubling.  It centers around a London detective investigating a series of murders of young women who are sexually mutilated, and trying to identify and stop the twisted soul behind the crimes.

If you are looking for an author who stretches your imagination and writes in a style far from the norm, yet weaves a fascinating story about the fringes of society, Hayder may be someone to consider. I couldn’t put her books down, though they were troubling almost to the point of revulsion; I had to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next.

The Steel Wave - Part II of Jeff Shaara's WWII trilogy

The Steel Wave – Jeff Shaara

The second installment of his World War II trilogy, Shaara shares both the American and German perspective of the build up and execution of Operation Overlord – the Normandy invasion – D-Day – through the perspective of historical figures such as Eisenhower, Patton, Gavin, and Rommel, along with an assortment of fictional characters. Shaara intertwines the story of veteran units bloodied in North Africa and Sicily and newly formed divisions who will see their first action of the war on Omaha Beach and the hedgerows of Northern France, with the perspective of German units building the Atlantic Wall.

This historical-fiction offering humanizes the names and events we have read and studied associated with the Normandy invasion through fictional characters, some carried forward from Sharra’s first installment of the trilogy – The Rising Tide.

Shaara's works on WWII are a good read to accompany Rick Atkinson's - An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle.

Reading The Steel Wave inspired me to also read Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Winters and Stanley Hirshson’s biography - General Patton, a Soldier’s Life.

Social Psychology - Outliers and Freakonomics

I recently read a couple of social psychology best-sellers that were a combination of trivia, statistics, and commentary on American culture --- Outliers and Freakonomics

Outliers - The Story of Success by Malcomb Gladwell

I had read Malcomb Gladwell’s first two offerings – Blink and Tipping Point – which were interesting but tedious. Outliers was different. In Outliers he moves from point to point sharing intriguing fact about everything from sports stars to school systems. Anyone who has ever studied statistics knows what an outlier is, something that lies outside the norm, either positive or negative. In this book Gladwell tries to define cause and effect on many thought provoking topics.

Freakonomics - A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner

Freakonomics, much like Outliers, deals with cause and effect of social problems and conditions. Most interesting was the correlation between Roe v Wade with the decrease in crime since the mid-90’s. The ‘name game’ at the end of the book got a little tiring, but overall very thought provoking and a good read.