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review 2018-05-14 04:08
The Soldier's Scoundrel (The Turner Series #1) by Cat Sebastian
The Soldier's Scoundrel - Cat Sebastian

This was my first by the author and it for sure won't be my last. Oliver and Jack were from opposite sides on the social scale and yet they found a way to make it work in a totally believable way. Even though Jack was kind of a jerk at times he was still lovable and charming and oh, so sexy. Definitely an enjoyable, satisfying story. 

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review 2018-05-10 14:56
A truly romantic novel about a love that survives against all odds.
Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Hans M. Hirschi

I can reassure those who know Mr. Hirschi as the Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings. He’s done it again.

This book, perhaps the most romantic of the books I’ve read so far by this author, in my opinion, is about a love story that has survived incredible odds and lasted almost a whole lifetime. Despite being separated by different continents, being from different backgrounds, and hardly knowing each other’s languages and customs, two young men meet in Korea shortly after the war (in 1953) and feel attracted to each other. One, Martin, is an African-American soldier with a penchant for languages, helping the UN with the pacification tasks. The other, Ji-Hoon, is a young man working at the family restaurant, whose future path has been decided for him. He will get married and inherit the family business. They are both young, beautiful, and inexperienced. In such strange circumstances, they meet and get to know each other. Martin helps Ji-Hoon’s family providing supplies as often as he can, and he ends up becoming a friend of the whole family. But, they are not meant to be together. Martin goes back to the US and never meets anybody he feels the same about as he did for Ji-Hoon. He knows he was going to get married, but after a brief epistolary contact, they lose touch. Now in his eighties, thanks to a new nurse at the nursing home where he is staying, Kevin, and to the brother of one of the other residents, Eugene, he is encouraged to find out what happened to the true love of his life.

The story, although written in the third person, is told from Martin’s point of view. There are chapters set in the present, interspersed with chapters that took place in Korea after the war, providing the readers the background to understand both, the love story, and also how time has passed and changed things. There is a fair amount of telling in the book, as Martin, who is, in many ways, old-fashioned, not used to talking about his feelings, and of a generation where being openly gay was not the done thing (and in his case, being compounded by the race issue it would have made his life even harder), lives pretty much a quiet life, full of memories of the one event and emotion that really shook his world. Martin is confronted by some openly gay men (very different in outlook: Kevin, a Goth nurse who has trouble fitting in, but not with his sexuality; Eugene, who found a refuge for his more flamboyant mannerisms in an acting career; and Eugene’s nephew, who is married to another man and has children and a blissful family life, other than the conflict with his mother) and their questions and different outlooks make him, in a way, come of age and wonder, not only how things could have been, but also, why things could be. The fact that men still find him attractive, and there is still plenty of life left in him, together with the encouragement he receives, makes him go back to Korea pursuing the love of his youth.

The beautifully detailed writing manages to bring Korea to life, both in the post-war era and now. We share in Martin’s point of view and that makes us see the beauty of it, the wonder, but also the confusion and how much it has changed when we get to the present. The descriptions of places, food, and moments are emotional and beautiful. Korea and the way it has changed over time parallels what has happened to Martin. There are traces of the past, love for respect and tradition, but some of the old things had to be removed to make way for the new, and some could not be saved. It is not all for the better, but there is still beauty there, and its people are still the people Martin felt so fond of.

In some ways, we know little about Martin, who is not somebody who talks about him easily, and who only makes passing comments about his previous life and shares some brief snippets about his parents, his work, and his lovers over the years, but does not dwell on them. He is a modest and humble man who seems unaware of how much people like him or how fond they are of him. He is a credible character, and his doubts and hesitations fit in well with his age, his outlook on life, and also the effect he has on others. At the same time, his exploration of life and his perfect role as an observer when he first goes to Korea and on his return help readers explore and feel at one with him, sharing in his wonder and confusion.

Apart from Korea and the love story at the heart of the book, there are many other themes that come into play and create a complex background. The three men who end up going to Korea face some challenges and prejudice. While Martin could hide his sexual orientation, his skin colour was there for everybody to see, and being in the military he was fully aware of how different a treatment he was likely to receive from his colleagues. Eugene could not hide his gayness and pass for straight, and his lifestyle put him at risk. We know the #MeToo does not only apply to women, and in Eugene’s case, it had serious consequences for him. He was shunned by his sister all of his life, for being who he was. And his nephew suffered the same fate. Kevin, whose looks and style-choices have made him a bit of an outsider, is a loner and feels more comfortable with Martin than with people his age. There are parallels and similarities between the —at least at first sight— very different characters, and later on, we see these parallels are also in evidence across the world, with religious beliefs and conservative traditions coming in the way of love and understanding. We see Ji-Hoon only through Martin’s eyes at first, and he is not always insightful about people around him or about how he is perceived by others, but we have an opportunity to see what impact he truly had on his friends later on in the book.

Although the story of elderly men or women trying to find a lost love is not new, I enjoyed Martin’s process of discovery and his coming into his own. I love the comradery and the way the three men helped each other, with Eugene playing the fairy godmother and facilitating the trip, Kevin providing the technical and hands-on know-how, and Martin confronting his fears to become the hero he was meant to be. This is a novel about friendship, about history, about love, and about hope. We should never lose our hope and dreams. Nothing is impossible if we don’t give up. (Ah, there is no erotica, in case that you, like me, don’t particularly enjoy it).

The author includes a recipe at the end (the dish is central to the story, so I won’t go into detail), and he also explains some of the process and the language difficulties he faced and adds a glossary of terms at the end.

A gorgeous cover, for a truly romantic book that goes beyond the standard love story and includes an ensemble of characters you’ll feel sorry to say goodbye to. I’ll be eagerly waiting for Mr. Hirschi’s next book.

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review 2018-04-25 21:07
Compelling WWII historical fiction, coming-of-age and M/M love story, and a fascinating backdrop.
The Artist and the Soldier. A Novel - Angelle Petta

When I was approached about the possibility of reviewing this book, I was fascinated by the historical background behind it, which I was not familiar with. A book combining World War II, Nazi summer camps in the US, the filming of a movie by Vittorio De Sicca in Rome during the war, and a love story, had to be a winner.

The author manages to combine a coming-of-age (both male protagonists, Max and Bastian, are very young at the beginning of the book) and love story with a fascinating historical background. The two youths meet at a Nazi summer camp in New York. Both their fathers are German and want them to grow up aware of their heritage. Max and Bastian are, in many ways, mirror images of each other, opposites that, indeed, attract. Bastian looks German (blond, tall, strong), is impulsive and always excels when it comes to sports, and outdoor activities, whilst Max takes after his Italian mother, is quiet, and has the soul of an artist. They both suffer trauma and have difficult childhoods, although in different ways. The unlikely pair becomes close and Bastian supports Max when tragedy strikes, although things take a bad turn, and they end up separated by life and circumstances.

They go their separate ways, and we keep waiting, convinced they will meet again. Bastian is still daring, impulsive, and is plagued by self-hatred and doubt. Max, who has always been more accepting of his own identity and has become stronger and more determined, has been living in Italy, has studied film, and finds a great opportunity to help Italian Jews. He takes part in the project of filming a movie under the protection of the Vatican and comes up with the idea of offering them contracts there. De Sica is determined to keep filming for as long as he can to keep all those people safe, and this historical fact provides a fascinating backdrop to the story of the two lovers.

The story, told in the third person, follows the point of view of the two male characters first, and later we also get to read about the adventures of Ilsa, Bastian’s sister, a fantastic character, from her point of view. She is strong, a fighter, and is determined to find her brother, no matter how far she has to go and what she has to do. Her experiences as a nurse during the war are gripping, and she keeps working despite terrible personal loss, hardship, and deprivation. Her character allows us to see things from a different perspective and also provides us more background into Bastian’s character, that is, perhaps, the most complex of the book, at least in my opinion.

Although the love story is central to the book, this is not a light and easy book to read. Apart from the tragedy and the terrible events that happen during the war, there is child abuse, mental illness, bullying, and the novel does not shy away from the unsavoury aspects of life. The characters are not all good and perfect either, and they sometimes do things that are questionable, while at others they can behave like true heroes.

The writing beautifully conveys the emotions of the characters, the setting (Rome as an open city provides a great backdrop), and the relationships, without going over the top with the descriptions, and ensuring the story keeps moving at a good pace. Being a big movie fan, I would have liked to read more about the filming of the movie, but the author refrains from getting sidetracked, and the guest appearances by the actors of the film and the interventions by De Sica are all the more enjoyable for being kept under control and not overwhelming the main story.

I wanted to share a couple of quotes from the book:

“Travel safely, signora. It is a dangerous world we are living in.” Her world had always been a dangerous one. A gun instead of a fist, a war instead of an irate father, her present didn’t feel so different from her past.” (This reflection belongs to Ilsa, Bastian’s sister).

Did something as inconsequential as film belong in this new world? It was De Sica who’d helped him see his misconception. “We need film, and music, and art, more than ever now,” De Sica had said. “These mediums help us remember that we are humans living in a world filled with monsters. What we are doing here is not frivolous. It is saving us, our humanity.” (Max questions his vocation, but De Sica comes to the rescue).

The ending feels appropriate and fits in well with a love story. It shows that both characters have grown and learned to accept who they are and what their relationship means. Other issues are resolved as well, and although some of the coincidences and the way the characters always seem to be in the right place at the right time require some suspension of disbelief, this does not go beyond the expectations for the genre.

In an end note, the author explains the conception of the story and clarifies that although Max, Bastian, and Ilsa are creations of her own imagination, the historical events and backdrop are accurate, and she has used her fictional characters as a conduit to tell the story. I believe this would be a great selection for book clubs, as there is much to discuss and many interesting aspects that will attract readers of different types of stories.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in WWII, Italian cinema, and love stories with complex protagonists. I look forward to following the author’s career in the future.

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text 2018-04-07 05:54
SOLDIERING IN THE BRITISH RAJ IN THE EDWARDIAN ERA
Old Soldier Sahib - Frank Richards

"OLD SOLDIER SAHIB" was written by Frank Richards as a follow-up to his widely acclaimed First World War memoir "Old Soldiers Never Die."

Richards shares with the reader some aspects of his early life leading up to his enlistment in the British Army in 1901 during the waning days of the Boer War. It is fascinating to see through his eyes a glimpse of how life in Britain was for a working class person at that time, as well as gain an understanding of how the Army trained soldiers and carried out its regular functions. 

After a year of home service, Richards' unit is shipped to India, where he shares with the reader much of what he did and experienced there. This, for me, was perhaps the best part of the memoir because, as someone who visited India in February 2003, I savored the opportunity to see British India through Richards' eyes. One example from Richards' time in India that made me chuckle was the following: 

"A man in my tent at Meerut had bought a very clever little monkey and dressed him up with little striped trousers, red coat and a pill-box on the side of his head. He gave him a little wooden musket too and trained him at the word of command to go through all the arms-drill that a soldier was taught. He had a small collar around his neck, to which was attached a long thin chain. During the day he was tied up with this chain to a large tent-peg outside the tent; on cold nights he slept at the foot of his master's bed. The man badly wanted to see what effect a drop of beer would have on his pet, so one day he brought about a pint and half of beer in a basin from Canteen and held it for him to have a drink. The monkey took a good drink and the way he smacked his lips afterwards made some of us who were looking on think that it was not the first occasion that he had tasted beer. By the time had drained the basin dry he was helplessly drunk. He staggered towards the tent-peg to lean his arms on it, which was usual custom when resting during the day; but he must have been seeing a dozen pegs, because each time that he put on his arms to lean on it he was still two or three feet away. After falling down half a dozen times, he gave it up and the last time he fell he went to sleep. He now took the habit of accompanying his master to the Canteen every evening; after he performed a few tricks he would go along from table to table, holding out a little tin mug for a drop of beer to be put in it. Night after night he got gloriously drunk, and after he had been with us twelve months his master awoke one morning to find him dead at the foot of his bed. All the boozers were convinced that he had drunk himself to death, which in their opinion was the most noble and happy end to which either man or monkey could come."

Eventually, Richards' unit was transferred to Burma, where he served out the remainder of his Army service. Then he returned to Britain (1909), where he was put into reserve status. A status he maintained until August 1914. 

For anyone keen to experience a way of life long past from someone who lived it, "Old Soldier Sahib" is the book to read.
 

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review 2018-03-02 18:04
"Chicago Eternal" illuminates the graves of the Windy City's famous, infamous, and forgotten
Chicago Eternal - Larry Broutman

 

Chicago Eternal is the newest release in award-winning photographer and historian Larry Broutman’s collection of coffee table books of Chicago-themed photography. In this gigantic, gorgeous book of full-color haunting photographs, Broutman takes on an intimate journey through Cook County’s cemeteries.

 

 

Each picture of a tombstone, chapel, or mausoleum is accompanied by text and sometimes additional photographs or illustrations that give insight into that person’s life. Featured are politicians, sports legends, inventors, entertainers, singers, and mobsters who play heavily into Chicago’s history.

 

 

There are also soldiers and children who we may have never heard of but deserve to be remembered. This book is as touching as it is stunning.

 

Source: www.everythinggoesmedia.com/product-page/chicago-eternal
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