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review 2017-08-19 22:06
“I’m very afraid I will die tonight.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 2, 2016.
Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace - Bana Alabed

At the time that Yugoslavia collapsed, and Sarajevo was under siege, we were dependent on journalists to inform the world of the atrocities being carried out. These days, with Facebook, Twitter and the gamut of social media, we really have no excuse to claim that we are ignorant. It leaves me shamed and speechless to realise that it took a seven year old girl to alert the world to the recent situation in Aleppo.


Bana Alabed has written a revealing account of life in Aleppo, starting before the siege and then detailing the awful situation her family found themselves in. Inserts from her mother (an English teacher), provide another view-point and some background to supplement Bana's narrative.

Her family was reasonably well off, so they had the luxury of solar panels to power Ipads and telephones and Bana was able to send out Tweets, alerting her followers, of the building tensions and destruction surrounding her and her family. Eventually the authorities became wise to her activities and she, herself, became a target for the regime.


In spite of defamatory trolls and on-line rebuttals, denying the source of the Tweets, it has been proven that she was in the places she claims and in a position to send out the messages.  A seven year old was truly keeping the world informed.

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review 2017-08-19 14:48
’Paddy’ Finucane and the legend of the Kenley Wing: No.452 (Australian), 485 (New Zealand) and 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadrons, 1941 - Anthony Cooper

1941 was a critical year in the Second World War for both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Allies. RAF Fighter Command, which had helped to keep Britain afloat throughout the summer and autumn of 1940 following the fall of France, represented one of Britain's few effective blunt instruments to keep Germany off balance. As early as December 1940, it had begun engaging in 'lean-to' or shallow penetration missions in Occupied France where small units of RAF fighters attacked German airbases and military installations. By the following summer, this undertaking had been expanded into 'Circuses', which entailed the use of bombers escorted by, on average, 16 squadrons of fighters on both shallow and deep penetration missions (at least 50 miles inland) into France. Missions of this magnitude the Luftwaffe could hardly ignore. With the majority of the Luftwaffe now engaged in military operations in support of the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union, 2 fighter wings (Jagdgeschwadern 2 & 26) were tasked with defending the airspace above France against the RAF.


Here is where the experiences of the Kenley Wing of RAF Fighter Command, who came to play a significant role in the RAF Non-Stop Offensive of 1941, are described in "PADDY FINUCANE AND THE LEGEND OF THE KENLEY WING." The Wing, one among 6 in the RAF, was made up of 452 (made up mostly of Australian fighter pilots), 485, (mostly New Zealanders), and 602 Squadrons. It was representative of the RAF itself, which contained in its ranks, many airmen from the farthest reaches of the British Empire and Commonwealth. There were also a few Irishmen like Finucane, a veteran of the Battle of Britain, who, during the summer and autumn of 1941, was making a name for himself as one of the RAF best known and top-scoring aces while serving as one of 452 Squadron's flight leaders. Indeed, 452 Squadron, of all the squadrons in the Kenley Wing, would develop a reputation with pilots of the caliber of Finucane and Keith 'Bluey' Truscott (Australian) as one of the top-scoring units in RAF Fighter Command. It seemed that whenever the Kenley Wing took part in sweeps over France that 452 Squadron would find itself involved in many a scrap with German fighters while the other 2 squadrons in the Wing encountered fewer or no enemy air opposition.


The book describes in considerable detail the intensity of the air combat the Kenley Wing experienced over France, as well as the standards the RAF had for assessing victory claims by its fighter pilots. What became increasingly evident is that there was a lot of overclaiming on the part of RAF Fighter Command during 1941. Much more so than had been the case during the Battle of Britain. This couldn't always be helped because air combat is a life-and-death affair, carried out by fast moving fighters --- requiring constant alertness on the part of the individual fighter pilot --- fought in three dimensions. One wrong move --- sometimes measured in seconds --- could mean nursing a badly crippled Spitfire across the Channel to Britain, riding a flaming aircraft to either a watery death in the Channel or a fiery crash inland, or being shot down and forced to bail out over France. The latter for an RAF fighter pilot usually meant becoming a prisoner of war or evading capture and - with the help of the Resistance - getting to Southern France and across the Pyrenees Mountains to neutral Spain and a sure passage back to Britain and the war.


It also became clear from reading this book that while the RAF was able to provide a widening pool of trained fighter pilots (the EATS or Empire Air Training Scheme was crucial in this regard in which large numbers of RAF aviation cadets received their training in Canada) to replace its losses in France during 1941, it had not given most of its pilots much (if any) gunnery training. Lacking this vital skill was, along with aircraft mis-identication, another key reason behind overclaiming kills in air combat. Indeed, "... the root of the overclaiming problem seems to have lain in the tendency of some pilots to make forced links between purported cause and effect, in the context of an overstimulated combat environment where in fact no-one could see it all, and where many pilots did not see much at all - or anything at all. Despite this uncertainty principle, some pilots repeatedly drew definite causal links between, on the one hand, their gunnery attacks upon fleeting targets' and on the other, subsequent fleeting impressions of flashes, smoke, splashes, hunts, and dives. These putative causative connections were too often accepted by the intelligence officers at squadron, wing, and group level who assessed and confirmed the claims, and too often by the squadron COs, wing leaders, station commanders, senior air staff officers, and air officers commanding who signed off on the paperwork before sending it up to the next level of command. Moreover, all of these officers permitted such claims to be confirmed despite the lack of corroboration --- sometimes pilot claims were supported by reported sightings from other pilots, but they were also routinely accepted on the claimant's testimony alone."


I developed a deeper appreciation for the pilots of RAF Fighter Command from reading "PADDY FINUCANE AND THE LEGEND OF THE KENLEY WING."  It's an inspiring account into how these men, through sheer determination, skill, guts, and dedication to duty, helped pave the way to eventual Allied victory in May 1945.

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text 2017-08-18 21:20
War? What war?
Ares: Bringer of War (Olympians) - George O'Connor,George O'Connor

Well, for Ares it's any war. I like how O'Connor illustrates the difference in Ares and Athena's approach to war, and when one will override the other. Seeing his take on Ares involvement (or lack of) in the Trojan war makes a more realistic and understandable reasoning than most. If Zeus hadn't gone all scary lightening, Ares would probably have ignored him like he frequently does and gotten all up in the war anyway. Watching how each Olympian sticks their fingers into the pie, and the turning point for when they stop enjoying the conflict is also illuminating. Who knew Ares would get so upset about the death of a son he had no real contact with?

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review 2017-08-18 19:14
A Writer's Diary, Virginia Woolf
A Writer's Diary - Virginia Woolf,Leonard Woolf

For lovers of Virginia Woolf, but also those interested in writing itself, as well as history (Woolf details the approach and beginning of World War II, including the bombing of her home in London). This "writer's diary," edited by husband and first reader, Leonard Woolf, comprises those entries where Woolf discusses her writing and reading as well as encounters with literary acquaintances.


There is a pattern to her writing process whereby she's excited about a new idea (which sometimes comes while she's working on another project) and rides a sort of high until she completes it. This is followed by depression and ambivalent feelings about reviews. Some books come easier than others, but the overall pattern remains the same. Every one feels like it might be a failure or badly reviewed, and she attempts to convince herself she doesn't care. The ups and downs in her mood suggest bipolar disorder, which contemporary psychologists believe afflicted her. Knowing her fate (she drowned herself not long after the last entry of this diary) made reading portions very sad.


On the other hand, Woolf felt she had just begun to know her own mind in her 40s, which gives me hope! Elements of her process and the way one negative review overrode all the positive responses created a sense of affinity for me as a writer. Woolf changed literature, and I'm glad she kept such a diary.

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review 2017-08-17 23:10
School for Skylarks - Sam Angus School for Skylarks - Sam Angus

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It started out rather boring, then gradually became a little more interesting...but by the time we reached the last quarter of the book, it really got pretty good. I'm glad I continued reading to the end.


To start off, this book is about our 11-year old protagonist Lyla. It's the Second World War and she's been evacuated to the countryside to live with her Aunt Ada - an aunt who is rather loopy and does all sorts of zany things. She's quite eccentric, in fact - talks in a very unique fashion, summons her horse indoors to dinner, gives her niece a ferret to cheer her up (the ferret is called Bucket, btw).


Hang on a sec. Lyla? This sounds familiar. Remember Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, with a very similar female protagonist called...Lyra. Her personality is pretty much the same.


...except that Lyra is a lot more awesome, and Lyla mopes about her aunt's house and complains that her dad cheated on her mum, and that she wants to go home. Yeah. But she's like 11, so she's probably going to be like that for a while.


The first third of the book is bloody boring.


Seriously. She's just moping around in this giant mansion by herself and complaining about her parents. I almost fell asleep reading it.


A little later, one of Lyla's "Escape Plans" to get out of here and return to London where her mother will presumably help her, involves writing a letter to the Ministry of Defence and trying to persuade them to send their soldiers up to this mansion.


What do they get? An army of schoolgirls. An entire school of them moves into the mansion, and strangely enough Aunt Ada is FINE with that, and Lyla has to enroll in this school and take classes with everyone else.


Honestly, I'm amazed anyone at the Ministry of Defence actually believed this letter written by an 11-year old girl. But I digress.


The next part of the book is a bit interesting...but not that much, because I'm just relieved that our protagonist gets to INTERACT with someone. A few characters are introduced, but seriously only one of them matters. Maybe two. One of them is written to be some kind of bully...except not really, because all she does is say slightly unpleasant things sometimes. That's about it.


The last part of the book, however, makes it almost worth the wait. Lyla has been writing to her mother during the war. She's been writing everyday and has received no reply at all, not even on her birthday. Her father, however, has been writing to her pretty frequently.


Unfortunately, she's of the opinion that her dad cheated on her mum and left her (due to her mum's words) and refuses to read any of her dad's letters. She continues to wait every day for any reply from her mum.


Except for one day when she DOES start getting letters from her mum...but at this point, you can tell that something's wrong, because she should be over the moon about it, and instead she's just fairly happy about it. I've read enough teenage fiction at this point to know that it's not going to end happily.


I could go on about this book further, but I will say that all that boring stuff in the beginning makes it worthwhile when you reach the climax at the end.


There are, however, some parts of the book which bothered me. Namely...this book takes place over five years.


Are you shitting me? FIVE YEARS?


She acts exactly the same as when she's 11, as she does when she's 16! For goodness' sake! Put in some character progression or something! I mean, sure, she matures a bit, but people change quite a bit between those two ages. It felt like barely one year had passed! I get that the author was trying to maintain continuity about how long the war lasted...but still.  


Another thing was that the chapters were ridiculously short.


I found several chapters which were less than two pages long. I blinked and the chapter was over. It was like one scene. I finished 50 pages within 10 minutes, and that barely covers any of the book at all. I mean, come on! i felt like it was for much younger readers because of this (especially with the larger font), but the chapters could be a little bit longer than that.


The writing style, too...You know how the first Harry Potter book has this kind of quirky humour about it? Something about it which just makes you smile? Sassy, even. I felt like the author was TRYING to do that here. He wasn't doing a very good job, though. I didn't really smile at how hard he was trying to do humour. It just fell flat, in my opinion.


There's also a scene right near the end of the book where one of the characters starts dying and it comes out of nowhere.


Lyla leaves for three days. When she comes back, the character has suffered multiple strokes and is on her deathbed. The next several chapters (did I mention they're so goddamn short?) go on about how she dies and stuff. Which is a bit sad, since I care a little about the character, but I'm still recovering from reading about Lyla's parents.


in short, the emotional and evocative part of the book was about the protagonist's relationships with her parents. The war setting felt like it was just in the background. Sure, Lyla's dad is off fighting in the war, and he writes letters to her every day which she just turns into paper aeroplanes and chucks in the rose bush, but...I don't know, it's more about relationships here. There's a few nods to the war effort, I guess.


And then there's a point where her auntie starts smuggling Monopoly boards to the prisoners captured by the Germans.


I don't even know how that could possibly work out.


Anyway, I've rambled on too long about this book now. It starts off rather slow, but it picks up towards the middle and ultimately has a satisfactory conclusion. A character gets killed off, but it made virtually no difference to me, except that the author seemed to fill several chapters with everyone mourning for her.


Also, Lyla's mum is a piece of shit, and her dad is cool, and her aunt is loopy, and I still don't believe 5 years passed through the entire book. Initially I would have given it 2.5/5, but I'll raise that to a 3.5/5.

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