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review 2018-04-13 03:24
Precursor to "the Blitz"
The Sky on Fire: The First Battle of Britain, 1917-1918 - Raymond H. Fredette,Tom D. Crouch

Today the Battle of Britain has become an indelible part of the British historical identity, one with which nearly every Briton is familiar on some level. In the process, however, the air battles between the British and the Germans often obscure the fact that the air campaign was hardly unprecedented even in British history. For during the last two years of the war, the German Luftstreitkräfte launched a bombing campaign of London and the Home Counties, one which Raymond Fredette argues was a forerunner for the more famous sequel nearly a quarter of a century later.

 

To demonstrate this, Fredette charts both the development of the German’s air campaign and the British response to it. As he describes it, the German campaign was a product of evolving technology, namely the improvement in German aircraft design. With British air defense forces increasingly successful in their efforts to shoot down the zeppelins used in Germany’s initial bombing campaign, the Germans turned to large biplane bombers as a means to strike their enemy across the channel. Though the flights were generally small and the damage they inflicted had a negligible impact on Britain militarily, they elicited a response out of all proportion to their effect. Numerous guns and fighters were diverted from other missions to provide for the defense of London, which proved a considerable challenge as the bombers proved to be much more difficult targets to locate (let alone shoot down) than the ponderous zeppelins. Yet it was the weather and the turn of the larger war against the Germans that doomed the campaign, as by the summer of 1918 the bombers were diverted to support the doomed offensive on the Western Front, having nevertheless established a precedent that would be followed by others.

 

Though Fredette draws primarily from contemporary news reports and other published accounts for his information, he uses this information to good effect. As a career air force officer he infuses his narrative with a professional’s understanding of the challenges the pilots and their superiors faced in both mounting and responding to the bombing campaign. Written with a sense of the dramatic, his book provides an engaging narrative of the “first battle of Britain,” one that makes a good case for its underappreciated significance to the history of strategic air warfare.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-06 20:37
Contains Spoilers
Hamish Macbeth: Death of an Honest Man: Hamish Macbeth, Book 33 - M. C. Beaton,David Monteath,Audible Studios
Why did I read it? I adore the Hamish Macbeth series, and this was the latest edition.
 
What's it about? An income arrives in Cnothan, and town on Hamish Macbeth's beat. Paul English considers himself an honest man, but on calling on the incomer to welcome him to the community Charlie, Hamish's constable, lands them both in trouble at headquarters. Paul English works his way around the communities, spouting his views on the shortcomings of the locals directly to their face, causing hackles to rise. "I could kill that man," could be heard from Lochdubh to Cnothan. And, so ...
 
What did I like? Honestly, the soothing tones of David Monteath were perhaps the only lovely thing about this particular episode of life in Lochdubh.
 
What didn't I like? Oh dear. It seemed to me that the author, M.C. Beaton 'phoned it in'. There were so many errors in the book.
 
(1) Lucia Lament was noted as the daughter of Mr. Ferrari; however, in earlier books, we learn Lucia is a distant relative of Mr. Ferrari brought over from Italy to work in the restaurant in Lochdubh, after Mr. Ferrari's immediate family took over the running of his first restaurant.
 
(2) Initially, it is said Silas' father died when he was two, then, later, it is said his father died 10 years previous. So, either Hamish's new constable is 12 years old, or this is yet another error in the narrative.
 
(3) It seems the forensics team has been re-populated with boozy blokes, who I thought had been replaced a few books back.
 
There are many more inconsistencies like this that regular readers/listeners might pick up on.
 
How many constables can Hamish get through in one book? Charlie Carter, who has been with Hamish through a few books, seems to have been unceremoniously pushed out of the series. Larry Coomb appears, and is gone within a few short paragraphs. Enter Constable Silas Dunbar. Exit Constable Silas Dunbar. Enter Freddie Ross. Exit Freddie Ross. Then, at the very last, enter a WPC, Dorothy MacIver.
 
Why bring Elspeth back into Sutherland at all? Her contribution to the narrative was negligible, with the low level rivalry between her, and Priscilla for affections of Hamish becoming increasingly tedious in its repetition. And, the rivalry between the two of them, and Sonsie is reignited upon the cat's incomprehensible return.
 
The storylines featuring Colonel Halburton-Smythe, and Chief Inspector Blair were so far beyond believable, and extremely disappointing. Yes, this is fiction, which often strays from reality as it is set in an idyllic version of the highlands, but these narratives were just too far-fetched, and stretched far beyond the known behaviours of these long-term characters formed through the previous 32 books. These tangential stories seemed ill formed, and very ill judged. It's almost like they were padding for the scant murder mystery, which, itself, seemed poorly thought out, and too closely related to other victims, and plots in the series.
 
There are other disappointments, but I have listed only what I see as the the major faults here. Overall, the book felt disjointed, the main narrative was thin, and the side stories not as believable as in the past. At times, the superstitious and supernatural elements felt more real than anything else.
 
Also, having listened to this audio series in its entirety several times now, I have begun to notice mistakes in the text, e.g. the wrong character having said a line. Unfortunately, this is also true of “Death of an Honest Man” having listened to it three times now.
 
Would I recommend it? Honestly, no. Not even to fans of the series. I sincerely hope the next two books in the series, which M.C. Beaton has confirmed she is contracted to write, are not so badly composed as this one. I want a return to the Hamish Macbeth and inhabitants of Lochdubh I have grown to love.

 

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review 2018-04-06 17:10
Girl in the Dark, by Anna Lyndsey
Girl in the Dark: A Memoir - Anna Lyndsey

I became interested in this book because as a migraine sufferer who hasn't always had my headaches under control or been able to reliably treat them, I would be shut up in my apartment, in the dark (or as dark as possible when I lived in Arizona), for up to 24 hours. I couldn't read or watch television or go online. I'd sleep but couldn't do so all day. I was bored and felt alone. The next day, when the pain was gone, it was like a first day out of prison or after a long illness. I'd be almost euphoric but also feel vulnerable, as sometimes I'd get rebound headaches. Thankfully, I now have medications both to reduce my headache days and to stop them before they become agonizing.

 

"Anna" has an extreme sensitivity to light that keeps her inside, in a light-tight room, not for a day but months (even years) at a time. Certain wavelengths affect her more than others, but she can't read, watch television, or use a computer. She listens to audio books, talks on the phone with others who share debilitating chronic conditions, plays mental logic games alone or with her partner or other loved ones. She understandably feels depressed and experiences suicidal ideation.

 

Yet the book itself is not depressing. There is a humor to her writing, and her strength in dealing with this condition is impressive, encouraging, and inspiring without being maudlin. She's candid about her frustrations, as when she talks with others with chronic conditions that don't limit them in all the ways she is limited and finds herself angry.

 

She's also a terrific writer; the book feels literary in its prose and structure, which includes shorter chapters ordered thematically and achronologically (in one chapter she goes through the alphabet--one of her mental games--to list all the therapies she's tried and their results). At the end of the book she explains her decisions about how to structure it and even includes a chart indicating periods when she could not leave her home at all and periods of remission when she could go out around dawn and dusk.

 

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Girl in the Dark to read about is the fact that doctors refused to come to her when she could not leave her home. She corresponded with some, but knowing that house calls have been part of the medical profession in the past (and still are in some places--or for the right price) demonstrates their reluctance--not inability--to engage with patients with rare conditions like Anna's. To me, that's inexcusable and shameful.

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review 2018-03-28 04:43
Forcefully revises misconceptions about Britain in World War II
Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources, and Experts in the Second World War - David Edgerton

When it comes to the Second World War, the British historical imagination is defined by the image of 1940: a plucky little island, standing alone against the Nazi juggernaut that had just rolled over western Europe.  The underdog status suggested by this image magnified both the heroism of the Battle of Britain and the subsequent victory scored over Germany five years later. Yet such a view, as David Edgerton stresses, is wildly inaccurate. Contrary to the popular myth, Britain stood at the head of an empire of nearly half a billion people, with the resources to wage war quite easily. Moreover, it was a war waged with an advanced and heavily mechanized military effort, one even more so than that possessed by their enemy.  Edgerton details all of this in his revisionist analysis of the war, one that takes a bulldozer to many longstanding misconceptions to give readers a better understanding of how the British waged, and won, the war.

 

Edgerton begins by describing the considerable economic resources Britain possessed during the war. Theirs was an imperial economy capable of tapping a range of resources from foodstuffs to oil, as well as the manufactures and skills provided by the colonies. This was connected to the home country by a merchant fleet which also gave Britain access to the economic might of the United States and which actually grew over the course of the conflict.  Edgerton describes the good use to which these goods were put, noting the improvements in diet for millions and arguing, again contrary to the popular myth, that the war materiel produced was of equal or even superior quality to that of their enemies and often of their allies as well.  All of this was managed by a state that gave considerable support to its scientists and technicians, many of whom developed the advanced weaponry which Britain used to win the war.

 

Forcefully argued and backed by a wealth of statistics, Edgerton’s book provides a powerful corrective to many misconceptions about Britain’s war effort.  Yet in some respects Edgerton deploys his arguments too broadly, often glossing over or ignoring the flaws that served as the basis of contemporary criticisms about the quality of British weapons (such as in naval air, which is mentioned only once and in passing). Moreover, his analysis raises an interesting question that is left unaddressed: if the British war machine outclassed that of the Germans in both quality and quantity, then why did the war last as long as it did?  Edgerton suggest Japan’s entry (which deprived Britain of the resources of her east Asian colonies) as a key factor, but this is only a partial example and begs further analysis.  Such an examination would have added greatly to the value of this already important book, which should be read by anyone with an interest in British history or the Second World War.

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text 2018-02-16 18:51
Landmarks - Robert Macfarlane,Roy McMillan,Penguin Books Ltd

Why did I read it?  When first published, several people recommended this book to me, and it was recommended more than once by some.  I imagine those recommendations came because of my like of the natural world, and of language.  I have no idea why, but I put it on my 'wish list' and then my 'to be read</i>' pile, but never actually started it; these decisions I now regret.

What's it about? With the Oxford Children's Dictionary removing words relating to nature, e.g. acorn, in favour of technological terms, Robert Macfarlane explores the United Kingdom in search of those words to describe, and connect us to the natural world.  Connection.  That is the key to this book.  In a time, and place which seems to breed disconnection, this book seeks to reunite us with a deep love for landscape, and language.


What did I like? Every single word, and most especially the glossaries.  Rich in words and landscape, there is so much to enjoy, and explore in this book.  I listened to the audio book, which is rather nicely done.  I did query a few of the Gaelic pronunciations - being a learner of the language, not a native speaker, I may not completely comprehend the dialectal nuances.  I am very pleased I opted to purchase the Kindle edition, too, so I can explore those glossaries at my leisure.

Oh, the joy I found in this book: learning new words for phenomenon I had no idea might even exist; remembering 'childish' the way children use language to describe their surroundings; and discovering new Gaelic words I wanted to include in my (ever-expanding) vocabulary.  

The narrator, Roy McMillan|, did a splendid job.  I'm afraid I have no idea of the name of other gentleman whose voice was used to read out various words, but his voice gave  luscious contrast to Mr McMillan's smooth tones.

What didn't I like?  I could find no fault with this book.  I find fault with myself for not reading it sooner.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Yes! Yes!  Not necessarily the audio version though - not because it is not well read, but because once you've read the book, I'm pretty sure you'll want to keep it to hand to pore over the word glossaries, and then add to your own.

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