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review 2017-04-22 18:53
Review: With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale #1) by Sarah Sundin
With Every Letter - Sarah Sundin

This book.




*great book noise*


Where has this author been all my adult reading life?


I ended up creating a draft copy of my end of the year best of list for fiction. It has one book on that list. This book.


So I picked this book up from Amazon's bargain/close out section and then it gathered dust on my book shelves for years. I am now kicking myself for not reading this (and the other two books in the trilogy, but I don't have a copy of those yet) sooner.


Lt Philomela Blake (Mellie) is an Army nurse working on the experimental Air Evacuation section of the Army-Air Corps. She wants adventure, she wants travel, and she wants to move up in her career. Mellie is a damn fine nurse, and a fine person - but she is lonely because she never could make friends, especially female friends due to her childhood. Mellie is half-Filipino and half-white; she was too Asian for American school kids to like and too American for Asian kids to like. She has been instructed to learn to make friends and get along with the other women in her squadron or she will be removed from the Air Evacuation team and sent back to hospital work. She decides that part of this new "make friends and influence people" plan is to write anonymous letters to a male pen pal in her supervisor's husband's platoon.


Lt Tom MacGilliver is the son of an executed killer who just wants to be accepted for himself and be the best engineer the Army needs. He is working with the Airfield Battalion, hopping from location to location to lay down airfields for the Allies in North Africa. He too is lonely, so he answers Mellie's letter, staying anonymous. She goes by "Annie" and he goes by "Ernest".


Tom and Mellie form a deep bond through letters, even when Mellie's unit deploys to North Africa. They do meet, neither of them knowing that the other is the pen pal. At the end of the first meeting, Tom gives away a little of his identity and Mellie figures out Tom is her pen pal. She keeps this knowledge to herself, hoping to keep letter writing going. Both are falling in love with each other via letters, but Tom is also starting to fall for Mellie when she comes to his airfields to pick up wounded soldiers. He is very conflicted about his feelings for the "two" women throughout the second half of the book, but in the end he decides on "Annie" over Mellie, because "Annie" knows him deep down while Mellie he is physically attracted to. When he finally (FINALLY!!) figures out that they are actually the same woman, he mows down anyone in his way of him getting his woman.


This romance tackles racism, ethnic tensions, sexism, and how to deal with long hair when in the combat theater and you are rationed water supplies. Honestly, the deft hand when dealing with these issues plus the emotional baggage Mellie and Tom bring to their relationship is amazing. The story is rounded out with a variety of characters, some good - some bad - some ugly. But all the characters felt real. And the setting was aptly described; the reader is taken on a tour of North Africa including Casablanca, Oran, Tunis, Algiers, Youks-les-Bains, Constantine, Tabarka, and a few places in Sicily. This is an inspie romance, non-denominational Christianity. However, the religious aspects are really well-woven into the story, with no lecturing or long monologues or selfish praying. 


Tom adopts a stray dog early in the book. The dog is still alive at the end of the book and still working and living with Tom's unit.


I am definitely making it a point to read the other two books in the series and read the author's backlist (she tends to write in trilogies, all WWII). HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!




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review 2015-04-10 15:11
An illegal immigrant Forest Gump
Fisch aus Gold - J.M.G. Le Clézio,Uli Wittmann

Poisson d'Or / Fisch aus Gold I thought, was a rags to riches story, but it turned out to be a more grim illegal immigrant version of Forest Gump. In this book the protagonist Laïla tells her life story as a 1st person narrative: From when she was kidnapped as a young child in Morocco, snatched away from her parents permanently. All the way up to when she's around 20, when -- I won't spoil it, let's just say things end on a positive note!


The title refers to a poem about a golden fish that should watch out for predators, it's a metaphor for Laïla who has to deal with quite a lot of predatory people - sadly. So it's neither as funny as Forest Gump nor mixed with historic moments. But this book also tells the life story of an innocent person, with the occasional tear-jerker moment. Fortunately it's not too sad or depressive.


The book is well-written and easy to read, and keeps the reader interested most of the time. The blurb of this book seemed a bit pretentious "This book is about blah blah, the most political Le Clézio has written". But after finishing it I must admit that it made me think about things, which is good I suppose. A good 4+ out of 5 score! PS. The writer's fan club has a useful list of available translations.

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review 2014-08-03 16:29
Review of Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson
An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 - Rick Atkinson

Disappointed in myself that I waited so long to read this outstanding book.  This is the first of a trilogy that covers the United States military in Europe in World War II.  This book was a detailed look at the North African campaign and it is fascinating.  Atkinson does a great job looking at the personalities on all sides as well as the military maneuvers.  What struck me most about the story was the fact that the U.S. military was so unprepared for the actual fighting in terms of logistics, experience, and the aggressiveness needed to win.  We always have this image of the American military giant, but this story shows that North Africa was basically school for our military and the lessons learned would help in Europe in the years ahead.

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review 2009-01-07 00:00
An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy - Rick Atkinson I started Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy with his second book - The Day of Battle - but that was such an informative and well written account of the Italian campaign that when I came across a copy of An Army at Dawn in a local used bookstore, I picked it up immediately.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed.

Despite the occasionally overwrought prose (which I don’t remember so much from The Day of Battle), Atkinson manages to relate the invasion of North Africa and the subsequent campaign to take Tunis with bracing clarity and drama. The careless reader might get lost in the forest of names and fast-breaking events but that’s why God invented indices and cartography – both resources with which this book are amply equipped.

Atkinson is not a historian and the chief theme underlying his story is that North Africa was the crucible that forged an effective Allied army and made or broke the careers of the men who would lead it, particularly Eisenhower. Somehow Eisenhower’s superiors saw something in the relatively young, untried officer and promoted him over a number of senior officers. These qualities were well hidden, however, in the initial stages of the African campaign. Ike didn’t have any experience commanding an army and he was a tyro in dealing with the delicate egos of politicians and generals. As a consequence, the battles were ill planned and stalled with the coming of winter in 1942. It also meant that incompetent commanders were left in command for far too long, with disastrous results for the men they led. The “poster boy” of this contingent was the general of the II Corps, Lloyd Fredendall, whose cowardice and incompetence finally forced Eisenhower to cashier him but only after thousands had paid the price.

From my readings in WW2 history (admittedly not as extensive as they could be), I would tend to agree with Atkinson’s point. If the Allies had invaded northern Europe in 1943 as Roosevelt and Churchill contemplated, it would have been an unmitigated disaster. We may still have won eventually but it would have taken a measure of political will that probably would have been absent without victories to bolster morale; and it would have been devastating to military confidence.

Beyond that, there were several events/themes that stood out to me:

(1) It’s a little advertised fact that the first troops we engaged in battle were Vichy French. I suppose this sticks in my mind only as in illustration of the complexities of reality. The Allies were never of one mind about the course of the war and its aftermath, and the French were not just waiting for their Allied friends to arrive so that they could through in with them.

Another illustration of this was Roosevelt’s assertion of “unconditional surrender” at the Casablanca conference. A move that surprised and chagrined Churchill, who had discussed the idea with the Americans but certainly hadn’t committed himself.

(2) On the whole, the Germans were simply better at fighting a war. This doesn’t mean their commands weren’t riven by political and personal animosities or that incompetence didn’t rear its ugly head – they were and it did - but the commanders were more professional, the men better trained, the commands better integrated (the Germans tended to ignore their Vichy and Italian allies in planning campaigns, and not without cause), and German logistics better coordinated (the Germans did more with far less than the Allies). It’s a frightening prospect to imagine an Axis that had access to the materiel wealth that the Allies eventually enjoyed.

(3) Which brings us to my third point: the overwhelming materiel superiority of the Allies. They could afford to make mistakes. Several, in fact. Atkinson quotes an unnamed general as saying, “The American Army does not solve its problems, it overwhelms them.” (p. 145) From February to March 1943, 130 ships sailed to Africa with 84,000 troops, 24,000 vehicles and a million tons of cargo. The Germans were fortunate to slip a handful of ships across the straits from Sicily against Allied bombing.

(4) For me, the most interesting part of the book was finding out about the Allied commanders – who they were, their personalities and how they coped with the realities of battle (a new experience even for the WW1 vets as technology had made the Second World War and entirely new way of fighting). I’ve already mentioned Eisenhower and Fredendall but we meet any number of lower ranking officers of varying qualities and competencies, including George Patton, the icon of the can-do, hard-charging American soldier. My feelings of loathing for this borderline psychopath were only reinforced despite Atkinson’s generally admiring treatment. One of Atkinson’s strengths, though, is his evenhanded treatment of the subject – no commander is perfect and all made some truly egregious errors that cost tens of thousands of lives. The better learned from their mistakes; the best also realized the human cost of their folly.

Atkinson’s breakdown of the problems of command is a salutary antidote against the armchair generals who look back at Kasserine Pass and other battles and say, “Well, if only they had done this,” or ask, “Why didn’t he throw X brigade into the line at this point?” It’s surprising how little information planners had on hand, who yet confidently drew up ambitious battle plans. What’s even more surprising is how often the Army managed to pull them off, regardless.

I would definitely recommend this book as well as The Day of Battle to anyone interested in military and/or WW2 history, and I look forward to the third installment, which promises to deal with the D-Day invasion and its aftermath.
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