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review 2019-09-23 12:29
A joy of a book that will make readers feel as if they had been there.
Apollo 11: The Moon Landing in Real Time - Ian Passingham

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. What a blast!

There are events that become fixed on people’s minds, either because they witnessed them and felt they were momentous, or because the impact of the news when they heard them made them remember forever the moment when they heard about it and what they were doing at the time. Some become part of the collective memory. The first manned mission to land on the Moon is one of those. As I was a very young child (four years old, if you want to know), I don’t remember it, but I do remember my father recounting having gone to a neighbour’s to watch it as we didn’t have a TV at home at the time. And I’ve watched the images, seen pictures, and read articles and watched documentaries about it over the years, but no, I didn’t experience it live at the time. So, on this year of the fiftieth anniversary, I couldn’t resist this book. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The author collects an incredible amount of information from a large variety of sources (there is a bibliography at the end, which includes the sources although not the specific details of each and every one of the articles and news items, as that would have taken more space than the book itself), and manages to select the most informative, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and entertaining materials, creating a fun and gripping reading experience that, although we know where it’s going, never gets boring. He is also at pains to try to provide a balanced view of the facts, collecting as well the voices of those opposing the project for a variety of reasons (mainly economic, to do with poverty and conditions in the USA, but also some for religious reasons, and others due to the fear of what that might mean for humanity and the likelihood of space’s exploitation for war purposes).

Passingham lets the materials speak for themselves in most instances (and it is a joy to read the opinions of the general public at a time before social media gave everybody the tools to share their voice with the rest of the world), and he does so while creating an easy to read and compelling account of events that evidence his professionalism and his experience as a journalist. Where some authors would feel tempted to butt in and make explicit their points of view, here we are allowed to make our own minds up.

After a first chapter called ‘Race to the Moon: 1957-69’ highlighting the USSR’s successes in what would become known as ‘the space race’ and the USA’s determination to turn things around (spurred on by JFK’s promise, in 1962, to get to the moon before the end of the decade), the book takes on the format of a count-down, from Wednesday, 2nd of July 1969 (launch minus fourteen day) to Splashdown day (24th of July) and a final chapter looking at what has happened since. This format makes us share in the excitement of the team (and the whole world), at the time, and, although we know what took place, we get to feel a part of it.

I have marked many items in the book that gave me pause, and the description also gives a good hint of some of the gems readers can find in the book. If I had to choose some, perhaps the comments by Michael Collins about how he felt about the possibility of having to leave his two fellow astronauts behind if things went wrong with the Moon landing; the advancements on computer sciences and technology brought up by the project (when looking at the data it sounds underwhelming today, but it’s incredible to think they managed to do what they did with the equipment they had) and the same applies to the cameras they took with them and used; the mention of Amy Spear’s role in developing radar systems used for landing and docking the module; worries about what would happen to all the people who had been working on the project once the flight was over, many of whom had come from other states (would the new jobs be maintained?). I loved the enthusiasm and the optimism of people convinced that in ten years there would be hotels in the Moon and humanity would be settling other planets (oh, and they were phoning aviation companies to book their flights already!); the sad comments by US soldiers in Vietnam who contrasted the public support the  Apollo 11 enjoyed with the general opinion about the Vietnam war; I was very sad about the fate of a monkey they sent into orbit (alone! Poor thing!);I was interested in the opposing voices as well, in the fact that Russian women had gone into space but at that point there were no women in the programme (and due to Navy regulations, Nixon’s wife couldn’t even accompany her husband when he went to welcome the astronauts aboard USS Hornet…), and a mention that the astronauts had access to a microwave oven in the Mobile Quarantine Facility (they had been in existence for a while, but they were large and only used in industrial settings at that point), and, oh, so many things.

I enjoyed the book, which also contains many illustrations, all from NASA, and apart from making me feel as if I had been there, it also gave me plenty of food for thought. Many of the things people imagined didn’t come to pass, although it is not clear why (yes, it would have been very expensive, but that didn’t seem to stop them at that point. And why did the USSR pull back as well?), there were many advances due to it, but space exploration has remained controversial, perhaps even more so now than before. I wonder if there will be some positive event that will pull so many people together again in the future, rather than the catastrophes and disasters (natural or man-made) that seem to have become the norm in recent years. I guess only time will tell.

I cannot imagine there will be anybody who won’t find this book enjoyable (OK, people who believe the Earth is flat or conspiracy theorists might not care for it, and experts on the subject might not find anything new in its pages), and I’d recommend it to anybody who either remembers that event and wants to re-experience it, or wasn’t there at the time and wants to learn all about it. A joy of a book.

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review 2019-09-15 00:03
Sword and Pen / Rachel Caine
Sword and Pen - Rachel Caine

With the future of the Great Library in doubt, the unforgettable characters from Ink and Bone must decide if it's worth saving in this thrilling adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.

The corrupt leadership of the Great Library has fallen. But with the Archivist plotting his return to power, and the Library under siege from outside empires and kingdoms, its future is uncertain. Jess Brightwell and his friends must come together as never before, to forge a new future for the Great Library . . . or see everything it stood for crumble.

 

Fabulous! This is going out with a bang, rather than a whimper! I am not sure what it says about me that I adore dark fantasy, with plenty of battles, plots, backstabby treacherousness, and ingenious weapons. And don’t forget the Great Library! Having worked my whole career in libraries, they are near and dear to my heart.

This volume reduced me to emotional tatters by its end. I shed plenty of tears and just sat staring into space for a while after I finished it. What a ride!

Ms. Caine, you have certainly figured out how to make me into a happy reader. Between this series, the Stillhouse Lake series and the Honors series, I am overwhelmed with good choices for future reading. Long may you write!

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text 2019-07-30 11:05
A must read for children and adults
Voices of the Second World War: A Child's Perspective - Sheila A Renshaw

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review. (Note that it is also available in ebook format).

I have talked before about the importance of remembering the past, especially the experiences of individuals who never make it into official history books. The movement to record the memories of the everyday lives of anonymous people, including mass archives, has helped bring history closer to everybody and has also helped us understand what the war was like for the general population.

This book goes a step further and collects the memories of people who were children during WWII, in many European countries (and also one in Egypt), in a variety of circumstances: some from countries that were invaded (the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia…), neutral countries (like Sweden), there are also several accounts from the Isle of Man, the Isle of Wight, and the Channel Islands (the only part of the British Isles occupied during the war), quite a few from the UK, and also from Germany and Italy. There are some common threads and themes throughout the different chapters, most of them dedicated to only one child’s memories, although there are some chapters which collect several shorter accounts. In occupied countries there are horrific accounts of the cruelty of the invading army, particularly reprisals against anything perceived as resistance or disobedience, and, after the allied victory, the repercussions for those who were seen as having collaborated with the invading forces (especially women who became “friendly” with German soldiers), some truly harrowing accounts of survivors of incredible hardship (Sara’s account of her and her sister’s survival in Auschwitz is heart-breaking, especially because they lost all of their immediate family; Nadia, from Ukraine, experienced plenty of hardship but she recounts how it could have been even worse, if not for the kindness of some of the people she met along the way)…  There are plenty of stories of children being evacuated (mostly in the UK), and also of the families who received those evacuees. Inventive mothers creating delicious recipes out of little food, schools that kept going no matter what, rationing books, joining the war effort by collecting newspapers, scrap metal, glass…, growing vegetables, going to the shelter, experiencing bombings first-hand, memories of the Barrage balloons, the sounds of the anti-air-raid guns, the all clear… In Germany and in many of the occupied countries, children remember the worry of not knowing what might happen, the need to be careful as you never knew who might overhear what you said, who was a friend or an enemy, and the terrible consequences if the wrong word reached the wrong ear. German children also mention the shock and utter disbelief when they and their families learned what had been happening in the concentration camps, although the older children were aware that Jews and dissidents were arrested or disappeared with little explanation. One of the children pointedly says that nobody admitted knowing anything about it, but it is clear from the experiences of some of the children in occupied countries that, at least to them, it was not such a big surprise.

There are also light moments, accounts of friendly German and Italian soldiers (especially at the beginning of the war), a German surgeon who saved the life of the father of one of the narrators (who was 2 y.o. at the time), children fascinated by the planes, looking for souvenirs among the debris, joining groups like the Cubs or the Brownies, meeting new people and experiencing a different kind of life in the countryside, the victory parties… I particularly enjoyed the account by Anne, from York, that reads at times like Huckleberry Finn (she saw life as an adventure, no matter what, and I hope she still does). I was moved by first-hand accounts of the Coventry bombings, and happy to read about what had happened to all those children and where they were now.

The book also includes photographs. These are not photographs of the children whose stories we are told, but they are black and white photos of the era, mostly of children, relate directly to some of the stories we read about, and help us recreate the atmosphere of the time as we read the book.

As the author explains in the introduction, which sets up the scene and provides a brief but useful background to the stories, during the war, the main consideration was the physical wellbeing of the children rather than the emotional impact some of the decisions the adults took on their behalf (like evacuating them) could have. Now, in hindsight, it is easy to see what an influence these events had on the lives of all those children. And, as a society, we should never forget what the long-term consequences of a war are on all those involved.

I recommend this book to everybody. Although some of the accounts are tough to read, I think books such as this one should be read to (and by) children, with their parents supervision if they are very young, as a way to help them connect to history, and by adults, because we must remember what happened (and what is still happening in many places) and work hard to avoid it in the future.

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review 2019-06-17 20:20
"Recursion" by Blake Crouch - Abandoned at 10%
Recursion - Abby Craden,Blake Crouch,Jon Lindstrom

"Recursion" was a mis-buy on my part. An intriguing premise but written in a way I struggled to engage with-

 

I pre-ordered Blake Crouch's "Recursion" because I thought the premise, the emergence of a disease labelled False Memory Syndrome was intriguing. I also wanted to give Blake Crouch another try. I didn't get on well with his "Pines" trilogy, opting out after the first book. Given the reviews his books get, I wanted to see what I was missing.

 

The premise is an intriguing one: in 2008, a well-intentioned and heavily funded scientist sets out to save the world from Alzheimer's and ends up creating a technology that will undermine our whole sense of who we are. Ten years later, a New York City Robbery Division Detective with a tragic history and a drinking problem is present at the suicide of a woman suffering from False Memory Syndrome. He starts to research the phenomenon and can't let it go.

 

With a premise like that, I should be happily hip-deep in a mystery /thriller with some cool science at its heart rather than writing a review of a book I've abandoned at the 10% mark.

 

I abandoned the book because of a number of small things that, when I added them together, told me I wasn't looking forward to spending another ten hours with this book.

The plot structure, with the two asynchronous but converging timelines is a nice idea but the delivery is dull and the pace is slow.

 

The NYC cop didn't interest me. He's a fully-loaded cliché: late middle-aged white man, divorced, the tragic death of his daughter has broken him and his marriage, lives alone, drinks too much and is married to the job. Are you bored yet? I was. There was nothing distinctive about the man to make me care whether he's going to get involved in hunting down the cause of False Memory Syndrome or not.

 

The scientist is a mirror image, thirty-eight-year-old scientist, still seeking funding for her big idea, nothing in her life but her work which is in part a crusade to help her mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's.

 

Then there's the memory science, which seems to model human memory as if it where computer memory only on a larger scale in terms of data set size and complexity. My understanding is that memory doesn't work like that. It's not a tape we play, it's something we reconstruct each time we recall something.

 

Setting the science aside, how these characters remember things doesn't match my experience. They seem to be watching 4K HD TV while I'm tuned to the radio.

So I'm putting this one down as a mis-buy and sending it back to audible.

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review 2019-06-13 18:57
Sword of David by James R. Dale
Sword of David (Time of Jacob's Trouble #1) - James R. Dale

A well written debut novel that tells the story of a special forces sergeant master, Jack Braedan, and some friends as they go through the time of Jacob's Trouble from the book of Revelation. It is a series, so the book does end with a cliffhanger and it is labeled as Christian fiction. I really enjoyed this one. Read it in a couple of hours.

 

Note: This book was written by James R. Dale, not the author that Booklikes kept defaulting to (James Dale Davidson) when I added this book. I sent Booklikes an email about this as it is Mr. Dale's debut novel and I want him to get credit for it.

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