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review 2018-06-21 21:50
Out in Sept
They Fought Alone - Charles Glass
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

If you know anything about SOE then you have heard about the Starr brothers, maybe not in depth and maybe just by their code names, but you have heard them. John Starr was at Avenue Foch at the same as Noor Khan and was one of the men who planned an escape attempt with her.

Charles Glass presents the story of the brothers’ actions in SOE during the second World War. George Starr avoided capture and lead a rather effective group of resistance operatives in occupied France. His brother, John Starr, was not as lucky.

In many ways, using the two brothers, Glass shows the divergent paths an SOE operative could take. Capture in most case, meant torture and death. But freedom could mean death as well, but also to strike against the Nazis, then possibly, possibly honors after the war.

Not that those who joined SOE did so for honors; it was a top-secret organization after all.

The book’s one problem is the same problem that is in any book about SOE, what is the truth and what actually happened. It’s hard, and then you have to factor in the times, the situation and all that.

To be fair, Glass does his best. He does note when something is rumor and when something is fact. If there are two divergent stories, he gives both with context and pros and cons. This is especially important when dealing with John Starr’s story as his is less clear cut than his brothers. Did he help the enemy or not, if he did is he at fault are questions that Glass must attend to, and he does, quite well. While he is sympathetic to his subjects, he is not blind or totally in awe. It is a balanced recounting.

The Starrs are the focus of the book, but Glass does give time to various members of the Circuit and other prisoners. 

This book is nice addition to the works about the members of SOE.


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text 2018-06-19 23:02
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Glass Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

I made it to the end of this and am unsure how I feel about the whole thing.


It didn't end all easy with her being the hero, but she still managed to be the hero and do things and figure out things that long-time magicians were unable to do and figure out.  She's also still the stupid "little girl" that I disliked at the beginning of the first book, even though she was 19 then (and acted like a pre-teen) and 20 now.  


The ending was kinda super easy, though.  That's the worst part of the whole thing.  The defeats were still too easy and deaths happened because of her stupidity, and people's lives were put into jeopardy because of her stupidity, yet everyone is so happy she's alive and no one seems pissed that she caused these issues.




I have book three on my Kindle.  Part of me wants to read it after re-reading the book description - I want to see if it gets better, I want to see how she uses the information she now has, I want to see what messed up position her stupidity puts her into, I want to see if it's the way that I figured out it would be at the middle of this book - but the other part of me is just done with the longing for a guy who apparently longs for her back.  A guy who is 35 and a girl who just turned 20.  A guy who is her teacher and a girl who is his apprentice.  


I didn't go into this with knowledge that it was a romance - a dumb one, at that.  The genre says nothing about romance.  It's advertised as steampunk, which I absolutely adore, and is marked as "Teen & Young Adult > Historical Fiction" and "Teens > Fantasy > Paranormal & Urban."  

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review 2018-06-19 18:14
The Isle of Glass - Reread with feeling
The Isle of Glass - Judith Tarr

Disclosure: I obtained the paperback edition of this book at a Friends of the Library sale.  I had originally read it approximately 30 years ago.  I do not know the author beyond mutual following on Twitter; we chat online there but have never met.  I have never discussed this book or any of her others with her.  I am an author of historical and contemporary romance novels.


Okay, that's out of the way.  I'm so glad I finished this, because I was beginning to think I would never finish anything!


The Isle of Glass is the first book in a trilogy.  I'll be starting the second book, The Golden Horn, probably tonight.


The main character is Brother Alfred, a monk/priest at the Abbey of St. Ruan in a semi-mythical England (Anglia) of the late twelfth century.  (Tarr has a PhD in Medieval Studies from Yale University.)  Unlike his fellow monks who are all quite human, Brother Alf is apparently one of the Fair Folk, an elf.  Though he is nearly 70 years old, he hasn't physically aged beyond his late teens or early twenties.  He has some elven magic skills, but he does his best not to use them.  He is more than just ashamed of his otherness; he believes it means he has no soul.


The complexity of Alf's character is the outstanding strength of this novel.  I actually lost track of the plot at times and had to set the book aside to figure out exactly what was going on and who the different characters were.  Tarr provides no map or dramatis personae to tell the players and teams, and though I sorted them out by the latter part of the story, I reached the end with a few details not quite clear.


If Richard Lionheart is King of Anglia/England, and Anglia lies between Gwynedd/Wales? and Rhiyana, where exactly is Rhiyana?  It's not France, because Paris is mentioned as a place where Alfred studied.  I'm not even sure Rhiyana is a physical place, though Gwydion is its physical elvenking.

(spoiler show)


Alf would just as soon stay in the safe confines of his Abbey for the rest of his unnaturally long life - even forever, if it came to that - but worldly politics sends him out on an errand to try to avoid a war.  Once out in the world, he also becomes prey in the ecclesiastical wars of rival monkish orders where priests vie for secular power.  But he also becomes prey of another kind, as both mortals and Fair Folk seek romantic, or at least sexual, engagements with him.  Part of that issue is resolved in this first volume of the trilogy, but there is much more challenge to come for Alf as the saga continues.


That's where I really pulled off the half star from the rating. 


I said in a previous status report that this work reminded me in some ways of Jennifer Roberson's Sword series, which was begun just about the same time as Tarr's - mid- to late 1980s.  But Roberson's first volume, Sword Dancer, ended cleanly so that it could if necessary stand alone.  There was, of course, a sequel and then several more, but Sword Dancer was complete.


In contrast, The Isle of Glass ended with the lead-in to the next volume, The Golden Horn, very clear.  Unfortunately, I felt it was contrived, in a kind of, "Oh, yes, we've wound up this dilemma so neatly that we ought to go on and find some more adventures!"


This same problem, I felt, plagued William Morris's The Well at the World's End.  There just wasn't enough drama, enough motivation from outside the character's existence to propel the story.  The Isle of Glass had all that drama and motivation at the beginning but the lead-in to the next volume doesn't, at least not yet.  Maybe the opening will be stronger, but we'll see.


Tarr's writing is splendid, however, but those of us who have been conditioned by years of POV conventions in romance may have some difficulty dealing with multiple viewpoints that shift on a dime.  It doesn't bother me at all, because I began reading long before the strictures went into place, but others should be forewarned.  Still, she evokes the wintry  landscape and the stark medieval interiors with consummate skill.


The other similarity between Tarr and Roberson is that they employ male main characters.  And though there's virtually no similarity between Brother Alf and Tiger, the sword dancer, it's very intriguing to me to read how the two authors get into the mind of the "other" gender.


Highly recommended.




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text 2018-06-19 13:46
Reading progress update: I've read 53%.
The Glass Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

This book is irritating me.  The first book was more about her learning and the adventure she took to save her teacher's life, but now that she's decided she's in love with him (she just turned 20, he's 35 or so - and there's an unwritten rule about not getting involved with your apprentice, which she seems to not care about), it's mostly about her love for him, and her dreamily wondering if he loves her too, blah blah blah, and the whole thing with two different magicians who are bad guys after her seems like an afterthought.  And, once again, she is taking off on her own to confront these magicians, even though she is only an apprentice, and has been an apprentice for less than a year.  Bad guys that even experienced magicians have not been able to capture.


If this book ends all easy, I'm not even going to bother with number three.

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text 2018-06-17 18:17
Reading progress update: I've read 193 out of 276 pages.
The Isle of Glass - Judith Tarr

I know you all think I have all these "currently reading" books and I'm not actually reading any of them.  Ha!  I am, I really am!  Just not very quickly.  Because life, y'know.


When I went to bed at 10:00 last night I was really tired and expected to read maybe 20 pages at the most.  By the time I finally gave up because my eyes were getting dry and gunky, it was a few minutes past midnight.


It's been well over 20 years since I last read this, and frankly I don't remember very much of it, so this is really a fresh read.  The beginning was a bit confusing, but as I got further into the story I realized that the confusion came from being far too accustomed to the info dumps that more recent writers seem to employ.


Instead, Tarr lets the story unfold and allows the characters to tell their own story through the action and narrative.  It's a complex story, with complex characters.


Brother Alfred is a priest in the Abbey of St. Ruan in a semi-mythical England of the twelfth century.  The Lionheart is King, there are rebellious barons and earls, and the Church is trying to flex its muscles, not only to root out human heresies but to destroy the Fair Folk, the elvenkind.  Alf becomes a target of their suspicions.


The more I read, the more I'm fascinated by Alf's character. He is both cynic and optimist, with those two sides of his psyche at constant war with each other. 


There are certain similarities with Jennifer Roberson's Sword series, which I should also re-read.

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