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review 2018-07-22 20:41
THE DECLINE & FALL OF AN EAGLE
Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Action, Part 2 - Aircraft No. 57 - John R. Beaman Jr.,Don Greer

"Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Action, Part 2" takes up from where Part 1 ended. The focus in this book is on the variants of the Bf 109 from the F version ('Friedrich') - which was lauded by many of the pilots who flew it in combat between late 1940 and 1942 as the best of all the Bf 109s built - to the G version ('Gustav') - which was the most produced variant in the Bf 109 stable - and on to the K variant, which was first deployed in October 1944 with a number of Luftwaffe fighter units.

 

This book, besides boasting of a rich variety of photos and illustrations, reflects the final evolution of a top fighter plane, which by 1942, had reached the limits of its design parameters. And yet, given the changing fortunes of the war for Germany, continued to soldier on (with varying degrees of success) til the end of the war in May 1945.

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review 2018-07-22 17:34
The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila
The Ultimate Tragedy - Jethro Soutar,Abdulai Sila

In 2017, this book apparently became the first novel (though more of a novella really, clocking in around 180 pages) from Guinea-Bissau to be translated into English. It doesn’t do too well in the storytelling department, and despite being first published in 1995 it is a simplistic criticism of Portuguese colonialism (Guinea-Bissau became independent in 1973-1974), so I can see why there wasn’t a rush to translate. But of course there’s something to be said for reading voices from a particular place even if their literary merits are weak.

There will be SPOILERS below, though no more than are found in the book description (which gives away most of the story).

The book begins with a teenage girl, Ndani, traveling from her village to the capital city, Bissau, with hopes of becoming a domestic servant in a Portuguese home. After a few chapters, it skips abruptly to a village chief, smarting over an insult from a colonial official and thinking at great, repetitive length about the paramount importance of thinking. The stories come together when the chief marries Ndani (who has somehow learned to be a great lady by being a housegirl, yet is somehow the only such woman available even though the earlier chapters show that there are plenty of housegirls, and Ndani is not the brightest bulb on the tree). Then she falls in love with a local teacher, a young man trained by priests but questioning the righteousness of colonial rule. Tragedy, naturally, ensues.

The story is kind of a mess, unfortunately. It skips long periods of time without giving any sense of what Ndani’s life was like in the interim, leaving unanswered questions in its wake. Ndani’s abrupt shift from housegirl to fancy lady is not particularly convincing, nor did I find her cheerful willingness to jump right into sex believable from a woman whose only sexual experiences were rape. There’s a prophecy about Ndani that causes people to shun her, until they don’t, with no reason I could see for the change of heart other than that this plot device was no longer needed. Being in the chief’s head is tedious due to the long-winded repetition, and the teacher’s realization that the reality of colonial rule is inconsistent with Christian principles is painfully obvious; decades after colonial rule ended, I doubt this was a new idea to the book’s readers.

The translation is fairly smooth, but a number of words and concepts are left untranslated, and these are not always immediately obvious from context; most of these words appear to be from a local African language and were probably untranslated in the Portuguese original too, but a glossary would help foreign readers understand the references to local culture better.

Ultimately, this is a fairly quick and easy read, but the simplistic political commentary dominates over the story; I missed more of Ndani’s life than I saw, never got to know who she was as a person, and had no particular reason to care about her or anyone else in the story (her mistress was perhaps the most interesting character to me - a Portuguese woman who, after a near-death experience, devotes herself to "improving the natives" - but this character doesn't have the space to fully develop). I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you are specifically looking to read a book from Guinea-Bissau. If you are, this is a readable option.

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review 2018-07-22 00:53
AN EAGLE RISES
Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Action, Part 1 - John Beaman,Jerry L. Campbell,Don Greer

This handy, concise book describes the development and deployment of Germany's legendary Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, from its baptism of fire in the Spanish Civil War to its widespread use in the Luftwaffe's fighter arm from the invasion of Poland in 1939, through the Blitzkrieg campaign in the Spring of 1940, the Battle of Britain, the Balkans and North African campaigns, and on through to the early stages of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The B to the E variants of the Bf 109 are analyzed. And for the general reader, there are plenty of photos and illustrations throughout the text. 

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review 2018-07-21 18:13
A chummy history of how Churchill became Prime Minister
Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister - Nicholas Shakespeare

The selection of Winston Churchill as Neville Chamberlain's successor in May 1940 is regarded today as one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th century. With his elevation to the premiership Britain was committed to a course of action in the Second World War that ended with victory over Nazi Germany. Given his role in the Allied triumph and subsequent anointing as the greatest Briton ever, such a choice can be perceived as inevitable. Yet was it?

One of the great merits of Nicholas Shakespeare's account of the events surrounding the decision is in his detailing the views of the key actors in the spring of 1940 and the choices available to them. In the process, not only does he demonstrate that Churchill's selection was far from ordained, but he also shows that it was more than a simple choice between Churchill and Lord Halifax traditionally described in most accounts of the event. As Shakespeare explains, ministers and Members of Parliament had several alternatives available to them. For many of them, Churchill was an unacceptable choice for the top post given his recklessness and adventurism, while others seemed much more appealing candidates. Even the very notion that Chamberlain needed to be replaced because of the military debacle in Norway the month before was not generally accepted, and only emerged over the course of the "Norway debate" and the subsequent division that exposed the weakness of Chamberlain's support.

To detail the events of May 1940 and uncover the thinking of the various people involved Shakespeare went beyond the traditional accounts in memoirs and biographies and undertook additional archival research and interviews. This he knits together in a narrative to which he brings all his skills as a novelist, making for an account that is highly engaging. By comparing the at times conflicting accounts and retrospective explanations, he has produced a very detailed description of how it came down in the end to Churchill. Yet it is also an incredibly chummy account, focusing almost exclusively upon the actions and decisions of a select group of elite men (and even a couple of women). While this is understandable given the small circle of people in politics and media at the time, the weaknesses in this approach are more evident in the account of the Norway disaster that precedes it. Given its importance to the events that followed Shakespeare spends a third of the book describing its failings, yet his account of events rarely strays beyond the experiences of key officers and government officials, creating the impression that it was merely their personal experiences which drove their objections to Chamberlain rather than the broader defeat that informed their criticisms of his handling of the war.

 

By narrowing his focus to a group of elite figures (one that includes his own uncle), Shakespeare trivializes the motivations of many of the men involved in the decision to turn out Chamberlain. It's a glaring flaw in what is in many respects an excellent book, one that details the chain of events that would define the course of world history. It is especially unfortunate, given that Shakespeare's extensive research and ability as a writer have produced what is the best account yet of how Churchill became prime minister in those fateful weeks in the spring of 1940. Its weaknesses, however, cause it to fall short of the definitive account it could have been with just a broadening of its scope.

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review 2018-07-21 15:00
No bullshit romance
Silver Silence - Nalini Singh

Big thanks to Ceridwen and her guidance, because I really liked this one.

 

The world is rich but understandable enough, and the author does not go for info-dumping to ensure it. So, from my point of view, extra kudos for being self-contained.

 

I don't know how the romance works in other volumes, but there were a lot of positives for me in this one:

 

- There is a very alpha male. He's very protective, sure. But he's respectful. And he wants his mate to be his equal. Everyone equates capacity for being alpha with capacity for love.

 

- Consent is a huge thing in-world. At some point, the main male character says consent once does not imply consent again. Like wow, how come we don't see that often. So sexy.

 

- Main female character is BAMF. Actually, everyone is BAMF, even the grandmother. World of BAMF. But what I like is that it is in a quiet way. We don't see her engage in any huge display of power here, but it's always there, in the dialogue, her hyper-competence, the way she attends to her looks and literally calls it armor, the no-bullshit directness.

 

- Directly related to that one, the way the romance progresses in a no-bullshit way. Given the uber-praticality of anyone in Silence, and Valentin's commitment it makes sense. It translates into fast paced and big on communication. There are hurdles, but it's more an external, plot related thing. Little to do with hysterical angsty push and pull. Like I said, no bullshit. Such a relief.

 

I don't know that I will love all of the books in this series, but what I see I like, and will certainly read more Singh soon

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