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review 2019-07-01 18:22
It's all about the D-Day Girls



D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

Sarah Rose

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Crown; 1st Edition (April 23, 2019)

ISBN-10: 045149508X

ISBN-13: 978-0451495082




Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton


With D-Day Girls,  Sarah Rose has provided us with a valuable service not only in terms of setting the historical record straight for the women of the S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive), but for the history of the treatment of women in general even when they gave their countries the very finest in the way of self-sacrifice, courage, and heroism.


The stories of three women saboteurs , in particular, demonstrate just what skilled and brave women contributed during the occupation of France by the Nazis from 1939 to 1945.  We are told about scrappy Andrée Borrel, a demolitions expert  eluding the Gestapo while blowing up the infrastructure the occupying German army relied on. The "Queen" of the S.O.E. was Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent Parisian who lost everything due to her wartime service. And there was my favorite heroine of the bunch, Odette Sansom, who saw S.O.E. service as a means to lead a more meaningful life away from an unhappy marriage. While she finds love with a fellow agent named Peter Churchill, she ended up being a two year prisoner, horribly tortured by the Germans.   These women, along with their compatriots both male and female, helped lay the groundwork for D-Day by innumerable acts of sabotage, orchestrated prison breaks,  and the gathering of intelligence for the allied war effort.


But D-Day Girls  has a much deeper and wider canvas that three biographies. The stories of the three spies are painted against a detailed backdrop that includes the policy-making of the Allies leadership, how the chiefs of the S.O.E. came to involve women in their behind-the-lines operations, and how the changes in the war effort shaped what the various operatives were and were unable to accomplish. We learn about their training, the reactions of male superiors to the use of women at all, the bungles as well as the successes, the very human dramas the women became involved in,  the competition between the various intelligence agencies, how the spy networks were unraveled by the successful Nazi infiltration, and the very vivid settings from which the women operated. We learn about the costly mistakes some operatives performed, the lack of following the procedures they were taught, and the process of getting the materials and new agents parachuted in from RAF planes.


Rose is able to avoid a dry retelling of all these events with almost a novelist's descriptive eye. For example, she doesn't merely tell us about an explosion resulting from a well-place bomb--she gives us a sensory breakdown of what happened moment by moment, second by second in color, smell, and sound. She doesn't merely tell us about the black parachute drops,  but how they took place out in the quiet French countryside.


It's difficult to lay this book down as we revisit often forgotten corners of World War II history with often fresh perspectives. Many revelations are only possible now that many formerly classified documents have been brought to light and many misogynist points-of-view have been replaced by what actually happened.


In many ways, the tales of what happened to these women after the war ended are the saddest passages in the book. Because they were not part of any official military service, they were denied the full recognition and appreciation they deserved.  Even though they had been indispensable during the war, after VE day they were relegated to the second-class status of women everywhere. There's more than one lesson in all that.



So readers who love spy stories, those interested in World War II,  devotees of women's studies, and those focused on D-Day celebrations this year shouldn't be the only audience D-Day Girls should enjoy. It's a wonderfully vivid and descriptive multi-layered account that should engage any reader who likes well-written non-fiction.



Note: I'm aware that this year, a related book, Madame Foucade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Larges Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson was also published. It's on my summer reading list as well. Spy buffs, stay tuned--



This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 1, 2019:



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text 2019-06-29 00:47
Please vote!



The Quest is an extraordinary fantasy PNR with no typical fantasy stereotyping.

I reviewed Mrs Kantas's book and really enjoyed it.

So please take a moment to vote for The Quest which has been nominated for best fantasy in The Readers Choice Awards.

Click through to page number 8 FANTASY and then scroll down to the bottom of the voting to vote for The Quest.


Thank you, everyone,

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review 2019-06-26 10:58





Dinner With Edward: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship

Isabel Vincent

                Paperback: 240 pages

Publisher: Algonquin Books; Reprint edition (June 13, 2017)

ISBN-10: 1616206942

ISBN-13: 978-1616206949



Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton


Dinner With Edward isn't the sort of novel I would normally pick up for summer reading. I don't read "food books." But as it was this month's assignment for a book club I belong to,  I started reading with few preconceived ideas about it. It didn't take long for me to be glad I did.


From first to last, Dinner With Edward just hums with life and gains affirming energy as it goes along. The premise is simple enough: Edward is a nonagenarian widower grieving over the death of his wife, strongly wanting to follow her to the grave. He's a talented man with his hands, especially with cooking exceptional dinners in his New York apartment.


Isabel is a "middle-aged" reporter who Edward invites to come to weekly dinners at the request of one of Edward's daughters who hopes isabel can keep an eye on her father. Isabel's marriage is disintegrating and these private dinners become highlights of her life, along with the wisdom Edward offers as their friendship deepens. Their backstories are revealed in fragments and chunks as Vincent recounts just how this friendship blossomed in chapters headed by the short menus of one dinner after another.  It's quickly obvious the nourishment the two share goes far beyond well-prepared dinners and conversations that are wide-ranging in scope and topics.


Among the lessons Isabel learns is to slow down and appreciate her life, dissecting who she is and facing things she'd rather put aside or ignore. Edward is described as a Henry Higgins figure helping his Eliza Doolittle protegee enhance her feminine aspects which she tends to downplay. Of course, she learns a lot about preparing food and allowing herself to find love again.


One of the many aphorisms sprinkled throughout the memoir is a quote by M. F. K. Fisher, that simple dinners with a friend can "sustain us against the hungers of the world." In other words, Edward's lessons for Isabel should reach out far beyond their relationship and enrich the lives of the book's readers. I often paused to jot down a note or two when a clear, clean insight tripped my trigger. I will have many good things to say about Dinner With Edward when the book club meets and eagerly await the responses of the other members.



This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on June 25, 2019:





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review 2019-06-26 10:48
Woodstock 50th Anniversary:


Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur's Farm

                Mike Greenblatt

                Hardcover: 224 pages

Publisher: Krause Publications (July 16, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1440248907

ISBN-13: 978-1440248900




Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton


After all these years and all the books, documentaries, interviews etc.etc., do we really need another book on Woodstock? At first glance, the answer might seem to be a resounding "no" because the mud and music has been well-trodden for five decades now.  On the other hand, the 50th anniversary may well be the Woodstock generation's last hurrah, at least in terms of creating events and issuing publications commemorating the major milestone in pop culture while many of the original participants are still alive and able to stroll down their various memory lanes. Just look over the line-up of performers scheduled for the official Golden Anniversary weekend--most of the musicians weren't even born back in '69. Yikes!


For me, the value in books like Greenblatt's is learning things I didn't know before or being refreshed on things I may have heard before but forgotten. For example, I've heard of performers like Sweetwater, the Incredible String Band, the Keef Hartly band, and Quill who played at Woodstock. I've never heard a note by any of them except for a few tunes by Sweetwater.  As many have pointed out over the years,  not appearing in the 1970 Michael Wadleigh documentary ended up being a lost career boost.   Other acts like Janis Joplin, The Band, Creedence Clearwater,  or the Grateful Dead didn't need the boost but wouldn't be folded into public awareness about their Woodstock appearances until they were included in later Wadleigh collector's editions when he released previously unseen footage. Then there were the acts who were there but didn't get filmed and then there were those who turned down the gig and didn't come to the party.  At the time, they had good reasons to pass on the opportunity--no one knew what the Woodstock festival would mean.


The performers were the ones on stage, but the stories of the organizers and audience members were and are equally as much a part of Woodstock lore. In particular, just how close Woodstock came to becoming a disaster many times over, it seems to me, is well worth remembering.  We really were the peace and love generation no matter how fleeting that moment flickered in time.  That, it seems to me, is the reason to keep commemorating what was essentially a three day rock and roll concert that became a mythologized hippie highpoint thanks in large part to the film that reached an audience able to enjoy the concert in more comfortable theatre settings. Now, we get a different appreciation when folks like Greenblatt, who was there,  share their experiences with those of us who think we wish we had been in the crowd.


In terms of Greenblatt's book, I hadn't seen the set lists of all the acts before and found them a real 50th anniversary treat. I had heard many of the musicians' anecdotes before, but not all of them collected here. Not by a long shot. I hadn't heard of the shunning Max Yasgur suffered by his unhappy neighbors after the concert was over.


In fact, I think it's fair to say Mike Greenblatt may have assembled the best one-stop Woodstock book for readers who might want one, just one, hardcover exploration of the concert and how it became the phenomena it did. It's a good companion piece to all the DVDs and CDs being issued to keep the music alive.  Oh, of course, it's chock-full of colorful photos.  Yep, a very good memento of an August weekend only a small slice of my generation got to experience first-hand. Like Michael Greenblatt.



This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on June 25, 2019:



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text 2019-03-18 12:58
Looking For Reviews



As many of you have realised, most of my posts are of book reviews, fiction and non-fiction.

I am always looking for reviews for my 7 books. So if you would like to do a review swap, please send me a message.

My reviews are posted on Goodreads, Booklikes and Book Pleasures, only.

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