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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Military

GIDEON: THE BOER BLOOD by Malcolm Colley

By 1902 the war was over. It has taken three years and 330,000 soldiers to hammer 30,000 Boer men and boys into submission. The British employed a scorched earth policy and removed the women and children on the farms to stop the Boer Commandoes from obtaining supplies. Also with ammunition in short supply the Boers signed the Treaty of Peace of Vereeninging on May 31 1902. The Boers were forced to surrender their arms and sign a declaration of allegiance to the Queen.
Paul Kruger, the Boer leader, left the country but prior to him leaving he attempted to negotiate a deal with Holland and Germany for arms and ammunition in exchange for gold. The arms and ammunition reached the port of Lorenco Marques but the gold, sent by Kruger, went missing. It never reached the port so the ships sailed for home.
Into this chaos of the aftermath of the war with men, woman and children trying to make it back to the farms, Gideon Barron, an Irishman born in South Africa is accused of helping to steal the gold and hunted by his fellow Boers for treason. With the help of what becomes his friends, he attempts to prove his innocence. Travelling across, what was then, the Transvaal Republic they follow the path of the robbers
Meanwhile the true robbers manage to get away with most of the gold, some travelling into the Portuguese Protectorate of Mozambique and some beyond but some gold is left behind due to a misunderstanding.
This is just one of the many stories about the disappearance of the gold. According to many stories the gold never left South Africa. Some say the gold was worth £500,000 in the value of that time. Some say that there was no gold, that the boxes were filled with ammunition destined for the Boer Commandoes fighting on the front.

THE AUTHOR:

The author was born in South Africa in1942 and spent his teens of the 1950’s on a small farm just outside Naboomspruit in the Northern Province of South Africa, during which time he came to love the sounds, smells and sights of the bush. He did his basic training with 1st Special Service Battalion in Bloemfontein and has happy memories of army life in the bush. He also spent twenty-five years training in the martial arts.

During his work in a steel mill and underground in a diamond mine, he yearned to be back in the bush.

THE BOOK:

By 1902 the British war against South Africa, the so called “Boer War” was over. Paul Kruger, attempted to negotiate a deal with Holland and Germany for arms and ammunition in exchange for gold. The arms and ammunition reached the port of Lorenco Marques but the gold, sent by Kruger, went missing.

Into this chaos of the aftermath of the war, with men, woman and children trying to make it back to the farms, Gideon Barron, an Irishman born in South Africa is accused of helping to steal the gold. Wounded, he escapes but is followed and hunted by his fellow Boers for treason.

INSPIRATION FOR THE BOOK:

The disappearance of Kruger’s gold has always intrigued me. There are many stories, myths and legends about the whereabouts of this treasure. In this work of fiction adventure, I have put forward one possibility. I grew up in this area amongst these people whose stories to their grandchildren in the lamplight around the kitchen table, tell of the gold that may have changed the course of the war, told with the bitterness against the English.

WANT YOUR OWN COPY:

You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B01KLUA09Y” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Doctors At War by Mark De Rond

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Doctors at War is a candid account of a trauma surgical team based, for a tour of duty, at a field hospital in Helmand, Afghanistan. Mark de Rond tells of the highs and lows of surgical life in hard-hitting detail, bringing to life a morally ambiguous world in which good people face impossible choices and in which routines designed to normalize experience have the unintended effect of highlighting war’s absurdity. With stories that are at once comical and tragic, de Rond captures the surreal experience of being a doctor at war. He lifts the cover on a world rarely ever seen, let alone written about, and provides a poignant counterpoint to the archetypical, adrenaline-packed, macho tale of what it is like to go to war.

Here the crude and visceral coexist with the tender and affectionate. The author tells of well-meaning soldiers at hospital reception, there to deliver a pair of legs in the belief that these can be reattached to their comrade, now in mid-surgery; of midsummer Christmas parties and pancake breakfasts and late-night sauna sessions; of interpersonal rivalries and banter; of caring too little or too much; of tenderness and compassion fatigue; of hell and redemption; of heroism and of playing God. While many good firsthand accounts of war by frontline soldiers exist, this is one of the first books ever to bring to life the experience of the surgical teams tasked with mending what war destroys.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing this review copy!

The author starts out by saying that this book was never supposed to be published, due to the subject matter and the way it was perceived to be handled. That only added more intrigue to the story, to me, and I was eager to begin reading.

The story is akin to the book/TV series MASH, with beleaguered surgeons, war all around them, stress, and dark ways to relieve the boredom. There is a great deal of loss of life complicated by military rules and the Hippocratic Oath – beware, as the injuries are horrific and discussed in great detail.

The author is British; so I expected his writing style to be a bit different from American writers. In fact, I even welcomed it, as I look forward to non-American cadences and dialects in books. What I hadn’t bargained for was uneven writing with obscure phrasing. At times it’s hard to understand who is saying what, and there was no deep insight made on the choices the doctors had to make. At the 75% mark I realized I had not really absorbed anything meaningful except that war is hell, these surgeons were doing the best they could, and sometimes there was strangeness (the usual black humor and Christmas in July) to help the soldier’s mental states. The same type of story was repeated over and over again (wounded too badly, euthanized with pain meds/crashing boredom dealt with by playing card games and trying to stay cool in the desert/occasional platitude about life) without variance or emotion.

Somehow this writer managed to make a wartime hospital seem dull. The characters are an amalgam, and so perhaps could not have been made more detailed; but I think it would have been better if he had given a little more detail about why they were doctors, what made this tour of duty different from others, etc.

It’s a shame that such an important subject matter was reduced to an unsatisfying bite of pablum, as there is a need to understand what the military deals with during extended conflicts. Heart of Darkness, Catch-22, and On Call In Hell expressed the story in a more readable and gratifying way. I gave up at the abovementioned 75% mark; something I don’t do often, but I just didn’t want to waste any more time. Great subject – bad handling.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1501705482″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

MoonDust: Falling From Grace by Ton Inktail

moon-dust

Imogene never planned to become a lunar commando. Not before her ex broke her heart and left her jobless. Now she’d better learn fast.

Descended from animal-human hybrids built for war, combat should be in the young caribou’s genes. While Imogene is determined to master the moon’s harsh battlefield, war clouds are brewing on the planet below, and once the storm breaks no training can ever be enough.

A soldier’s first duty is to her country, but when black and white fade to dusty gray, the lines between friend and foe blur. As everything Imogene ever believed in crumbles, she must decide if some orders should never be obeyed.

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book in exchange for a review!

Part of the fun of being a reviewer is that I get exposure to books I never would have thought existed. MOONDUST is one of those books. The genre is called “Fuzzy Science Fiction” and deals with sentient, English speaking animals as main characters.

The main character is a transgenic caribou named Imogene, who finishes one stint in the military and re-enlists because she feels out of place at home. Imogene is extremely well developed and easy to become invested in. If it were not for the author’s noting of an ear flick, or a tapping hoof, I would have considered these characters fully human. I do wonder, however, if that is all you need to do for fuzzy fiction: switch one appendage for another and make mention of the species when the character first appears. In any case, I did enjoy reading about caribou and pandas, leopards and Labradors all playing together nicely. Well, almost. There is some rivalry between Imogene and another female due to the fact they are both crushing on the same guy, and there are some ethnic slurs pointed at the panda because his race is part of the creatures waging the war that is being fought.

The plot is extreme scifi/military fiction, which made things drag a bit for me. There is a lot of action and we see the characters being put in scary situations on the Moon, where they are fighting their battles. Animals get hurt, they die, the wonder at the futility of war just like humans do.

For anyone who loves military action, they will get a lot of enjoyment from MOONDUST. The science fiction is well written – I especially liked the scenes on the rocket as they were getting sent up to the Moon. Imogene’s thoughts and fears are those of Everyman and I could easily identify with them. As she was strapped in, preparing for takeoff, making nervous chatter with the soldier next to her – it all made sense to me, regardless of the fact that she was a fuzzy warrior.

The writing is smooth, with no awkwardness or loose ends. There are many plot twists and at times I wished the pace would have been quicker; but then again the author captures military life accurately with the alternating boredom and panic.

This was a fun departure for me, with the best part reading how these animals express themselves, with a wrinkle of a muzzle or a flick of a whisker. Excellent details that brought my senses back to the anthropomorphic characters!

Do the bad guys win? How many of Imogene’s crew perishes in battle? Is this a series? As usual, no spoilers here. Read it yourself – you can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”B018UTIBBM” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Night School by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #21)

nightschool

It’s 1996, and Reacher is still in the army. In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school. That night he’s off the grid. Out of sight, out of mind.
Two other men are in the classroom—an FBI agent and a CIA analyst. Each is a first-rate operator, each is fresh off a big win, and each is wondering what the hell they are doing there.
Then they find out: A Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor—a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.”
For what? And who from? Reacher and his two new friends are told to find the American. Reacher recruits the best soldier he has ever worked with: Sergeant Frances Neagley. Their mission heats up in more ways than one, while always keeping their eyes on the prize: If they don’t get their man, the world will suffer an epic act of terrorism.
From Langley to Hamburg, Jalalabad to Kiev, Night School moves like a bullet through a treacherous landscape of double crosses, faked identities, and new and terrible enemies, as Reacher maneuvers inside the game and outside the law.

 

Many thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is Jack Reacher’s 21st outing, and it’s a throwback this time. He is teamed up with Sgt Frances Neagley to try to figure out what a cryptic message (“The American wants a hundred million dollars”) means.  Fans of Reacher will know what happens: he is perspicacious enough to figure out clues, he vanquishes bad guys with a sharp elbow to the head, and is quietly sexy to certain women. Nothing new here.

As much as I love a great Reacher story, this one seemed a bit dry.

There wasn’t enough real action and there was too much switching back and forth from one criminal cell to another. Somehow the subplots and double crosses were overly complicated to me, and it was hard to keep track of who was double crossing who.

I also found it inconceivable that Reacher was making such mental leaps to connect certain dots. There was a CIA agent that seemed superfluous, and an FBI agent that was only minimal help. There was no real sense of true struggle or suspense throughout the book; I was merely curious what the hundred million dollars was going towards. Once that came to light, probably about 80% of the way through, then I became interested in the outcome.

Remember the scene from The Matrix when Neo finally realizes he is The One, and is fighting Agent Smith with one hand while Smith ineffectually flails about? Neo is calmly standing there using one hand, countering and blocking everything Smith throws at him. That is what I was thinking of as I read NIGHT SCHOOL. Reacher is Neo, phoning it in while other great minds drool and get in the way.

There is a saying: There is no bad pizza. Perhaps; it would then follow that there would be no bad Reacher books. I have yet to find one that I really hated, but this one was probably the biggest disappointment. The plot itself held promise to be a thriller, but Child took way too long to get to the meat of the story. There were sub plots, and meta-sub-plots and minimally described characters that didn’t hold my interest.

Perhaps if you read this without high expectations, you won’t be disappointed. All in all, it wasn’t a complete waste of my time (see pizza = Reacher above), but not the best use either.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0804178801″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

Guest Post by author Hal Levey (Under The Pong Pong Tree)

pong pong

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. . . .The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.” -Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore. . .The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.” -Blue Ink Starred Review

Love and the brutality of war are woven together in a beautiful, heart-wrenching tapestry in Under the Pong Pong Tree.

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for helping me create this guest post! UNDER THE PONG PONG TREE is a wonderful, character-driven novel about love and war. Here, author Hal Levey tells us how everything came to be:

 

Under the Pong Pong Tree was incubated long ago during a year spent as China Medical Board Visiting Professor on the medical faculty of the National University of Singapore. The eponymous pong pong tree of Southeast Asia also is called the suicide tree. It is intended as a metaphor for the cruelty suffered by the Chinese residents of Singapore under the heel of the Japanese during World War II. I kept a journal that became a background resourceI also met many colleagues who suffered under Japanese brutality. Nevertheless, the year in Singapore was an exhilarating experience. I did a certain amount of recreational jungle bashing upcountry in Malaysia, and befriended the RAF contingent at the Seletar Air Base in Singapore. I became close friends with Squadron Leader Darrol Stinton, MBE, and joined him and the RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua Club on an expedition to Pulau Perhentian (Perhentian Island) in the South China Sea. The purpose was to develop sea rescue capabilities for airmen lost at sea. The job previously was done by the Royal Navy, but, for some reason, they terminated such operations and the RAF was obliged to create their own system.

The airmen made me Honorary Member No. 1 of the club, but harbored the faint suspicion that I was a CIA plant. Darrol died in 2012 from a hospital-borne infection at a military hospital in London. He was there for surgical replacement of titanium rods that supported his spine, stress-fractured from his years as a test pilot for the RAF. I brought him back to life in my book as Squadron Leader Darrol Stanton. I also borrowed Chinese and Malay names of individuals I had met as characters in my book.  I did this to avoid inventing ethnic names that might inadvertently have had a lewd context.

The novel started to come to life when I spent a summer month in the Caribbean, lecturing to pre-med students at St. Georges University on the island of Granada. This was a pleasant diversion, and St. Georges relied on visiting faculty, mainly from Australia, India, and the USA. Part of my stipend was a room at a first-class hotel perched on a glittering white sandy beach. I delivered lectures in the morning, and spent the afternoons sipping rum punch at a tiki bar next to the hotel. Sitting on a bar stool with time on my hands, I started to scribble an outline in pencil on a yellow legal pad. I started with the setting and then populated it with my characters. Eventually they wrote their own stories and I merely transcribed them. After much picking up and putting down of the manuscript over several years, it ultimately emerged as Under the Pong Pong TreeThe first draft ran to about 185,000 words, but I chopped it down to 78,000 words in the final version.

It is a gripping story that also bears elements of a cautionary tale. In the book, the Japanese are portrayed as brutal and pitiless in their treatment of the Chinese residents of Singapore. They executed thousands and practiced decapitation almost as an art form. Today we view the Japanese as a tidy little people, hard-working, and steeped in their quaint cultural traditions. The other naughty nation, Germany, has emerged from the horrors of Nazism to become an economic powerhouse. One might wonder what the future holds for brutal regimes of the present day?

I am unaware of literary influences that have helped me along the way – although there must be some. I tend to write from the omniscient viewpoint, with little interest in the machine-gun conversational style of the contemporary best-seller. Nor do I have an affinity for the current obsession with zombies or mutated mosquitoes the size of Greyhound busses. I lost interest in fairy tales when I was about eight years old. Although, now that I think about it, I have toyed with the idea of writing a story about a hemophobic vampire. If I have a favorite author, it might be Archy, the poet reincarnated as a large cockroach, who held frequent conversations with Mehitabel, a morally ambiguous cat who claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Mehitabel maintained her zest for life, proclaiming “there’s a dance or two in the old dame yet.” Archy typed messages to his boss, Don Marquis, by diving headfirst onto the keys. The messages understandably all were in lower case and lacked apostrophes. That did not disturb the editors of the New York Sun, who were happy to publish Archy’s messages in their daily edition.

As to the future: I might follow up with a prequel to Under the Pong Pong Treebut only if a readership emerges from the underbrush. Otherwise, I shall move in another direction – yet to be determined.

I am currently involved in the puzzling procedure called marketing. I won’t bore you with the details, but, if you write a book, you want it read. Of course, I also might call your attention to Boswell’s quote from Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Undiscovered authors are advised to refrain from such flippancies until THEY beg you to sign a major contract. Until then, we must be content to write because we are unable to not write.

 

Here are excerpts of excellent reviews of my book, by Clarion and Blue Ink:

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. …The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.”
—Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore….The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.”
—Blue Ink Starred Review

 

 

Breaking the Silence – Guest Post by author Maria Nieto

breaking the silence

On a sweltering summer day, the streets of Old Madrid that once resonated with the laughter of children playing are empty and silent. But inside the apartment buildings there is life as families faithfully wait for updates about an army uprising in Spanish Morocco. Before long, their greatest fears come true. As rebel troops storm Madrid and chaos fills the streets, six-year-old Mari wonders why she cannot go outside to play. Unfortunately, she has no idea she is about to be trapped inside the abyss of what is rapidly becoming a ruthless civil war. Already emotionally wounded by the absence of her mother, Mari attempts to go about her fear-filled days living with her father’s family, which includes a grandfather who lovingly teaches her about the history leading up to the conflict. As she embarks on a coming-of-age journey submerged in the darkness of war, Mari somehow stays alive despite the decisions of an intimidating, ruthless dictator, starvation, and brainwashing by the new Fascist regime. But when circumstances lead her to inadvertently commit the ultimate betrayal, Mari must face the horrifying consequences of her actions. Breaking the Silence shares the compelling tale of a little girl’s experiences as she attempts to survive amid the horror and death surrounding the Spanish Civil War.

 

Gimmethatbook had the privilege of communicating with  author Maria Nieto and discussing her book BREAKING THE SILENCE. We are proud to present her guest post, as she discusses why she wrote the book and the meaning it holds for her. If you are interested in having your own copy, you can get it [easyazon_link identifier=”1491761016″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

My name is Maria Nieto, and people have been questioning why, at the age of 85, I wrote  a book called Breaking the Silence.

It is a book describing the pain and the horrifying days of a small girl´s life during and after the Spanish Civil War. There are moments of humor in the book, but mostly it deals the devastating effects that war creates for children. The book goes a little further into Spain´s post war years under the yoke of a fascist dictatorship using ruthless  mind altering techniques on children in order to assure their total loyalty to the new order. Mari, the child in the book, ends with the terrible decision she must make to atone for an act of treason she innocently committed.

The book is written as a novel, a work of fiction, but fiction is often impregnated with truth.

Why did I write the book, and how did I write the book?

Please allow me to go back in time just a little.

I was born in New York City in the middle of the Great Depression.  Just a year later, the laws that rule the universes (I do not believe in coincidences), transported me to Madrid, Spain. Two years later,  the same universal laws took my mother away from me . I do not remember the days after she disappeared, but I do remember that even though I forgot how to speak English, at stressful times the sound of strange sounds would almost sing inside of my mind. Sounds like “mommy”, “daddy”, “Teddy the bear”, and sometimes I could hear the soft voice of a woman whisper something that sounded like, ”you are my princess”. Nothing more.

Three years passed and I suddenly found myself in the middle of falling bombs, crashing buildings and the passing of marching tanks in the night making cracking noises on the  street cobble stones  as they passed by the house.

Spain was at war. A war of brother against brother, and father against son: The Spanish Civil War. I lost most of my childhood friends  who died torn to pieces  under the explosions of bombs, the fire of machine guns, or the falling of mortar shells.  I survived day after day holding on to the image of a dark haired woman who held me in her arms in times of danger.

After the war, Spain fell under the tyrannical fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the Spanish Army officer who initiated the revolt against the Spanish Republic.

People were imprisoned and killed by the thousands. All freedoms were forbidden. Children marched in the streets dressed in Nazi-like uniforms with extended arms in a Nazi salute singing fascist songs to the beating of drums and the waving of flags. Soon I too became one of those children.

Some years passed and during  my early teens, I was found reading a Reader’s Digest (in Spanish). That type of reading was forbidden. Nothing foreign was to be read in Spain, and no listening to radio stations from other countries was allowed. Because I was an American Citizen, I did not go to jail . Instead,  my father was ordered to have me out of the country within three days. An uncle in New York who had converted into Judaism arranged for a Jewish organization helping children out of Nazi Germany, to look over me in Portugal as I waited for a ship to take me to the United States.

Franco died and Spain’s new monarchy passed a law of silence, “a pact of silence”, as it was called. The people of Spain were not to talk or act on any issues that incurred during the war or during the dictatorship after the war. Franco’s murderers never went to trial for their crimes and continued to flourish and continued to use their money to hold on to power. After that, when  I visited Spain, neither my family nor my friends would talk about or mention the  terrible years. During a visit to my grandmother’s  village, I came upon  a group of older women in the town’s plaza seated in a circle  noisily and happily talking as they did their sewing. I introduced myself and told them that my grandmother  was born in the village. They recognized her name, but when I told them that I had lived in the village for a short time during the war, the women looked at me, and one of them clipping her words almost yelled, “ Ah, that was a long time ago.” All the other women went back to their sewing in silence.

That was the beginning of the heavy weight in my chest that made me write Breaking the Silence.

After four years in the Navy, the GI Bill helped me to finish nursing school  and after graduation I was able to work during  the day and go to school at night. It was years before I finally gathered enough diplomas to teach me how  to help emotionally wounded persons identify their pain, and hopefully resolve it.

When  my working days ended, the heavy weight in my chest returned, and strange rumblings again woke me at night. As time passed, the weight got worse, the rumblings got louder.

Finally, it became clear to me what was happening: I was choking on Spain’s silence denying me of my childhood, as well as my childhood friends not being recognized and remembered.

That is why, very slowly and in silence, I began to write Breaking the Silence and no one, friends or family, knew about the book until it was published. My family in Spain received it well, and now  the rumblings and the weight in my chest are gone, and  I can again sleep through the nights.

I hope people will read it. I hope that in some way it may help people throughout the world  and the United States reject any further war suggestions from their leaders.

I started another book. Maybe  I can finish it before the laws of the universes  take me away from this planet and I begin to use my experiences on earth elsewhere.

 

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