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Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made
Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Look at the Spanish Civil War and the People Who Volunteered, March 2, 2015
"'War is psychologically like hell, supernatural like it and also, as we have been taught to expect, full of good company'"
-Edward Barsky, American surgeon, volunteer

The Spanish Civil War is often viewed as the real beginning of WWII. It has also become something of a touchstone for many Romantics and Idealists. As author Richard Rhodes says in his Introduction to his book Hell and Good Company, `[m]any books have been written about the Spanish Civil War' but it is 'the human stories that had not been told or had not been told completely' that he chooses to write about.

In 1931, after centuries of rule by the Church, the Aristocracy, and the army, Spain finally became a Republic. In 1936, General Francisco Franco, with the support of Hitler and Mussolini, began a military revolt against this Republic. The war attracted many idealists from elsewhere to aid the new Republic in the struggle. They came from different countries and different walks of life. There were doctors, surgeons, nurses as well as labourers, engineers, writers, artists and WWI vets. Many formed their own brigades including the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the United States. They represented many different political views but they had one thing in common - they were determined to stop fascism. In that, they failed but much of what they did including the art and the literature still inspire today including Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and Picasso's Guernica. Rhodes recounts their involvement along with other famous and not-so-famous people who were willing to risk it all for idealism, politics and, in more than a few cases, for the adventure.

He also focuses on the medical professionals including Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune whose cobbled together mobile blood units helped reduce the number of casualties in combat and the Catalan doctor Josep Trueta whose method for cleaning, packing and casting wounds saved countless lives and preserved limbs that would have otherwise been amputated. Rhodes describes in fascinating detail the many innovative technologies that these and many other medical professionals developed which are still used today: `advances in blood collection, preservation, and storage; in field surgery; in the efficient sorting of casualties'.

In Hell and Good Company, Rhodes gives a well-researched, well-written, and fascinating look at the people, both national and international, who fought to preserve the Republic during the Spanish Civil War. He captures the hell of the war, its insanity and its horrors but, most of all he captures the bravery and the idealism of those who volunteered at such great risk to themselves - they were the best of good company.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2015 12:13 AM PST


Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gaiman never Fails to Delight as Well as Disturb, February 21, 2015
A Trigger warning is that thing stuck on just about everything from music to books to TV shows that warns us that the material may be disturbing to some of us. As Neil Gaiman describes it

"There are things that upset us...images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. Our hearts skip a ratatat drum-beat in our chests and we fight for breath. Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked...

What do we need to be warned about? We each have our own little triggers."

So, given Neil Gaiman's ability to write stories that are guaranteed to disturb, it is certainly appropriate that this latest collection of his short stories has been titled Trigger Warning. Most of the stories have been published previously but, unless you're that intrepid super fan that has hunted for every crumb of Gaiman ephemera, there's sure to be something here to please or better yet send chills up the spine.

Granted not all of these stories are creepy or scary or even a little spine-tingling and, as in every collection of short stories, I like some better than others but they are all great fun to read and they all have Gaiman's signature twist, making even the most familiar tale seem new again. My personal favourites were The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains in which two men set out in search of gold and revenge and Orange which is a strange list of answers to a questionnaire about aliens, jam, and other assorted things. But I thoroughly enjoyed all of the others including a Sherlock Holmes tale, The Case of Death and Honey and a Doctor Who story, Nothing O'clock. There are also a couple of fairly well-known fairy tales that Gaiman has rewritten in very interesting ways.

Gaiman is that rare writer who never fails to enchant, entertain, and ensnare the imagination of his readers and Trigger Warning is typical Gaiman. Heck, I even enjoyed reading his Introduction almost as much as I did the stories. So if you're a fan or even if you're not, there's bound to be something here to delight as well as disturb.


Game: The Sequel to "I Hunt Killers"
Game: The Sequel to "I Hunt Killers"
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Page-Turner, February 20, 2015
In I Hunt Killers, author Barry Lyga introduced readers to Jasper (Jazz) Dent, only son of Billy Dent, the world's most infamous serial killer. Billy was grooming Jazz to continue his legacy but Jazz had other ideas and, rather than become a serial killer, he helped the police bring one down.

Now, in Game, the second book in the series, there's a serial killer known as Hat-Dog terrorizing New York and a police officer have asked Jazz for help. But this killer doesn't follow any discernible pattern, leaving even Jazz stumped. Worse, there is every indication that Billy is somehow involved.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints including that of Jazz' girlfriend, Connie but it's mostly from Jazz' viewpoint and he is a very interesting and complex character. He is likable and determined to prove his father wrong but he is also manipulative and occasionally deceitful. He worries that, despite all his efforts, it would take very little to turn him into the killer his father wants him to be.

Game is a real page-turner and great fun to read and I will definitely be picking up the third in the series. However, I have two caveats: first, since this is the second in a series and though the Hat-Dog murders are solved, there is clearly much more to Jazz' story and, not too surprising, Game ends on a cliffhanger and second, this is a YA novel but there are some disturbing scenes including rape, murder, and mutilation making it unsuitable for a younger teen audience.


The Great Zoo of China
The Great Zoo of China
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Fun to Read, February 16, 2015
China is developing into a superpower to rival the United States in manufacturing and in military might but now it wishes to challenge the US culturally as well. So it has built a super secret zoo in a remote province of the country and has invited VIPs and journalists from the US as well as China to see it before its grand opening. Because this zoo has only one attraction but it is truly unique - real live (albeit not fire-breathing) dragons.

So I know what you're thinking - Jurassic Park with slightly more mythic creatures, right? Well, okay, that's fair. Even a couple of the characters address the similarity:

"Hamish shrugged. 'It's all pretty cool and impressive...if you never saw f**king Jurassic Park.' "

So let's get this objection out of the way right quick. Author Michael Reilly says that Jurassic Park was his all-time favourite book. He also explains the differences between his and Michael Crichton's book but, to be honest, they were kind of a stretch - journalists instead of scientists, births from eggs instead of cloning, that sort of thing. But, here's the thing - so what?

The Great Zoo of China is more homage than rip-off and there are enough differences to make it worth the read. Actually, The Great Zoo is even more fun to read than Jurassic Park - it is more Jurassic Park the movie than Jurassic Park the novel with more action and less `science'. The first couple of chapters set up the story: how the dragons were discovered, the differences between the many different dragons, introduces the characters etc. but, once we have the background the story becomes one non-stop action film with lots of things blowing up, burning down, cars and trucks dropping from the sky, and people being killed in some rather icky ways. It's all guns, gore, and flying death machines with fangs.

Sure, you're going to have to wear your willing suspension of disbelief like body armour for this book because, *spoiler alert*, a handful of Americans take on the whole Chinese army and a zooful of very intelligent very aggressive dragons and surprise surprise they win. But, hey, they're very likable Americans especially the lead character, CJ Cameron, writer for National Geographic and expert on alligators who is one feisty woman, her brother, Hamish, and Lucky, the people-liking dragon.

So, yeah, The Great Zoo of China isn't exactly a unique story and it's definitely not great literature. What it is, however, is fast, furious, and great fun to read and that was definitely good enough for me.


My Brother's Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War
My Brother's Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War
by Bryan Prince
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.80
24 used & new from $11.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Look at a Little-known Part of Canadian & American History, February 14, 2015
During the final few decades of slavery in America, Canada was often the last stop on the underground railway for runaway slaves. But for many, the United States would always be `home' and after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, when blacks were finally allowed to enlist in the Union army, many returned to the US to fight. In his book, My Brother's Keeper, author Bryan Prince looks at the African Canadians who would return to the US to fight, why they chose to go, and, in many cases, what their lives were like in Canada and what happened to them both during the war and after.

A few of these men were tricked into enlisting by unscrupulous recruiters who then cheated them out of part or all of their enlistment bonuses but most chose to return to fight voluntarily. Many of them would die to end slavery. Prince tells many of their individual stories, of their heroism and courage, and frequently of their deaths as the result of battle but more often disease. Many of them were soldiers but many enlisted as doctors, recruiters, or chaplains.

Prince also looks at what life had been like in Canada for many African Americans. He looks mainly at southern Ontario or, as it was then, Canada West. For many, it was no better and often, worse, than it had been in the US because the racism was more subtle. Blacks had the same freedoms in Canada as whites to attend school, to act as jurists, to own property etc, but legal didn't always mean actual. Still, it did mean that many were able to gain knowledge and skills that were forbidden to slaves and, after the war, many returned to the US to teach.

But it wasn't only slaves who fled north across the border. Many white Americans fled to Canada to escape debt or, once the war started, to avoid conscription on both sides. This occasionally created strange circumstances:

"'Not long since, a slave run away from Virginia, came here and settled down; a few months after, his master, "broke down", cheated his creditors, escaped to Canada came and settled by the side of his former chattel. Their families borrow and lend now, upon terms of perfect equality.'"

After the war, many Blacks returned to the US, not perhaps a tidal wave as some had predicted but so many that at least one church was forced to close its doors. Interestingly and somewhat oddly, at the same time that many African Americans were leaving, many white southerners moved to Canada so they wouldn't have to live under this new `tyranny'.

Perhaps the most touching and heartbreaking part of the books is a list of ads placed by former slaves now living in Canada seeking family and friends who they had been forced to leave behind when they fled or, in some cases, had been sold away from them while they were still living under slavery: mothers seeking children, husbands seeking wives, brothers seeking siblings, etc.

My Brother's Keeper is a well-researched, well-written chronicle of African Americans living in Canada who returned to the US to fight in the Civil War. Some of them were doctors or ministers but most were just regular people who were willing to sacrifice everything for what they saw as a just cause in the country they still considered home. Illustrated throughout, it is a fascinating read for anyone interested in this little-known part of the history of both the United States and Canada.


The Inheritance Trilogy
The Inheritance Trilogy
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy Meets Mythology, February 14, 2015
The Inheritance Trilogy by author N.K. Jemisin contains three books or, to be more accurate, three books and a novella: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdom, and the Kingdom of Gods, as well as the bonus novella The Awakened Kingdom. The three books contain many of the same characters and, with the exception of the first, could not easily be read as standalones. And, yet, despite this fact, they all feel like self-contained stories. Although they are interconnected by place, characters, and the events of the first book, the tales occur several years apart and under very different circumstances and all storylines are pretty much complete within each novel.

The books all tend to be character driven. Each is told in the first person by a character who, for some reason, is a kind of fish out of water up against circumstances that could prove deadly for them. In the first, the protagonist is a female warrior from a primitive backwater who finds herself in a dangerous competition for the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and, unfortunately, she is the only one who doesn't know the rules; in the second, the protagonist is a blind artist who can `see' magic and finds herself a suspect in the murders of godlings; in the third, Sieh, the godling of childhood also known as a trickster suddenly begins to lose his godhood after befriending two mortal children and is suddenly faced with the possibility of mortality; the novella is told by a newly born godling who is struggling to find his/her place and purpose in a very confusing world.

Normally, my preference in fantasy is for the gritty realism of authors like Erikson and GRR Martin and this is definitely not that so I was surprised how much I enjoyed all of the books. There is some action but it tends to be minimal and much of it occurs off-stage so-to-speak. There is some great world-building although a hundred thousand kingdoms is a bit of an exaggeration. The characters are very well-drawn and mostly likable. There is also some romance but, fortunately, it never subverts the tale. And there is also subtle humour which I always appreciate.

In many ways, these books seemed more like mythology than epic fantasy with flawed gods and godlings who resemble humans emotionally as well as frequently physically, an origin as well as a creation story, and a kind of love/hate/curiousity relationship between mortals and gods.

I did like the first two books better than the third but it was still worth the read. I found the novella a bit of a departure from the rest but it was still enjoyable. My recommendation: The Inheritance Trilogy is a great choice for fans of the fantasy genre who are looking for something a little bit different, especially if they like stories about gods often behaving badly.

4.5


Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 2)
Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 2)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At Least as Good as Red Rising, January 27, 2015
One of my favourite reads of 2014 was Red Rising by author Pierce Brown. I looked forward to its sequel with anticipation but, to be honest, I wasn't expecting anything anywhere near as exciting as Red Rising. It would be, after all, the middle book in a trilogy and middle books tend to be mainly just bridges between the first and the third books, mostly filler with some hints to keep the reader's interest while waiting for the really good stuff. Not to say that a second book can't be a compelling read but, at least in my case, my expectations tend to be lower than for the other books.

But gorydamn if Golden Son isn't at least as nail-bitingly exciting and unputdownable as the first. Darrow and most of his Howlers have survived the deadly games of the Institute but he still has one more test to pass if he is to be accepted by the Governor, the man who killed Darrow's wife. And just when he thinks he has proven his worth, he is defeated and it seems like his chance to bring down the colour caste system is over even before it has started.

Instead, he finds a way to turn his defeat into an even bigger opportunity to aid the Sons of Ares. But while their plan is to bring down the system seemingly one Gold at a time, Darrow has other ideas; he will foment a Civil War that will bring it all down around them quickly - that is, if he can survive the arrogance and betrayals of both his enemies and his friends among the Golds.

In Golden Son, Brown expands the world-building and we get a glimpse of just how big this world is. And, while this is most definitely Darrow's story, he also gives us a more three-dimensional picture of many of the other characters including Roque, Mustang, and Cassius. Golden Son is not a standalone so if you haven't read Red Rising, you should do that first - trust me, you won't be sorry. No surprise that this ends on a cliffhanger but, wow, what a cliffhanger - normally I hate them but this was just so...so...never mind, just read the book. But make sure you have lots of time and no interruptions because you are not going to want to put this one down for anything trivial like eating. I do have one question, though, how in all the hells of Mars will Brown top Golden Son in the last book of the trilogy?


The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Series, Book 1)
The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Series, Book 1)
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Whimsical Tale of Magic, January 25, 2015
Of all the forms of magic, paper is the least powerful which is why no one wants to become a paper folder. So when Ceony Twill, first in her class at the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined is informed that there is a shortage of paper folders and, therefore, she is to be apprenticed as one, she is devastated because once bonded to a form of magic, it is a bond for life.

She is apprenticed to the eccentric folder Emory Thane and, at first, she is sarcastic and rebellious. However, when she sees the kind of beauty and whimsy he can produce from paper including a small dog as a present to her, she begins to accept her fate. Unfortunately, just as she starts to like her new life, Emory's wife, Lira returns. She is an Excisioner, a blood magician and, when she steals Emery's heart literally, Ceony must find a way to save him - not easy when you're only a newly bonded paper folder and your opponent can kill with just a touch.

This is the first book in The Paper Magician series and, for the most part, I enjoyed this YA fantasy by author Charlie N Holmberg. Although the story has obvious roots in other series including Harry Potter, it was more homage than derivative. I really appreciated the idea of paper folding as magic. However, the story seemed to bog down somewhat as Ceony has to make her way through the chambers of Emory's heart. It was an interesting way to give us Emory's backstory as well as parts of Ceony's but it tended to slow the story down considerably.

Still, Ceony and Emory are both extremely likable characters. There is a hint of possible romance at least on Ceony's part but, fortunately, it isn't love at first sight and, in fact, nothing happens at least in this first book. Lira makes a great evil temptress and the idea of blood magic, although not unique, is quite scary here. There is also a nice touch of subtle humour that works well within the storyline. I know I have used the term `whimsy' several times already but it is the best word I can think of to describe this book. The story itself is self-contained and, unlike so many fantasy series, does not end on a cliffhanger. Although not perfect, The Paper Magician was a fun read and I look forward to the next book in the series.

3.5


The After House
The After House
Price: $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining For What It Is, January 17, 2015
This review is from: The After House (Kindle Edition)
The After House starts out great. It is Puerto Rico in the 1840s and Eli Gasper is the captain of a whaling ship. It's been a good day; they have taken a mother and her calf and they are heading home. Then a bull appears from nowhere, the biggest he has ever seen and Eli decides `this was too great a prize to ignore'. It turns out he and his crew are no match for this angry bull.

This first part was exciting and I fully expected one chilling nail-biting roller coaster ride of a horror story. It didn't happen.

The story switches to the present. Remy has divorced her cheating spouse and she and her 6-year-old daughter have moved into an old house last occupied by an artist who, despite his fear of the sea, has painted beautiful pictures of it on the walls. Soon things start happening, loud bangs, damaged furniture. Remy refuses to leave though especially after she meets Hugh, handsome mayor of the town.

Things begin to look up for Remy and her daughter despite the seemingly strange occurrences in their house. Then her studio burns down and her car crashes. Is it a ghost or something or someone more corporeal haunting her?

Despite the first part about the whale hunt, the haunting which was kind of half-assed anyway, and the later possibility of a murder, The After House is really just a paranormal romance; you know, girl is hurt in love, swears she will never love again, meets new hunky guy, falls madly in love at first sight but fights it until at least their second date because every love story needs some conflict and/or obstacle to overcome.

Don't get me wrong - I didn't hate the book. I really enjoyed the part about the whale hunt. It offered so much potential. Unfortunately the story never lived up to it. I also learned the original meaning of `dork' and although it was slipped into the story rather clumsily, it was pretty interesting. And the story was entertaining enough for what it was. It just felt like the author, in trying to put so much into it, history, romance, ghosts, haunting, murder, angels, that it just seemed to meander around until the rather deus ex machina solution to who's really behind all the `accidents'.

My recommendation: if you like paranormal romances with just a touch of suspense, you will most likely enjoy this one. However, if you are looking for a creepy good horror story, you might want to pass this one up because this definitely ain't that.


Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories
Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just a Whole Lot of Fun, January 16, 2015
Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of 14 tales for children by Terry Pratchett but, trust me, you don't need to be a child to appreciate them - all you need is a sense of humour and whimsy and perhaps a little private space so that people won't stare at you funny when you read them on the bus (trust me, it's embarrassing).

Although these tales were written early in Pratchett's career, they are just as funny as his Discworld books. As I read them I kept thinking I wish I had a small child to read them to because these are the kind of stories that make you want to do silly voices and sound effects.

In the title story, King Arthur is informed that dragons have invaded crumbling castle. Ralph `a small boy in a suit of mail much too big for him' is chosen by the king to deal with the problem (mainly because no one else is available) so he sets out with his talking donkey. After many exciting (and hilarious) adventures, they arrive at the castle only to discover that dragons are actually quite nice and peaceful. They only moved to the castle because the original lord dammed the river to build a swimming pool and accidentally flooded their cave.

Among the other stories are two tales about the carpet people who set out on an adventurous journey across the carpet seeking a new home perhaps near the shiny plains of Linoleum, one about an egg-dancing contest, and one about Father Christmas' attempt to find a job to help make ends meet during the other 364 days of the year when he's not employed. I liked some stories more than others but they are all hilarious.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is the perfect antidote for a rainy afternoon or for the reluctant child at bedtime. It is just a whole lot of fun. The marvelously quirkly illustrations by Mark Beech are a perfect complement to the tales. The best thing: this is the kind of book you will probably enjoy just as much if not more than the kids.


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