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Reviews Written by
Michael OConnor "Wordsmith" RSS Feed (Wausau, WI USA)
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

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Hit the Target: Eight Men who Led The Eighth Air Force to Victory over the Luftwaffe
Hit the Target: Eight Men who Led The Eighth Air Force to Victory over the Luftwaffe
by Bill Yenne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.31
77 used & new from $6.54

2.0 out of 5 stars Methinks Authors Have Gone to the 8th Air Force Well Once Too Often!, September 2, 2015
There have been a gazillion books published on the 'Mighty Eighth' over the years, many of them excellent, well-researched chronicles of the life and combat times of that legendary air force. Bill Yenne's HIT THE TARGET, EIGHT MEN WHO LED THE EIGHTH AIR FORCE TO VICTORY OVER THE LUFTWAFFE is the latest but, definitely, not the greatest to appear.

First off, when I saw the book advertised, I assumed it was about various 8th AF commanders such as Spaatz, Eaker and Doolittle along with, maybe, some notable fighter and bomber group commanders such as Blakeslee, Zemke, Armstrong, etc. When I opened the book, I was surprised to see some of those men but also 'Memphis Belle' pilot Robert Morgan, Robert Rosenthal of the 'Bloody 100th' and Medal of Honor recipient 'Snuffy' Smith. Don't get me wrong: Morgan and Rosenthal were skilled, brave airmen who had fine war records with their respective bomb groups. Likewise, Smith, somewhat of a goldbricker, performed magnificently on one flight, winning the MoH. Yet none of the three "led the Eighth Air Force" in any meaningful way, shape or form except in courage.

Secondly, 'Mighty Eighth' enthusiasts will find little new in HIT THE TARGET. The 8th AF story, as mentioned, has been told and re-told and Yenne's book is pretty much a re-hash of many earlier 8th AF books. Then too Yenne jumps back and forth between the eight men, making for a disjointed storyline.

In short, HIT THE TARGET doesn't! To my mind, it starts off on the wrong foot with a false premise - eight who lead - and then serves up some warmed-over history. Your call, folks.


Ringo: With a Little Help
Ringo: With a Little Help
by Michael Seth Starr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.07
52 used & new from $16.18

3.0 out of 5 stars Ringo Revealed!, August 13, 2015
There have been several biographies on the life and musical times of Richard Starkey, MBE, Michael Starr's book being the latest. A 2015 Backbeat Books release, RINGO, WITH A LITTLE HELP devotes 360 pages to the Fab Four's talented, lovable and ever so human drummer.

While Starr's book claims to be the "first in-depth biography" of Ringo, it might be more accurate to say it's the most up-to-date. Starr traces Ringo's life from his birth and early years in Liverpool, the years spent as a drummer with local bands including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, his joining Fab Four and the tumultuous Beatles years and his up-and-down recording/acting career and life after the break-up.

Starr's book benefits from the multitude of books/articles/interviews/films/etc. that have been done on Ringo and/or the Beatles as well as reminiscences from various friends and associates. At the same time, the book reads like a rehash of all those aforementioned materials. I also thought it was too wordy. Though a Beatles fan, I found it hard turning the pages after a while. Perhaps I've just read too many books on JPG&R!

In any case, RINGO, WITH A LITTLE HELP is a serviceable bio of its subject but it didn't trip my trigger. Your call, folks!

*****
8,900 Helpful Votes!


Battle for Britain Special Edition Luftwaffe Eagles
Battle for Britain Special Edition Luftwaffe Eagles
by w
Edition: Single Issue Magazine

5.0 out of 5 stars Special Battle of Britain Magazine!, August 8, 2015
BATTLE FOR BRITAIN is a one-off special in the LUFTWAFFE EAGLES series. A 2015 FLYPAST release, it's jam-packed with interesting articles and tons of photographs and artwork on history's most famous air campaign.

The 98-page magazine is an excellent smorgasbord of BoB articles including ones on the Luftwaffe High Command circa 1940, air ops on 26 August, the Me110's BoB combat record, damaged Luftwaffe a/c that made it back to base, Italy's role in the battle, the He113 myth, 82 Squadron's BoB record, RAF 'evaders' on the continent, the Stuka in action, etc. penned by such authors as Chris Goss, Andy Thomas and Daniel Ford.

The articles are wonderfully illustrated with vintage and contemporary color and B&w pix, color profiles, maps and combat artwork. Visually BATTLE FOR BRITAIN is a delight.

Since 2015 is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, there have been - and will be - many books published on the subject. While neither exhaustive nor definitive, BATTLE FOR BRITAIN is a nicely-done, 'potted' overview of the subject. Highly recommended.

*****
8,850 Helpful Votes!


John Hughes: A Life in Film: The Genius Behind Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, and more
John Hughes: A Life in Film: The Genius Behind Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, and more
by Kirk Honeycutt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.78
65 used & new from $21.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Comedic Mask!, August 7, 2015
Kirk Honeycutt's JOHN HUGHES, A LIFE IN FILMS provides a comprehensive chronicle of the life and times of the writer/director/producer responsible for such movies BREAKFAST CLUB, PRETTY IN PINK, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION, HOME ALONE and UNCLE BUCK. A 2015 Race Point release, Honeycutt's book gives the reader an appreciation of both the man and of his films.

Honeycutt does a good job of summarizing the many films Hughes helped create. Though he was saddled with criticism that he made only 'teen movies,' he did produce a variety of flicks. However, after reading JOHN HUGHES. I feel he was more fascinating as a person than any of the movies he helped create. A Midwesterner and devoted family man, his life-views and sensitive nature permeated many of his better films. Yet, even while he was creating comedy classics - and many lesser efforts - he was burning bridges with so many of his show biz friends and associates. You wonder how happy that whole experience left him and if he realized his role in all that. As regards the movie critiques, I agree with some and disagree with others. It's Honeycutt's book so what the heck!

JOHN HUGHES was an interesting portrait of a successful filmmaker and unique individual. While I enjoyed many of his flicks, I had no idea about his personal back-story. Honeycutt's book makes for interesting reading. Recommended.


Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II
Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II
by Stephen Harding
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.30
65 used & new from $11.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Serviceman to Lose His Life!, August 7, 2015
Stephen Harding's LAST TO DIE chronicles the brief life and times of Anthony J. Marchione, the last American serviceman to die in combat in World War II. A 2015 Da Capo Press release, it is a thorough, fascinating and ultimately saddening tale of a young man who, through a variety of circumstances, met his death three days after Japan had announced it would surrender.

The details of Marchione's death are simple. An aerial gunner/photographer on board a Consolidated B-32 bomber, he was killed by cannon fire from a Japanese fighter that intercepted his plane over Japan on 18 August 1945. Behind those bare facts however lies a multi-faceted tale, one that Harding fully details. Built as a back-up to the B-29 in case the Superfortress flopped, the B-32 had a troubled development which is detailed in the book. Likewise, despite the Japanese acceptance of the surrender terms, a power struggle was continuing in Tokyo between fanatics who wanted to keep fighting and those committed to follow the Emperor's wishes for peace. Some of those fanatics piloted IJN interceptors and they were among the pilots who clashed with Marchione's bomber on the 18th and fatally wounded him. Harding interweaves those various elements into a compelling narrative that holds the reader throughout.

No one wants to be the last to die in a war. Tragically, as related in LAST TO DIE, Tony Marchione secured that distinction on 18 August 1945. It was a needless tragedy but Marchione's sacrifice deserves to be recognized. LAST TO DIE is a worthy tribute to that young man. Recommended.


The Doors: The Illustrated History
The Doors: The Illustrated History
by Gillian G. Gaar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.72
47 used & new from $19.45

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't You Love ('em) Madly!, August 7, 2015
There have been dozens of books published over the years on the Doors and their legendary lead singer. Gillian Gaar's THE DOORS, THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY is the latest on the subject and one of the best. A 2015 Voyageur Press release, it offers a fascinating and well-illustrated guide to the musical life and times of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore.

THE DOORS opens with a brief recounting of the history-changing meeting between Morrison and Manzarek on a Venice, California beach in July 1965. Gaar then provides a chronological chronicle of the years from 1966 to 1971 when the Doors were a musical force and the Doors' story post-Morrison. After exploding on the music scene in April 1967 with the 'Light My Fire' single and 'The Doors' album, the group produced five more albums, toured incessantly and garnered a lot of publicity -good and bad - courtesy of Morrison's leather-clad rock god-Lizard King persona and his increasingly erratic behavior brought about by demon rum. Eventually, Morrison imploded and went off to Paris where he died - or did he? Interest in the Doors only grew after Morrison's death and continues to this day.

Gaar's book has many things going for it. It's an insightful, affectionate yet critical and comprehensive treatment. The Doors weren't just Morrison and she nicely fleshes out each individual, noting their contributions and experiences as part of the group. While Morrison's antics often made page one, she rightly emphasizes what will linger the longest, the music they made. And she brings the Doors saga up to date, detailing the Doors' books, re-issues, box sets, movies, documentaries, etc. that have kept the group in the public eye...and ear. The book is nicely illustrated with vintage and contemporary b&w and color photographs, cover art, show posters, etc.

Fans of the Doors will enjoy Gaar's book. It provides a balanced look at one of rock's most interesting groups ever. Recommended.


Flight Journal World War 2s Last Dogfights
Flight Journal World War 2s Last Dogfights
by w
Edition: Single Issue Magazine
3 used & new from $6.13

4.0 out of 5 stars End-on-the War Air Ops!, July 23, 2015
WORLD WAR II'S LAST DOGFIGHTS is a mish-mash of articles most of which relate late-war air combats in the ETO and Pacific. A 2015 FLIGHT JOURNAL 'Collector's Issue,' it should interest fighter combat buffs.

The LAST DOGFIGHTS title is a bit misleading. Over half the articles - those written by Don Nijboer, James Busha, Robert Dorr, Eric Hammel and Barrett Tillman - do cover end-of-war combat missions. Other articles, though, deal with American efforts to acquire Luftwaffe aircraft/technology, 'Magic Carpet' ops that ferried servicemen and POWs back to the States, the postwar destruction of the German and Japanese aircraft, etc. It's a mixed bag but a well-illustrated one with lots of contemporary and vintage b&w and color pix.

WORLD WAR II'S LAST DOGFIGHTS makes for is a quick but interesting read. I would have liked more 'turning-and-burning' stories but that's just me. Recommended.

*****
One question: Why, if the magazine is devoted to late-war air combats, does the cover feature a Hurri and a Bf 109E, both early-war birds??
*****
8,800 Helpful Votes!


The Battle of Kursk 1943: The View through the Camera Lens
The Battle of Kursk 1943: The View through the Camera Lens
by Valeriy Zamulin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $69.13
33 used & new from $58.70

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A First-Rate Photo-Guide to the Kursk Battle!, July 22, 2015
Valeriy Zamulin's THE BATTLE OF KURSK 1943 is a photo-guide to that most momentous WW II battle, utilizing over 500 never-before-seen photographs from various Russian Archives. Easter Front enthusiasts will enjoy the rich visual imagery presented by Zamulin and Helion & Company.

Zamulin's book is a real door-stopper of a book, topping at 476 pages. It's divided into three sections: the creation of the Kursk bulge and the Russian defensive preparations; the launching and defeat of 'Operation Citadel;' and the Russian counter-offensive. After short but comprehensive summaries, the book presents page after page of nicely-reproduced, well-captioned pix of Russian and German troops and commander, tanks, artillery, aircraft, trench scenes, 'in-action' scenes, etc.

For those of us who endured decades of poorly-reproduced or badly-doctored Russian photographs of 'the motherland at war,' the pix in Zamulin's are truly magnificent. I would have opted for fewer shots of USSR commanders and more battle scenes but what the heck.

While there have been other Kursk photo-histories, THE BATTLE OF KURSK 1943 jumps to the top of the heap. Though the price is steep ($71.69), anyone interested in the Eastern Front will want to add this book to their collection. Recommended.


Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows (Hunter of Sherwood: Guy of Gisburne)
Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows (Hunter of Sherwood: Guy of Gisburne)
by Toby Venables
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $6.67
45 used & new from $2.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous Re-imaging of Robin Hood Legend!, July 17, 2015
Tony Venables' HUNTER OF SHERWOOD: KNIGHTS OF SHADOWS is a wonderfully entertaining re-telling of the Robin Hood/Prince John/Guy of Gisburne tale. A 2013 Abaddon release, Venables' book is a guaranteed page-turner that leaves you wanting more.

KNIGHT OF SHADOWS deals with Guy of Gisburne's attempts to steal a treasured artifact, the jewel-encrusted skull of John the Baptist. The skull is also lusted after by a truly evil Templar knight named de Mercheval as well as the king of France. Facing tremendous odds, Gisburne and his squire, Galfrid, undertake a rousing quest to acquire the artifact and bring it to his master, Prince John, who is also having trouble with a band of ruffians led by 'the Hood.'

Venables' book is one of the very best medieval English adventure novels I've read in years. The author takes all the old legends and myths associated with all those historical characters and re-images them, creating a rousing tale populated by believable, flesh-and-blood characters engaged in daring deeds. KNIGHT OF SHADOWS is one great read! Highly recommended..


American Warlords: How Roosevelt's High Command Led America to Victory in World War II
American Warlords: How Roosevelt's High Command Led America to Victory in World War II
by Jonathan W. Jordan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.41
59 used & new from $14.54

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roosevelt's 'Team of Rivals' at War!, July 14, 2015
Jonathan Jordan's AMERICAN WARLORDS provides an incisive portrait of America's top military leadership in World War II. Focusing on General George Marshall, Admiral Ernest King and Henry Stimson, Jordan presents an engrossing tale of how 'Roosevelt's warlords' formulated, reworked and guided America's war-winning strategy while simultaneously dealing with a myriad of personalities such as Churchill, Stalin, de Gaulle, Ike, MacArthur and others, all with their own agendas..

Jordan's behind-closed-doors chronicle, which benefits from a wealth of primary research material, reveals the trials, tribulations, game-playing, hissy fits, compromises and turf battles that shaped the final victory. Along with detailing strategy, he presents a vivid, entertaining, warts-and-all portrait of the players. While Marshall comes off best, King is probably the most fascinating character, a brilliant strategist but a terribly flawed human being with contempt for just about anybody else.

AMERICAN WARLORDS makes for compelling reading. Jordan is a gifted writer and he brings those long-ago machinations and historic figures to vivid life. Highly recommended.


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