reviews

Recommendations: War Narratives

Recommendation postsI was asked to write a list of historical fiction and war narratives that I would recommend to readers, while I was part of the Bookish People collaboration. I’ve decided to share part of that list with my usual blog – the war narrative part. The following are four excellent books that I have enjoyed over the years – for differing reasons. Some are well known, others are obscure or not discussed much by the blogging community. One’s a classic, another, a pulpy action novel. I love them all.

In my opinion a war narrative can be written about current events but must be fictional, no autobiographies or memoirs, however they can be written by experienced soldiers about fictional characters.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The Book Thief is a wonderful exploration of WWII from a unique viewpoint. It produced torrents of tears that I cried in public. It is very well known and much loved, for good reason. If all the people saying how wonderful this book is scared you from reading it, pick it up right now and you can thank me later. It is so wonderfully accessible and loveable and popular so you can squee about it with other bookish people.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

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All Quiet on the Western Front was the first war narrative I read, and I used it for my final year assignment in high school. Its high on my list of favourite novels and it is widely hailed by critics as ‘The Greatest War Novel of ALL TIME.’ It’s the book I always point people towards when they ask for a war novel recommendation.

3. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

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If All Quiet on the Western Front was the novel that started me on the path of war narratives, Matterhorn would be the narrative I fell in love with. It is not an easy read – it is long, full of jargon and a heavy plot to digest. However, if you stick with it the rewards are astonishing as Marlantes has crafted the perfectly poignant and devastating account of the Vietnam War. It took Marlantes 30 years to write, and it has been honed to perfection. READ THIS BOOK.

4. Tenth Man Down by Chris Ryan

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All of the other books on this list have been somewhat literary, and my last addition, Tenth Man Down, breaks the literary tradition in half, double taps it and throws a witty one liner. The tagline of this book is ‘Who wins? The SAS or the Navy Seals?’ but if I remember correctly, *plot twist* everybody loses. It is book four in the Geordie Sharp series, and is epically good if you have read the previous instalments, but still good as a standalone. One of Ryan’s other novels, Strike Back, has been adapted into an excellent miniseries with Richard Armitage if you want some man candy to accompany your war action-y goodness. Avoid the US version, it’s rubbish.

Well – I’m sure I’ve missed some canonical gems. Please feel free to tell me I got it all wrong, although I possibly will argue to death. If I’ve just rec’ed a book you have read – is its inclusion in my list justified, or am I completely off my head? Am I missing your favourite war novel? I probably am!

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Weekly Review Spree 15/3/15

Fire Force Matt LynnFire Force – Matt Lynn – 3 stars – Paperback from library

Fire Force is the second novel in Matt Lynn’s Death Force series, following the exploits of a group of mercenaries headed by Steve West. I found this book to be interesting, with a plot line that isn’t too common in action novels, but the action sequences were very much the same as what you read in other books of this genre. The characters in this series are excellent – I love Dan and Nick the best, and it’s fun to actually not like the main protagonist, who I find to be hypocritical and annoying. The writing in this series is pretty average, and there was even a grammatical error on the cover of the copy I read, but I don’t read action novels for well put together literature, I enjoy them for the plot.

22395145Endangered – C.J. Box – 4 stars – Kindle edition

I’ve been waiting for this book to be released since reading the last Joe Pickett novel, Stone Cold. I really do love this series, and after each one I wonder how C.J. Box is going to make the next book interesting, because there have been 14 books in this series prior to Endangered. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that there was something different about Endangered, and it wasn’t until I finished that I worked out what it was. Usually the main conflict in Joe Pickett novels arises from Joe’s job as a Wyoming game warden, or from the community of Saddlestring itself, but in Endangered the conflict and action occur because of issues within Joe’s family – I’m usually the reviewer lamenting the lack of involvement of families in novels, so it was so nice to be able to read a story where the ‘big bad’ was not naughty for hurting the environment, or the people of Saddlestring, but rather, Joe’s family.

I’m a massive fan of Joe and Nate’s relationship, and this book hurt me so much. I won’t elaborate too much because I don’t want to ruin what happens, but let’s just say that this isn’t one of those books where Joe and Nate pair up and take on evil with shotguns and Nate’s awesome Special Forces background… but it is still satisfying. So satisfying.

As always I will be pre-ordering the next Joe Pickett book as soon as it comes available for pre-order on kindle. And I’m not going to consider that there won’t be another one because there has to be, or else I’ll to riot. If you haven’t read any Joe Pickett, you really should start – go read Open Season, the first of bunch. You won’t regret it. Or maybe, you will regret having to spend all your time catching up, it is a BIG series and highly addictive.

24190989As the Crow Flies – Damien Boyd – 3 stars – netgalley copy

As the Crow Flies was an enjoyable, fast paced read. There was an interesting murder enquiry to follow and DI Nick Dixon has the makings of being an interesting character. There was quite a bit of rock climbing vocabulary in this novel which completely lost me, but I decided to push through that and I am glad I did.

The plot was tight – I didn’t guess the ending at any point of the novel, although I did work out some parts, I never figured out who killed Nick’s friend Jake. It came as a shock when it was revealed. As the Crow Flies is fast paced, and a short novel of only 200p, so there was only the single main plotline with no intersecting subplots, which I would have preferred to have.

The only thing that was missing from this novel was strong characters – as there were so few pages, and most pages were dedicated to furthering the plot. I struggled to remember people’s names, and when I did remember them, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about them besides their relationship to Nick Dixon. I feel like the author could have given more time (and pages) to developing the characters, maybe some more dialogue between characters about their lives, or even using more description when setting scenes.

Overall I enjoyed reading As the Crow Flies and will certainly be picking up the next book in the series.

17559237 One Way Trip by Scott McEwen with Thomas Koloniar – 4 1/2 stars – hardback from library

One Way Trip has been sitting on my TBR list for over a year (and I borrowed a copy from the library two months ago that has been sitting on my shelves!), and I am so glad that I picked it up to read, because it is one of the best books I have read in this genre. The hero in this book, Gil, certainly is an interesting creation, blending the cowboy aesthetic with the tough as nails Special Forces soldier, and it works so well. Often I find it hard to connect with American characters in these novels, because I don’t share the over the top patriotism for America as they seem to always be written with. I get that it’s a good hook for patriotic Americans, but for an Australian who has studied Middle Eastern History and often doesn’t agree with American (and Australian) policy in that region of the world, I find it hard to get through political rhetoric. One Way Trip definitely does have some things that make me cringe – a love of the word Haji and a general “America good, everyone else bad” disposition, but it comes across more as believable attitudes of soldiers rather than political and racial posturing by an author.

The storyline of One Way Trip was interesting, I liked the aspect of rescuing a downed pilot who was injured and had been raped. It was interesting to think on some of the issues that this raised, for example, would the Special Forces community be as desperate to rescue the hostage if it was a man? I also liked the way that politics, the media and the military were all interlinked and affected one another. Often in military fiction the media and politics don’t seem to make much of a difference to the soldiers, whereas in One Way Trip, they were affected by outside forces.

The ending, with the final battle, was one of my favourite scenes so far this year, with some very touching and interesting moments. Certainly not believable – but I read these novels like most people read fantasy – ‘Hey, its not real, but isn’t it cool?!’ I’ve already put the next book in this series on hold at the library, and I can’t wait to get my filthy little hands on it – I want to catch up with Gil and see how he’s going with everything that happened!

Other bookish/non-bookish stuff

I’ve got a very busy week coming up this week, I’ve got two assignments and two tests to study for, and I’m already bogged down in my coursework. I’m going to spend Wednesday and Thursday getting caught up with everything. So this week I am going to limit myself to reading two novels – and only the second one once my course reading is done.

We’re also getting our carpets cleaned, which means lots of furniture moving, which does not bode well with my joints. But the BF said he would do most of it, and I just need to do things that require two people. I’m hoping my body can survive the process, but last week I spent two days doing some autumn cleaning and I almost DIED.

I’m currently reading “Breaking Creed ” by Alex Kava, and so far, enjoying it. It’s nice to read about men and their dogs, and I’m already liking the Ryder Creed character. I might need to go hunt out some more of Alex Kava’s books, because I’m certainly enjoying his one!

 

Book Review: Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

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Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride, 2007, paperback from library, 594p

 

In the past couple of months I have experienced a profound reading slump, and the Logan McRae series can get all the credit in pulling me out of it. I’ve been immersed in a thrilling and strange world, (all this talk of sleet and cold confuses Aussies, you know?) and I have slowly been making my way through the first couple of novels in the series – Cold Granite and Dying Light. I purchased Cold Granite because it was on sale on ibooks for $0. Such a good/bad promotion, because I then brought Dying Light full price on ibooks – the first time I ever spent money on that platform.

McRae is a wonderful character, and he is surrounded by an interesting and diverse cast who never disappoint in delivering a witty one liner or putting foot to mouth in front of their superiors. I like that there was a lot of background introduced during Cold Granite, it wasn’t as if the character simply ‘started’ with the first book – he had exes, issues with bosses and favourite drinking holes.

My primary issue with these books is that they deal with a darker content then I am used to – rape and murder primarily. I love reading the novels, but then need to focus on something a little fluffier in between. And you know that the book is dark when you consider average murder mysteries and thrillers to be fluff. With MacBride’s books you also get your monies worth, most of these books are in excess of 500p – and packed full of action, not simply McRae figuring things out in his head, often a lot of the ‘detective work’ occurs by other policemen and women, and McRae is there, and they work in a team. I like that. It is very different to the lone wolf hero that seems to be prevalent in many of the books I read.

This review is technically about the third novel – Broken Skin. I really enjoyed this book, found it interesting and enjoyed the case as well as the personal lives of the characters. Also, it discussed a few things I have a little bit of a history with – and it treated those topics with respect. The humour was still there, and I like Logan a little more each book I read.

I find the writing to be very easy to follow – certainly no purple prose here. Some people might be turned off by this, but personally, it helps me to immerse into the world, when there is a simple approach taken to storytelling.

I’ll certainly read the rest of the series, and hopefully catch up at some time this year.

Oz Book Review: Exit Wounds by Major General John Cantwell

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Exit Wounds by Major General John Cantwell, paperback from library, Oct. 1 2012, 374p

Overall enjoyment rating: 9 out of 10 stars

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will be unmoved, nor forget its imagery or words. – Stolen from Goodreads.com

 

This book broke my heart. While reading the last third of the book I pretty much cried the whole way. It wasn’t what I expected, usually military accounts make for dry reading, but Exit Wounds is a whole different kettle of fish. Major General John Cantwell has written a memoir that is full of action, bravery and emotion. By laying himself bare he has given the soldiers he served with a differing opinion, one that says that mental illness isn’t something to be shoved to the side, that it is not a sign of weakness – it is a disease.

Exit Wounds is split into four sections – The first Gulf War, The Second Gulf War, the Middle East area of Operations (mainly Afghanistan) and a very small final section back home in Australia. John’s wife also write two chapters that add a different angle, often pointing out things that Cantwell is too proud (often not wanting to blow his own horn) to admit. She also discusses the things that she thinks are important.

The first section of the novel – the First Gulf War – is action packed, on the front lines account of combat while attached to the British Military. It gets the adrenaline pumping and allows an insight into Cantwell as an officer, but also his humanity and humour. There is also the introduction to the beginning of his battle with mental illness.

The second section of the novel – in Iraq – is interesting in its comparisons with the first, this time he has a more senior role and makes decisions that influence larger groups of troops. He works hard, so unbelievably hard! This part of the novel introduces the John that we come to know by the end of the novel, one battling against the odds.

The Middle East Area of Operations follows Cantwell in a role with even more responsibility, and the guilt and situations he finds to put upon himself makes me cry. The deaths of the Australian Diggers is overwhelming, and the recounts are described in a factual, but emotionally hard hitting way.

The final part of the book – especially the chapter named Exit Wounds – is where the book really comes into its own. Cantwell is forced to make some very difficult decisions, and as always, he puts the Army and the Diggers first. His battle with PTSD is virulent and it is heartbreaking to see someone who is a hero be wracked with guilt. I would certainly love to meet John Cantwell to shake his hand and thank him for his service, but this book has reminded me that there isn’t enough recognition of what our Servicemen and women go through for our country. Regardless of the reasons we went to war, regardless of political posturing, we need to be behind our troops, not only when they are in a combat zone, but also when they are home.

Oz Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Paperback from library, 1st May 2013, 352p.

Overall Enjoyment Rating: 8 stars from 10!

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Shamelessly stolen from Goodreads.com

 

I was blown away by Burial Rites, which is a fantastic novel that explores the execution of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman condemned to death as a murderess. I’ll be honest, the topic and the setting are not favourites of mine, but I found this story to be addictive.

The characters were intriguing, and I found myself in love with Margret, who was such a wonderful and vibrant character – such a good contrast to Agnes, another character that simply came to life. There were quite a few characters to follow, and I did find the way the surnames and nicknames worked at times to be confusing – also the huge amount of men named Jon – I couldn’t keep them straight in my head at the beginning and during the middle of the novel.

For me, the true brilliance of Burial Rites is the way that Kent slowly but skilfully changes my opinions on nearly all of the characters at some stage. Agnes begins as a cold hearted murderess but emerges into a woman who I sympathise with. The priest evolves from a green young priest who has no idea of what to say and feeling unable to help Agnes, into accepting that anything he can offer is better than nothing, and that his duty is to Agnes and not himself or the state.

I would have liked to have more of an insight into the politics and legal side of the proceedings – I would have liked to know more about what went on at Agnes’ trial, but Kent focuses on what Agnes is facing after the trial and her sentencing. Obviously, there is more emotional payout by focusing solely on families and the condemned. To be honest, if I want to know more about the politics and legal side, I should just pick up a non-fiction account – and now I am going to have to run to the library and see if there are any non-fiction accounts in English.

The reason I picked up Burial Rites to read was because Hannah Kent is (was?) a post-grad student (and undergrad) at Flinders University, where I’m currently enrolled. It’s nice to think that we have shared the same courses and know the same flinders people. I am grateful that she attended Flinders, or else I may never have picked up this amazing book!

Book Review: Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

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Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, Media Tie-in, 1st March 2011, 806p.

Overall Enjoyment Rating: 7 golden stars out of 10

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond.

The Game of Thrones. You win, or you die.

Book one of A Song of Ice and Fire begins the greatest fantasy epic of the modern age – Shamelessly stolen from Goodreads

I’m certainly late to the party when it comes to Game of Thrones. I have put off reading this book for a long time, convinced that it just ‘wasn’t for me.’ Eventually a friend of mine, Emily, brought over a bottle of vodka and the TV series and we watched a couple of episodes. Usually I read a book before I watch the visual, but she knew I just never was going to read it. I was hooked, I loved the first few episodes and when she left (with the rest of the TV show, sigh) I picked up the book and started reading. Usually I read about 200 pages a day, so I was expecting to read this book in 4 days, but instead I found I stretched it over two weeks! But it was an enjoyable process, and I loved the journey that Martin took me on.

The world that George RR Martin has created is amazing, so epic in proportion and detailed that I struggle to remember everything while I was reading. I was constantly flicking to the maps and to the indexes of the characters just so I could work out who was who, so thank god that they were included. Usually this annoys me, I prefer a couple of strong characters with a clear and fast moving plot, but the characters were still strong, there were just many of them! I loved Arya Stark and Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Barristan Selmy…

I fell in love with some of the settings, especially Winterfell, The Eyrie and Castle Black. I did find some of the longer winded sections to be boring, and there were a few times I thought a storyline could be trimmed of some excess fat, but who knows, maybe they will become more interesting in the coming installments.

I’m going to have to hunt down the other books in this series, because winter is coming, you know? (okay, it’s already here.)

Book Review: Free Bird by Kevin Cooley

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Free Bird by Kevin Cooley, Netgalley edition, published 26 April 2014, 245p

Sean Murphy is a U.S. Marine in a K-9 bomb-sniffing unit in Iraq and is the handler and best friend to a German shepherd named Free Bird. In a Baghdad firefight inside a hallway raining gunfire, Sean makes the ultimate sacrifice when he falls on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Free Bird, also mortally wounded, climbs over Sean to protect him, unaware of the transformation about to take place.
On his final journey, Sean encounters two paths. He can either follow a light or go with Free Bird. Sean chooses his canine companion with complete trust.
When Sean awakes he finds himself in a kennel inside Free Bird’s body. As Free Bird, Sean returns home and sees how his family is devastated by his death and the aftermath of war. His parents are flirting with alcoholism and an affair, one brother is an outcast in school for flunking kindergarten, while his other brother conceals a secret.
Feeling guilty for the choices he made, Sean/Free Bird guides his family through the mourning process so they can move forward. In two forms, Sean discovers one truth.
He was meant to come home.
– Book Description from Amazon.com

Overall Enjoyment Rating: 8 golden stars

Favourite Quote: “They would always hurt for Sean till their own final moments, but now they realized having him in their lives was worth the pain.”

Free Bird is a wonderful contemporary novel, and I really enjoyed reading it. I picked it to read because it had war themes in it, and I am a sucker for a good war novel. I would recommend this novel for people who aren’t fans of war stories as well as because it explores the dynamics of a family in mourning.

Cooley writes the Murphy family well, and each character is strong and well-drawn. More importantly they were believable. The struggle that the family go through when they receive a dog from the Marine core and not their son, is incredible. Free Bird’s attempts to bring the family together are heartwarming and feel honest. There is a point at which you need to suspend your disbelief and accept the premise of the story, but once I did I was rewarded with an emotional journey.

The author uses a colloquial voice for Sean and Free Bird, which is fitting and appropriate for the characters. One of my biggest pet peeves is when characters speak in ways that are above their level – for example street kids speaking like scholars, but Sean speaks (and thinks) like a young man and soldier, if a little cleaned up.

My biggest gripe concerning Free Bird was that the settings didn’t pop in my head – the characters were so strong but the descriptions of the city were somewhat lacking. They normally constituted of the name of the street/place and then a story of something that happened to Sean in that location. I would have liked some more description (mainly adjectives) of setting and place, but that is my personal preference.

The ending of Free Bird was perfect, and left me with that feeling of satisfaction. I recommend anyone who is interested in family drama or war fiction to read this book!