Review of The Shadow of War: A Novel of the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Jeff Shaara

I read Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels in college, and discovered how historical fiction could make history more understandable, even exciting to read. Jeff Shaara has followed in his father’s footsteps by authoring several novels in the historical fiction genre. Putting characters in historical WWII battles, the Korean War, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War opens the imagination to what these conflicts could have been like.
The Shadow of War doesn’t quite make the grade as a historical fiction novel. Perhaps that’s because the Cuban Missile Crisis is from recent history, in my lifetime, and shouldn’t have to be imagined. Why not go with the straight facts? Surely, records of the tense deliberations between Kennedy and his staffers exist.
Perhaps it’s these records Jeff Shaara relied upon to write this book. But instead of painting a broad picture to flesh out scenes and dialogue, I’m left wondering, did it really happen like that?
Thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for the digital copy of The Shadow of War: A Novel of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in exchange for my unbiased review.

@StMartinsPress #JeffShaara #CubanMissileCrisis #JFK #1960s

Review of Through the Morgue Door, by Colette Brull-Ulmann and Jean-Christophe Portes

On Sale February 13, 2024

Hitler’s army occupied France like an overturned bottle of ink spilled on a map. Colette Brull-Ulmann was a Jewish medical student working as an intern at the Rothschild Hospital. The Germans brought Jews from the Drancy internment camp to the Rothschild Hospital for treatment of illness and after severe beatings.

The Germans detained Brull-Ulmann’s father for a while in this same camp, and her younger brother and sister left Paris to live in less danger.

Brull-Ulmann became emotionally attached to Danielle, a young girl at the hospital. This was an endearing child, loved by everyone, even the German guards. When the girl recovered, the doctors and nurses found additional reasons the child was “too ill” to return to the camp.

It seemed Jewish women who gave birth at the hospital had a higher than usual number of stillborn babies. In fact, the women gave up their babies at birth to be smuggled to safety. Brull-Ulmann heard it rumored some patients, especially children, were smuggled out of the hospital through the morgue door, the only door left unlocked and unguarded.

Brull-Ulmann was herself called upon to smuggle two children through the morgue door and the dark streets of the Paris night to safety. She details this one mission, although she said she participated in perhaps two others.

A ruthless doctor from the infirmary at Drancy ordered Danielle and several other Rothschild patients to go back to the camp. That was the last Brull-Ulmann saw of the sweet girl. The intern was sure the Germans killed Danielle and the rest of her family in an extermination camp. Brull-Ulmann grieved because she was not able to save Danielle.

Brull-Ulmann went on to secretly treat wounded allies in hiding, and to work for the French Resistance. Although the title, Through the Morgue Door, is intriguing, it reflects only a small part of the book. Brull-Ulmann obsesses over the loss of Danielle, and she devotes much of the book to her grief concerning the girl.

#ThroughtheMorgueDoor #NetGalley #WWII #UniversityofPennsylvaniaPress

Through the Morgue Door on Amazon

Review of Dr. Bearry, a children’s book by Alejandro Medina

New author Alejandro Medina has created a children’s bedtime book to help them overcome their fear of doctors. Medina presents Dr. Bearry, a stuffed bear in scrubs, who looks after children and is there for them to hug in anxious situations. Dr. Bearry guides the child in the nighttime rituals of snuggling in bed, counting sheep, and saying prayers.

Medina geared this brief, 16-page book toward the youngest child’s attention span by employing rhyming verses and muted colors to soothe little ones before falling asleep. Medina used photography with computer enhancements to create the artwork, giving it an illustrative feel. The book includes depictions of children of multiple ethnicities.

Children facing medical situations would benefit from this splendid book. If you wanted to gift it with a Dr. Bearry-like bear, do an online search for bears in scrubs.

The Kindle version of the book is now available, and you can buy the physical format soon, through Amazon and Lulu.

#DrBearry #AlejandroMedina #bedtimestory #medicalanxiety #bearinscrubs #teddybeardoctor @A_J_Medina

Review of The Dirty Tricks Department, by John Lisle

Available for pre-order. Release date: March 7, 2023.

This book chronicles the work of Bill Donovan, who became the first Coordinator of Information (COI) before heading up the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), his mad scientist inventor Stanley Lovell, and others who fought dirty for the sake of national security.

President Roosevelt appointed Donovan in 1941 as war in Europe escalated, to collect intelligence related to national security and perform espionage, sabotage and propaganda. The number of personnel in Donovan’s department grew and his responsibilities soared after Japan attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Now too large to be under the auspices of the White House, Roosevelt changed the name of Donovan’s organization to the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency), and placed them under the purview of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

From these humble beginnings, Donovan defended the organization from barbs and quips, some well-deserved. Detractors said Donovan hired the rich and famous to divert them from serving in the armed forces. At a dinner party, Horace Schmahl made fun of Donovan’s agency, saying it was a “Tinker Toy outfit, spying on spies”. Donovan challenged Schmahl, saying he could steal his secret files and blow up his ammunition dump before midnight. Donovan made a discreet phone call to his office. His employees broke into Schmahl’s office and safe, stole his secret information, and planted fake dynamite at his ammunition dump. Donovan got the last laugh when he handed Schmahl the contents of his safe and told him where to find the fake dynamite, all before the dinner party was over.

As the OSS grew, Donovan created several departments to oversee divisions of the operation, including a branch to make lethal gear and gadgets on the order of Q, the fictional scientist who created such devices for James Bond. This group of scientists pursued ridiculous (attaching cats to bombs since cats always land on their feet), barbaric (biological warfare), and even some useful (time-delay detonation) ideas. They considered ways to assassinate foreign leaders and developed a lethal pill for US agents to ingest if captured. There were additional drug experiments, including a plot to spike Hitler’s food with female hormones.

The book mainly covers the time periods just before, during, and after World War II, although it mentions little of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles and the CIA’s covert activities. The Dirty Tricks Department addresses the inventors’ moral dilemma of creating devices and tactics to kill, with most justifying it by believing their work would shorten the war.

The book covers a lot of material without becoming overly serious, as may be deduced from the title.

@JohnLisle @StMartinsPress

#NetGalley #covertactions #dirtytricks #WWII #spies #StanleyLovell #BillDonovan #COI #OSS #CIA

Review of Luck of the Draw, by Frank Murphy

Available for pre-order. Release date: February 28, 2023.

Frank Murphy was a World War II pilot, shot down over enemy territory. His story is quite similar to other accounts, with minor exceptions. Unlike the books that chronicle the brutality of life in a German POW camp, Murphy’s time of incarceration seems more like an episode of Hogan’s Heroes. He played in a band and took part in skits and plays. He received letters and packages from home and the Red Cross. Only toward the end of the war when the fleeing Germans marched their POWs through the snow did conditions become cruel, with those unable to keep up left to die in the snow.

Perhaps most interesting, Murphy was in the same POW camp that inspired the (based on fact) movie, The Great Escape (1963), starring a motorcycle-riding Steve McQueen. However, Murphy lived in a different sector of the camp and was not part of the prison break.

Murphy requested a transfer with two friends to that sector, but he had just joined the band and he didn’t want to disappoint his bandmates. Murphy made the hard decision to decline the transfer.

Of the 76 who snuck out of the camp, only three made it to England. The Gestapo captured and executed 50 men on direct orders from Adolf Hitler. Twenty-three were recaptured and returned to prison.

The title of Murphy’s book, Luck of the Draw, underscores the idea that he could have been killed on any mission, but luck played out for him to return home to his family after the war.

Murphy’s story is short. Evidently, it was published previously and is being re-released with a forward by family members, a list of his crew members, pages and pages of acknowledgments, an introduction, an extensive prologue, a broad back-story leading to WWII, including the history of military aircraft. My husband and I listened on a trip in our car for over an hour and the actual story about Murphy still hadn’t started. When it did, it began with his ancestors and his formative years. After Murphy relates his story, seven appendices and a bibliography are added at the end. Most of the information that bookends the meat of this volume are tedious facts, more suitable for a reference book.

For lack of enjoyable content, I can only offer three stars for Luck of the Draw.

#WWII #POW #TheGreatEscape #fighterpilot #militaryaircraft #FrankMurphy #NetGalley #arc #StMartinsGriffin


Review of How Not to Kill Yourself, by Clancy Martin

Available for pre-order. Release date: March 28, 2023

Clancy Martin says he is addicted to suicide. He has wanted to kill himself at least from the time he was two or three-years-old. Martin’s first suicide attempt occurred when he jumped in front of a bus at six. He has made several attempts, most of which he describes in detail.

Martin compares his suicide addiction to alcohol addiction, with which he freely admits he struggles. Martin likens some AA catchphrases to suicide, such as, “Relapse is part of recovery”, and, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic”. He also notes the high correlation between alcohol and suicide.

Martin claims he wrote this book to show what it is like to want to kill yourself but go on living, to persuade those with suicide ideation not to follow through, for those near someone who has attempted suicide to treat that person gently, and for those left behind not to blame themselves.

Martin admits he wouldn’t refer someone considering suicide to the books of Anne Sexton, Edouard Leve, David Foster Wallace, or Nelly Arcan; these writers wrote about suicide and eventually killed themselves. Yet, Martin refers to the writings and lives (and deaths) of these authors in this book.

Martin, a Canadian philosophy professor, quotes, among others, Buddhist teaching, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Alfred Adler, Nietzsche, Freud, William Styron, and Eastern thought.

Is this really a self-help book for those afraid of giving in to the urge to kill themselves? Despite Martin’s 9-point list of what he applies when he feels suicidal, Appendix I: Tools for Crisis, and Appendix II: In Case of Emergency, I believe this book may be the impetus that give someone the courage to kill themselves. Martin talks about others who have committed suicide, quotes them, and aggrandizes their irrevocable act. Martin self-indulgently wallows in suicide. The book would be more helpful if he cut all but his list and the two appendices.

As of the writing of this book, Martin says his drinking is under control and he does not desire to “[hang] myself from a cedar beam in the garage”, a vivid phrase he uses more than once. He has overcome the dysfunctional family situation of his boyhood, excessive drinking, drug abuse, and multiple marriages. I sincerely hope that Martin can stay in his present healthy mental state and die what he calls a good death, not by his own hand.

I cannot recommend this book.

#suicide @PantheonBooks

Review of Unlikely Heroes, by Derek Leebaert

Now available for pre-order. Release date: February 28, 2023.

Derek Leebaert suggests that four members of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration were outsiders, and somehow crippled, as he would become, yet they implemented the programs of the New Deal, leading America out of the Great Depression and to victory in World War II.

Roosevelt’s top advisors were Harry Lloyd Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Henry Wallace, and, uncharacteristically for the times, a woman, Frances Perkins. Each of these men and woman struggled with obstacles such as poor physical health, depression, alcoholism, complicated married life, questionable mental health, and ruined personal finances.

I don’t agree with Leebaert’s premise that Roosevelt purposely recruited wounded outsiders who brilliantly carried America from depression to thriving post-WWII. Time enhances history with a more intimate examination of a public individual’s private life. If we could look through the same lenses at four top administrators in today’s White House, I’m sure we would see the same sordid and sorrowful circumstances which plagued those of this book. No one is without problems.

Yet, if you are a student of American History, and especially of the period covered here, you will find this book to be a detailed look at the inner-workings of the Roosevelt presidency.

#FDR #WWII #NetGalley #arc

@DLeebaert @StMartinsPress

Review of Lost In China, by Jennifer F. Dobbs

Jennifer Dobbs tells the story of the early part of her childhood, an idyllic life in China. At 6-years-old, she was the middle child and only girl of her British father and American mother, living in a western-style house in China. Servants and coolies attended to their needs, leaving her father to work and their parents to socialize in the evenings. Amah and, later, an au pair cared for the children. Still, Jennifer idolized her father and loved her mother. The time her parents spent with her and her younger brother (her older brother was at boarding school) was fun and adventurous, and even scary, as they moved several times to escape war.
War caught up with them at the end of 1941, while Jennifer’s parents were on a business and shopping trip in Hong Kong. Jennifer’s father was likely killed in a bombing, and the Japanese captured and imprisoned her mother in a POW civilian internment camp. During this “lost” period, adults shuffled Jennifer and her younger brother from Chinese servants to family friends to boarding school. The whole time, the children thought their parents would still come for them.
A prisoner exchange repatriated their mother to America in 1942. Mrs. Dobbs was now a mere 85 pounds and a widow, living with her mother and brother in Pennsylvania.
A kind-hearted pilot flew and escorted the children thousands of miles in a series of long and short flights from military bases and refueling stations along the wartime ferry route until they finally reached Washington, DC.
Disembarking the plane in DC, Jennifer didn’t recognize her mother at first; besides the weight loss, she wore a black mourning dress and veil. Her younger brother asked where their father was, and their mother gave them the clipped answer, “He’s dead.” She gave no explanation and didn’t speak anymore about her deceased husband.
Jennifer’s mother attended school, and after she graduated, she worked. She also began dating. Jennifer’s grandmother cared for her and her brother, now nine and seven-years-old. They saw very little of their mother.
It was as if Jennifer had lost both her parents. She could not process her grief and became disobedient. She acted out even more when her mother married a man who beat Jennifer with his belt. The rest of the book summarizes Jennifer’s life from high school graduation forward.
The book left me feeling sad. Based on Jennifer’s telling of this story, if her mother could have set aside her own grief and lovingly focused on her children, much of the heartache and emotional damage Jennifer experienced would have diminished. The book doesn’t mention any lasting impact of these experiences on Jennifer’s brothers, but clearly Jennifer did not receive the support she needed during this time.
It seemed the author sometimes attempted to write from a child’s perspective, but the result instead was those parts of the book could have targeted children readers. She repeated to exhaustion the “bump, bump, bump” of riding in the sedan chair, and the imitation of the air raid horn.
Even though the book left me sad, it was still interesting to read about China just before and during WWII.

#LostinChina #NetGalley #ARC

Review of The Blackbird Girls, by Anne Blankman, and narrated by Kathleen Gati and Natasha Soudek

The Blackbird Girls is a Middle Grade, Historical Fiction book with dual timelines running during World War II and the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Difficult circumstances thrust together two girls from different backgrounds, who have a history of not getting along. Through the love of a Jewish grandmother, one girl overcomes her prejudices, and the two girls become best friends.

Besides accepting those of other cultures and religions, secondary themes of child abuse and government oppression unfolding in the two settings give the reader a broader understanding of the world and its peoples, history, geography, and possibly even self worth.

I enjoyed the audio version of The Blackbird Girls, 10 hours and 6 minutes. The two narrators for the different time periods help the listener clearly follow the storylines.

Blankman masterfully melds the timelines near the end of the story, showing that human kindness can come from anyone, be needed by anyone, and may just save a life. This is a timeless message! Thanks to my Aunt Esther for recommending this book to me!

@AnneBlankman #VikingBooksforYoungReaders #historicalfiction #childabuse #paidlink

Review of Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II, by Alex Kershaw

Alex Kershaw writes masterfully about Americans awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. Can you name a WWII Medal of Honor recipient? Unless you are a history buff, your guess is probably Audie Murphy.

Murphy came out of WWII with a limp, but few other lasting physical wounds. He also had a chest full of medals as the most decorated man of the war (including the Medal of Honor), and plenty of mental and emotional battle scars.

Maurice “Footsie” Britt, former pro football player, was the next most decorated soldier. He lost an arm in the war. Britt earned the Medal of Honor.

Michael Daly washed out at West Point, and couldn’t seem to earn his soldier father’s admiration. But as one of the youngest leaders in battle, Daly earned the Medal of Honor.

Keith Ware was normally a behind-the-scenes tactician, but when he got word that German soldiers had pinned down his men, he led a charge up “Bloody Hill” in the face of artillery, mortar, machine gun, machine pistol, and rifle fire, earning the coveted Medal of Honor.

Kershaw profiles other men’s heroics in this book; they also earned the Medal of Honor. The one thing all the recipients shared was unflinching courage in the face of certain danger. Some of these men saved many lives by their actions; some made the ultimate sacrifice of their own life.

If you’d like to learn more about the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in the context of World War II as it progressed, you’ll enjoy this book. And if anyone asks if you can name any WWII Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, you’ll have all the answers.

@duttonbooks #MedalofHonor #WWII #paidlink #NetGalley #ARC #AlexKershaw