Story blurb: In 1588 a young mercenary and the son of an English earl meet by a quirk of fate. Dermot Channon is a soldier, while Robin Armagh has been sheltered on his father’s estate. Love blossoms fast while war looms on the horizon. Under the thundercloud of armed conflict, Channon leaves England and the Spanish Armada sails soon after. Robin despairs of seeing him again, for their countries are locked in an endless struggle. Years fly by, and in 1595, when Robin’s brother is taken for ransom in Panama, the dangerous duty of delivering the price of his life and liberty falls to Robin. He sails with the historical ‘1595 Fleet,’ commanded by Francis Drake, hoping to bring home his brother. But Fortune has other plans for Robin and Channon. Ahead of them is an epic adventure in hazardous waters where old enmities, Spanish and English, shape their future together — and try to drive them apart.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I love a plot-driven story, especially if the plot is as meaty as “Fortunes of War,” by Mel Keegan [Dreamcraft, 2005]: the intrigue-ridden court of Elizabeth I, war and rumours of war, likable lovers and pirates. It has them all.
The story is written in two parts; the first part being an introduction, and here Keegan has done a masterful job of introducing the main characters while capturing the conspiratorial nature of the Elizabethan court. The two main characters, Robin and Dermot, are ably supported by a cast of interesting personalities—the cold-hearted Earl of Blackstead (Robin’s father), the aging Spanish ambassador and Dermot’s uncle, and the villainous Earl of Bothwell, to name a few.
The underlying conspiracies are interesting, as well; Catholics against Protestants, England against Spain, and foe against foe, all cleverly woven into the fabric of the story.
Five stars for the first part, therefore.
However the second part starts out rather slowly, almost cumbersome in spots, and for a brief while the story looses its momentum. Another minor drawback in second part is with the characters—Guillaume in particular—who come across as rather stereotypical. These are not major blemishes, but they are enough to detract from what would otherwise be a five-star achievement.
Nevertheless this is a superbly written, intriguing and captivating story that will have you turning pages to discover what will happen next.
Progress report: Coming of Age on the Trail is still in the hands of the editor. In the meantime I have made a start of The Brit, The Cupid, and Petunia. Click here to read an excerpt.
A first-rate adventure/romance — enthusiastically recommended
Story blurb: Stodgy British archivist Henry Percival-Smythe slaves away in the dusty basement of Ealing College in 1934, the only bright spot in his life his obsession with a strange Australian mammal, the thylacine. It has been hunted to the edge of extinction, and Henry would love nothing more than to help the rare creature survive.
Then a human whirlwind spins through his door. Jack “Dingo” Chambers is also on the hunt for the so-called “Tasmanian Tiger,” although his reasons are far more altruistic. Banding together, Dingo and the newly nicknamed Dash travel half way around the globe in their quest to save the thylacine from becoming a footnote in the pages of biological history.
Review by Gerry Burnie
When I first selected “Dash and Dingo” by Catt Ford and Sean Kennedy [Dreamspinner Press, 2009] for review, the thing that caught my eye was the unusual and attention-grabbing title. That was the first unique aspect about this work. The next was the setting—Australia and Tasmania—and the totally unique story line; a search for the now-extinct species of carnivorous marsupial called a Thylacine.
This assured me that there was a plot there, and it didn’t take long to discover that it was a very worthy one indeed.
As the story blurb describes, Henry “Dash” Percival-Smythe is a rather bookish archivist whose life is as ordered as his archive. Yet, the fact that he secretly rebels against his father’s, and mother’s, hidebound adherence to what is ‘proper’ in ‘polite society,’ suggest that he is ready to burst his shell if only the opportunity would arise.
Enter Jack “Dingo” Chambers; a Crocodile-Dundee-like character with an irreverent, roguish nature—i.e. the perfect foil for Percival-Smythe’s reticent character.
Both characters are cleverly developed to play off one another until love occurs, almost inevitably. Nevertheless, it grows (evolves) at just the right pace, as it should to be credible, and in the process Dash does as well. In fact, following his development is one of the most delightful aspects of the story; A metamorphosis of sorts.
Part of that development is heading off with Dingo to the wilds of Tasmania, but not by a slow, mundane steamer. Rather, they brave a certain amount of risk by flying there aboard a mail-carrier plane. A symbolic start to the adventures to come.
In Australia we are introduced to the Chambers, Dingo’s parents, and the marked contrast between them and the Percival-Smythes. We also meet Clarence Hodges, the determined and relentless villain, who at first blush is merely an enemy of the Tasmanian Tiger. However, as the story unfolds we find that Tassie is merely a surrogate for a deeper animosity.
From there on adventure abounds, sometimes humorous and sometimes perilous, until a final showdown involving both the Thylacine and Hodges. Romance also blossoms, and the coupling is both romantic and sexy. However, gratefully, it merely compliments the story without dominating it.
Although this is a collaboration, the dual-effort is seamless. Moreover the writing is executed at a very high level throughout; the dialogue is lively, and the vocabulary is consistent with the times and cultures.
Where I found room to quibble was with Hodges’ motivation that caused him to be so sinister. A rationale is given, which is plausible enough, but it somehow doesn’t measure up to the obsessive hate exhibited by the man.
Apart from that, I found this story to be a first-rate adventures/romance. Enthusiastically recommended. Four-and-one-half stars.
Progress report, and a new start. Coming of Age on the Trail is in the hands of the editor. In the meantime I have made a start of number four: The Brit, The Cupid, and Petunia (a tentative title). Read a brief passage, here. Comments welcome.
A solid read, and a fascinating twist on history
Book blurb: The Japanese Rape of Nanking and her sneak attack on Pearl Harbor along with Nazi Germany’s villainous use of the gas ovens gave the World War Two Allies a moral justification seldom found in warfare. Yet the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have cloaked the last days of the Pacific war in endless controversy ever since. Was Japan so badly battered by August 1945 that she would have surrendered anyway? Why didn’t America explode one on a nearby deserted island and let the enemy surrender without such horrific loss of life? The Last Good War addresses these issues in a vivid and violent re-enactment of the final months of conflict.
Soon after Pearl Harbor two mature fifteen year old Canadian cousins enlist in the U. S. Navy and become radioman-gunners flying in dive-bombers in the Pacific. As seasoned combat aircrewmen off the U.S. aircraft carrier Brandywine, the two Canadians take part in a 1945 attack on the Japanese naval base across the bay from Hiroshima. The aerial battle reshapes the conduct of the war. As a result Aviation Radioman’s Mate Second Class Carson Braddock and ARM2/c Max Bryson are called upon to help the crew of the Enola Gay on their historic flight to Hiroshima. Soon after, two young Japanese sailors confront Carson and Max in combat. With great courage and ingenuity Gunner’s Mate Takijiru Sugihara and Bosun Chikonori Kaijitsu provide their country with a fresh opportunity to redress the balance of military power. A major moral decision must be made. The outcome of the war is in doubt. Indeed, Carson and Max face an enemy who is eager and able to use the most cruel weapon in anyone’s hands. And in the struggle that ensues the two cousins discover what veterans world-wide have learned from war over the last half century. What separates warring nations is their beliefs; What unites enemies on the battlefield is their courage.
About the Author: C.J. Brauner was raised in America during the depression. The death of his father in the South West Pacific led him to quit high school to fly in U.S. Navy dive-bombers during WWII. After the war he worked as an installer for N.J. Bell Tell. The G.I. Bill enabled him to earn a B.A. and a teacher’s certificate from The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He took his Masters at Columbia Univ. in NYC. In the 1950s he taught English in the Michigan public schools until he received a Fulbright Scholarship to Greece. After his wife’s death at the American Farm School in Salonica he brought his infant daughter back to the U.S. and earned his Doctorate at Stanford U. in California. His early academic career took him to Purdue U., Syracuse U., and Ohio State Univ. For 30 years he was a professor at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada where he resides with his second wife and four grown children.
Review by Gerry Burnie
If you like solid adventure and raw action that moves at a heart-pounding pace, then The Last Good War by C.J. Brauner [Trafford Publishing; Reprint edition, 2006] is right up your alley. Indeed, within the first few pages one of the protagonists, Carson Braddock, is involved in a good-ole-fashioned punch-up with a brawny Southerner; thus setting the tone for what is to come.
And for these two—including Max Bryson—there was plenty to come, i.e.
“A flurry of one-inch shells rose to meet them and mark their speed and precise direction. Black puffs from three-inch shells blossomed above and below to bracket their altitude. Five-inch shells spiralled up to their flight level for effect. Audible bursts that erupted beneath the wings rocked the blue dive-bombers like angry hands on a cradle.
““Christ,” Max Bryson commented. “They’re throwin’ up enough tonnage to beat our bomb load five to one.”
“And explosion just ahead of Carson’s banking dive-bomber sent the sizzle of hot steel rushing through the propeller arc and along the slipstream. The shredded smoke filled his cockpit with the bitter tang of cordite. Regardless of the hazard and discomfort, however, both Canadian rear-seat gunners concentrated on the final preparations for the dive.
““With gunnery like that,” Carson Braddock observed, “the bastards don’t need the proximity fuse.”
“Suddenly, a Japanese four-inch shell blew the cowling off a Helldiver in the leading flight as it dove into a narrow gorge. The wounded pilot slumped forward and struggled with the controls. The battered dive bomber banked hard as the pilot pulled the plane into a steep stall. Slowly, she flopped over on to her back, dove down, rolled right side up, and fell off into a violent spin. The fatally injured pilot smeared blood all over the inside of his cockpit canopy as he fought to gain control and unload his bombs. The five-hundred-pound bombs spilled away from the plane like pebbles from a wagon wheel. Knifing down, they exploded and the trees as the damaged wingtip began to fold.
“MAY DAY! MAY DAY!” the radio-gunner in the rear seat broadcast. “This crate is coming apart like a peeled banana!”
“In slow motion, a nylon parachute blossomed from the rear seat. Caught in the spin and the churn of the slipstream, the canopy snagged on the tail fin and wrapped the rudder and the elevators in white cloth. Wild centrifugal force tore the hlpless gunner out of the cockpit and spun him around at the end of the shroud lines in a wide and accelerating arc. Shedding cockpit covers and torn wing panels, the doomed plane dropped far into the steep and incredibly narrow valley. As the fliers above watched, the parachute’s long nylon cords whipped the your airman into the face of a cliff just before the plane crashed and exploded. Crushed like a fly on a windscreen, the inert body of Chris Foreman from Gila Bend, Arizona, clung to the sheer granite wall as flames and smoke engulfed it.
““Their luck ran out,” Chief Flannigan declared in a somber voice over the squadron frequency. “Now let’s all get back to work.””
It is this sort of ‘visual’ realism that makes this novel darkly fascinating and compelling to read. One is at once repelled by the violence and bloodshed portrayed, and yet drawn into at the same time; wondering if our young, likeable heroes’ luck can hold out against the odds.
In this regard, all the characters are well developed; however, the introduction of Miss Shirley Hashimoto seemed oddly out-of-place in an otherwise, decidedly male story. I may be a bit biased, as well, but I thought the scenes involving her were somewhat contrived.
Altogether a good solid read, and an interesting twist on history. Four-and-one-half stars.
Progress report on Coming of Age on the Trail. It is now in the hands of the editor. Probable release date, January, 2011.
Canada’s almost forgotten navy
Non-fiction works of this nature are not star-rated.
Book blurb: Nine men tell their personal stories of life at sea during World War II. In extreme danger, they battled seasickness, injury, and less than comfortable living conditions while avoiding floating mines and torpedoes in their efforts to guide ships safely across the Atlantic Ocean.
About the author: When she was six years old, Dorothy Pedersen obtained a copy of Charlotte’s Web from the Clydebank Public Library, in Clydebank, Scotland. By the time she was finished the book she knew she wanted to be a writer. She came to Canada in 1964 where, alas, school teachers discouraged her from pursuing writing as a career. After an assortment of jobs she trained in equine studies and horsemanship, worked for the horse industry for a period of time, and continues to this day to write about it. Dorothy enjoys designing and creating handknits and crocheted garments, and is an animal rights supporter, and boxing fan.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Within hours of Canada’s declaration of war on September 10, 1939, the Canadian government passed laws to create the Canadian Merchant Navy to provide a workforce for wartime shipping. The Canadian Merchant Navy played a major role in the Battle of the Atlantic bolstering the allies merchant fleet due to high losses in the British Merchant Navy. Eventually thousands of Canadians served aboard hundreds of Canadian Merchant Navy ships.
That is what most history books have to say about it, but what was it like aboard one of these ships? In her prologue to “Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic” [Amazing Stories series, Altitude Press, 2007], Dorothy Pedersen gives us a glimpse us a glimpse as follows:
With thudding hearts, a pair of Canadian sailors watched the torpedo skim the water in front of their corvette. It was racing straight for the tanker—one of the 35 ships in their convoy and only a hundred metres away. With a deafening impact, the shock of the explosion almost blew the sailors off their ship.
“The tanker’s cargo of fuel, destined for the Allies’ war efforts in Europe, spewed into the ocean and ignited into a hissing, spitting, roaring fireball. As the tanker burned, the horrified witnesses heard only weak cries. After a short time, these too were drowned out by the thunder of the angry fire. The sailors knew there was no point in the convoy’s rescue ship sticking around.
“Escorted by armed navy vessels, the convoy of Canadian and British merchant ships raced onward, trying to put distance between them and the visible and invisible dangers of the North Atlantic. Despite the reputed safety of the pack, another of their ships was stricken quickly. Lifeboats had been lowered but some sailors barely had time to grab a life ring before hitting the frigid water. The rescue ship was ordered to stay for them as the rest of the convoy again sailed on.
“Choppy seas made the rescue agonizingly slow and difficult. Scramble nets were thrown over the side of the rescue ship for the desperate men to haul themselves aboard. Half an hour later, only a few men and boys had been saved. Many more were losing the fight with the frigid water.
“Then the order came that was even more chilling; “Abandon the rescue.” Once again under attack, the convoy had signaled for help. The rescue ship revved up its engines.
“In the ocean, the weakening hearts of the remaining sailors sank alongside their ship.”
Nature itself could also be unforgiving, as one young sailor recorded in his diary:
“What a miserable, rotten hopeless life . . . an Atlantic so rough it seems impossible that we can continue to take this unending pounding and still remain in one piece . . . hanging onto a convoy is a full-time job . . . the crew in almost a stupor from the nightmarishness of it all . . . and still we go on hour after hour.”–Frank Curry, Royal Canadian Navy, 1941 during the Battle of the Atlantic, a battle that would be called the longest in history.
Although Canada’s Merchant Navy is grouped in with the British Commonwealth’s, it is estimated that the Commonwealth merchant navies suffered 30,000 casualties from 1939 – 1945—most of those in the Battle of the Atlantic. Even so, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the merchant navy finally got recognition for their contribution to the war effort. “We really were the forgotten veterans of the unknown navy,” Earl Wagner is quoted as saying (p.68).
*September 3rd is “Merchant Navy Remembranch Day.”
Dorothy Pedersen has done as masterful job of bringing this history to our attention, and I highly recommend “Convoys of World War II” as an interesting and informative read.
This is part of my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added each day until November 11th. Lest we forget!
They said that it couldn’t be done…
Non-fiction works of this kind are not star-rated
A defining moment in Canadian military history. A much-needed Allied victory. A show of valour and heroism. The battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 saw Canadian troops storm a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that was believed to be impregnable. This was the first time in the nation’s history that a corps-sized formation fought together as a unit under its own meticulous planning. Canadian troops persevered under heavy fire to take the ridge, demonstrating incredible discipline and bravery. The battle became a symbol of sacrifice for the young nation and a turning point in its role in the global theatre of war.
Amazing Stories Series–Altitude Press, 2007
Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. Recently, he self-published a book, Some Sunny Day about his family’s experiences in Northern Ontario following his father’s return from World War II.
Review by Gerry Burnie
They said it couldn’t be done, and thousands of French and English had tried it, but four battalions of Canadians succeeded; not without 10,602 Canadian casualties, including 3,598 fatalities, however.
It was known as the “Great War,” and “The war to end all wars,” but history has proven that World War I was not the war that ended all wars. What it was, was a bitter, bloody conflict with over 15 million (combatants and civilians) killed, and 22 million wounded between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918.
This conflagration started with the assassination of an obscure prince, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which led to posturing between two, now forgotten states—Austro-Hungary and Serbia. Serbia’s ally, Russia, then began to assemble troops, which brought in Germany as ally to Austro-Hungary. England and France then came to the aid of Russia, and this automatically brought Canada—as a dominion of England—into the fray.
Nevertheless, a nationalist fervour gripped Canada to aid the “Mother Land,” even though the militia numbered just over 3,000—and volunteers poured into recruiting stations so that by September of 1914, more than 30,000 set sail for England; making it the largest convoy to cross the Atlantic.
However, these patriotic young men who had dreamed of glory in a far off land soon learned that they had been sold a bill of goods, and that there was nothing glorious about existing like an animal in filthy, disease-ridden trenches that scarred the landscape, or seeing your friend—or lover—blown to bits by an enemy mortar shell.
Indeed, the recruiting posters showing clean-cut lads in freshly pressed uniforms sipping wine at outdoor cafés in Paris didn’t contain any scenes of a corpse-strewn no-man’s land—that stretch of barren ground that separated the trenches between the two opposing sides. “Nor were there any close-ups of a diseased rat crawling over your face as you tried to grab a few hours’ sleep before having to go “over the top” to raid the enemy trench just a few metres away from yours.”
“No mention of German snipers waiting for you to emerge from the relative safety of a muddy shell hole so that he could blow your head off. No depiction of life in the trenches, where foot rot, lice, and the stench of death were your constant companions,”
Vimy Ridge was a promontory near the River Aisne where, after a failed attempt to take Paris, the Germans were ordered to dig in to protect themselves. When the allies realized that the German trenches were a formidable obstacle, they dug in as well.
“After a few months the opposing trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. For the next three years, neither side was able to advance more than a few kilometres along the line that came to be known as the Western Front. But living conditions in what amounted to little more than deep ditches wasn’t anything like the cozy bungalows or college dorms or rural family homesteads the young Canadians had left behind.”
Life in the Trenches
As part of this introduction to the battle, Author Tom Douglas describes the conditions:
“[N]o story about World War I—and in particular the magnificent achievement of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge—would be complete without a basic understanding of these inhuman and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that had to be overcome on the road to victory.
“The excavations along the Western Front were built in threes—the front line, support, and reserve trenches. This trio of long, snake-like ditches covered between 220 and 550 metres of ground from front to back and could wind for several kilometres across the terrain parallel to the enemy fortifications.”
“Running perpendicular to these channels were communication trenches for fresh troops, equipment, and supplies to move up the line and wounded soldiers to be taken to the rear.”
The trench was too deep to allow its occupants to be seen over the top, so a small ledge called a fire-step was added. The soldiers would crouch down on this protrusion, then pop up to take potshots at the enemy before ducking down quickly to avoid having their heads blown off by a camouflaged sniper who’d been lying motionless for hours in no man’s land.”
“The front-line trenches were protected by gigantic bales of barbed wire placed far enough forward to prevent the enemy from getting within grenade-lobbing distance. So impenetrable and tangled were these obstacles that they acted like the steel web of a monstrous spider, impaling any hapless soldier who came close enough to get tangled in the trap. Before a battle troops would be sent out with wire cutters to chop a path through the razor-sharp wire. It was one of the more hazardous duties to perform because of those ever-present snipers.”
To make matters more difficult the Germans occupied the high ground, forcing the attacking allies to charge uphill while loaded down with weapons and equipment. Moreover, the allies—French, British and Canadians—were only a few feet above sea level, and would frequently find themselves standing ankle deep in water.
“Dysentery was another killer that accounted for thousands of death in the trenches. Needless to say, sanitary conditions in these waterlogged ditches were appalling. Latrines were dug behind the lines, but these soon filled up and spilled into the trenches. In addition, many of those excavations had been dug in areas were corpses from earlier battles had been hastily buried, and the decaying bodies were another source of deadly germs.”
As the author points out, a great number of soldiers suffered from mental illness after weeks and months of living under such conditions. The term “shell shock” was coined to describe this condition, but many officers and even doctors refused this as a reason to remove the victims from the battle front.
“The rallying cry “for king and country” soon took on a cynical overtone.”
The Author then goes on to document the charge up Vimy Ridge from the personal perspective of the soldiers and officers who took part; many of them being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery—some posthumously.
At this time of remembrance, this is Canadian history that should not—cannot be forgotten. If a country’s history forms its heritage, then this is what we are all about.
This is my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added every day until November 11th. Lest we forget!
An absolutely must read
Book blurb: When Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith witness the suspicious death of a young man at the White City exhibition in London, they’re keen to investigate—especially after the cause of death proves to be murder. But police Inspector Redknapp refuses to let them help, even after they stumble onto clues to the dead man’s identity.
Orlando’s own identity becomes the subject for speculation when, while mourning the death of his beloved grandmother, he learns that she kept secrets about her past. Desperate to discover the truth about his family, Orlando departs suddenly on a solo quest to track down his roots, leaving Jonty distraught.
While Jonty frantically tries to locate his lover, Orlando wonders if he’ll be able to find his real family before he goes mad. After uncovering more leads to the White City case, they must decide whether to risk further involvement. Because if either of them dares try to solve the murder, Inspector Redknapp could expose their illicit—and illegal—love affair.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I say with great regret, for the genuine enjoyment I have missed, that “Lessons in Trust” by Charlie Cochrane [Samhain Publishing, 2010] is the first of the “Cambridge Fellows Mysteries” I have read. Fortunately it is not the first of Ms Chochrane’s stories I have reviewed, for “Sand,” (her contribution to the “Last Gasp Anthology”) holds that delightful distinction. Nevertheless, Lessons in Trust gives a much broader picture of her remarkable talent, and it has left this particular reader yearning for more of the same.
The book blurb quite adequately covers the story outline, and so for my part I will ‘read between the lines,’ so to speak.
The early 1900s was an interesting and colourful era with vestiges of Victorian stodginess reluctantly giving way to what would soon become the “Flapper” generation. In between were bright, ‘modern’, fashionable young men like Jonty & Orlando, with a foot in both generations. The common ground was style, and these two—from quite different backgrounds—had it in spades.
What delighted me about this read is that the author has been able to capture this with remarkable credibility: Victorian correctness mixed with a ‘bending of the rules’ (correctly, of course); a begrudging acceptance of the motor car (but properly dressed for the occasion); and wit and scintillating conversation to carry it all off.
The mysteries are truly mysteries, too, and will leave any reader turning pages. I guarantee it.
A must read. Five stars.
Progress report, re: Coming of Age on the Trail. I’m happy to say that the first draft is finished and heading for the editors desk. Probable release date: January. 2011.