Klaus Barbie by Tom Bower

Klaus Barbie by Tom BowerKlaus Barbie: The Butcher of Lyons by Tom Bower
Published by Open Road Media on March 21st 2017
Genres: History
Pages: 255
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

The true story of one of Hitler’s most feared and brutal killers: his life and crimes, postwar atrocities, and forty-year evasion of justice.   During World War II, SS Hauptsturmführer Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie earned a reputation for sadistic cruelty unmatched by all but a handful of his contemporaries in Adolf Hitler’s Gestapo. In 1942, he was dispatched to Nazi-occupied France after leaving his bloodstained mark on the Netherlands. In Lyons, Barbie was entrusted with “cleansing” the region of Jews, French Resistance fighters, and Communists, an assignment he undertook with unparalleled enthusiasm.   Thousands of people died on Barbie’s orders during his time in France—often by his own hand—including forty-four orphaned Jewish children and captured resistance leader Jean Moulin, who was tortured and beaten to death. When the Allies were approaching Lyons in the months following the D-Day invasion, Barbie and his subordinates fled, but not before brutally slaughtering all the prisoners still being held captive.   But the war’s conclusion was not the end of the Klaus Barbie nightmare. With the dawning of the Cold War, the “Butcher of Lyons” went on to find a new purpose in South America, just as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were escalating. Soon, Barbie had a different employer who valued his wartime experience and expertise as an anti-communist man hunter and murderer: the US intelligence services.   In Klaus Barbie, investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker Tom Bower tells the fascinating, startling, and truly disturbing story of a real-life human monster, and draws back the curtain on one of America’s most shocking secrets of the Cold War.  

I think that most people who have even a minimum of knowledge about the second world war know who Klaus Barbie is, at least at an intellectual level. One of the most notorious, or infamous Nazi figures, with a nickname like The Butcher of Lyons, he instantly evokes a certain image and emotion. As a student of history, I thought I knew almost all there was to know about this man, but Tom Bower’s book provided insights and information that I had either not come across before, or simply was not aware of until now.

Right from the outset, the book promises a look into some of the darker parts of human history, from Barbie’s wartime oppression and activities in France, through to his involvement with Allied forces after the war. The tales of the Operation Paperclip scientists is fairly well-known, but I was unaware that Barbie was involved in counter-intelligence activities after the war, as I suppose he was deemed to be a useful Nazi, and the Americans were willing to whitewash over his horrific past, much to the anger of the French and Jewish authorities.

Bower draws information from a range of sources, including interviews, or information from Barbie’s own words, to paint a well-fleshed out picture. And while I felt that the latter part of the story, post WW2 could have been better explained, I suppose that is a product of the limited amount of information which might have been available, as compared to the events of the war. Sometimes when I’m reading these types of books I get quite angry at what has gone on in the past, and if his activities as a Nazi prior to, and during the second world war did not serve to do so, what occurred afterwards certainly did.

In some ways I felt the ending was somewhat unsatisfying, in that a lot of information and tension had been built throughout the book that it all ended a bit too easily, and some of the description was a bit light on, and this may be for the reason stated above. However, as some of the post-detention story has been told throughout the book, this is not as book-breaking as it might have been.

This book is an excellently-researched, engaging read, and certainly expanded my knowledge about the events and personalities described therein.

I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

four-stars
Rating Report
Writing
four-half-stars
Pacing
three-half-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

Nazi Gold by Tom Bower

Nazi Gold by Tom BowerNazi Gold: The Full Story of the Fifty-Year Swiss-Nazi Conspiracy to Steal Billions from Europe's Jews and Holocaust Survivors by Tom Bower
Published by Open Road Media on March 21st 2017
Genres: History
Pages: 404
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

A “compelling [and] carefully researched” account of greed, duplicity, and an unholy partnership between Switzerland and the Third Reich (The Washington Times).   In the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century, the European continent fell, nation by nation, to Nazi Germany’s invincible war machine. But Switzerland remained neutral during World War II, taking no side and bowing to no master. For a long time after, that was the accepted history—but it was a lie.   Respected British investigative journalist Tom Bower reveals the shocking truth about how the government of Switzerland and the Swiss banking industry knowingly collaborated with the Reich during the darkest era in modern history. With the knowledge and acquiescence of the Swiss government, hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from Jewish Holocaust victims—including gold teeth extracted from the mouths of those murdered—were systematically hidden away in Swiss bank accounts.   But these crimes did not end with the defeat of Hitler. For the next half century, Swiss authorities engaged in a covert campaign of lies, subterfuge, and corruption to hide the wealth from its rightful owners—concentration camp survivors and the families of the slain—while freely dispensing the illegally obtained funds to fugitive Nazis.   Written by “one of the finest investigative journalists in the English-speaking world,” Nazi Gold is an explosive true account of state-endorsed crimes and atrocities; of former victims fighting courageously for their due in the face of prejudice, hatred, and indifference; and of the dedicated US Treasury agents who worked tirelessly for decades to right an unconscionable wrong (The Washington Times).  

I am not sure where to begin with this review, and as it deals with very difficult subject matter at time, and therefore I would not want my rating to be considered a commentary on the events that are described in the book.

Needless to say, I don’t think that there are many who could read this book without feeling a burning hatred, or at the very least contempt, for the people who took advantage of Swiss banking laws to shield themselves from their actions during and after the second world war. While this book is titled Nazi Gold, I feel as though this is somewhat inaccurate, as it is in fact that gold of the Jews of Europe, which was stolen by the Nazis.  And to be perfectly frank, it is the story of the Swiss bankers, politicians and bureaucrats, rather than predominantly about the Nazis.

I found this book a rather frustrating read, which I can only imagine reflects in a minute way the frustration of the families who were caught up in this horrible situation. Reading about the events, delays, deceptions, and bureaucratic bloody-mindedness over the course of fifty years did get rather repetitive, and although some of the names and faces changed over time, the excuses and the prevarications stayed the same. I felt – rightly or wrongly – that I was reading the same story over and over again as I progressed through the book.

Was the subject matter interesting, and well-explored? Sure.

Was the writing style engaging? Not particularly, and I felt like it did not build a solid narrative that resolved itself effectively, despite several end chapters.

I have found that there are non-fiction books which have mass-market appeal, and then there are those which will cater to, or be of interest to, only certain demographics, or people with an interest in such things. I feel – sadly – that this book falls into the latter category, as a result of its length, the cyclical repetitive nature of the writing, and a book which is filled mostly with villainous bureaucrats. While it dealt with the subject matter with extreme sensitivity, I don’t think I could have stuck it out to the end if I were not reading it for review.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hero by R A Salvatore

Hero by  R A SalvatoreHero by R.A. Salvatore
Published by Wizards of the Coast on October 25th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

Something akin to “peace" has come to the Underdark. The demon hordes have receded, and now the matron mothers argue over the fate of Drizzt Do'Urden. Even so, it becomes clear to one matriarch after another that while the renegade drow may come and go Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders will crawl forever on.
And so Drizzt is free to return to his home on the surface once again. Scores are settled as lives are cut short, yet other lives move on. For the lone drow there is only a single final quest: a search for peace, for family, for home—for the future.
Hero picks up where Maestro left off, in a sweeping climax to an epic tale.

Hero is the third in the latest series of books set in the Forgotten Realms by R A Salvatore, and stars his usual characters of Drizzt, Regis, and sundry others to one degree or another. I have previously reviewed books 1 and 2 in this series – Archmage and Maestro and I had some mixed feelings about both of those books. I felt that I owed it to stick it out to the third, as the second was an improvement over the first.

In Hero, Drizzt has had his mind corrupted, which seems like a recycling of a plot Salvatore gave to Wulfgar a few series ago, and has been shipped off to a monastery to study such things as meditating about a burning candle, and a whole lot of sword practice that doesn’t seem to be doing much good. Meanwhile Regis and Wulfgar have become entangled in a plot to sire an illegitimate heir on a queen in a faraway place I have never heard of in order to avoid having her head removed. Meanwhile Cattiebrie and the dwarves are working on rebuilding the host tower of the arcane with a dizzy array of laws-of-physics-defying mages. And that is before we even get to the drow, because frankly, I don’t understand what they’re up to at all.

The thing is that this book is full of rambunctious behaviour, and whizz bang adventurey, but all of these plots seem utterly contrived, and frankly overdone. I felt like the Dwarves-and-Mage brigade disappeared out of the book for extended periods, and I just stopped caring about much of what was going on. Fortunately there were fewish Scottish dwarves littered in this book, although we did see a return of the slightly-less-absurd-than-I-remember-him Pikel Bouldershoulder who has taken up a fancy for gardening, making wine and making a nuisance of himself.

The sad thing is that in isolation all of these characters are not bad, and Salvatore has each of them crafted to an inch of their lives, but there is just so much going on in this book that it reads more like a caper movie than a traditional ‘kick arse and save the world’ fantasy tale. This is not the Drizzt I remember, and as I have said before this series has jumped the shark so many times with death and resurrection that their lives have lost all meaning.

I will reiterate what I said in my review of the first book, that I think it is time for Drizzt to take up a well-earned retirement, and allow new adventurers to take their place in the world.

I received a review copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

three-stars
Rating Report
Plot
two-half-stars
Characters
three-half-stars
Writing
three-stars
Pacing
two-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: three-stars

The Cleansweep Conspiracy by Chuck Waldron

The Cleansweep Conspiracy by Chuck WaldronThe Cleansweep Conspiracy: A Matt Tremain Technothriller by Chuck Waldron
on October 20th 2016
Goodreads
three-stars

In this riveting technothriller, investigative blogger Matt Tremain is covering devastating riots in Toronto when he learns of a plot to rid the city of "undesirables." The operation is called CleanSweep, and appears to be led by billionaire Charles Claussen, who want to sweep Toronto clean of all street people and any citizens who don't match his restrictive screening matrix. Matt questions whether he has the courage, skill or influence to take on Claussen, but the murder of one of his sources convinces the blogger to put his life on the line. He gambles on the loyalty of a Toronto police detective and a local TV reporter for help. If his trust is misplaced, Matt will become yet another victim of CleanSweep, and the truth will be buried with him forever.

The Cleansweep Conspiracy is a novel set in a dystopian future where the government and private corporations are conspiring together together to surveil the entire population for the purposes of over-policing? Well, that doesn’t sound realistic at all does it? *cough cough*

Journalists and bloggers and mysterious figures on the internet unite with policemen who aren’t doing their job particularly well to expose a neo-nazi who has decided to institute a police state. Except most of novel was spent running away from random mysterious figures, and not doing a whole lot of exposing.

I think the problem with a lot of these attempts at painting dystopian futures are not engaging for me because of their closeness to what is occurring in the world today. For the average reader, perhaps the idea of a country where there is total surveillance is a novel idea, but it doesn’t seem futuristic enough for me.

Add to this the fact that the villains in the story – because, let’s face it, when you’re dealing with characters who are literally nazis, there is not much room for nuance, at least in this story – just aren’t particularly interesting, and are rather stereotypical.

I was on the verge of giving up on this book several times, as I didn’t feel like there was going to be any legitimate payoff at the end. I won’t spoil the ending, but it was less than satisfying. I didn’t particularly care about any of the main characters, aside from the policeman.

I was disappointed in the end, because I had hoped for an engaging techno-thriller. What I got instead felt like a cheesy attempt to cash into that genre with cheap buzzwords, and cheaper thrills. Do Nazis with plans of world domination need to be a thing any more? I wonder sometimes.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

three-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-half-stars
Characters
two-stars
Writing
three-stars
Pacing
three-stars
Cover
three-half-stars
Overall: three-stars

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey KlugerApollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
on January 1st 1970
Genres: History, Technology
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

In August 1968, one short year after three astronauts had burned to death in their spacecraft, NASA decided that it would launch humankind’s first flight to the moon. Sixteen weeks later, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were aboard the first manned spacecraft to depart Earth’s orbit, reach the moon, and return safely to Earth, delivering a tear-inducing Christmas Eve message along the way.

Apollo 8 is the story of one of the early manned space missions, the first which broke the bonds of Earth and took the first trip around the moon ever undertaken by a human being. But it is so much more than that – following the lives of the men and their families throughout the space exploration program, as they led up to the momentous journey which has been somewhat overshadowed by later Apollo missions.

For me there has always been something of a mystique about the idea of being an astronaut, and the idea of walking on the moon. From the outside it is easy to lionise these men for their achievements, without getting an up close and personal look inside the space capsule. Sure movies like Apollo 13 have helped to bring a personal perspective to the scene, although undoubtedly there is likely to be some artistic licence involved.

Apollo 8 brought a very holistic approach to the story, tracing not just the lives of the three astronauts who made the journey, but the stories of the people on the ground who were supporting them – both in NASA and from their homes. I thought the author did an excellent job of drawing these intertwining stories together, and painting a very cohesive story, without losing focus on the central story of the mission itself.

Apollo 8 is a very engagingly written book, that will appeal to fans of history and space exploration in equal parts. There is enough technical detail in here to interest nerds, and enough humanity to interest everyone else. It was one of those books that I did not know I needed to read until I had actually read it. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the space program from what felt like the inside.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Battle of Arnhem: Snapshots of War by Victor Gregg (with Rick Stroud)

Battle of Arnhem: Snapshots of War by Victor Gregg (with Rick Stroud)Battle of Arnhem: Snapshots of War by Victor Gregg, Rick Stroud
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Genres: Biography, History
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley

Battle of Arnhem is a Kindle Single that examines one marine rifleman’s experiences through the Battle of Arnhem, including his subsequent capture. It is written in a gritty, realistic and engaging style that brings a very personal eye to war that is so often examined from a sort of God’s Eye perspective. I understand that Victor Gregg has written, or co-written a number of other books about his experiences during the Second World War, and I look forward to tracking down and reading more.

This is quite a short work, as I said at the beginning, and therefore I find it difficult to review it at length, however I can say that it is a well-written and exciting piece that gives a taste of his point of view and I believe serves as a teaser for his other books.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review the Battle of Arnhem.

Maestro by R A Salvatore

Maestro by R A SalvatoreMaestro by R.A. Salvatore
Published by Wizards of the Coast on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 330
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Something terrible, unspeakable, immense, has come to Menzoberranzan and is leaving death and destruction in its wake. The primordial of Gauntlgrym stirs, sending Cattie-brie and Gromph to Luskan, and the ruins of the only power that can keep the beast in check. The damage of the Darkening, of war, and of a demon-ravaged Underdark has sent cracks out across the North. Some of this damage may never be repaired.
And Drizzt is going home. But not to Mithral Hall. Not to Icewind Dale. He’s going to Menzoberranzan. Bruenor is ready to march with him¾bringing along an army of dwarves¾to end the scourge of Menzoberranzan, but Drizzt needs to see what’s happening there. The dwarf army may not be necessary. The City of Spiders might already have fallen to the demons and their wicked prince. But even if that’s true, what’s to say the demons will stop there?
Maestro picks up where Archmage left off, plunging Drizzt into his most dangerous adventure yet, and with all the action, adventure, beloved characters, dark elves, monsters, and demon princes Drizzt fans adore.

Maestro is the second book in the Homecoming trilogy, the first of which I reviewed recently. Although I was not that fond of the first book, thinking that it got away from my ideal Drizzt story, which revolves around him and his mates against the world. I was therefore quite happy when I discovered this novel was ultimately a tale of Drizzt, Jarlaxle (the eponymous Maestro) and Artemis Entreri going on a rescue mission to the heart of Menzoberranzan. Sure there is the side story of the dwarves, Cattiebrie and assorted others trying to rebuild an ancient magic tower, and the political shenanigans which were going on in the Drow ruling families, but the heart of the story is with Drizzt.

For me this was an improvement over the previous book, but I believe it is still a long way from the heights of Salvatore’s series. In some ways I feel like the characters have long ago jumped the shark through their multiple deaths and resurrections. They were always virtually unkillable, but once you have characters who are either basically immortal, or who have lost all fear of death, they lose some of the intensity and danger in the story. I used to rather enjoy Drizzt’s diary musings at the start of chapters, but now they seem to have turned from philosophical musings to something more like schoolboyish love letters.

I said in my last review that I felt it was time that Drizzt perhaps retired from the adventuring life, and his relationship with Cattiebrie has reached a point where they are conveniently looking to settle down and have a family. If Drizzt and friends weren’t there to save the world, I am sure that others would step up to the mark.

I enjoyed the sections of this novel which followed Drizzt, Jarlaxle and Entreri, but the Drow sections were just complicated, and the rebuilding of the Host Tower were infrequent and difficult to follow. For different reasons to the previous novel, I am going to give it the same rating.

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-half-stars
Characters
four-stars
Writing
four-stars
Pacing
three-half-stars
Cover
four-half-stars
Overall: four-stars

The Erudition of Sherlock Holmes by Giles Chanot

The Erudition of Sherlock Holmes by Giles ChanotThe Erudition of Sherlock Holmes by Giles Chanot
Published by Truncated Tales Limited on 4/1/2017
Genres: Mystery
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars

The Erudition of Sherlock Holmes is a new novella set in the late 19th Century, and is some sort of mystery detective thing involving a lot of Holmes’ mystical handwaving and mansplanations of things. There are a few subplots, mostly involved around some sort of running gag about whiskey, which I won’t spoil, didn’t seem to be going anywhere for most of this book.

According the Dictionary.com, erudition is defined as “knowledge acquired by study, research, etc.; learning; scholarship.”

I felt this was relevant to the review because as I was reading this book I felt constantly in the dark as just what the hell was actually going on in the book. The story is told from John Watson’s point of view, as he traipses around various poorly-described parts of Europe (apart from when they climbed a mountain, which was juicily described).

I am a fan of the Sherlock Holmes universe, and enjoy new takes on the old characters, from the BBC Sherlock series to the Johnny Lee Miller vehicle Elementary, but this just felt dull. Perhaps it was the deliberately old style writing, but the pacing really dragged, and despite its relatively short length, took an inordinately long time for me to finish.

This may appeal to a more traditional Sherlock enthusiast, who is happy to wade through tedious archaic language for the traditional ‘genius explains everything at the end’ finish, but this did absolutely nothing for me.

I received a review copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

two-stars
Rating Report
Plot
two-stars
Characters
three-stars
Writing
one-half-stars
Pacing
two-stars
Cover
one-half-stars
Overall: two-stars

Lucifer Vol 2: Father Lucifer by Holly Black

Lucifer Vol 2: Father Lucifer by Holly BlackLucifer, Volume 2: Father Lucifer by Holly Black, Lee Garbett
Published by Vertigo on March 7th 2017
Pages: 144
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

After being wrongfully accused of deicide by his angelic brethren, the Prince of Hell undertook an epic quest through the cosmos to clear his name. Now he wants nothing more than to retire to his Los Angeles club, Ex Lux, and drown the world’s sorrows one drink at a time.
With the throne of Heaven still vacant, archangels are turning on each other in an effort to seize their absent Father’s crown. And since the Lightbringer has no desire to revisit his former kingdom, a vicious power struggle has erupted in the infernal realm, as well.
Caught between chaos above and below, Earth has never been more vulnerable. In order to keep his terrestrial retreat safe from collateral damage, Lucifer must reluctantly rejoin the fight for control over Creation. But as the battle rages, the aftershocks from his Father’s demise are growing strongersh and making it clear that some fates really are worse than death.
Collecting: Lucifer 7-12

I must admit that I have only a limited knowledge of this comic series, although I am a fan of the television series. I really enjoyed the art style of Lucifer, and although I didn’t follow all of the storylines, which were set up in earlier books, I found the action intriguing and enjoyable.

The characters and personalities really shone through, and I will be following up with the rest of the series when I get a chance. Would recommend to those who have read the earlier works, or are already acquainted with the series, but I didn’t feel totally lost jumping in.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

four-stars
Rating Report
Plot
four-stars
Characters
five-stars
Cover
four-half-stars
Overall: four-half-stars

Blood Virus by L A Hollis

Blood Virus: A Pandemic by Design by L A Hollis
Published by iUniverse on April 13th 2016
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 200
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
one-half-stars

Thousands are dying and many more sickened as an unknown virus runs rampant through Western Africa. Its victims experience a violent death within a few days of exposure, so the CDC jumps in before the virus can become a global pandemic. They send their best man, Dr. Lennox Richards of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, to ground zero in Benin. Lennox heads up an international team of top specialists with the intent of identifying and possibly developing a vaccine to halt the virus's progress. However, there's a problematic variable: the virus is ethno-specific, killing only blacks and leaving others with nothing more than a common cold. As an African American, the stakes have suddenly changed for Dr. Lennox Richards.
The good doctor has yet to realize a more sinister plot is being waged, with Benin as the initial test site for the bioengineered killer. A lethal plan is in effect to expose the world's ethnic groups to a virus specific to their particular race-in other words, the implementation of an ethnic bomb.
With time running out and no cure in sight, will Dr. Lennox Richards be able to stay alive and halt the doomsday scenario that looms close at hand?

The blurb of this book interested me, in that it was a thriller involving a genetically engineered virus designed to target specific racial groups, which I thought was an interesting discussion in the current political climate. I was quite surprised to see how short the book was, given the subject matter.

A husband and wife team travel to Benin to investigate the origins of a virus which is wiping out large numbers of people, but doesn’t seem to be affecting – for the most part – white people.

Full disclosure – I did not finish this book, even as short as it was – I had only made about 70% progress through the book after almost a week, and it wasn’t showing signs of improvement. I felt the pacing of the story was really off, and I wasn’t really sure where the story was going. The main characters weren’t particularly interesting, and the side characters – particularly the Beninese – felt stereotypical, or bordering on the vaguely offensive.

I am not sure what the author’s publishing history is, but they seemed to make a lot of basic mistakes, truncating action to the point where we were being told about things, rather than showing them. This is particularly true in relation to what happens to the main female character over the course of the novel, and her rather blaise response to it. Looking at the author’s bio, she is a scientist, and perhaps in retrospect this novel is written in a particularly analytical, almost perfunctory style.

I was quite disappointed by what I did read of this novel in the end, and am glad that I did not subject myself to the rest. If life is too short for bad coffee, it’s way too short to spend time and energy on reading half-baked novels like this.

I received a review copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

one-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
four-stars
Characters
two-stars
Writing
one-half-stars
Pacing
one-star
Cover
three-stars
Overall: two-stars