Stalingrad by Antony Beevor

Stalingrad by Antony BeevorStalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942–1943 by Antony Beevor
Published by Penguin Books on May 1st 1999
Genres: History
Pages: 494
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
five-stars

The Battle of Stalingrad was not only the psychological turning point of World War II: it also changed the face of modern warfare. Historians and reviewers worldwide have hailed Antony Beevor's magisterial Stalingrad as the definitive account of World War II's most harrowing battle.

In August 1942, Hitler's huge Sixth Army reached the city that bore Stalin's name. In the five-month siege that followed, the Russians fought to hold Stalingrad at any cost; then, in an astonishing reversal, encircled and trapped their Nazi enemy. This battle for the ruins of a city cost more than a million lives. Stalingrad conveys the experience of soldiers on both sides, fighting in inhuman conditions, and of civilians trapped on an urban battlefield. Antony Beevor has interviewed survivors and discovered completely new material in a wide range of German and Soviet archives, including prisoner interrogations and reports of desertions and executions. As a story of cruelty, courage, and human suffering, Stalingrad is unprecedented and unforgettable.

Antony Beevor is one of my favourite nonfiction authors, and Stalingrad is typical of his impeccably researched, well-spun tales that takes the reader behind the scenes of the battle for Stalingrad, which was one of the great turning points of the Second World War.

It is difficult to sum up the excellence of this book. Beevor relies on primary sources, including battlefield reports, and letters home to weave a story that puts the reader on the ground in the gruelling conflict. You can really get a sense of the battle to simply survive in the harsh Russian landscape, let alone trying to wage a war. The stories told in Stalingrad range from the high ranking officers on both the German – and their allies – and the Russian sides, as well as those of the average fighting men and women.

This is a book which gives the reader a deep understanding of what went on in this pivotal battle, and an appreciation for the appalling sacrifices which were made in the name of both Communism and Fascism. Beevor approaches the subject with an even, neutral base, and it is easy to see the It is impossible to come away from this book without feeling affected by it.

Antony Beevor has turned his careful, practiced hand to telling the story of the battle of Stalingrad, and produced a superb tome that will inform, entertain and enlighten. This is a very accessible book to any fan of history looking to learn more about this particular conflict.

five-stars
Rating Report
Writing
five-stars
Cover
five-stars
Overall: five-stars

Assassin’s Code by Ward Larsen

Assassin’s Code by Ward LarsenAssassin's Code by Ward Larsen
Published by Macmillan-Tor/Forge Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Former assassin David Slaton discovers a cryptic message: on a memory stick, a photograph of the man who will soon assume command of DGSI, France’s elite counterterrorism force. With the country reeling under a wave of ISIS attacks, Zavier Baland will be trusted to make the Republic safe again. The problem—Slaton has seen Baland’s face before. He is Ali Samir, a terrorist Slaton is certain he killed fifteen years earlier. Unable to reconcile these facts, he heads west to investigate.

Thousands of miles away, ISIS’s chief information officer tries to keep networks running amid crumbling infrastructure. With the caliphate’s very survival at stake, the leadership commits to a last-ditch gambit: France must be attacked on a massive scale, forcing the West into the battle of the Apocalypse.

I had never read a David Slaton book before, but I was interested in getting on board with a new thriller writer. The main character is a former Mossad assassin who gets hooked back into a life of mystery and intrigue in a fairly standard plot device for such this kind of book. It was very reminiscent in that way of the Jason Bourne series in style, and for the most part it kept me sucked into the world.

If I had a criticism of the book, I never really understood what the stakes were in this book. Yes, there was a terrorist who might be getting appointed as the head of some French intelligence agency. But these things just feel like the excuse to write a book in this world, where as the personal story is the more interesting.

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished this book, and I really don’t feel like it had an effect on me that would keep me coming back, in the same way that books by Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy have. This was a relatively middle-of-the-road book that was just okay.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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

The China Sea by Richard Herman

The China Sea by Richard HermanThe China Sea by Richard Herman
Published by Endeavour Press on July 25th 2017
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 249
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars

The Chinese Dragon has awoken - and is narrowing its sights on the South China Sea.

America - and it's president Morgan Taylor - cannot permit such territorial expansion to go unchecked. But America also cannot afford to go to war. To square the circle the President decides to employ the services of David Santos, a retired air force general and intelligence officer, and his "Bravo" team, a company of trained specialists.

As the unit is deployed into South East Asia they know that America will deny all knowledge of their existence. Capture will mean torture - and death. Santos and Bravo team must try to prevent a war, working in the shadows. But they will not be alone. China has deployed its own unit, to counter the Americans and foment conflict and conquest. The fate of Bravo team in the South China Sea could shape - or shatter - the peace between two global superpowers.

The clock is ticking. The race is on.

I’ve hesitated about writing a review of this book, so I could see whether it had a lasting memory on me. I read so many thriller novels, and there needs to be something different about a novel to really rise above the pack. I find the political dynamics in the South China Sea to be quite interesting, and is likely to be the next big thing in thriller novels, taking over from the Russians who dominated the genre’s Bad Guy Ranks for so many years.

There are some interesting characters in here – a South Korean super sniper who infiltrates the North on a dangerous mission for instance; a group of Vietnamese rebels who call themselves the Viet Cong – but apart from these I really struggled to keep a track of everyone else. There were a few big set pieces involving the American president, and the North Korean president, but apart from that I really struggle to elucidate just what the point of any of it was. I understand – from a geopolitical point of view – what China thinks about the control of the South China Sea, but beyond that this book really felt like a bunch of talking heads who travelled from Australia to Vietnam and… didn’t seem to do anything.

I think this book tries to be a throwback to a Spy v Spy novel, where the two sides never really come into contact with each other. But this felt really generic, and lacked a clear vision of what was going on. It felt like watching the news – you get a lot of segments of stories that are short, sharp, and to find out anything new about any individual piece, you need to wait a while.

There are a lot of great thriller writers out there, and an abundance of books to choose from and I just can’t find a reason to recommend this book.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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

7/7 and 21/7 – Delving into Room 101 by Cliff Todd

7/7 and 21/7 – Delving into Room 101 by Cliff Todd7/7 and 21/7 – Delving into Room 101 by Cliff Todd
Published by Matador on October 11, 2017
Genres: True Crime
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

When I heard that this very brief book was a memoir by one of the forensic investigators into the bombings in London, I thought that it might be an interesting read. While there have been libraries written about the September 11 attacks, the London terror attacks seem to have gone unexamined.

The problem with this book is a serious lack of depth. It is a personal memoir from Cliff Todd that covers a relatively short period of time, and gets so bogged down in the technical detail of bombs and explosives, almost to the point where it lacks any sense of a human connection to the events.

I guess I was expecting more storytelling, rather than a dry recitation. It is both a blessing and a curse that the book is so short, because it quite frankly bored me.

One for the truly interested in such matters.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

From a Certain Point of View by Ben Acker, others.

From a Certain Point of View by Ben Acker, others.From a Certain Point of View by Ben Acker, Renee Ahdieh, Tom Angleberger, Ben Blacker, Jeffrey Brown, Jason Fry, Christie Golden, Pierce Brown, Ashley Eckstein, Mur Lafferty, Ken Liu, Griffin McElroy, John Jackson Miller, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel José Older, Ian Doescher, Mallory Ortberg, Madeleine Roux, Gary D. Schmidt, Matt Fraction, Cavan Scott, Sabaa Tahir, Kieron Gillen, Glen Weldon, Chuck Wendig, Gary Whitta, Meg Cabot, Pablo Hidalgo, E. K. Johnston, Rae Carson, Adam Christopher, Zoraida Córdova, Delilah S. Dawson, Paul Dini, Alexander Freed, Claudia Gray, Paul S. Kemp, Elizabeth Wein, Beth Revis, Greg Rucka, Charles Soule, Wil Wheaton
Published by Del Rey on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Sci-Fi
Pages: 477
Format: Ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

In celebration of Star Wars’ 40th anniversary, Del Rey is going to shine the spotlight on those unsung weirdos, heroes, and villains with a unique, new anthology. Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, coming October 2017, will bring together more than 40 authors for 40 stories. Each will be told from the perspective of background characters of A New Hope — from X-wing pilots who helped Luke destroy the Death Star to the stormtroopers who never quite could find the droids they were looking for.

From a Certain Point of View markets itself as Star Wars fanfiction, and I suppose in a way it is. This is fanfiction written by some of the biggest names in science fiction, and consists of short stories written to sit alongside the events of Episode IV.

There are stories told from the points of view of Jawas, Droids, Dancers, Imperial Officers and many more. It was a little reminiscent of the “Tales from…” series of anthologies released in the 90s.

I think with this sort of collection you can pick and choose the kinds of story that work for you. There are plenty to choose from, and while I read most of them some just didn’t tickle my fancy. I really enjoyed the story called The Sith of Datawork, about an Imperial underling who tries to cover up for the officer on the Devatastor who let the escape pod go, using a series of convoluted paperwork. But my favourite would have been the one from the POV of a mouse droid on the Death Star.

It broadens one’s mind beyond the big heroes and names who have their stories told on the silver screen, and helps to flesh out the universe of Star Wars, and helps to humanise some of the more unlikable, or unknown characters that a movie doesn’t have time to deal with.

This is definitely one for the fans. You will find plenty of laughs, and a couple of moving moments here, in a neatly packaged form that allows you to drop in and drop out of.

four-stars
Rating Report
Characters
five-stars
Writing
four-stars
Overall: four-half-stars

Destination Casablanca by Meredith Hindley

Destination Casablanca by Meredith HindleyDestination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II by Meredith Hindley
Published by PublicAffairs on October 10th 2017
Genres: History
Pages: 512
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

In November 1942, as a part of Operation Torch, 33,000 American soldiers sailed undetected across the Atlantic and stormed the beaches of French Morocco. Seventy-four hours later, the Americans controlled the country and one of the most valuable wartime ports: Casablanca.

In the years preceding, Casablanca had evolved from an exotic travel destination to a key military target after France's surrender to Germany. Jewish refugees from Europe poured in, hoping to obtain visas and passage to the United States and beyond. Nazi agents and collaborators infiltrated the city in search of power and loyalty. The resistance was not far behind, as shopkeepers, celebrities, former French Foreign Legionnaires, and disgruntled bureaucrats formed a network of Allied spies. But once in American hands, Casablanca became a crucial logistical hub in the fight against Germany--and the site of Roosevelt and Churchill's demand for "unconditional surrender."

Rife with rogue soldiers, power grabs, and diplomatic intrigue, Destination Casablanca is the riveting and untold story of this glamorous city--memorialized in the classic film that was rush-released in 1942 to capitalize on the drama that was unfolding in North Africa at the heart of World War II.

Destination Casablanca is a look at the shenanigans went on in Casablanca in particular, and North Africa in general, during the Second World War, as the competing countries and interests clashed. In some ways this felt like a sort of lower deck episode, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek. While the events of the war are discussed, and at times discussed in great detail, this is the story of the smaller people who were having to live their lives in the shadow of this great conflict.

I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, given that it was a different look on war compared to some of the more descriptive books that are out there. With that said, there were plenty of descriptive action scenes, involving ship to ship and aerial combat, but that is not the main focus of the book.

Destination Casablanca is a thoroughly enjoying read, for those looking to expand their knowledge, and perhaps their mind, about the events of the second world war.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

four-stars
Rating Report
Writing
four-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late Show by Michael ConnellyThe Late Show by Michael Connelly
on July 18th 2017
Genres: Detective
Pages: 405
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly, a new thriller introducing a driven young detective trying to prove herself in the LAPD

Renée Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing none as each morning she turns her cases over to day shift detectives. A once up-and-coming detective, she's been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

But one night she catches two cases she doesn't want to part with: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Ballard is determined not to give up at dawn. Against orders and her own partner's wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night. As the cases entwine they pull her closer to her own demons and the reason she won't give up her job no matter what the department throws at her.

This is a detective novel about a female police detective who is consigned to working the late shift after being betrayed by her former partner and supervisor. She is tasked with investigating some fairly mundane crimes, while taking a professional interest in some more interesting crimes which are occurring on her old turf.

Michael Connelly is an author I generally enjoy – his Harry Bosch series is rather excellent – and I found this book similarly well-written. I really enjoyed the new character Ballard, as she feels well-fleshed out.

The Late Show feels a bit like a rabbit hole that the author takes you tumbling down, as mystery follows intrigue, and it is all coming to a head. Until he hits a climax, or what seems to be the climax… and then there’s a whole other set of chapters after it… and I just didn’t feel like the denouement was earned somehow.

For the most part, however, this is an excellent book, and I get that Connelly is just working his way into the characters, and I will definitely be reading more of this series.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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

Origin by Dan Brown

Origin by Dan BrownOrigin by Dan Brown
Published by Doubleday Books on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 461
Format: Ebook, Hard Cover
Goodreads
one-star

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Dan Brown is definitely an author I love to hate. But for some reason with each book he releases, I find myself sucked back in to see what he has decided to take on this time. I like to give him a fair shake, and try to keep an open mind when reading his books, partly because he writes about atheists. So, much to be regret, I decided to give Origin a go.

The story begins with the protagonist – not Robert Langdon, he’s our tour guide – a Famous Atheist (TM) about to meet with the heads of three religious organisations to tell them he is about to make a public announcement that will rock their respective worlds.

Brown then introduces Robert Langdon, and uses him as a vehicle to explore a museum, aided by his own tour guide, an Artificial Intelligence. There is an awful lot of pretentious intellectual jerking off on the author’s part as he introduces the reader to a world that Dan Brown thinks is important, but never really comes up again.

The lecture on art and symbolism is interrupted when Langdon is dragged off to bear witness to the great announcement. A large part of the announcement is the author patting Langdon on the back, probably unnecessarily. This all ends abruptly, setting things in motion, forcing Langdon to unravel a conspiracy which reaches to the highest levels.

The most unforgivable conceit of this book for me is that the events of the book take place in the space of less than one day. You might struggle to find it difficult that a 400+ page book might be able to occur within the space of a day, and you would be right. An awful lot of things occur in that time period, and it is entirely unrealistic.

Langdon is accompanied by a young woman, who happens to be the fiance of the crown prince of Spain, which is her main reason for existing in the story. She is part Langdon’s handbag, part sea anchor, and part exposition mouthpiece as she is basically dragged all over Barcelona. She might as well have been the crown prince’s favourite parrot for all the good she did, and added to the story. One minute she will be begging Langdon not to do something stupid, and a few pages later when he begins to question his action, she is his biggest cheer squad. This is an atrociously stereotyped female character, and someone needs to tell Dan Brown to get his head out of his arse.

To cut a really bloody long story short, Origin is a 460 page synopsis of something that should be happening in a much more interesting novel. In hindsight I should have kept a tally of the times I said the phrase “oh fuck off” in response to the latest piece of contrived idiocy that the author has engaged in.

Dan Brown has interesting ideas, I will give you that, but he struggles to convert that interesting idea into a cohesive, interesting story about that idea. Origin is a horribly overwritten art gallery diorama with the world’s least interesting tour guide.

Dan Brown has burned me for the last time. I wish I had never wasted the roughly two weeks it took to read this doorstop of a book. This wasn’t helped by the number of times it literally put me to sleep.

I recommend that no one who values their time avoid reading this book. Unless you’re looking for an insomnia cure.

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

The Rise of Big Data Policing by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

The Rise of Big Data Policing by Andrew Guthrie FergusonThe Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson
Published by New York University Press on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Technology
Format: Hard Cover
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

The consequences of big data and algorithm-driven policing and its impact on law enforcement In a high-tech command center in downtown Los Angeles, a digital map lights up with 911 calls, television monitors track breaking news stories, surveillance cameras sweep the streets, and rows of networked computers link analysts and police officers to a wealth of law enforcement intelligence. This is just a glimpse into a future where software predicts future crimes, algorithms generate virtual "most-wanted" lists, and databanks collect personal and biometric information. The Rise of Big Data Policing introduces the cutting-edge technology that is changing how the police do their jobs and shows why it is more important than ever that citizens understand the far-reaching consequences of big data surveillance as a law enforcement tool. Andrew Guthrie Ferguson reveals how these new technologies --viewed as race-neutral and objective--have been eagerly adopted by police departments hoping to distance themselves from claims of racial bias and unconstitutional practices. After a series of high-profile police shootings and federal investigations into systemic police misconduct, and in an era of law enforcement budget cutbacks, data-driven policing has been billed as a way to "turn the page" on racial bias. But behind the data are real people, and difficult questions remain about racial discrimination and the potential to distort constitutional protections. In this first book on big data policing, Ferguson offers an examination of how new technologies will alter the who, where, when and how we police. These new technologies also offer data-driven methods to improve police accountability and to remedy the underlying socio-economic risk factors that encourage crime. The Rise of Big Data Policing is a must read for anyone concerned with how technology will revolutionize law enforcement and its potential threat to the security, privacy, and constitutional rights of citizens.

Big data has become an integral part of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. With its use in a range of industries, including public safety, as a society we would do well to keep ourselves informed at what we are doing, and allowing to be done in the name of security and safety. This book examines the use, and potential misuse of big data projects in the application of the law in society.

It is definitely written with a particular slant in mind, to show that there is an inherent bias in the way the data is being applied. From an outside perspective, I felt like it was a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but when you are asking a black box questions, and not examining the underlying conclusions it draws, there will inevitably be problems. This is still a relatively new field, and I think caution should be exercised whenever a human is being removed from the decision-making process.

The Rise of Big Data Policing is a well-researched, and well-written book that will be a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in law enforcement, big data or privacy.

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

four-stars
Rating Report
Writing
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

Cold War Games by Harry Blutstein

Cold War Games by Harry BlutsteinCold War Games: Spies, Subterfuge and Secret Operations at the 1956 Olympic Games by Harry Blutstein
Published by Bonnier Publishing Australia on August 1st 2017
Genres: History, Politics
Pages: 368
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

The 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games have become known as the ‘friendly games’, but East-West rivalry ensured that they were anything but friendly. From the bloody semi-final water polo match between the USSR and Hungary, to the athletes who defected to the West, sport and politics collided during the Cold War.

Cold War Games shows vividly how the USSR and US exploited the Melbourne Olympic Games for propaganda, turning athletic fields, swimming pools and other sporting venues into battlefields in which each fought for supremacy.

There were glimmers of peace and solidarity. Cold War Games also tells the love story between Czechoslovak discus thrower Olga Fikotová and American hammer thrower Hal Connolly, and their struggle to overcome Cold War politics to marry.

Cold War Games is a lively, landmark book, with fresh information from ASIO files and newly discovered documents from archives in the USSR, US and Hungary, revealing secret operations in Melbourne, and showing just how pivotal the 1956 Olympic Games were for the great powers of the Cold War.

'Courage, fear, intrigue, brutality, generosity, love, hate, romance, humour, triumph and tragedy: they're all here in this superbly crafted book about the intimate entanglement of politics and sport during the deepest freeze of the global cold war. A major contribution to the history of international sport and politics'. — Frank Bongiorno

'Cold War Games is fast-paced, edgy and highly readable. Harry Blutstein crafts his gripping account with an impressive array of interviews, archival material and scholarship from across the globe. The result is a fascinating and accessible insight into a seminal moment in Olympic and Cold War history.' — Richard Mills, Lecturer in Modern European History, University of East Anglia

'This is a tale that is long overdue. Mr Blutstein's well-researched history of the chicanery of the Soviets in Olympic competition is a compelling read.' — Jon Henricks, Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960 Swimming Dual Gold Medallist

The 1956 olympic games were something of a high point in Australia’s sporting history, and looking at it through the rosy lens of history and nostalgia it is easy to ignore the political, and diplomatic environment which the games took place in. As a student in history, I find it fascinating that there was all of this backstory going on behind the scenes, while on the face of it there was a sporting contest happening between the various countries.

Blutstein covers far more in this book than just the 1956 games, as the story goes back to the beginning of the Cold War, and tracks the lives and history of a number of the athletes who would play a significant role in games. Strangely enough most of the focus was on the athletes from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and the political pressures they were under to perform. A lot of the book is devoted to the stories of the athletes who were planning to, or ultimately did defect as a result of their visit to Melbourne.

I found this book was probably not as interesting as I had hoped it would be. It was interesting in that it gave some great context to the political games which went on behind the Games, but I don’t think it is a book for everyone.

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