Review: Trench Warfare: 1850-1950 (Saunders)

Trench Warfare: 1850 – 1950.

Another disappointingly poorly written book by this author. It’s a sad state of affairs when the grammar and organization of writing distracts from the material being read. To the author’s credit, he did apparently expend considerable effort to gather raw data (as evidenced by the numerous statistics), but his editor should have helped him with the syntax required to present the information clearly, without redundancy and grammatical errors.

Four of the 12 chapters deal with the First World War. A glossy section of period photos and schematic drawings provides some helpful insight. The bibliography and the index each number about nine pages. It’s a shame that the quality of the writing between the covers doesn’t come up to that of the sturdy hard binding and artistically arranged collage of period photos (one colorized) that make up the glossy dust jacket.

Read it to glean the facts you need, but don’t expect to enjoy the experience.


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Review: Fall of Giants (Follett)

Fall of Giants.

This is the second time I’ve read a book by Follett, and it’s a second dismal disappointment. There will not be a third. Here’s why:

The book is a thinly fictionalized history book about the First World War and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 – and a revisionist history, at that. The characters seem to have been inserted in order to substitute for a historian-narrator, by spouting historical information to one another in unconvincing dialogue.

It wasn’t until page 876 of 985 pages (88.9% of the way through) that I finally encountered two sentences that resonated with me:

The sound of Breton bagpipes was everywhere.  Gus could have done without the bagpipes.

I laughed out loud at that set of statements, because the only kind of bagpipes I can endure are Irish uilleann pipes. And yet, I felt sorry for the author, because this was one of many missed opportunities to more fully develop one of the book’s characters. Here is how I used a reference to bagpipes to help develop a character in my first novel, Irish Firebrands:

The upstairs room was crowded, but when Frank gave his name to the head waiter they were guided directly to a table by a small window crowded with a window box of colourful flowers. After Lana was seated, several musicians entered from another door and took seats on a bench at the side of the room. One bore a guitar, another a flute, the third a fiddle and the last carried a collection of tubes and straps, a stomach-shaped bag and an apparatus that suggested a fireplace bellows.

“What on Earth is that?”

Uilleann pipes,” Frank said. “They’re bagpipes, but instead of blowing, the piper pumps that bellows with his elbow. ‘Uilleann’ means ‘elbow’.”

“Bagpipes! Uh-oh, I don’t know about this.”

“Why, what’s wrong with bagpipes?”

“They have the same effect on me as harpsichord music.”

“That being?” He raised his eyebrows.

Lana leant towards Frank and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “They arouse in me an overwhelming desire….”

He leant towards her in turn, fascination written on his face. “A desire?”

“To commit axe murders!”

He gaped at her, and then he winced. “Ouch!” Struggling to suppress his laughter, he drummed the tabletop with his fingertips to express his merriment.

Irish Firebrands © 2012 Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.

All of the characters in Fall of Giants badly want development. None of them stand out as main characters with whom a reader can identify or empathize; in fact, there are far too many characters for the reader to even care about what happens to them. It’s as if the author had ideas for several different early 20th Century stories, but he couldn’t be bothered to thoroughly develop any of the plots, so he lumped all of them together, with only superficial connections between them.

Moreover, the author spends far too much verbiage on the graphic details of the characters’ sex lives, to an extent that would have been considered pornographic a couple of generations ago. Sexuality is a natural part of human behavior, but unless one is writing a textbook about it, it’s better to leave much of the process to the imagination of the reader.

This is the first volume of a saga; nevertheless, I have no intention to follow up with Follett.


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Review: The West Point Atlas of War: World War I (Esposito, ed.)

The West Point Atlas of War: World War I.

This is the Great War researcher’s go-to source when the maps in a book don’t deliver.

A large-format book, it needs a generously-sized desk or table to accommodate its width and depth when opened. There’s a legend inside the front cover defining the symbols that are used. The atlas is printed on heavy-duty buff colored stock, using a limited number of colors to designate units and troop movements. Each map is accompanied by a single-page summary of the action depicted. The printing is of excellent quality, although I think it’s easier to read in bright natural light than under artificial light.

Much of the same information is available in free map downloads from the West Point Department of History website, and there are some advantages to that, but I think it’s worthwhile to have a clear print copy to pore over at my leisure, without eyestrain from staring at a screen.  Highly recommended.


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