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The Runes Of The Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Runes Of The Earth

Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Tales of Thomas Covenant was my initiation into the world of Fantasy/Science Fiction many years ago when the best-selling six book series was published.  Since that time I have enjoyed a number of different books within that genre, and I have Stephen R. Donaldson to thank for it.  I was excited a few years ago, when I discovered that Donaldson had decided to write a sequel series – The Last Tales of Thomas Covenant – but as with most books I’d like to read, it takes me awhile to get around to reading them.  Now is the time for Donaldson’s sequel.

I will say I enjoyed this first novel, but there were a few issues.  The most difficult hurdle was this: it has been 26 years since I read the first series.  Quite frankly, the only characters I actually remembered were Thomas Covenant and Lord Foul.  And there were many, many characters in this book.  It took me quite a while to get them all straight.  Thank goodness for the first part of the book, which takes place in the land we are familiar with (good old planet earth), and the story line here was easy to follow and gripping.  It kept me going when Donaldson moved his characters into The Land and kept me grounded as that narrative wove it’s way into the fantasy world.  But it was tough going for awhile.  The trick is to keep reading the books more closely to each other so you don’t forget who the characters are and what the plot is.  Thank goodness I intend doing just that this summer, and reading the remaining three books.

It was fun to reacquaint myself with this beloved series and I look forward to continuing the literary journey in the weeks to come.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2004
532 pages

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls

I am a sucker for books about ballet.  The Painted Girls is the story of the real life ballet muse, Marie van Goethem, who as a young girl became the inspiration for several Degas works, including a little statuette entitled “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” (of which several bronze reproductions exist today).  In The Painted Girls, Marie and her two sisters aspire to be etoiles with the renowned Paris Opera Ballet, not necessarily because they dream of being prima ballerinas, but because they dream of escaping the poverty of a home without a father and mother who has taken to drink.

This should have been a wonderful novel, but quite frankly it wasn’t.  The author had all the components, both fact and fiction to make this into something really great, but lacked the literary skills to do so.  It really fell flat with me.

2 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
357 pages

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The Life Of Objects by Susanna Moore

The Life of Objects

A teenaged lace maker, Beatrice, gets the opportunity to escape her dreary Irish existence, and travel to Berlin to work for a prominent German family.  The year is 1938, and despite warnings from her family, she took her chances and found herself in a country at war with the rest of Europe.  The perspective Beatrice offers, of an expat torn between loyalties – to her native country, and to her new German family – gives this work of historical fiction a unique and interesting slant.  Her employer, Felix Metzenburg, is a wealthy collector of artwork.  His seeming obsession to hide and keep safe his valuables, allows the author to explore the meaning in what we hold dear to us.  This novel was well researched, and  provided a vehicle which helped the reader to understand World War II from the point of view of the average German (and an expat living there), but also gripped at your heartstrings and gave you cause to appreciate the author’s deft storytelling.

4 stars (out of 4)
Published in 2012
240 pages

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A Higher Call by Adam Makos

A Higher Call

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-torn Skies of World War II, revolves around an incident during WW-II where a German Luftwaffe pilot escorted a damaged B–17F bomber out of Germany. The German pilot, Franz Stigler, was an ace who was tired of the killing, even as he was forced to keep fighting. There was a code of honor in the Luftwaffe. A code that was at odds with the Nazi Party. (An interesting side note: the soldiers in the Luftwaffe were prevented from joining the Nazi Party and this branch of German military was full of men who where uncomfortable with the Nazi Party. The exception was Goering, Hitler’s #2 man.) The book tells the story of Stigler, a Bavarian Catholic, who grew up wanting to be a pilot. Who flew for Lufthansa and then as a trainer when the war broke out. It was only when his brother August was killed flying his Ju–88 that Franz took up arms.

Makos fills in the the back story. By December 20, 1943 World War II becomes futile for Germany. The Luftwaffe pilots can see it. But they also see the Allied bombers indiscriminately attacking their friends, family, and countrymen. They had a duty to their country to defend it against American and British bombers. And yet the German Luftwaffe’s Code of Honor dictated they look at each battle as a Victory, not as a Kill. It was evil to kill a pilot, especially if they were dangling helplessly at the end of a parachute. The Luftwaffe pilots would also rescue downed allied pilots from the hands of civilians who wanted to kill bomber crews outright. Makos tells one story of a Luftwaffe officer rescuing hundreds of American POWs at Dachau death camp. American airmen who were days away from being executed. He insisted they be transferred to a regular POW camp.

The book also tells the story of the American pilot: Charlie Brown. Brown was a farm boy from West Virginia who was put in charge of a B–17F heavy bomber and the lives of his nine crew members. We follow Brown and his bomber crew, through training, to the 8th Air Force base in England, into the heart of German, and into the gun sights of Franz’s Me–109.

Stigler risked a firing squad by letting Brown and his B–17F crew escape. Stigler’s Higher Calling, demanded he hold his fire on a defenseless aircrew. (By this time the B–17F) had been chewed up by FW–190 canons and flak guns over the bomb zone. The bomber was barely flying. (see Air Force Cross citation below.) Stigler pointed to the ground; trying to force the crew to land in German. Then he pointed to Sweden once out to sea. Brown couldn’t figure out what Franz was indicating. Stigler refuse to fire on them. Makos finishes with an amazing story: how the heavily damaged B–17F got back to England.

Makos follows Franz Stigler through rest of the war and for a short time afterwards. I found Stigler’s service in JV–44 to be very fascinating. It was a combat group made up of the best pilots in German at the the time, possibly the best pilots of all time. But these pilots had lost faith with Hitler, Nazis, and the war. Goering wanted to have them all shot, but Hitler knew he couldn’t kill all these highly decorated Heroes of the Fatherland. Instead he let them fight, knowing they would all die together in combat. JV–44 collected the Me–262, the most advance fighter in WW-II, and the first operational jet fighter. It was a difficult aircraft to fly, but it was insanely fast when compared to the propeller driven fighters it was up against. The Me–262 ‘Swallow’ was too little, too late. Franz was lucky to survive with his life. But survive it did.

The story jumps 40+ years as both Brown and Stigler wonder what happened after their brief encounter. Both men put out feelers, but they had little information to go on. Finally a letter to a Luftwaffe veteran’s magazine got a nimble. Both men were excited to find each other. Stigler was concerned how he would be received. After all, Stigler was an enemy pilot who shot down at least fifty aircraft and crews. But enough time had gone by, and Stigler’s act of grace could not be ignored. The men bonded as brothers. They met with tears and hugs, as did Brown’s family and crew members when they met Stigler.

Adam Makos (with Larry Alexander) have written a compellingly book, full of stories that are hard to believe and yet that is the nature of war. Stories of heroism and compassion all mixed in with the waste and futility of war. The dehumanizing aspects of the Nazis with their all their brutality could not overcome Stigler’s humanity and courage and that is the story we’re left with.

A-
400 pages
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Gilliamesque by Terry Gilliam

Gilliamesque

Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir

Gilliam covers his life: from his childhood in Minnesota, growing up in California, working in New York, and moving to England, which led to his joining Monty Python. And from there to writing and directing some of the finest comedy movies ever. He’s has a warm excitable personality that comes through in his writing. The book is full of his art. It is cool to see his style progress. And the images he picks help illustrate his life story. It’s a shame he isn’t given more credit for his unique vision of Adventure, Science Fiction, and Comedy films.

B+
352 pages

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Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Treasure

This work of historical fiction centers around the Hungarian Gold Train, discovered by allied forces at the end of World War II.  Jack Wiseman, an American army officer from New York, is charged with protecting the treasure trove found on board this train – 42 cars full of furs, china, jewelry, silver and other valuables belonging to Hungarian Jews.  Wiseman is torn between his sense of duty to his country and the duty he feels obligated to because of his Jewish background.  Eventually, the story focuses on one pendant, which a now elderly Wiseman entrusts to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein. The mission:  find it’s owner.

Waldman weaves a mystery of intertwining lives amid war and holocaust.  It’s a fascinating read and I enjoyed learning about the Hungarian Gold Train.  My only complaint is when the author switches points of view halfway through the novel.  I did not enjoy the narrative told by the psychiatrist nearly as much as the earlier chapters.  Still, it was worth reading, in my opinion.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
352 pages

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