Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sink the Bismarck! Review

Sink the Bismarck! by C.S. Forester

Hitler sends out the Bismarck, the fastest battleship afloat.  Its mission is to cut the lifeline of British shipping and win the war.  When it breaks out into the Atlantic the Royal Navy must track it down and stop it before it is too late.

This is an approximation of what happened with the Bismarck.  The conversations and speeches are what the author imagines they would have been.  And the little disclaimer in the front says some of the characters never actually existed even if people very much like them did.  It’s only a short story but Forester manages to pack it full of suspense and tension.  Even though the outcome is already known.  There is a lot of people looking at maps and pointing while saying ‘THERE’.  It is probably more dramatic in the movie when you can see them slam their finger down on the map but the effect isn’t that great in the book.  It is just a little piece of history but full of heroism and action and strategy.  It won’t take you long to read and you will not want to put it down until you finish.  Forester knows how to tell a good story and how to write compelling characters and it will keep you riveted until the very end.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Island of Lost Maps Review

The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey

When Gilbert Bland was caught stealing a map from a rare library book it was discovered that he had been stealing maps for some time from a whole list of different libraries.  Miles Harvey tries to follow Bland’s path of crime to see how and why he did it.  The search took Harvey not just through Bland’s history but the history of cartography too.

The Island of Lost Maps is sort of a true crime story.  But not really.  What got the author started down this road was the theft of maps from various libraries by Gilbert Bland.  The author becomes fascinated with the story and ends up on a rather broader journey than expected.  Harvey does go into the details of Bland's crimes and the history of the man himself (he also does some supposing about why Bland did what he did) but the book is not just about Bland.  I wouldn't even say it is mostly about Bland.  It isn't even just about maps.  There is a lot of interesting (at least to me) information here about the history of mapmaking and the history of map thievery.  It goes into the politics of maps and why they were so well guarded through history.  It talks about why people today have such an interest in old maps and why people feel the need to collect them.  It goes into the issues that libraries have with making rare books available to the public without making them vulnerable to theft and vandalism and how libraries can keep the books together and whole when there are no funds.  Harvey's quest to find Bland led him all over the place and you have to be prepared to follow him there.  Even when he goes on little detours.  The book does tend to meander around a bit and follows Harvey's movements instead of having some, maybe, more cohesive style.  I didn't mind because I found all his detours and musings interesting.  Just beware that this book covers almost as much ground as the maps he's talking about

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Just Gone Review

Just Gone by William Kowalski

(from the back of the book)

When Jamal and his sister Chantay arrive at Mother Angelique’s inner city homeless shelter, they are hungry and scared. Their mother is dead and they are on their own. Angelique is fascinated by Jamal’s stories of a man named Jacky Wacky, who protects the abandoned children of the city – and punishes those who harm them. A God-fearing woman, Angelique doesn’t believe the stories at first. But strange things happen whenever Jamal is around, and she is ultimately forced to admit that the world may contain stranger truths than her faith can explain.

Just Gone is a Rapid Reads novel and true to its name it won't take you long to read. It is only a hundred pages or so and the print is nice and big. But the story spans several decades. And I think the large time span coupled with the short length limits the depths of the characters to some extent. You get to know the narrator, Mother Angelique, best because she is, obviously, a constant in the story. But the two children we are introduced to that she is trying to help we only see in little snapshots. We see them as little children and then we get to see them after they have had to survive in the world for years on their own. You get the idea of what happened in the intervening years but no details. So you don't really get to know them that well. The story does a good job of giving the reader a feeling for the despair and hardship of poverty and living in the streets. But it does so without leaving the reader without any hope of better things to come. It has the feeling of an urban legend to me. (Which is appropriate considering the plot.) It’s like a story told over and over until some of the details have been lost and some things have become rather vague. Everyone has heard it but no one can remember how it started and you are almost sure if you hear it again it will not be exactly the same. The concept is good and the narrator interesting so the book is a good way to spend an hour or so but if it had been any longer I think I would have lost interest.