Review of the Kaiser’s Pirates: Hunting Germany’s Raiding Cruisers in World War I

This is a superb read. It is well executed from the standpoint of the balance between recounting extensive research and engagement with a thrilling narrative. Hewitt covers ground that has been well covered before. Between the days leading up to the outbreak of World War One and the subsequent twelve months, a collection of often sole cruisers ranged the ocean’s wrecking havoc and tieing up substantial British and colonial capital warships. This book explores, the moral, economic and strategic implications of this short period. The individual tales of creative use of limited resources, the invention of new forms of sea-based warfare provide a primer for the evolution of fleet deployment for the next few decades. They question the value of the massive investment by the British ( allies and  German navies in massive capital ships) but also the nature of the compromises between speed, armour, gun range and weight and cruising range.  Continue reading

Review of Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944

There is no disputing that Anthony Beevor is one of the most skilled raconteur’s of episodes from our recent military past. His new treatment of Operation Market Garden and its aftermath demonstrates tremendous research (not necessarily all his own – a point we’ll discuss later) as well as a unique ability to weave together disparate narratives into a single engaging narrative. He did this supremely well with Stalingrad, the Spanish Civil War and D-Day to name the more stellar – in my opinion.

Beevor’s stated objective for revisiting this previously explored operation was to reveal some previously untouched aspects. The result of his re-engagement with the existing record and previous narratives does drive a final nail in any defence that circumstances and not simple lack of solid military preparedness and good strategic foresight led to what can only be termed an abject military and humanitarian failure. Continue reading

Review of Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out by Josh Noel

36482617I thoroughly enjoyed Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business by Josh Noel.  The style is engaging and lively and enticed me to read on through in the space of a day.

The title is carefully written and I sense can be read to appeal to various factions in the contentious argument between ‘craft brewers’ and ‘big beer’ around the world. What does ‘craft’ really mean? How big is big beer? Is the question of quantity versus quality? Who makes the rules? Who defines the terms? Regardless of how ‘you’ answer any of these questions and what side of the posed argument you find yourself on, this book will appeal. Continue reading

Reporting on Middlesex

Thanks in advance for the three reviews from away. Much appreciated and very thorough and well expressed.

I speak to the additional comments rendered tonight by a solid 5 members.
The overwhelming impression in both advance and at the meet was to the length of Middlesex. This is not a novella nor a short read. It’s full of deep description and a thick narrative streams. Two members shared that they had not yet completed the novel and so rendered incomplete evaluations – challenged by the length. Continue reading

Report on the Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker received a somewhat lukewarm response from the group. It promised much and was received with great promise when chosen in December. As timing would have it, all seemed to have taken advantage of the extra time afforded to make it through the book and it benefited from being over Christmas where such a luxury was possible.
One of the overarching observations related to the general structure of the book, which appeared tightly written for the first few chapters (largely around Rickman and some of the other personages involved in census affairs) was that it lost track of structure over the run of the book and was all over the map as it went on.

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Theo Aronson’s Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes

Theo Aronson’s latest work, Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes, explores the personal relationships between Queen Victoria, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France. It opens a wide window on a colourful and somewhat surprising series of encounters between monarchs that influenced relations and perceptions of each other in the eyes of the public. The Second Empire re-established Napoleonic aspirations in France and rekindled a sense of glory and elan superbly captured by Aronson. The revanchist ideals of the Bonapartist dynasty represented all that the British royal family should have been threatened by, yet a lasting (although sometimes fraught) personal relationship was established that influenced Anglo-French political relationships.

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Report on Love of Country

A small but cosy crew enjoyed a discussion around Madeleine Bunting’s offering at the Waterloo Bar last week. The book on the table was Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey.
Thanks in advance for advance reviews from Brian and Declan. The general view was in line with your fine observations.
Much appreciated were the parallels (language, culture) between the Hebrides and Ireland and for providing an entrée into unexplored aspects of Scottish/Highland/Hebridean history and culture. Most felt that Bunting did a very good job of weaving together tales from a journey with a rich background of cultural, historical and geographical points of interest.

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Random Report on Sourdough

It’s almost a year to the day since I happened to stumble upon Annabel Scheme and spent the day engaged and enthralled.
I was already a huge fan of Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore/Ajax Penumbra 19691 and – if it’s any mark of appreciation for this superb author’s capabilities – I accidentally read Sourdough straight through today after it magically appeared on my Kindle this morning (I pre-ordered it a few weeks back). This is becoming a bit of a habit now. Continue reading