Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review of "The Brotherhood of the Tower Rats" by Goodwin Turner

Like the author, I was a tower rat. I served with C 2/4 Infantry (Pershing) in Heilbronn, FRG in the mid to late '80s as an infantry tower rat. We were on a Pershing missile site. The author has done a tremendous job of capturing that experience. The remarkable detail in his description of his time at Miesau very vividly took me back to those days. I remember the bunkers, the towers, the SOG shack, the razor wire, the SAT, the BAF...all of it was almost identical to what we had. Details of precise duties such as the roles of the alert teams, shifts, and such varied slightly, but his overall experience as a tower rat is exactly what I experienced as a tower rat. It was amazing. It was an experience that was impossible to understand unless you lived it. The author has done his part to help people understand. He also gives one of the best descriptions of basic training that I've ever read. I particularly enjoyed how the author sometimes injects his thoughts into events with quite humorous results. He had an attitude, but so did I. I think I would've liked to meet the author. This author tells us the whole story...warts and all. He is extremely honest.

I can't vouch for the author's other duty stations or his experiences as an MP. I was an infantryman, so we did some duties as tower rats that the author didn't experience in his time there. He did some things we didn't because he was an MP like most tower rats. I can vouch that what he tells of his experience as a tower rat is all true. I experienced many of the same things including the loneliness, the antics, the disillusionment, the excessive drinking, the boredom, and the extreme brotherhood. It is so accurate that I recognize these people and these places, and I've never met them nor been there. I've just known people exactly like them in places just like these. I have no reason to doubt anything else he says because that is all one hundred percent true. I can vouch for that.

My only criticism is with the organization of the book. I read it easily because I was familiar with much of the material. Much of it sounded like me talking. It is arranged much like a diary, and the author sometimes jumps back and forth. I could see how it would be hard to follow. The author also gets some slight details such as the name of things a little off. I chalk that up to writing from memory. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book very much. It's a great story that was worth telling.

I easily give it five stars for material. I think there is definitely a great book here. If it was organized more traditionally with chapters and a little more organization, I'd say five stars. As is, I still give it a solid four. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about what it was like to serve overseas in the Cold War. Well done, Mr. Turner. Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for your service. From a fellow tower rat, I salute you, brother.
The Brotherhood of the Tower Rats

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review of "BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology Volume 1" by various authors

This is a short story anthology by a group of very talented authors. All of the stories were enjoyable and well written. I enjoyed the entire collection. I found some stories more enjoyable than others, but I'm not sure if that was because of the story or because they fell more into genres I generally read. Several of the stories had quite interesting twists.

I was impressed by the variety in this collection. It ranged from romance to suspense to fantasy...even a folk tale! That kept it fresh from cover to cover. It was a quick, fun read with several excellent stories. Writing a good short story is a difficult writing task that was accomplished quite admirably by several of these authors. I look forward to reading more from this group of talented authors. Besteller Bound Short Story Anthology 1

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review of "Erich von Manstein" by Benoit Lemay

I purchased this book because I don't have a lot of resources or knowledge about the Eastern Front. I got it as a History Book Club monthly recommendation. It is a decent overview of Manstein's military career. Manstein was a knowledgable, talented soldier. I learned a lot from it. It does have a lot of information even if much of it was drawn from secondary sources. It served its purpose. My favorite part of the book was actually before Manstein moved to the Eastern Front, but I did learn more about the east.

My issues with the book are based on the insistence by the author and the repeated assertions that Manstein was complicit in the war crimes committed by the National Socialist Party. An entire chapter is devoted to the Wehrmacht's participation and Manstein's role, but it creeps into the entire book. I don't doubt that Manstein had more knowledge about what was going on than he later claimed. It would be impossible for him not to know. I just didn't need to keep getting beat over the head about it with so many incidents, anecdotal stories, and statistics. The author kept pointing it out over and over, and it got tedious. I would have liked to see brief mentions of activities that Manstein denied and evidence to the contrary. Then let it go and get back to the story. Much of what the author claims is speculation, anyway.

I also found the book dragged at times. The writing was a bit stilted, and it took months for me to finish this book. I generally read books relatively fast, but I sometimes had to lay it aside and read something more interesting. I did manage to finish it, and I found it educational. It was just a bit boring, and there's no reason for World War II to be boring. That might be because of the previous issue I mentioned or because it contains a lot of details without a lot of narrative. It reads a little like a textbook. As mentioned in a previous review, there is almost no mention of Manstein's personal life. A bit of that might have helped offset the textbook feel.

I recommend the book to expand someone's knowledge base about the Eastern Front, but not for a "sit down and enjoy it" read. It's not a horrible book, but it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. It'll go on my shelf with my other WW-II books, but I don't think I'll be reading it cover to cover again.         

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review of "Surviving An American Gulag" by Edward Patterson

This is the second of Edward Patterson's novels that I've read. I began it not quite knowing what to expect. I enjoyed the other of his novels immensely, so I did not think I'd be disappointed. I was not.

The book follows Private Winslow Gibbs all the way through his difficult basic training journey. I also went to basic training in Georgia, and the descriptions were precise. Much of it is exactly how I remember. Private Gibbs takes his own side trip through "Special Training Unit" which is the landing place for homosexuals, overweight soldiers, and misfits in general. It's supposed to make them or break them. He makes many friends there and finds out a lot about himself. One scene near the end of the book is so well written that it gave me chills. I won't spoil the plot, but I think you'll know the scene when you get there.

What strikes me the most about this book is the autheticity. The dialogue sounds like soldiers sound. The personalities are like people I know. The places felt like places I've been. Mr. Patterson paints a picture unlike many other authors I've read. This is a book that is well worth reading that sheds light on a little known aspect of the military experience. I recommend it highly.
Surviving An American Gulag by Edward C. Patterson

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review of "My Own Private Orchestra" by Ian Fraser

"My Own Private Orchestra" by Ian Fraser is a remarkably emotion packed book. It blends his experiences and personal struggles with his time serving in the South African Defense Force under apartheid. It is an extremely emotional story.

The style of the book is stream of consciousness which fits the events. It was sometimes a little hard for me to keep up, but it makes sense in context. He sometimes leaps back and forth between different memories. The events related are powerful and well told. He uses very sparse imagery that is quite effective in relating the story. It is very interesting to read how apartheid looked from the inside to Mr. Fraser. His personal growth through the terribly violent events he suffered is inspiring.

This is a good book with a story that deserves to be told. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a deep, very personal memoir.
My Own Private Orchestra by Ian Fraser