Monday, December 10, 2012

A BLAZE OF GLORY by Jeff Shaara

Book Review:

A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh

by Jeff Shaara

   Jeff Shaara, author of several war stories, is now working on a trilogy of books about the Civil War in the Western Theater.  This first novel is about the surprise attack on Union forces under Major General U. S. Grant by Confederate forces under General Albert Sydney Johnston fought on April 6 – 7, 1862.  The battle is called “The Battle of Shiloh” because a little church called the Shiloh church was headquarters to first the Union general staff and then the Confederate general staff.
   Grant’s forces had captured two Confederate forts and were massing at Pittsburg Landing, TN and no one suspected that Johnston was planning to attack.  Grant’s men had not set up any defenses and so the first wave of Confederate troops rolled over the Union positions quickly and drove them back towards the Tennessee River.  They were forced to abandon their camps and personal possessions in the panic that ensued when the Confederate troops attacked them.  Johnston was fatally wounded late in the first day of the battle and command of the Confederate troops fell to General P.G.T. Beauregard.  Beauregard decided to rest his troops overnight and not press their advantage.  Grant was able to form up his surviving troops and additional Union troops under General Don Carlos Buell arrived by riverboat during the night.  The combined Union forces routed the Confederate troops on the second day. 
   Shaara’s account is written, as much of his novels are, from the various viewpoints of the men from both sides who participated.  Shaara takes great care to thoroughly research the events of the battle.  He also examines the actual written records and personal letters of the participants, using these to allow him to make his characters more real to the reader.  And he has a gift of being able to relate the story equally well from either the Union side or from the Confederate side.  He describes the horror and the confusion of the battle and I found myself beginning to hear the cannon fire and smell the black powder smoke.  One of his best features is being able to describe the thoughts and actions of the generals as they make the decisions and give the orders and then he takes you to the battlefield and gives you the view through the eyes and experiences of a common soldier or low ranking officer.  You get to see the consequences of the general’s actions from ground level, as it were.  And he is not shy about revealing the horrifying details of wounded and dying men and what happened to them.

   Shaara has already written an impressive amount of historical fiction about the wars the U.S. has been involved in.  "Rise to Rebellion" and "The Glorious Cause" take us through the Revolutionary War.  “Gone for Soldiers” tells of the Mexican War.  The trilogy made up of his two novels, “Gods and Generals” and “The Last Full Measure” as well as his father Michael’s novel “The Killer Angels” takes us through the Civil War in the Eastern theater.  He wrote a single novel about World War 1 called, “To the Last Man” and a quadrilogy of World War 2 novels called: “The Rising Tide,” “The Steel Wave”, “No Less Than Victory,” and “The Final Storm.” 
   Jeff Shaara has a rare talent for putting you inside the events that make up these milestones of American history.  If you have any interest in historical fiction or war novels, I highly recommend “A Blaze of Glory.”

Steve Cram

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Darth Plagueis by James Luceno

   Most people know the Star Wars saga from the movies.  There were six films that tell of the story of an epic struggle between good and evil – light and dark – love and hate. 
   There are also books, dozens of books, that expand the story and tell more of that epic story. 
   Darth Plagueis is a Dark Lord of the Sith mentioned in the movie Revenge of the Sith.  Palpatine, Supreme Chancellor and soon to be Emperor, gives us a brief look at his teacher and mentor, Darth Plagueis the Wise.  James Luceno takes up the story and fills in many more details giving us a broad, well drawn picture of Plagueis’ rise to Dark Lord up to his death at the hands of his Apprentice, Palpatine. 
   James Luceno had written other Star Wars novels prior to this one.  He is known for writing in-depth stories fleshed out with details that many writers would not include.  This style of writing can be either good or bad.  If you like to know the whole story and what’s happening behind the scenes, James Luceno is the writer for you. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, go somewhere else.  Luceno is not the author for you.
   He takes writing this story as the opportunity to tie together several events and characters from the movies and other books and fits them into the mosaic that is the whole story of Star Wars.  Many familiar characters who are glimpsed quickly in passing or who are presented full blown to us are described and we see where they come from and what their origins are. 
   If you want to know more about the events leading up to the Clone Wars and how the Sith came to arrange them, here is your chance.  Grab a copy of Darth Plagueis and find a comfortable seat.  You’ll want to keep reading and keep reading to see what’s coming next for Darth Plagueis the Wise and his eager Apprentice, the future Emperor Palpatine. 

Stephen Cram

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

eReader Informational Program

The North Baltimore Library is offering a free eReader informational program;
February 22nd at .

 Join us for an unstructured review of current eReaders, how to get eBooks from the library, and how to use the library catalog to find the eBook you want. 
Best Buy will be graciously giving the presentation.

This is a free event and registration is not required.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Blood of the Prodigal by P.L Gaus

When an Amish boy is kidnapped, can three men bridge the divide between two peoples?

The Amish, or “plain people,” and English, or “vain ones,” share a home county in the pastoral hills of Ohio. As summer approaches, boyhood friends and lifelong residents Pastor Caleb Troyer and Professor Michael Branden anticipate a season of fishing for bass, until a ten-year-old boy disappears from the home of the Amish bishop who had exiled the boy’s father a decade earlier.

“Say little. Listen a lot,” are Troyer and Branden’s simple watchwords as they begin, at the behest of Bishop Eli Miller, to work the case. Following the bishop’s mysterious strictures, the pair is plunged into the traditionally closed Amish society whose followers, innately suspicious of English ways, have been suddenly made vulnerable to the dangers of the world. When the man suspected of seizing the boy turns up dead, Sheriff Bruce Robertson takes up the investigation—only to uncover truths that many, especially the bishop, would prefer to leave undisturbed. - Amazon

Plenty of character and ethically multifaceted, Blood of the Prodigal is first in a fascinating series that explores an intriguing culture of a people purposely set apart from mainstream America. - Lori

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilbur

Book Review
This year (2011) is the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan and saw a very well written book by his son Ron released.   As we learn more about this legendary man, it is natural to want to learn about the day he was nearly killed by John Hinckley, Jr. 
   The book starts a little slow, telling about Reagan waking up and about his morning schedule.  But this part is necessary to show us that this was supposed to be just an ordinary day in the life of a President.  Reagan was still new to the Presidentcy and had surrounded himself with aides who all had very different personalities and reactions to crisis. 
   We also see John Hinckley, Jr. as he prepares for this fateful encounter and get a glimpse of the dark despair he suffered from and the fascination he had with actress Jodi Foster.  He had tried once before to shoot a President; planning to shoot Jimmy Carter, but was thwarted by airport security and arrested.  Now he is in Washington armed with a Saturday Night Special and deadly Devastator bullets, bullets designed with exploding heads which blow up on contact. 
   The author researched the incident thoroughly and gives us a close-up view of what happened when Hinckley opened fire.  From this part on we see that not only is the wounded President a brave man, but there were many other brave men and woman who stepped up and did their duty above and beyond what would be expected.  Secret Service agent Timothy McCartney turning towards the shooter and using his body as a shield to try to protect the President, another agent, Jerry Parr, forcing the President in the car and making the decision to take him to the hospital, a decision which saved the President’s life.
   Unknown police men and woman clearing a way through the busy traffic so the limo could get Reagan to the hospital quickly.
   We see the many doctors and nurses who used all their training and skills to save the President as he was bleeding internally and losing the fight to stay alive. 
   The President’s personal friend, Lyn Nofziger, who was not well liked by many, who stepped in front of the microphones and gave a frank and honest description of what happened to Reagan and what was going to be done by the doctors.  His steady approach to relaying the information to the press corps calmed a fearful nation waiting to hear of the President’s fate.
   Mrs. Reagan, full of fear herself, calming her children in the hospital.
   We also see the others wounded in the shooting: McCartney, Police officer Delahanty, and Press Secretary Jim Brady.  They were treated for the serious wounds inflicted by the exploding bullets and all survived the day.
   Rawhide Down should be a “must read” for anyone who wants to see courage in action or just wants to learn more about the darkest day in the life of this charismatic President.

Steve Cram

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry

This is the 7th Cotton Malone story, and the first set almost entirely in the US, with a little sidetrip to Canada.

Author Steve Berry sets out to weave a story that begins with the failed assassination attempt on President Andrew Jackson and includes the shooting deaths of four Presidents, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.  He throws in an unsolvable cipher invented by President Thomas Jefferson and some Letters of Marque written by President Washington to four groups of pirates granting them legitimate status as Privateers in the service to America during the Revolutionary War.  Confused yet?  Then he mixes in an explanation of pirate crews by detailing the death of Edward Teach (the notorious Blackbeard,) and includes some history of the mystery of Oak Island and the treasure that was never found there.   
   Cotton Malone, the hero of the story, is finds himself drawn into the attempted assassination of the current President who orders Malone to find out who did it, where his former boss Stephanie Nell is, what the secret to the Jefferson cipher is, where some missing papers were hidden by Andrew Jackson, and stay alive while being pursued by pirates and an old enemy long enough to pull all this off.   Oh, and to find out who in his administration is leaking information that almost got the President killed.  Berry’s answer is both surprising and believable. 
   Berry uses real historical events to tie all this together into an interesting story without boring the reader with stale endless pages of dry facts.  He keeps things moving along at a quick pace, which is my one complaint about the story.  He tries to keep things moving a little too fast.  You barely have time to get into the action when he switches to another scene and you’re involved with something else.  Then he switches back to finish the first scene, and then jumps over to the second to give you some more of that.  You need to stay alert to keep up with the scene changes.
   But if you can keep up with Berry, you’ll discover a complex plot filled with enough mystery, intrigue, and action to entertain you.  You will also come to understand the fine line between pirates and privateers and why many feel there is no difference.  And you’ll learn of the ingenious cipher invented by Jefferson, which really exists and was used by him, and the reason it is so difficult to break the cipher. 
   All in all, a good read, but a little hard to keep pace with the scene switches.

Stephen Cram

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

When Alice Love wakes up at the hospital after collapsing, she doesn’t understand why her husband, Nick, isn’t at her bedside. After all, she’s twenty-nine years old and happily married, with a baby on the way.  That’s when her sister, Elisabeth, breaks the news to her: Alice has amnesia.  She is, in fact, thirty-nine, has three kids, and she and Nick are in the middle of a brutal divorce.  As Alice moves through her unfamiliar life, she is shocked by the person she’s become and wonders how in the world she doesn’t even recognize herself.

In novels popular books memory loss, the  main character is usually attempting to get trying to get their memory back, and of course, Alice tries as hard as she can to recall what she’s forgotten.  But as the book progresses, the reader’s feelings change.  I didn’t want Alice to remember what she’d forgotten.  She had the chance to rebuild her life, to right all of her mistakes, and this Alice seemed so much happier than the other Alice.  It was a crafty thing that Moriarty did, and it made it completely unique.- S. Krishna’s Books
I liked What Alice Forgot because it was not predictable. The author crafts a character that I could relate to. If we could go back in time would we really change anything we did?  Like many of us have one time or another, the main character struggles to understand who she is. - Lori