Book Review: The Path Between the Seas

Posted July 8th, 2018 by Devin and filed in History, Review

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great read from David McCullough. This one is a little denser than the other recent titles I’ve finished by him – The Johnstown Flood and The Great Bridge – but that doesn’t detract from the book. Indeed, the scope of the work requires the density. McCullough covers not only the American involvement in the canal, but the initial surveys and the aborted French project, and all of the associated drama. He recounts the engineering and medical advancements brought about by the project, as well as the darker side of the racism prevalent in the lives of the workers, and the dubious circumstances of Panamanian independence at the insistence of the United States.

My only quibble is that I’d like to have an addendum that covers the canal as it is today, after the ceding of ownership back to Panama, and with the new locks and other improvements recently added. Others can cover that, though, as McCullough’s book stands fine on its own as a thorough and compelling chronicle of an astounding project. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: The Terror

Posted June 9th, 2018 by Devin and filed in Review

The TerrorThe Terror by Dan Simmons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an odd book for me: incredibly well written, yet difficult to get through. The prose and imagery are beautiful, the characters compelling. The story takes forever to get going, and I feel that a healthy edit would have improved my experience. That said, the last section of the book mostly made the prelude worthwhile. I can see why others rave about it, but at several points during the reading, it became more of a chore than enjoyment. That being said, I’m looking forward to now watching the AMC series based on the book.

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Book Review: Ship of Ghosts

Posted December 3rd, 2017 by Devin and filed in Review

Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her SurvivorsShip of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors by James D. Hornfischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s odd to say one enjoyed something of such dark subject matter, but it fits here. Hornfischer’s second book, SHIP OF GHOSTS covers mostly the war experience of USS HOUSTON’s crew. With the telling of HOUSTON’s sinking done by 1/4 of the way through, the bulk of the book is devoted to the crew’s experiences in Japanese prisoner of war camps in the Burma region. While the horrors visited on the Allied prisoners by the Japanese military and Korean guards are related, one will have to read other books to fully grasp the atrocities the captives suffered.

It’s interesting to see Hornfischer’s progress as a writer. While I really enjoyed his first book, LAST STAND OF THE TIN CAN SAILORS, I had issues with some of the writing style. This book was more to my liking, while his third book, NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, is damn near perfect. I’m looking forward to reading his most recent title, THE FLEET AT FLOOD TIDE.

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Book Review: “Pacific Crucible” by Ian W. Toll

Posted November 8th, 2017 by Devin and filed in Review

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall a very enjoyable book. Toll covers ground that I’ve read many times before, but his telling is more compelling and readable that a lot of other titles. One of my favorite parts of the book is a framing method used early on that tells of the purposely long train trip that Admiral Nimitz took across the US, on his way to San Diego and then a flight to Pearl Harbor to assume command of the fleet. The scenes with him and the single orderly that accompanied him are extremely well drawn, even novel-esque.

Keeping with the personal tones and involvements, one of the more compelling parts of Toll’s narrative is the day-to-day life of the US Navy sailor in a steel warship in tropical climes. The heat, exhaustion, cramped quarters, poor diet. Continue Reading »

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Posted August 7th, 2017 by Devin and filed in Review

My brief review of Dunkirk. In short: amazing. The story, told from four tight points of view, are shown in different time sequences. Over the course of the film, you get two people’s story of their time on the beach over the period of a week, one POV where you spend time on a small boat over the course of a day, and finally, one POV from inside the cockpit of a Spitfire that lasts one hour. The three timelines are cleverly cut together, and while it took me a couple of scene changes to figure out what they were doing, in the end it works brilliantly.

The cinematography and sound are beautiful. Dialogue is sparse and at times the film seems to go on forever without anyone speaking. Gunfire sounds like it’s coming right at you, the drone of marine diesels and aircraft engines that, meshed with Hans Zimmer’s unceasing soundtrack – literally, the music does not stop for an instant — creates an all-encompassing background dirge. One of my minor quibbles with the film is that I’d have liked to have some moments without the music, but seeing as the film isn’t about respite, even for an instant, it’s fitting as-is.

The acting is first rate. Cillian Murphy is as good as ever. Tom Hardy, as always, owns every scene he’s in, even though here most of his work is done behind an oxygen mask in a Spitfire’s cockpit.

This isn’t a typical war film. Continue Reading »

Review: Black Shoe Carrier Admiral

Posted May 13th, 2016 by Devin and filed in Review

Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Seas, Midway, and GuadalcanalBlack Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Seas, Midway, and Guadalcanal by John B. Lundstrom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I initially wrote this review for cv5yorktown.com, a website I maintain about the history of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). Black Shoe Carrier Admiral covers the career of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, a man closely tied to U.S.S. Yorktown and her career. He moved his flag to her in early 1942 and stayed with her until her loss at Midway. Lundstrom’s book focuses heavily on the first year of the war in the Pacific, and does so at a very high command level. Unlike many WWII histories, this book is much less of the day to day of maintaining and fighting a ship, and a lot more about the intelligence and decisions that brought the ships to the battles. I have to admit that when I first started reading the book, it didn’t hold my attention too well. I like books about specific characters, and while Fletcher is the man followed in Continue Reading »

Review: What Stands in a Storm

Posted April 12th, 2016 by Devin and filed in Review, Writing

What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South's Tornado AlleyWhat Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Alley by Kim Cross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s odd, but I have a thing for tornadoes. I grew up in southern Indiana in the 1970s and 80s when Tornado Alley still ran through the area, (did you know Tornado Alley moves about over the years like a wandering river?), and we had no shortage of incredible thunderstorms, filled with no end of tornado watches. Fortunately I and my family never had direct experience with the devastation a tornado brings, but we came close during the massive outbreak in April of 1974. A tornado went right through our area that day, blew a hole in our neighbor’s garage, destroyed a tool shed in our front yard, tossed about the trailer park a quarter mile down the road, and destroyed a few houses a mile away. We weren’t home at the time, were on our way back from town. My mother stopped the car alongside the highway and made us lay down in the back of the station wagon. I can still remember the green and orange sky. That’s as close as we came. We got lucky. Up until my parents moved out of our childhood home ten years ago, you could still walk the woods behind and see trees that had been snapped-off by that funnel cloud all those years ago.

That 1974 Super Outbreak, as it’s called, was the largest tornado outbreak on record, until the 2011 Super Outbreak came along. WHAT STANDS IN A STORM is a story of that Continue Reading »

Review: IPP Lacquer WWII Navy Hobby Paints

Posted April 5th, 2016 by Devin and filed in Modeling, Review

This is part of a review of a new product line by IPP out of Korea. The original post, as below, that I did on the US Navy colors, and the follow-up review if the IJN colors can be seen HERE on the Modelwarships.com website.

bottlesMatt of Kraken Hobbies sent along some samples of the new lacquer based ship paints from IPP of Korea. The range is mostly made up of USN WWII colors at this point, but does also have some WWII IJN colors, as well as modern colors. The lineup as of now is, per Matt’s ability to order:

IJN: Sasebo Grey, Kure Grey, Linoleum Brown

USN: 20B, 5-O, 5-L, 5-H, 5-S, 5-N, 5-P

Modern USN: Deck Matt, Flight Deck Matt, Freeboard Superstructure Matt

JMSDF: Freeboard Superstructure Matt, Deck Matt

Per Matt, they also offer their own brand of thinner and leveling fluid, which I would recommend. More on why later.

The following paints were tested by myself and IJN expert Dan Kaplan. I’ll comment on the three USN colors, Dan will chime in on this thread with his thoughts on the IJN offerings. Testing was done by spraying the paints on white styrene, unprimed, to match as close as possible the Snyder and Short paint chip cards (hereafter S&S) that both Dan and I possess. Continue Reading »

Review: Chronicles of the Black Company

Posted March 1st, 2016 by Devin and filed in Review, Writing

Chronicles of the Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company, #1-3)Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed books so much that I have so many problems with. I’ve rarely been so lost as to what was going on with the plot as I was initially with these books. At the same time, it didn’t phase me as the characters and the pace of action more than made up for it. It’s not a combination that’ll work for everyone, but it did for me. Cook has a great reputation as a fantasy writer, so this style must work for a lot of people.

In the Black Company series, Glen Cook shuns almost all of the common themes and tropes of fantasy novels. There are no intricate histories read as if from a text book, no detailed descriptions of what people look like, no pages of descriptions of meals, nor involved descriptions of what the world looks like. There’s nothing other than what you Continue Reading »

Review: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

Posted January 14th, 2016 by Devin and filed in Review

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in HistoryThe Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Great Influenza” could be used as a text book for a class on the flu virus and the history of the medical community’s battle against it. It took me a while to get into the book, as the first 100 pages deal with the establishment of the modern doctor and the systems that were put in place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to train the modern physician. Honestly this bit was a little dry for me; not because it wasn’t interesting, but because it’s not my main area of interest in this topic.

I’d honestly hoped for more of a “life on the streets” tale, as entire cities such as New York and Philadelphia were effectively shut down during the height of the epidemic in late 1918. During that time, thousands died every single day, and bodies were stacked on porches and sidewalks to be collected much as they had been during the medieval days of the Black Plague. There’s a bit of Continue Reading »