Category Archives: World War 2

Review of The Wooden King by Thomas McConnell


A dark wartime tale showing the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

Set in Czechoslovakia, 1939, Viktor Trn has to decide resist the Nazi hold on his country or ride out the war hoping that he and his family survive.

I found this book hard to get into. Thomas McConnell’s prose is not initially easy to follow, but once you get into the swing the language he uses cleverly constructs images and ideas.

As the war progresses Trn has to make decisions that go against his beliefs, but ultimately he wants to protect his young son.

McConnell explores the quandary of how we would react under similar circumstances in understated way that illustrates the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

At times it’s very dark and does take you on a roller coaster as Trn navigates his way across the turmoil of invasion and occupation.

I received this book from the publisher, but was not required to write a positive review.



Review of Air Officer Commanding: Hugh Dowding, Architect of the Battle of Britain by John T. LaSaine


Great account of the man in the right place at the right time

LaSaine’s biography of Dowding is an even-handed account of the man who saved Britain from invasion in 1940. He details in a readable way Dowding’s foresight and organisational genius without which Britain would have had no organised air defence system to defeat the Luftwaffe in 1940.

Despite Dowding being nicknamed “stuffy”, LaSaine does breathe a little into the personal life of the man behind the austere exterior seen in official photos. However, the book is heavily focussed on his military life and particularly the politics and intrigue amongst the senior commanders of the RAF. I would have liked to have known more about his personal life, but possibly there is little archival material to work from aside from his belief in spiritualism.

What is undeniable is that Dowding was loved by “The Few” amply demonstrated by a photo in the book of him in a seemingly incongruous bowler hat and suit with a WAAF on one arm and surrounded by pilots. (see below)

Overall an insightful and useful addition to the expansive Battle of Britain bookshelf.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Review of The Honest Spy by Andreas Kollender, Steve Anderson


Well written fictional account of relatively unknown WW2 spy.

Written by German author Andreas Kollender, this book is based on the life of Fritz Kolbe a member of the German Diplomatic Service during World War 2 who had access to top secret information. He provided this information to the Allies for ideological reasons and not for personal gain and smuggled hundreds of top-secret files to American intelligence from 1943 onwards, continuing undetected until the end of the war.

Allen Dulles, who became head of the CIA , but then an OSS officer in Switzerland said of Kolbe “No single diplomat abroad, of whatever rank, could have got his hands on so much information as did this man; he was one of my most valuable agents during World War II.”

Although based on Kolbe, the book doesn’t follow his personal life exactly and certainly creates a fiction that allow the author to portray more depth to the man in his personal life and struggles with his conscience.

The book is framed within a fictional post-war interview with a pair of journalists and starts with Kolbe in South Africa at the declaration of war which is interesting in itself, showing how German embassy and legation staff were treated upon the outbreak of war.

There’s good colour to the OSS station on Berne with some of the early career of Allen Dulles being illustrated as well as the contrasts between life in neutral Switzerland versus late war Germany.

Steve Anderson has translated this book from the German and he’s done a great job as the text flows well and moves along at a good pace. Whilst I’d not call it an absolute page turner, the author keeps the tension as the fear of capture and death increases with each day.

If I had to criticise anything it would have been the use of Kolbe’s real name alongside an obvious fiction. Although all history is subject to someone’s interpretation, I have mixed feelings around taking the name of a real person of honour and heroism and creating fiction around them, especially as a fictitious name appears to be used for Kolbe’s friend in Bern.

That being said, this was as entertaining read and a good insight into the quandaries and challenges that faced Kolbe during World War 2.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not compelled to write a positive review.

Review of Seasons of the Moon by Julien Aranda, Roland Glasser


Beautifully written

Although listed as historical fiction this is more a reflection on life, circumstance and being true to yourself.

The story centres on farmers boy Paul, who aged 15 is saved by a Nazi soldier from being killed. Paul now finds this same soldier captured, and with his last gasps asks Paul to please find his daughter and to let her know that her father loved her.

So far so good, but this isn’t your regular WW2 tale as it evolves into a memoir of Paul’s life which takes the reader on a beautiful journey.

The book has quite a slow start and as other reviewers have commented it takes a while to lure you in, but once in, the story ebbs and flows in a lyrical fashion despite being a translation from French to English.

If you are expecting a formulaic World War 2 novel you will be pleasantly surprised by this moving and powerful debut novel.

My thanks go to NetGalley and the Publisher for the chance to read an advance copy of this book

Review of “Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace” by Alex von Tunzelmann


Excellent and very readable account of the Suez Crisis of 1956

Alex von Tunzelmann has put together an excellent account of the political manoeuvring that resulted in the 1956 Suez Crisis and how that crisis prevented a more effective response to the Soviet invasion of Hungary that occurred at the same time.

It’s an incredible story of British, French and Israeli duplicity and conspiracy with US President Eisenhower valiantly trying to prevent a potential World War whilst trying to fight an election.

The writing is excellent and whilst the content itself could be quite dry the author recounts the story in style that keeps your attention via an hour by hour account featuring a colourful group of international politicians.

With the 60th anniversary approaching I’d highly recommend this for anyone wanting to understand the modern Middle East and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of “Hitler’s Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich” by Ben H. Shepherd


Fascinating revisionist history of the Wehrmacht

Ben Shephard pulls aside the curtain of respectability that many accounts of the German Army are cloaked in, demolishing the image of an honourable and decent fighting force compared to the SS.

In a detailed account he highlights countless occasions where the Wehrmacht are complicit in war crimes showing that many took part and a few notable exceptions complained. What some may find surprising is the early war conduct of some of July 21st conspirators.

However, the book is not purely about war crimes, but also about the combat performance of the Wehrmacht. Shephard shows how the early war effectiveness was eroded away once the gargantuan task of taking on the Soviets was clear and shows how the army still continued to retain its cohesion even when the outcome of the war was clear.

I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to read a more rounded view of the 3rd Reich and some insight into how ordinary men descend into barbarians.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of “Britain’s War: Into Battle, 1937-1941 (Britain’s War #1)” by Daniel Todman


A hefty tome, but fast moving and very well written.

The book is expansive with 1937 to 1941 strategic, political, economic, military, cultural and social commentary covered in equal measure.

Todman covers details of the period generally ignored by many volumes. Whilst this might appear to be a dry subject he manages to inject a very readable style with many eyewitness accounts. The book continues to the end of 1941 with a second volume to follow covering the remainder of the war.

A thoroughly fascinating read – Highly recommended.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.