Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Valcour (Book Review) by Jack Kelly

Happy 4th of July!  Thank you ENDLESSLY to my partner St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Valcour:  The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty by Jack Kelly!

I grew up about 20 minutes from Valcour (town of Schuyler Falls) and am a sucker for both revolutionary and Lake Champlain history.  It was taught so extensively in our schools as kids, but is it funny that I care more as an adult?  I have never jumped on a title faster than this one, and although I have mentioned the book multiple times…. it’s time for this! 

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty
  • Author: Jack Kelly
  • Publisher & Release: St. Martin’s Press, 04/06/21
  • Length: 304 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for history and revolutionary readers!

The synopsis from Amazon:

The wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America’s scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain’s sea power.

During the summer of 1776, a British incursion from Canada loomed. In response, citizen soldiers of the newly independent nation mounted a heroic defense. Patriots constructed a small fleet of gunboats on Lake Champlain in northern New York and confronted the Royal Navy in a desperate three-day battle near Valcour Island. Their effort surprised the arrogant British and forced the enemy to call off their invasion.

Jack Kelly’s Valcour is a story of people. The northern campaign of 1776 was led by the underrated general Philip Schuyler (Hamilton’s father-in-law), the ambitious former British officer Horatio Gates, and the notorious Benedict Arnold. An experienced sea captain, Arnold devised a brilliant strategy that confounded his slow-witted opponents.

America’s independence hung in the balance during 1776. Patriots endured one defeat after another. But two events turned the tide: Washington’s bold attack on Trenton and the equally audacious fight at Valcour Island. Together, they stunned the enemy and helped preserve the cause of liberty.

This is a great history of the early revolutionary conflict im the Champlain Valley.  It adequately describes and vividly depicts the hardships that were faced trying to build the American fleet in order to delay the British from coming down Lake Champlain.  The book begins at the American retreat from Montreal, touches on the smallpox epidemic, and goes on to describe the people involved, the building of the American fleet, Benedict Arnold’s struggles with various idiotic military and government personnel, and finally the battle and aftermath, ending before Washington crosses the Delaware.  A fascinating but not necessarily widely known time period and I think the book is interesting, informative, and readable for history buffs and those with casual interest alike.

I think a super broad overview of prior events would have been helpful at the beginning, but Kelly drops us right into the story with Arnold leaving Canada. The book got off to a tad of a rough start for me without that broader context. The smallpox epidemic and the American retreat were terrible in terms of casualties and defeated morale, and it would have been a perfect starting point within a broader context. 

Once the Americans regrouped and fielded their sick, building a fleet was the next challenge.  Finding sailors. Food and hygiene. Native American relations.  Court tribunals and Arnold’s famous temper.  There is so much to consider!

Arnold is a fascinating historical figure and I liked how both he and Carleton, the British general, were shown. Ever wonder what led up to Arnold turning sides? Ever wonder how men on the ships relieved themselves? I have to say I never thought of rags on a rope but Kelly really brings the soldiers and ships to life.  A good history book makes me feel submerged in the events!

((Personal opinion: It always shocks me how Arnold is mostly only taught as a traitor, he is really so freaking interesting and got shafted))

Other than the beginning, I also felt like the maps left out a few necessary landmarks, like île Aux Noix.  The island was a horror show during the American retreat and totally deserves to be on the map, but I don’t have many other qualms about this book.  One is that if Kelly is going to call Canada Canada in 1776, why not mention Plattsburgh since pretty much anyone can put Plattsburgh on a map?  Small things.

Generally I found this to be a very readable account of the early revolutionary struggles in the Champlain Valley.  It briefly ties in the Declaration of Independence, naming of the states, and some of George Washington’s struggles too, so that is fun, but there isn’t a ton of revolutionary information not related to the lake.

If you like nonfiction, read Valcour. If you prefer fiction with a lot more detail and intrigue – read Rabble in Arms and in larger part, The Arundel Chronicles by Kenneth Roberts. I felt like Kelly took the outline straight out of Arundel #3, and the historical accuracy of either is pretty legit.

Now I’m sad because I hope I wrote a coherent sounding review without dragging too much of my own knowledge and prior reading into it!

Categories
Crime Historical Fiction Mysteries Suspense

Book Review: Germania by Harald Gilbers

Thank you so much to Thomas Dunne Books & St Martin’s Press for the lovely finished copy of Germania in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

I would start by profusely apologizing for my turnover time on this book, reading has been a little bit impossible as my work schedule still averages 4-5 12hr nights a week! The good news is: this is my last back logged book!! Literally all my books now are publishing in February or later! Yay for small victories and let’s hope the pandemic winds down soon so the hospital can go back to normal

Anyway anyway, without further adieu..

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Germania
  • Series: Richard Oppenheimer #1
  • Author: Harald Gilbers (tr. Alexandra Roesch)
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, December 2020
  • Length: 348 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for mystery/investigative/WWII fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From international bestselling author Harald Gilbers comes the heart-pounding story of Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer as he hunts for a serial killer through war-torn Nazi Berlin in Germania.

Berlin 1944: a serial killer stalks the bombed-out capital of the Reich, preying on women and laying their mutilated bodies in front of war memorials. All of the victims are linked to the Nazi party. But according to one eyewitness account, the perpetrator is not an opponent of Hitler’s regime, but rather a loyal Nazi.

Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer, once a successful investigator for the Berlin police, is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced onto the case. Oppenheimer is not just concerned with catching the killer and helping others survive, but also his own survival. Worst of all, solving this case is what will certainly put him in the most jeopardy. With no other choice but to further his investigation, he feverishly searches for answers, and a way out of this dangerous game.

In Germania, Richard Oppenheimer used to be a detective for the Berlin police, but as a Jew under Hitler he is now forced to work a menial job. One SS agent is stumped when a serial killer starts leaving desecrated bodies in front of WW1 memorials, and he consults (forces) Oppenheimer to help catch the killer. Amidst air raids and bombs and constant fear of death in the rubble of Berlin, Oppenheimer and Vogler try to solve this case.

The setting felt so real as well with rubble strewn streets, frequent rain fall, bombed out buildings, and foreigners from everywhere.  It ties in perfectly with the blackouts, oppressive and depressing overall atmosphere of the book.

So much danger, whether from the constant air strikes, Hitler’s regime, or a truly brutal killer, makes this a quietly exciting mystery.  Oppenheimer is clever and an observant investigator, so many pages are spent as he puzzles out the case to his new boss, Vogler.   Some thoroughly brutal descriptions of desecration were enough to really give me the chills about this killer.

I liked the characters too, Richard knows that his life is hanging by a thread but he still feels the thrill of being back on the case.  He is an inherently good person.  I think Vogler is too, he would never admit it but he sticks his neck out for Oppenheimer quite a bit and has at least a small streak of humanity.  I would have liked a little more from the killer – they had a few paragraphs here and there but it was hard to tell when he was the one being featured, and the glimpses were small! I think he had a good and believable arc to insanity though.

As he is investigating, Oppenheimer learns that he is not being told all the facts.  That says, he does a phenomenal job with what he is given.  It’s definitely more of a literary investigative mystery than a thriller, although some parts are exciting.  I don’t know much about German history at all so it was also interesting to read about landmarks, architecture, and some of Hitler’s less than popular Aryan breeding and spy schemes.

It is also my first German translated book.  I don’t think a lot of German words and phrases translate well, which created some blocky language and curious phrases at times, but not enough to affect enjoyment.  Gilbers is a history proficient theater writer, so I felt like I was getting an accurate portrayal of Nazi politics as well as a dramatic and depressing atmosphere.

I definitely couldn’t figure out why the party cared so much about one murderer… But… You’ll find out why when you read it!

I took the 1.5 stars off for the book being a little anticlimactic – I think Oppenheimer should have been more present during the criminal apprehensions, but his role was only to figure out who did it. Also without knowing the German history I had to look up quite a few abbreviations, and lord knows that German words are a mouthful to pronounce. All the points for setting and atmosphere though and for the characters.

I think this is a wonderfully human mystery and would recommend to anyone interested!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Book Review: Trial by Fire by Scott James

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Trial by Fire in exchange for an honest review and feature!  All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Trial by Fire
  • Author: Scott James
  • Genre: Nonfiction, true crime
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2020
  • Length: 384 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for those interested!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

In only 90 seconds, a fire in the Station nightclub killed 100 people and injured hundreds more. It would take nearly 20 years to find out why—and who was really at fault.

All it took for a hundred people to die during a show by the hair metal band Great White was a sudden burst from two giant sparklers that ignited the acoustical foam lining the Station nightclub. But who was at fault? And who would pay? This being Rhode Island, the two questions wouldn’t necessarily have the same answer.

Within 24 hours the governor of Rhode Island and the local police commissioner were calling for criminal charges, although the investigation had barely begun, no real evidence had been gathered, and many of the victims hadn’t been identified. Though many parties could be held responsible, fingers pointed quickly at the two brothers who owned the club. But were they really to blame? Bestselling author and three-time Emmy Award-winning reporter Scott James investigates all the central figures, including the band’s manager and lead singer, the fire inspector, the maker of the acoustical foam, as well as the brothers. Drawing on firsthand accounts, interviews with many involved, and court documents, James explores the rush to judgment about what happened that left the victims and their families, whose stories he also tells, desperate for justice.

Trial By Fire is the heart-wrenching story of the fire’s aftermath because while the fire, one of America’s deadliest, lasted fewer than two minutes, the search for the truth would take twenty years.

I hadn’t heard of this tragedy but after a quick Google search (not recommended video viewing for the faint of heart) I became quickly interested. A reporter live at the scene, ironically there for a feature on safety, caught video of this rapidly unfolding horror show that created a mystery for years to come. This is an extremely readable and fast moving book for a nonfiction!

In Trial by Fire, Scott James looks at everyone’s side of the story. From the club owners to the club and band managers, the fire marshall, the foam company that sold the wrong insulation to the club owners, plus survivors, families of the deceased, and more, I feel like a really wide and unbiased portrayal of events was covered here. James even brings in Rhode Island history and legal precedents to set the scene for encountered attitudes and court proceedings. I appreciated the full disclosure elements too.

I think the most interesting part for me was how the media was so biased, and totally seems to have f**ked up a lot of the coverage and facts. The governor tried to clamp down on false information and the club owners tried to stay out of the crap slinging, but there is a really huge issue with bad media coverage and people rushing to believe it. I did learn a lot about how media works though. Another interesting part was … Well… I’m a nurse and love medical bits. I was morbidly fascinated while reading about people’s skin melting off as they tried to be pulled to safety, toxic smoke inhalation, flash points, and triage. Also the hospital coverage and burn treatments, especially the pulmonary advancements were super interesting to me. Thinking about this from a first responder perspective is truly horrifying. I can’t even imagine being inside or outside and just hearing all the screams stop, it’s too terrible to process fully 😳

I learned a ton about everything from fire in general to safety codes, history, the legal system, and human nature by reading this book. I really highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime or investigative journalism type reads. Also there is a huge humanitarian aspect to the book and personal stories of many survivors and victims, if you enjoy a bittersweet success story.

Thank you again so much to St Martin’s Press (Sara thank you!) for my copy, all opinions are my own!

If anyone has read this and/or wants to discuss it, feel free to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!