The Reading List (Part The Second)

And we’re back with five more books that might be of interest to you! These are just books I recommend as good reads, with a short overview of what to expect and a link to any longer review I’ve done, if there is one. Without further ado, here they are!

Broken Blade, by Kelly McCollough

Genres: Low Fantasy

Sequels: Five in total

The Blades of Namara were the weapons of Justice on earth, dedicated to destroying those who, by virtue of wealth, status or personal might, committed evil without fear of mortal retribution. Aral Kingslayer was one of Namara’s greatest weapons, utterly devoted to the cause. When the incarnation of Justice was murdered and her servants hunted to the brink of extinction it did more than take his home and his purpose. It broke his heart and left him without a single thing to hold to.

The kingdom of Tien is the former kingdom of Ashvik the Merciless, who’s death gave Aral his name. It would take a special kind of gall for the assassin who murdered the previous king to hide from his enemies there – either that or true apathy about his fate. With Aral it can be hard to tell the two apart.

Namara has been dead for years and Aral never recovered. But the fact that Justice is gone doesn’t mean people don’t need justice. Although by any measure Aral is an adult the Fallen Blade novels are his coming of age as he learns to understand justice on his own and teaches others to do the same.

20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urosawa

Genres: Suspense/Thriller

Sequels: 20th Century Boys is a comic series that spans some 20ish volumes. Finding and reading them all may be difficult but is well worth the time.

When Kenji and his friends were young they wanted to save the world. So they built a small hideout in an empty lot and sat around, making up stories about how Earth would be in peril and how they would save it. They put them all in a book full of doodles and daydreams then buried them in a time capsule for their super-cool adult selves to dig up and remember.

Twenty years later Kenji runs the small general store he inherited from his parents and looks after the young daughter his older sister left behind just before she mysteriously vanished. Life is not what he thought it would be. But someone remembers the old daydreams and when a childhood friend of Kenji’s inexplicably commits suicide Kenji starts to notice that the world he lives in is starting to look frighteningly like the world he used to daydream about – complete with impending disaster.

I love this story because of how realistically it portrays its protagonists. Kenji and his friends are parents and brothers, shop owners and office workers, united only by old friendship and half-remembered principles. They’re not terribly skilled, even for the jobs they do. Their first instinct in the face of trouble is to flinch and look for an exit. They are not the people who they wanted to grow up to be.

But they are the brave men who will save the world – and their story is a delight to read.

This is a Book by Demetri Martin, by Demetri Martin

Genre: Nonfiction, Humor

Series: Stands alone

If you’ve never heard of Demetri Martin don’t feel bad – I hadn’t until I picked up his book. Apparently he’s a stand-up comic and he has a TV show somewhere. He usually embellishes his bits with drawings he’s created with maximum comic effect in mind and his book works much the same way. It’s a collection of hilarious essays with a bunch of sketches in the middle. Reading it is much like sitting with a friend who likes to ramble about whatever subject strikes his fancy in the most ludicrous way imaginable.

Martin tackles everything from welcoming his readers to the oddities of American colloquialisms with wit and a keen eye for the absurd. If you just want a book where you can read a few pages an evening and enjoy yourself immensely, this is for you. In fact, you’ll probably want it around just to help you detox from the next couple of books…

Sea of Thunder, by Evan Thomas

Genres: Nonfiction, Military History

Sequels: Many, in so far as there are hundreds of books on the events before and after the ones covered in this book, but no direct sequels.

It’s not fair to say any one man can win or lose a war. But those in leadership certainly have more of an impact than most and their decision-making processes under pressure have much to teach us. Sea of Thunder is a look at four men who led others into the largest naval battle in history and, in their own ways, shaped the outcome of the greatest war in history.

Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita was a man dedicated to Imperial Japan but not in the way many of his peers were. He disapproved of suicide missions in general and specifically, later in the war, needlessly wasting the future of the nation for futile gestures. Ironically, he would command one of the largest suicide operations the Japanese Navy ever launched. He survived that mission and the war, quietly refusing to comment on his part in it to all but the closest of friends.

Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, on the other hand, enthusiastically embraced the kamikaze spirit, to the point where he himself flew a final kamikaze mission after hearing that peace had been declared. He also kept an extensive and revealing personal diary that sheds light on exactly what kind of mindset lay behind the suicidal fervor of many Japanese servicemen.

Vice Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) William “Bull” Halsey was the commander of one of the U.S. fleets operating in the Pacific. A man of great personal charisma and ambition Halsey fought hard, seeking to win the war by whatever tactics proved most effective. It’s widely assumed, however, that he wanted to personally win a big naval battle, to command his ships against those of the enemy from the battle line. Most of the big battles of World War II he missed because of timing – the Navy rotated command staff to keep them fresh and Halsey was not in the Pacific Theater during the battles of Midway and the Philippine Sea. He was in command for the Battle of Leyte Gulf – but he personally would still miss out on most of the action.

Commander Ernest Evans is the odd man out in the book – he wasn’t a flag officer and would never command anything more than a single ship. He was noted for leading by example and his crew loved him. More than anything he was a fighter and he promised his crew that theirs would be a fighting ship that would never turn away from an enemy force. His spirit would prove greater than the strength of his vessel.

In October of 1944 these four men would converge in Leyte Gulf and all the strength and weaknesses of their characters was on display. If you’ve an interest in human nature, the burden of command or just what it means to show courage under fire then this is a book for you.

 A Bridge Too Far, by Cornelius Ryan

Genres: Nonfiction, Military History

Sequels: Same as above.

The 82nd and 101st Airborne Infantry divisions are legends in the U.S. armed forces, and with good reason. They famously helped paved the way for the Normandy invasion during WWII, in addition to participating in several difficult operations leading up to the invasion. The British 1st Parachute Infantry Division holds a similar place in the history of the British Army. What many people don’t know about these storied units is that they all, along with a regiment of Polish paratroopers and assorted other units, served together at one time as the First Allied Airborne Army.

Operation Market/Garden was a wildly ambitious plan enacted shortly after Operation Overlord. It’s objectives were simple: Seize a series of five bridges in the Netherlands and hold them long enough for key pieces of Allied armies to scramble across. The ultimate goal was to cross the Rhine river into Germany before the winter of 1944. The plan relied on good weather, good coordination and speed. The job of the paratroops was to hold the bridges open until the tanks and regular infantry could get up to and secure them. The entire plan was supposed to take five or six days and expected light resistance.

Two weeks later the Allies would limp sadly back to their own lines with a grand total of nothing accomplished. As one general had speculated as the plan was approved, the army had reached a bridge too far.

Airborne infantry, no matter the nation they serve, have a reputation as the best trained, best equipped and toughest soldiers in existence. The story of Operation Market/Garden does not disprove that reputation. Rather, it lets us see that reputation in action as the people who carry it face the greatest test there is: Failure.

What emerges from the dust is a tribute to the dangers of overconfidence, distrust between allies and acting before all the information is in. It is also a tribute to the fortitude, courage and determination of the First Allied Airborne Army as they very nearly accomplished one of the most daring maneuvers in the battle for Europe.

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