“Immediate Action” by Andy McNab: A Book Review

Immediate ActionImmediate Action by Andy McNab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a memoir that shows that even the author can find it difficult to find any redeeming features about themselves! This work by Andy McNab reveals, with brutal honesty, what an unpleasant, dishonest young person he was – the kind of youth we cross roads to avoid. More, he exhibits an egocentricity ruling his life for many years that many will find extremely unattractive. Indeed, apart from very rare hints of a better nature, it’s not until the last moments of the book that he suggests that he has changed.

All that may seem a strange way to start a review of a book many would buy because it features the SAS, but the book is autobiographical and therefore must be judged in that respect first! From a careless, thoroughly despicable thief, through a brush with the law that scared the life out of him, McNab enters the army convinced it will save him from almost inevitable imprisonment. Yet he continues to exhibit the self-centeredness that had made him totally disregard the feelings of others. He’s really only interested in McNab – and how following this course or that course can make life better for McNab. He appears to show some consideration when, eventually, he becomes a trainer of new recruits – but his motive remains his own welfare, caring only about how well the recruits turn out reflects upon him.

He shows determination, at times, to push himself to the ultimate degree, when doing so offers what he perceives to be a more relaxed existence. That’s what drives him to undergo the fearsomely tough selection process to join the SAS. He knows enough to not attempt to be a “stand out” type – just an average type able to fit in without ever rocking the boat. That said, he minimises the effort he expends, in all things – always trying to arrange matters so that somebody else has to do the work, like cooking meals or brewing tea. There are also times when he demonstrates far too much faith in himself, without justification.

Yes, there are some interesting insights into the SAS, but, to be honest, I was left with a lower opinion of McNab than I possessed before reading this book. If I could, I would lift out the SAS procedural parts and dump the rest, which is just an unpleasant read.

~ Steve

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WIPs and Memories

WIPping up a Storm!

Yeah, I know!  Terrible!  But this little paragraph is about, shockingly, WIPs.  Though circumstances forced a stall, I am working on a new book.  It will be the fifth  in the G1: The Guardians series.  It has a slightly different atmosphere to the other stories.  I decided that there was a serious risk of things becoming just ‘more of the same’, so the new tale has some very different elements, including multiple threads and some nods to European folklore and even some Christian myths.  As to more immediate WIPs, the soon-to-be-released novel is progressing well in the preparations for printing, and Shade of Evil is already heading to the final proof stage with the printers.  There’s good reason to hope that the novel will be available in both paperback and hardback print editions on the launch date!

A Memory of a Wonderful Series

Back in the 1970s, The Hamlyn Publishing Group produced a lovely set of books – the Hamlyn all-colour paperbacks.  Now, before anybody who remembers them jumps all over me, I know that the binding quality was absolutely awful, and you were liable to end up with a set of loose-leaf books!  No, for me, what made these books so special was the range of subjects and the first class colour illustrations.  I had numerous books in the series, ranging from animals to geology, from Budgerigars to guns!  As one of hose kids more inclined to learn by self-education at home, or out and about, the books were an invaluable resource.  And, most important of all, they were affordable.  The books were all written by experts but in an interesting way, without being overtly educational or, vitally, condescending.

~ Steve

I Am A Cartophile

Yes, I confess it!  I really am a cartophile.  I love maps.  Don’t confuse the word ‘cartophile’ as used by card collectors with that denoting a map lover!  I have since childhood, when I used to pore over the maps in a small atlas.  The older the maps, the better, in some respects, though I also love entirely fictional maps when they’re very well done.   Not only do I love maps, I love drawing them myself.

Fictional maps first intrigued me because of those produced for J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and  The Lord of the Rings.  When I embarked on my own writing, heroic fantasy featured strongly, centred around one world, for which I drew various maps, including one world map in a kind of Mercator projection.  My fantasy novel, when I finish it, will also feature a map.  If you’re interested in fantasy maps, take a look at www.fantasy-map.net!

In my teenage years, I bought a Jackdaw folder of the Battle of Waterloo (sadly, no longer available), and discovered that I also found military maps fascinating, with all those symbols denoting troop positions and movements.  I would say that my favourite book of such maps has to be A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Vincent J Esposito and Colonel John R Elting, edited by John R Elting.  It is one of the finest works I’ve encountered on all the European battles in which Napoleon fought, between 1796 and 1815.  The large maps are beautifully clear and illustrate the battles superbly, enabling anybody with an understanding of maps to appreciate the terrain that those battles were fought over.  You can follow the progress from the build up to beyond in each battle.  The history part is equally well written, without the massive clutter of personal opinions and moralising about the character of Napoleon which other books suffer from.  It is a book that I heartily recommend to anybody with an interest in the Napoleonic Era, or even just those with a passion for battle maps.  I would give it ten stars, if I could!

Outside of books, I love the UK’s Ordnance Survey maps, especially the most detailed, and the antique maps commonly found as aged reproductions and usually featuring the fascinating maps of English counties by John Speede, which date from the 17th Century.  I would love to get a large reproduction of Speede’s map of Suffolk, my home county.  The usual versions of his maps are so small that reading the detail is challenging.

Are there any other cartophiles out there?

~ Steve

“Sniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under Siege” by Dan Mills

Sniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under SiegeSniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under Siege by Dan Mills
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book when I was going through a period of reading lots of the genre. Sniper One has to be one of the most honest stories I’ve ever read. Sergeant Dan Mills doesn’t hide anything.

The first thing that the reader has to accept is that snipers are a breed apart. They are specialists and they take great pride in their skill. To them, the more lethally effective they are, the better the chances of their comrades (and themselves) going home alive. If you deplore war, then don’t read the book! Dan Mills doesn’t pretend to be anything but a very effective specialist who enjoys being successful – bringing maximum harm to the enemy.  There’s one point in the story when the sniper squad are immensely excited to have access to the superior weaponry and ammunition of an American special forces member, which reveals just how these men think of their job.

The story involves the deployment of Dan Mills’ platoon of snipers, part of an infantry battalion, to southern Iraq. The battalion’s mission: win the hearts and minds of the local people. It was supposed to be no more than that. Unfortunately, events elsewhere had led to an explosion of violence in many areas, and the battalion walked right into a hornet’s nest that somebody else had just kicked! What followed was nothing less than a small contingent of soldiers trying to operate to mission intentions while virtually under siege from heavily armed militia. They were, effectively, engaged in the longest, most dangerous firefight any British troops had experienced in over half a century.

Mortars pounding the compound the soldiers operated from, militia attacking at every opportunity, these soldiers were isolated, fighting virtually alone. The snipers came into their own. They inflicted heavy damage on the enemy ruthlessly. But they were, after all, only a small platoon. Casualties mounted slowly, but they couldn’t afford any losses. And then the enemy came in waves that threatened to overrun the British position.

A tale of courage, brutal combat, and a soldier’s celebration of his comrades’ outstanding performance under impossible conditions, Sniper One is reminiscent of the famous Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the 19th Century Zulu War (filmed in Hollywood style as Zulu).

It’s not the only tale of British forces facing such a position. Many of those who have served in Afghanistan can tell similar tales of facing impossible odds under siege conditions. What’s remarkable here is the honest pleasure in the execution of combat skills expressed by Dan Mills. It’s also one of very few books concerning the war in Iraq.

I don’t hesitate in giving this book 5 stars, but I repeat my warning: if you are sensitive, don’t read it. And do remember that, while I believe many young people would learn valuable lessons from these books about real warfare, this is very definitely a book for adults!

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~ Steve

Reading Again – At Last!

After far too long, I’m finally able to read again.  Whatever was blocking it before has obviously eased off.  What am I reading?  Well, I’m actually re-reading Phoenix Squadron by Rowland White.  I’ve only read it once before, after which I loaned it out.  I kind of lost track of it after that, but it reappeared a few days ago.  I’d been wanting to read it again for a while.

Phoenix Squadron by Rowland White - Amazon UK

Phoenix Squadron by Rowland White – Amazon UK

Phoenix Squadron is an account from British military aviation history.  It concerns the vital part played by HMS Ark Royal and her contingent of Buccaneer jets in the days leading up to independence for what was then British Honduras, now Belize.  The former colony was small and without anything that could be truly regarded as defence forces.  Neighbouring Guatemala, supported by El Salvador, was then (1972) determined to gain Belize, but they wanted to do so while Britain still held it.  It was typical military-political thinking.  Taking on a “great power” would be received by the world with more sympathy than invading a weak neighbour.  The fact that Britain only had a small contingent of ground troops stationed in the colony didn’t signify weakness in the same sense as a total lack of armed forces.  Rowland White doesn’t confine himself to a simple retelling of these events, he paints a full picture of everything leading up to them.

Rowland White is a writer I admire.  He not only carries out a phenomenal amount of research, including interviewing those who were actually involved, he assembles it all into a truly thrilling story that conveys the events magnificently.  Like Vulcan 607, which I’ve also read (and reviewed), this is a book that absolutely anyone can enjoy, if they take the trouble to read it!  You don’t have to be an enthusiast first.  All you need is a desire to be entertained and drawn along on an incredible ride.  I’ve read fiction and non-fiction military works and, for me, none match the quality Rowland White achieves.

I’m so glad that this book has returned to my keeping.

~ Steve

Books and Children

Book-child-readingThere can be absolutely no doubting that children should have access to books.  Sadly, many children show less enthusiasm for them than they should.  Why?  I think part of the problem stems from school.  Very young children are usually avid readers, loving the books that they are allowed to borrow from preschool, and even the earliest years of school proper.  Unfortunately, over time, reading the mass of text books and set books that they must review erodes the interest.  Reading becomes a chore, and thus something to be avoided.

Yes, I know that movies, TV programmes and computer/console games also impact on the desire to read, but I honestly believe that they have less of a rôle in the problem than the burden of reading placed on children by schools.  Apart from text books that are so dry and uninteresting that it’s amazing the authors managed to stay awake long enough to write them, the concept of “set books” imposes the tastes of educationalists upon children.  There’s no doubting that some books are definitely worth promoting as reading matter, but to force any book on a person, of any age, will not make a favourable impact on their desire to read.  To add to the forced reading, the child is then expected to write a good review, according to a set formula.  Under this mountain of pressure, only the most avid readers will continue to read for pleasure, usually those who have access to a large number of books at home, or via a good local library.

How can we fix this situation?  There are many excellent books being written for children of all ages, so the supply is fine.  Some books will break through the barriers because of hype and mass marketing tactics in general, such as the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling.  Generally, the hyped books still have to be good enough to keep the child interested.  Some TV series contribute by having a complementary series of books.  All this helps somewhat.  Ultimately, however, we really need to look at the system used in schools.  The initial “borrow what you like” attitude should be carried forward.  The selection of “set books” should be increased significantly, and include popular books – not just those with critical acclaim.  I know that I wrote far better reviews of books that I enjoyed reading, when I was a child.

As a matter of interest, one of my own children had the same set book, George Orwell‘s Animal Farm, every year for three years!  That’s obviously a ridiculous situation.  I know for a fact that initial liking of the book was quickly replaced with a weariness that means that very few of the children from that time will ever read that book again.  I also know, from my own children, that self-selected reading was always far more enjoyable than forced.  Of my three children, two continue to enjoy reading.  Sadly, the third can’t be described as a keen reader.  All had a large fund of books at home at all times.  The two “natural readers” have survived the system, despite its faults.  The other reads those things that are related to other interests, and I tend to think of them as being a “natural text book reader” (though the interests in question aren’t founded on non-fiction subjects).

I believe that ebooks could make a very big difference in the number of children who enjoy reading.  Being based on the use of popular technology, and with an ever increasing number of interactive ebooks, they should have greater appeal.  It’s important, of course, that such ebooks reflect traditional reading matter in format, starting from picture-heavy books, through partially illustrated titles, to almost pure text.  Another aspect of ebooks is that font sizes can be adjusted, helping those children with sight problems.  I envision a time, too, when ebooks will incorporate other enhancements, such as audio pronunciation guides and assistance for people with reading difficulties, such as those with dyslexia.  It’s an exciting time and we need to think clearly about how to make the maximum use of ebooks to encourage more children to read for pleasure.

~ Steve