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Review – Heart of a Soldier

I first heard about Rick Rescorla as a young private in 1989.  My First Sergeant was a Vietnam vet with a 1st Cavalry Division combat patch, and among his war stories was talk of a fearless lieutenant he had met there.  I learned more about him when I read and reread We Were Soldiers Once, And Young a few years later.

Imagine my shock at finding out that Mr. Rescorla was not only among the dead of 9/11, but was also a hero of that infamous day.  Heart of a Soldier tells his story in a very human manner.

From Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart comes the extraordinary story of American hero Rick Rescorla, Morgan Stanley security director and a veteran of Vietnam and the British colonial wars in Rhodesia, who lost his life on September 11.

Heart of a Soldier is the extraordinary story of war, love and comradeship, danger and heroism, told by a Pulitzer Prize winner who is one of our finest writers.

When Rick Rescorla got home from Vietnam, he tried to put combat and death behind him, but he never could entirely. From the day he joined the British Army to fight a colonial war in Rhodesia, where he met American Special Forces’ officer Dan Hill who would become his best friend, to the day he fell in love with Susan, everything in his remarkable life was preparing him for an act of generosity that would transcend all that went before.

Heart of a Soldier is a story of bravery under fire, of loyalty to one’s comrades, of the miracle of finding happiness late in life. Everything about Rick’s life came together on September 11. In charge of security for Morgan Stanley, he successfully got all its 2,700 men and women out of the south tower of the World Trade Center. Then, thinking perhaps of soldiers he’d held as they died, as well as the woman he loved, he went back one last time to search for stragglers.

Heart of a Soldier is a biography of Rick Rescorla and his life-long friend, Dan Hill.  The story starts as they meet in post-colonial Africa, and progresses through a lifetime of combat, family, and friendship.

While both men’s leadership and heroism in Vietnam is discussed in detail, this is more than a gathering of war stories.  We learn about how they were brought up, their plans for life, how they diverged from those plans, and the ending one of them chose.  We get to know their families, their life after the military, and how they lived as men.

Heart of a Soldier isn’t an action story, although there is action throughout the first half of the book.  It’s not a romance, although romance plays a large part in Rescorla’s later life.  Heart of a Soldier is the story of two men from very different backgrounds who never forgot the meaning of honor and duty, even until the very end.

If you believe that such men deserve to be learned about and remembered, I think you’ll enjoy Heart of a Soldier.

Audiobook Review – Darkship Thieves

Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves is a fun romp that sucks you in and holds on tight.  I started out reading a bound copy I purchased from the author, but liked it so much I sprang for the audiobook so I could listen during my commute.

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the strangerwho turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime – if she managed to survive.

If you’re a fan of Heinlein, you’ll enjoy this book.  It is part Friday, part I Shall Fear No Evil, and part excellent world building and storytelling.  Hoyt’s attention to details in her settings and characters comes through in three dimensional Technicolor, and I found myself sitting in the car to listen to the end of a chapter more than once. The story has space opera, intrigue, and future history, all of which kept my attention.

Kymberly Dakin was an excellent choice to give voice to the main character, who narrates the entire book.  She did an impressive job of conveying the world and characters that Mrs. Hoyt created.

Because this is the first book in a series, the author had to spend quite a bit of time describing the word in which it happens.  Some readers will find this to be a bit of a drag on the plot, but the world that Hoyt builds is intricate and well filled out.  Otherwise, the plot moves along at a good clip.

Like I said, this reminds me a lot of Heinlein’s later works, and so the story is probably a bit too adult for readers under 15 or so.  There is some language, but it’s not gratuitous.

I’ve packed the sequel, Darkship Renegades, for a business trip, and I can’t wait to get started.  I think that once you give Darkship Thieves a try, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Audiobook Review – Monster Hunter Guardian

Sarah Hoyt and Larry Correia, two of my favorite story tellers, have come together to bring us Monster Hunter Guardian, a story centered on Julie Shackleford.

When Owen Pitt and the rest of the Monster Hunter International crew are called away to mount a month’s-long rescue mission in a monster-infested nightmare dimension, Julie Shackleford – Owen’s wife and descendant of MHI founder Bubba Shackleford – is left behind. Her task: hold down the fort and take care of her new baby son Ray. Julie’s devoted to the little guy, but the slow pace of office work and maternity leave are starting to get to her. But when a routine field call brings her face-to-face with an unspeakable evil calling itself Brother Death, she’ll get more excitement than she ever hoped for.

Julie is the Guardian of a powerful ancient artifact known as the Kamaresh Yar, and Brother Death wants it. In the wrong hands, it could destroy reality as we know it. Julie would die before giving it up.

Then Ray goes missing, taken by Brother Death. The price for his safe return: the Kamaresh Yar. If Julie doesn’t hand over the artifact it means death – or worse – for baby Ray. With no other choice left to her, Julie agrees to Brother Death’s demands. But when you’re dealing with an ancient evil, the devil is in the details.

To reclaim her son, Julie Shackleford will have to fight her way through necromantic death cults, child-stealing monsters, and worse. And she’ll have to do it all before Brother Death can unleash the Kamaresh Yar.

It’s one woman against an army of monsters. But Julie Shackleford is no ordinary woman – she’s one tough mother!

I attended Sarah Hoyt’s reading of the first chapter of this book a couple of years ago at LibertyCon, and I’m very happy to see how it came together into a full length novel.  Julie is expertly painted as a young mother desperately searching for her child.  Between the writing and exceptional narration by Bailey Carr, the listener feels her anguish, anger, and determination in every word.

Guardian moves quickly, only occasionally slowing down to let you catch your breath.  Where MHI stories usually center around a team of people with a few principle heroes, Julie spends the vast majority of the story on her own, with not much more than her wits and a gun to aid her in her search.  Hoyt and Correia used this to develop her as a character, and I hope that they continue this in more MHI novels.

Ms. Carr’s narration is excellent.  Her voice and pacing keep the listener riveted as the plot moves along.  She was a perfect fit for Julie Shackleford.

Guardian is definitely a great addition to the MHI series and makes for a wonderful listen during morning commutes and long summer evenings.

Review – Gold on the Hoof

Peter Grant’s latest in his Ames Archives series, Gold on the Hoof, is the best of his fiction that I’ve read.  Go, read it now and see for yourself.

OK, that’s the short review.  Now for the details:

The Comanche and Kiowa are painting for war in the Texas Panhandle. The US Army is preparing to stop them – but it needs horses to do so. Lots of horses. Walt Ames knows where to find them, and breeding stock for his horse ranch, too. All he has to do is ride down to Mexico, buy them, and bring them back safely. That’s easier said than done.

He and his men will have to cover more than two thousand brutally hard miles, and deal with Indian raiders, Comanchero renegades, bandidos, and would-be horse thieves… not to mention a certain Irish-Mexican redheaded beauty who can make him forget everything else in the emerald glow of her eyes. Walt’s going to need every ounce of his grit and determination, plenty of firepower, and a lot of luck if he’s to convert the gold in his pockets to gold on the hoof.

Gold on the Hoof occurs a few years after Rocky Mountain Retribution.  Ames is looking to expand his business into providing horses for the Army, so he puts together a plan to acquire them in Mexico.  He and a band of good men head south to do business and end up crossing the path of several bad men.  Grant gives the business end of this story a light touch, but lays it on thick with the action and characters.  I read the entire thing in one gulp.

Grant has a special knack for getting into the heads of his characters and exploring the world through their eyes, and this is on prominent display in Gold on the Hoof.  The character of Ames is especially well fleshed out, and the new characters Grant introduces quickly become three dimensional and interesting.

The author did a good job of pacing the story, and the research to paint the people and places we encounter is top notch.  Like I said, I read it all in one stretch, so don’t be surprised if you find you can’t put Gold on the Hoof down.

Review – The Grey Man – Down South

Jim Curtis has returned to his Grey Man series with a short, well-written entry that fills us in on the earlier life of the series’ principle character in Down South.

After too much action, too much peace gets on a man’s nerves. John Cronin’s back from Vietnam and bored, when Billy Moore suggests he check out the brand new Drug Enforcement Agency. He’d expected paperwork and meetings; he got on-the-job training in South America with stakeouts gone wrong and ambushes exploding into firefights.

This isn’t Cronin’s first rodeo, and now he’s taking the fight to the cartels, from the laboratories hidden deep in the highland jungles to the enforcers in the cities and secure compounds!

Down South opens as John Cronin is getting over his post-Vietnam hangover and trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life.  He can’t sit and watch the grass grow, and he can’t find a place in local law enforcement, so he looks further afield to a new organization.  Soon, he’s in the thick of the drug war, and he’s taking the war to the enemy.

Like I’ve said before, Curtis is one of the best story tellers I’ve ever encountered.  In a few short lines, he paints the scene of a steaming jungle or a dark alley, then fills it with well-rounded characters and well-paced action.

Of course, by now, we know John Cronin, but as we delve into Down South, we learn more about his family and the friends that we encounter in the rest of the series.

I’m not sure if the author meant for this to be the start of another story arc in the series, but I certainly hope so.  There’s a lot to explore, and I can’t wait for more.  Down South is definitely recommended.

Book Review – Taghri’s Prize

Peter Grant has a new book on the streets, Taghri’s Prize.

Taghri has left the Sultan’s army to seek his fortune – and he seizes opportunity when it knocks. In the confusion of a pirate raid on a trading caravan, he kills their leader and captures their ship. The vessel is now his prize of war… but some prizes may be more trouble than they’re worth!

Nestled among the gold coins in the captain’s cabin is a stolen Temple sacrificial knife, whose Goddess is now paying close attention – too close! – to its new owner. Among the slaves he’s freed is a princess, formerly being held for ransom, who comes with political and personal intrigues all her own. Even if he survives the attention of both, there’s also a pirate lord out there, hell-bent on avenging the death of his son.

It’s going to take all of Taghri’s skill, experience and cunning to survive winning this prize!

Grant is one of my favorite storytellers, and I’m thrilled that he is stretching out into a new realm.  Taghri’s Prize deals with a setting that is unique in recent fantasy fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Grant’s world.

The story flows very well. It’s got action, romance, pirates, and a whole lot more that fans of Conan and John Carter will enjoy.  Taghri is no barbarian by any means, but a lot of the elements that I enjoyed in Cimmeria and Barsoom show up in Taghri’s Prize.

Taghri, the eponymous main character, is well fleshed out after only a few chapters, and the other characters develop over the course of the book.  I am really interested in seeing where Grant takes this ensemble in later stories.

If you enjoy a good swashbuckler, I think you’ll enjoy Taghri’s Prize.

Book Review – True Course: Lessons From A Life Aloft

True Course: Lessons from a Life Aloft is Brigid Johnson’s memoir of a life spent on a flight deck. This is a book that will repeatedly make you sit back and think for a while, either to consider an insight the author gives you, or to relive a memory she brings to your mind.

Each chapter takes on a different subject, such as patience, friendship, or freedom. While all of the chapters tie back to flight and the life of an aviator, Johnson does an expert job of tying her thoughts to the reader’s life. Again and again, I found myself nodding along with her stories. I laughed out loud at some parts, and found emotion tightening my throat at others.

True Course is an excellent book for a slow, hot day or an evening in front of the fire.

Audiobook Review – About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior

I discovered About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior as a private in 1990. I saw Colonel Hackworth do an interview to support the book, and I was fascinated by his quiet demeanor as he talked about a lifetime of service and combat. When I saw the book on display at the PX, I scooped it up and devoured it. It’s been on my “Read This Often” reading list ever since.

About Face is a memoir, but it’s one that’s been tempered with the viewpoints of many of the people it talks about. Colonel Hackworth and Julie Sherman did a good job of coordinating his recollections with those of his friends and comrades from 3 decades of Army life.

The book is made up of in-depth discussions of Hackworth’s views on politics, the military, and leadership, all punctuated by mesmerizing tales of combat and the men he served with.

The final chapter, in which Hackworth talked about his views of the United States and her military circa 1988, is, to me, the most interesting of all. When the authors wrote those words, we were on the brink of the Berlin Wall falling, but were still poised for World War III starting somewhere in the Fulda Gap. The First Gulf War, Somalia, the Balkan War, 9/11, and the War on Terror were still in the future. Hackworth’s insights are a remarkable look back at where we were. They lead me to look at where we’ve come and how the Reagan military he discusses was and was not prepared for the world we fell into in the years after his writing.

The narration by John Pruden is spot on. The book is liberally salted with military jargon, and it was very rare that it wasn’t used or pronounced correctly. Pruden paced the story, over 40 hours long, very well. You could hear the emotion come through where it was appropriate, and his characterizations during the combat sequences painted a vivid picture.

If you already know Hackworth and Sherman, you’ll enjoy this opportunity to experience this seminal work again. If you haven’t read About Face or any of Colonel Hackworth and Ms. Sherman’s other works and you enjoy good living history, you’re in for a treat.

Review – Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame, the latest product of the Marvel money-printing machine, is taking the world by storm. Millions of fans, many of whom cannot remember a time before the original Iron Man movie, have flocked to theaters worldwide to find out what happens after the events of last year’s Infinity War.

While I enjoyed the movie, I wasn’t impacted by it in the way other folks in the theater were. The young lady, seated next to me, and Boo, who sat on the other side, went from laughing, to crying, to cheering over and over again. A good portion of the audience clapped and cheered when the movie was over, either because they loved it or because they could finally go to the bathroom after three hours and a gallon of Coke.

To me, the plot dragged quite a bit. The first hour was spent on “We gotta do something!”, the middle hour was a pretty good heist movie, and the last hour as packed solid with “Bam!” and “Smash!” and “Kaplooey!” The first hour could have been cut down quite a bit, and the last hour could have been trimmed some to make this a better-paced story.

The acting was pretty good. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the portrayals of Captain America and Thor were my favorites. As always, Robert Downey, Jr., did an excellent job channeling Tony Stark.

As for special effects and action, it’s everything you expect from a Marvel movie and more. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that you’ll see enough CGI faces get punched and things get blown up to satisfy even the most degenerate action-movie junkie.

On a parental note, I did notice a bit more rough language in this one than in earlier MCU movies. Nothing too graphic, but just a few words that were unexpected in a series that has been mostly clean.

While this isn’t my favorite episode in the Marvel series, it was enjoyable and worth the cost of admission. Now that the main story arc of the last decade is done, let’s hope that Marvel doesn’t squeeze the lemon too hard and tarnish the series ala Star Wars/Trek.

Review – Against a Rising Tide

Alma Boykin closes her “The Powers” series with an excellent story of family, honor, and duty in “Against a Rising Tide“.

The World War has ended. The battles rage on.

Five years after the end of the World War, men, Half-Dragons and True-Dragons labor to repair the damage. The English and French insist on punishing the nations of the Habsburg Confederation and Germany, while nationalists and Communists threaten to tear the alliance and the Houses apart from within. As chaos swirls and tensions rise, István Eszterházy and Archduke Rudolph von Habsburg struggle to preserve order, and to preserve both Houses and Powers. Worse, an old enemy from the war stalks István, intent on revenge.

But true danger lurks to the east. The forces that destroyed Galicia threaten to devour all of the Powers and Houses, killing the very soil of the land as they do. As another war rages, István and Rudolph must hide the secret of the Powers from forces more terrible than the Mongols and ottomans combined.

Against a Rising Tide continues the story of Istvan Esterhazy, a nobleman leading a family that boasts dragons in its bloodline. After the defeat and dismemberment of the First World War, the Houses of the Empire are hard-pressed to adapt to a new world. Boykin adds a thread of tension throughout this story, which ratchets up the pace and keeps the reader riveted.

While taking us through the political and social upheaval of the 1920’s and ’30’s, Boykin paints a vivid depticion of a man trying to preserve what he can while living in the real world. In the end, this is a story of humanity in an ever-more dehumanizing world.

I had to take this story in small bites so that I could chew it over and think about what it was telling me. I definitely recommend this entire series to folks who are interested in this period of history and want a story that appeals on many levels.

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