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Book Review – A Time for Courage: and other military stories

Tom Benson is a multi-genre author and artist whose work I’ve reviewed several times since first discovering his writing on his wordpress site (see link below).

In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom is a prolific writer and book reviewer and has been writing since 2007. He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. In addition to his own writing, Tom Benson has contributed short stories to several other multi-author anthologies both commercially and in aid of various charities.

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Tom is presently working on a number of other projects including helping manage and promote an international collection of indie authors on the indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com website which he helped create.

 

Tom’s other websites and contact details:
www.tombensonauthor.com 
www.tombensoncreative.com
www.tom-benson.co.uk

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@TomBensonWriter

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 Amazon Description

A collection of 12 stories created using a wide spectrum of scenarios. Military experiences can be funny, heart-breaking and, everything in between.
This anthology is a blend of my personal experience and knowledge together with specially created pieces to highlight the highs and lows of service life.
These tales can be enjoyed equally by those who have served and, those who have never donned a uniform.

Humour, fact, fiction, and fantasy are used to portray service in theatres as varied as Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Ancient Briton, the Persian Gulf, Africa, and elsewhere.

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A Time for Courage: and other military stories

By Tom Benson

(Available as an eBook from Amazon – click on above title for link)

A Time for Courage - 2Of all the short story collections the author has written this is by far and away my favourite. Tom Benson has drawn on both his imagination and his considerable length of service to craft a poignant collection of short stories across a variety of military theatres. Unusually for a short story collection, not a single story here disappointed or fell even slightly below the high standard of every other.

Throughout this collection, Tom Benson has applied meticulous attention to authentic military detail but not to the point of overkill as to confuse the non-military reader. As anyone who has served will know, the army and other services practically speak another language with all the acronyms, slang and other assorted colourful phrases, but the author’s  clever use of dialogue and context give all the slang and military terminology clear and obvious meaning thus ensuring  the non-military is never left confused or wondering at certain words.

The opening story is a real ‘lump in the throat’ one of courage and self-sacrifice but it is immediately contrasted by the side-splittingly funny satire of the second, one that any military wife (or husband for that matter) will immediately identify with but its razor-sharp humour it cannot help but appeal to all. In the third, the author takes a somewhat personal trip down memory lane in a way that we can all relate to from some time in our lives when we were determined to prove our doubters wrong. Others in the collection highlight much of the military ethos of courage and protecting the weak and vulnerable but still providing the reader with a captivating story, and in the case of Photographic Memory, a real ‘punch the air feel good factor. In The Odd Couple we get a glimpse into some of the more covert activities of ‘The Toubles,’ bringing back painful memories for some of real events that mirror some aspects of the story. Another thing I liked about this collection was its sheer variety; from modern-day Afghanistan and  Northern Ireland right back to the 2nd Century, from Jungle warfare to covert missions in the desert, from the sadness of a family torn apart from being on opposite sites to the sort of comradeship that transcends family that can only be formed with those you would die for and they for you. One story that is particularly pertinent to modern times is that of Walking Wounded; with today’s modern medicine and better field facilities, many more servicemen and women are surviving the sort of injuries only a few decades ago would have spelt certain death. The downside to this, of course, is that we have a whole generation of soldiers returning from conflicts having to face and cope with life-changing disabilities, and it is easy to understand the increased cases of PTSD in many such people. In the Walking Wounded we see the beginnings of one such man’s journey in finding a reason to look to the future with some hope, and with an unusually heart-warming twist too.

In ‘The Afterlife’ the author once again uses mostly his personal experience to round off the collection, giving the reader some brief comparisons of his life since leaving the army with that of a younger man who has never served and through it we see just why so many ex-servicemen refer to themselves as such rather than simply accepting their post-service ‘civilian’ status.

Overall, a thoroughly entertaining collection that will not only entertain but give the non-military reader some rare insights into military service. For others, again it will entertain but also bring back memories, some good, others not so maybe, but if nothing else, for me personally they remind me how very much I have to be thankful for still being in a position to read such stories when so many others are not.

 

For further links to Tom’s many other books please visit his Amazon author page by clicking on the link below:

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Tom Benson Amazon author page TomB1 

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The Diehards 1914-16 – Book Review

JTcopyJT Blythe is another author I discovered in the IASD Fb group. He’s not a prolific writer, reviewer or blogger but simply an ex serviceman who wanted to tell a story that was close to his heart, about one of the most horrific periods of our time when millions of men were sacrificed in a war of unimaginable horror and suffering. In his book The Diehards 1914-16 he has done just that. I look forward to reading more from this author should he decide to turn his writing talents elsewhere…

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Amazon Blurb:

In 1914 the ‘Diehards’ the 4th Battalion The Middlesex Regiment went to fight on the Western Front in a war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars.
The horror of the trenches with lice, rats, mud, cold, gas and flame throwers. Men lying dead and dying in no-man’s land some whose bodies would not be recovered until after the war ended.
This account gives an insight into the bravery, courage and dedication shown by those men. Although the characters are fictitious the events are real as are the facts and figures. Author JT Blythe puts together a story woven round the actual battles the Battalion took part in over the period 1914-1915 giving an insight not only to the horrors of the Western Front but also to the realities of the Home Front and the efforts made by many patriotic women who kept the country working in the absence of their menfolk.

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The Diehards 1914-16 

By JT Blythe

(Available from Amazon  as an eBook & in paperback)

5Starscropped

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JTblythe1First off let me begin by saying that this is a book written from the heart with real feeling and compassion; an account of the first world war, blending fact and fiction to not only show the horror and reality of the time but to tell the human and personal side of it for those young men fighting at the front amid the artillery fire and mustard gas, and just what life was like living in the trenches along the edges of that no-man’s land between life and death. Through the fictional stories of a small group of friends and comrades serving at the front we get as close to eye-witness accounts of many of the battles as is possible given that barely a handful of people survive who would even be able to remember the tail end of the war let alone have served through it. Interspaced among the acounts of the constant artillery bombardments, troop movements, and the triumps and losses of those fighting we hear of the their personal lives too, their loved ones back home, and their hopes for the future should they survive the war.

Much of the story is narrated from the third person perspective of four young men serving with the 4th Middlesex Regiment, better known as the Diehards on account of their battle cry of ‘Die Hard’ when going into battle. Billy, Matt, John, and Tommy all believed as did many others at the time that the war would be a brief affair and that they would all be home for Christmas. Had that been the case it’s possible the four of them might have remained lifelong friends but it was not to be, not all the of them would return and even those that did would carry their injuries and battle scars with them. Through their letters home and conversations we learn that Billy was married to Nancy and they had a one year old son, Billy Jnr. After the war he had promised his wife he would leave the regiment and work with is father in the dockyards. Matt was 4 years younger than Billy, and had a girlfriend, Sarah. She was hopeful of marrying Matt after the war, and the two of them settling down on a farm, but Matt had other ideas. Tommy was the youngest of the four, and indeed the youngest in their platoon for which reason most of the older men sort of took him under their wing. He was an only child and his parents were fearful for him fighting at the front. And lastly there was John – Sergeant John Michael Dunn. He was single, and though only 24, the oldest and most experienced of them. He had lied about his age, telling the army he was 19 when in fact he was only 17 when he first enlisted. Though fictional, these touching and sometimes heart-breaking accounts and background stories would have been all too representative of the real lives of so many thousands of young men like them, of so many lives and dreams cut short.

As well as the fighting at the front, those back home had their own battles to fight too. With so many men away fighting in France and Belgium and elsewhere, many women had to work the land, do the dangerous job of making shells in the munitions factories, and all the other jobs previously done by the men folk. Not only did they have to do the men’s jobs, they had to face the prejudice and resentment and often deal with the ‘unwanted attentions’ of those men left behind. JT Blythe clearly shows without their contribution to the war effort back home the fighting at the front would have all been in vain.

There were a few formatting issues, and the book would have benefitted with another round or two of editing and proof reading. There was also some repetition and over emphasis of the descriptive accounts of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, though having served in the artillery myself and already being quite familiar with these elements of the book it’s quite possible I’ve perhaps picked up on that more than most would. But these minor editorial concerns aside, they are more than eclipsed by the passion and feeling that has gone into the writing of this book; overall the writing was of a high standard and the author has given a good account of the Western Front and those serving there without it reading like a text-book history lesson or succession of historical facts and figures. Some of the narrative has echoes of Wilfred Owen, particularly the descriptions of the battles, the deprivation and living conditions of the trenches  through the personal stories of four young men,  serving their country and indeed the women too back home, JT Blythe has given us a human face to the conflict, bringing to life in some small part both the reality of the time, and amid the horror, some of the courage and compassion too.

Touching The Wire – Book Review

A poignant and well-crafted emotional thriller,

…and another well deserved five stars… 

5Starscropped

rebecca4Touching The Wire by Rebecca Bryn is the first book I’ve read by this author, and a first class one at that. Rebecca Bryn is another member of and an active contributor to our Indie Author Fb support group and IASD website, as well as contributing to several other online writing groups. In addition to her current three  novels, she has also recently contributed one of her short stories to Ian D. Moor’s You’re Not Alone anthology of short stories by Indie authors from around the world, the proceeds of which are all being donated to Macmillan, a charity that provides help and support to those affected by cancer. She is a UK based writer currently living in St. Davids in South West Wales, along with her husband, a rescue dog, and in her own words, twenty very talented sheep….

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Click on thumbnails for website and Amazon links to the above:

 

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Further links to Rebecca Bryn’s writing can be found at:

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Rebecca Bryn’s Amazon Author page:

www.rebeccabrynandsarahstuart-novels.co.uk

www.independentauthornetwork.com/rebecca-bryn

www.facebook.com/rebecca.bryn.novels

www.twitter.com/rebeccabryn1

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Note:  As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…

Amazon Blurb…

“He had no way to tell her he had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope.”
A story of every man and woman interred in Nazi death camps throughout the Second World War, this novel is based on real events.

Part One – In the Shadow of the Wolf

In a death camp in 1940’s Poland, a young doctor and one of his nurses struggle to save lives and relieve the suffering of hundreds of women. As their relationship blossoms, amid the death and deprivation, they join the camp resistance and, despite the danger of betrayal, he steals damning evidence of war-crimes. Afraid of repercussions, and for the sake of his post-war family, he hides the evidence but hard truths and terrible choices haunt him, as does an unkept promise to his lost love.

Part Two – Though the Heavens should Fall

In present-day England, his granddaughter seeks to answer the questions posed by her grandfather’s enigmatic carving. Her own relationship in tatters, she meets a modern historian who, intrigued by the carving, agrees to help her discover its purpose. As her grandfather’s past seeps into the present, she betrays the man she loves and is forced to confront her own guilt in order to be able to forgive the unforgivable and keep her grandfather’s promise.

“A young woman bent to retrieve her possessions. An SS officer strode past. ‘Leave. Luggage afterwards.’
She stood wide-eyed like a startled deer, one arm cradling a baby. Beside her an elderly woman clutched a battered suitcase. The girl’s eyes darted from soldier to painted signboard and back. ‘What are we doing here, grandmother? Why have they brought us here?’

The wind teased at her cheerful red shawl, revealing and lifting long black hair. She straightened and attempted a smile. ‘It’ll be all right, Grandmother. God has protected us on our journey.’
Voices rasped, whips cracked, dogs barked… An SS officer pushed towards a woman of about fifty. ‘How old?’ She didn’t respond so the officer shouted.

He edged closer. As a doctor he held a privileged postion, but he’d also discovered he had a gift for languages. He translated the German to stilted Hungarian, adding quietly. ‘Say you’re under forty-five. Say you are well. Stand here with the younger women.’ He moved from woman to woman, intercepting those he could.‘Say you are well. Say your daughter is sixteen. Say you can work or have a skill. Say you aren’t pregnant.’

Miriam’s eyes glistened. ‘May He rescue us from every foe.’ She touched her grandmother’s cheek, a gentle lingering movement, and placed a tender kiss on her baby’s forehead. She moved to stand where he pointed.
Miriam’s eyes met his. He had no way to tell her had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope. ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’ “

Words readers have used to describe this story – ‘astonishing – compelling – relentlessly engaging – important – complex and brilliant.’ Readers’ feedback, via reviews, is hugely appreciated.

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Touching The Wire 

By Rebecca Bryn

(Available from Amazon in both eBook & paperback formats)

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rebecca3There are many adjectives I could use in my review of this book: powerful, moving, emotional, heart-breaking, and heart-warming in places to name but a few. It would be easy to say this book is about the holocaust, but in truth that aspect of the book is more of a vehicle and backdrop to the real story – of courage, the struggle to survive against impossible odds, and later in the story, a search for the truth and long buried secrets of the past. The strength and emotion of the writing gives the book a ‘true story’ feel to it, like you’re a witness to a heart rending tragedy unfolding before you and yet behind the fiction there exists the uncomfortable knowledge that such tragedies were all too real at the time.  This work of historical fiction is both a thriller and a detective story, as well as one of impossible and enduring love and sacrifice. Imagine yourself as someone whose profession and calling is to do whatever they can to save people’s lives and alleviate their suffering, and then having to witness and be a party to unimaginable cruelty and sadism, to live amongst it every day knowing the slightest overt criticism or resistance to it could mean your instant death; in short, a concentration camp doctor is emotionally torn apart by the horror of his surrounding and work. He does what he can to minimise his patients’ suffering, often having to commit the most appalling acts for a greater good. And then he falls in love with just such a patient. Having to see her suffering makes his position even more intolerable and at the same time, urgent. He promises that the true horror of the concentration camps will one day be known, and from that promise a generations spanning story of cleverly crafted detective work, family secrets, and the horrors of the past emerge.

There are some obvious comparisons with Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark here, i.e. someone working with and for the Nazi regime, doing what he can at great personal risk to help those suffering at its hands but who isn’t without his own flaws and guilt, having at times to make impossible choices that will determine who lives and who dies.  The stark imagery and cold reality, and indeed brutality at times, emphasise the horror of the period and place in which much of the story takes place. The author doesn’t try to sensationalise or exaggerate the descriptive elements relating to the concentration camp and the atrocities being committed on a daily basis but simply recounts them as essential elements to the story without venturng into melodrama.  The sheer scale of suffering and the numbers involved can often be hard to take in or comprehend, much like the astronomical numbers and distances when considering time and space, but the personal tragedy and individual stories of the characters here does more to bring home the appalling truth of those times than many a factual account ever could.

The blend of German mythology and analogy interwoven into the narrative and those parts of the story told in flashback give the story an added dimention that works well, perfectly in sync with the younger characters and their part in the overall story. I would say also this last element, while not exactly traditional fairy tale stuff itself, does provide the reader a respite from the harrowing reality of past events, and time to pause and consider what they’re reading. The scene transistions betweeen the past and present are skilfully handled and the subtle and occasional use of German dialogue adds to the authenticity of the writing, but without confusing non-German speaking readers given the obvious meaning and context when it is used.

Although a work of fiction this is a well-researched and vivid account of an horrific and shameful period of what many would still consider to be relatively recent or modern history. This isn’t a book that can be read lightly or as pure entertainment despite the intriguing and expertly crafted storyline. I must admit the historical elements, the mythology, and the central character’s past had more impact for me than the present day aspects of the book, but every element of this story was superbly told and related well to all the others. I could easily visualise this book as a major film on a par with the likes of Schindler’s List…

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 Rebecca Bryn’s Books: Click on thumbnails for Amazon links

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