Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Book Review: US Infantryman vs German Infantryman: European Theater of Operations 1944

US Infantryman vs German Infantryman: European Theater of Operations 1944US Infantryman vs German Infantryman: European Theater of Operations 1944 by Steven J. Zaloga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I have written seven books for Osprey Publishing so I can't really be called an unbiased reviewer. On the other hand, I don't know the author or artist and WW2 is a bit out of my specialty. I read this as research for a novel I'm ghostwriting for a client.
This is part of Osprey's Combat series, a grunt's eye view of the fight between two opposing sides. Each book looks at the training, equipment, and motivation of a regular soldier on both sides of the battle, with three small-scale fights to illustrate what their experience was like.
I found the detail in this book quite good, and especially appreciated the information on radio communications, something that many authors overlook. The text gives the reader a brief but detailed look at how units were trained, organized, and deployed. The three combat situations were well chosen and clearly illustrate the German army's deteriorating situation in the last half of 1944, as well as the US Army's steep learning curve.
The art is up to Osprey's usual high standard and the maps were clear and easy to read.
My only quibbles were that the text was a bit dry at times and that we never get a good description of a pole charge, even though it is mentioned as an important weapon for taking out German bunkers. Of course I can imagine what a pole charge was, but a photo and some specs would seem appropriate here, especially considering the detailed coverage other weapons get.
All in all, a solid addition to the Combat series.

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Friday, 19 August 2016

Military History Photo Friday: Roman Warship Ram


I haven't blogged in a while because I've been up in Oxford for my usual summer research and writing trip. Besides that, I've been hiking and visiting museums. The best exhibition of the summer is certainly the Ashmolean Museum's Storms, War & Shipwrecks Treasures from the Sicilian Seas, which I've written up for Black Gate. This show looks at the amazing finds from more than a dozen shipwrecks around Sicily.

One of the more unusual displays shows three warship rams from the Battle of the Egadi Islands, fought between the Roman and Carthaginian navies in 241 BC. It was the final battle of the First Punic War and an important Roman victory. A fleet of 200 Roman warships ambushed a convoy of 250 heavily laden Carthaginian warships. The Romans sunk 50 ships and captured 70, while losing only 30 of their own. They seized control of Sicily and began to dominate the Mediterranean. Of course it would take two more Punic Wars before the Romans vanquished their rivals once and for all.

The ram shown here once adorned the prow of a Roman warship. You can just see on the top a decoration in the form of a helmet. The spiky bits would have been just below the waterline and apparently they made a direct hit on some poor Carthaginian vessel, because a chunk of wood is still stuck in the bottom groove!

Check out my article for more on this great exhibition. I blog on Black Gate every Wednesday.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Insecure Writer's Support Group: My First Piece of Writing as an Aspiring Writer

Welcome to the Insecure Writer's Support Group, where on the first Wednesday of every month we vent our anxieties to the world. This month's topic is our first piece of writing, which wasn't all that anxiety ridden for me.

I'm not sure how to answer this topic. My first published work came when I was still an archaeologist and had no intention of becoming the full-time writer I am today. On the other hand, when I decided to make a career change way back in 2001, I started writing for a newspaper in Tucson and now I can't remember what my first article was. I suppose I could look that up, but life's too short and I have writing to do!

So I'm going with my first published work from the mid 90s, when I dove headfirst into the second wave of the zine boom. A zine, for those who came into writing after the start of the Internet age, was a self-published or communally published small magazine. Mine was called Ichthyoelectroanalgesia, which as everyone knows means using an electric fish as a pain killer. You can read more about that wonderful word on my old blog.

My zine was entirely done by myself, using clip art for illustrations. I included travel articles and articles about archaeology, and even answered reader's questions. While it only lasted four issues, Ichthyoelectroanalgesia had a distribution of well over 100, a respectable figure for a zine although some of the more successful broke 1000. It had a cover price of $2 if I remember correctly, but few of the issues were paid for since the point of zines was to trade with other zinesters.

While I intended it as a hobby, the pure fun of writing and publishing got its hooks in me, and within a few years I decided to become a writer.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The AwakeningThe Awakening by Kate Chopin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This famous novel of martial infidelity still packs a punch more than a hundred years on. It starts sedately, with an unhappy wife slowly becoming aware of the source of her unhappiness while vacationing on an island off the Louisiana coast. She attracts the attentions of a young man who attaches himself to her and shows her far more affection than her aloof husband.
The landscape and society of the time of described in rich Victorian detail. While this style can get tedious, this is a short novel and I never felt I was being slowed down. In fact, amid all the social pleasantries and beautiful sunsets, there's a rising tension within the protagonist that keeps the story moing forward.
It's hard to say much more without adding spoilers, but suffice it to say that while the vacation ends, the protagonist's disconent doesn't. But what's a married mother of two to do in that time (or even ours)? Finally she takes action, and that leads to a rapid series of events that will change her life and draws her to an inevitable conclusion.
Beautifully written, haunting, and sad. A true classic.

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Friday, 22 July 2016

Busy Traveling and Writing


Hi everyone! It's been a while since I blogged. I've been really busy this month with a ghostwriting assignment that's got me writing 2,000 words of fiction a day. Add that on top of my regular work and you can see how things are for me at the moment. I've also been traveling. I just spent a wonderful week in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands with my family, meeting two great soon-to-be in-laws. Between swimming and eating, I somehow managed to get my 2,000 words a day in.

And that taught me something. If I can be on vacation and still keep up a decent word count, there's no reason I shouldn't continue that once this assignment is over. Keep an eye out for more productivity from me in the future! I'm almost done with my Apache novel, and after that I'll write book four in the Trench Raiders series, or finish Book Four in my Toxic World series. I'm not sure which order those will come in, but those are the next two in any case.

Tomorrow I'm off to Oxford for my usual summer of researching, writing, and catching up with British friends. I'll try to get back to a more regular blogging schedule in August. What are your summer plans?

This isn't me, this is our waiter who stuffed us silly with seafood.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Get the Post-Apocalyptic Thriller Radio Hope for Free!



For the next five days, through July 11, my post-apocalyptic science fiction novel Radio Hope is free on Amazon. This is the first of the Toxic World series, which has three books and a spin-off novella. Book Four is coming out in the early summer. Radio Hope, however, can also be read as a standalone novel. I'm not pulling you into some sort of crack dealer arrangement. :-) A blurb is below.

In a world shattered by war, pollution and disease. . .
A gunslinging mother longs to find a safe refuge for her son.
A frustrated revolutionary delivers water to villagers living on a toxic waste dump.
The assistant mayor of humanity's last city hopes he will never have to take command.
One thing gives them the promise of a better future--Radio Hope, a mysterious station that broadcasts vital information about surviving in a blighted world. But when a mad prophet and his army of fanatics march out of the wildlands on a crusade to purify the land with blood and fire, all three will find their lives intertwining, and changing forever.

Radio Hope is available on Amazon, Amazon UK, and all the other Amazons. Enjoy and please spread the word!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Insecure Writers Support Group: Making Readers Cry

Welcome to the Insecure Writers Support Group, where on the first Wednesday of every month we expose our foibles to a cruel world! The subject this month is a little more positive than usual: What's the best thing anyone has ever said about your writing?

For me, it's when someone said my writing made them cry. I blogged about it way back in 2008. Here's the post:

I've been busy editing my second fantasy novel these past few weeks. My first novel got rejected by an editor at a major publishing house, but she wants to see my second one. I sent out a panicked email to a couple of my writing newsgroups asking for critiques. It was kind of a tall order--read and critique a 87,000 word novel in less than a month. Nonetheless, seven people replied.

That's one of the great things about the writing community, most writers support one another. Oh, I've met some notable exceptions, usually writers who have recently become successful and have gotten a swelled head, but all in all we're a pretty supportive bunch.

The critiques were quite helpful. Besides catching some typos (you can never catch them all yourself) they had some good suggestions for fleshing out the supporting characters, and clearing up a few scenes. They were also very complimentary. One even said the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my writing--that one scene made her cry.

Wow. I've never been happy about making someone cry since breaking up with a certain deserving ex-girlfriend in college. The scene was designed to make the reader cry, but I didn't think it actually would.

I can only hope it will make the editor cry

NOTE: It didn't. That novel, like my first one, got rejected. I was at the beginning of my fiction writing career and didn't know as much as I do now. Hopefully I can now make readers cry more reliably than in those early days.
Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.