Gifts of War

This was my first foray into Chick Lit. My friend Daisy and I exchanged books, I lent her The Women's War by Alexandre Dumas, and she in turn lent me this book. Wow. I found myself questioning women as I read this! I mean, most women I've known have always banged on about how women are superior to men, but if all chick lit follows this formula then I don't know.

First things first, this is a well written book, and I did enjoy it. But it's so tiring. I don't know whether it was this book in general or chick lit in general but it felt as if 10 novels had been squished into one. Events that would usually take a long time to build up to and explain (you know, things like drama and suspense) happen a mile a minute which made me question whether the people who typically read this have ADD. And the things that happen are just too incredible. I know it's fiction (and usually life is stranger than fiction) but most the time I like fiction to be somewhat believable. Even reading a James Bond novel, I could never be James Bond but when you read it you can imagine someone actually doing all that and going through all that. What our main character Hal has happen to him is just too much. Here is a brief recap.

Hal is an officer in WW1, serving on the front line. At the Christmas truce, he meets a German officer called Wilhelm who had gotten engaged to a lovely young English lady called Sam before the war. He asks Hal to give Sam a picture of him in his uniform, as he can't write what with being German and all. Hal takes the picture, and a little later is shot in the groin and invalided home, as well as rendered unable to have children. He goes to Stratford-upon-Avon to give Sam the picture, but has fallen in love with the picture and her when he sees her, so he signs up to a German speaking intelligence college in the area, which is run by a nasty bugger. He and Sam start to go out, he doesn't tell her about the picture and Hal then manages to get called up and promoted to Military Intelligence in London. Oh Sam also has a baby by the German which the German didn't know about. Hal asks Sam to move to London after 10 days of knowing her as he wants to provide for her and the baby, even though he knows she doesn't love him and she still loves Wilhelm. He then uncovers a German spy ring and gets promoted. Then he becomes a spy and goes to Switzerland on a mission, only to find the person he is looking for is none other than the nasty bugger from the college. He sends a girl to seduce the bugger to find out the information, only to find out afterwards that she is a hot lesbian, and turns down offers of a threesome twice. Meanwhile, he shoots the nasty bugger in the head. Comes back to London, the Prime Minister meets him and thinks he is great but he is almost prosecuted for treason due to one of Sam's sisters and her fiancé being a pair pf shits. But he is let off. Then his mother dies and 3 days later his sister is killed on the front line. The sister by the way had an affair with a married man whilst working as a nurse at the front and the guy told his wife, who committed suicide. The war then ends and they all go to Paris for the peace settlements, and he meets Wilhelm who saw them but figured the boy was Hal's. I'll go into the ending a little more in a minute.

So that's the basic plot. Not much going on there. One of the things I really disliked was the author's habit of using hindsight for what happened and working it into the speech of characters, when they would not have known at the time. This basically makes it seem really unnatural, as people would not be referencing things like "a peace conference to end all peace conferences". Having a basic understanding of the history of the time, this to me makes the author seem smug in his habit of having characters do this. I was also peeved when I read that they called the dog Einstein on account of how stupid he was. Not that I love Einstein but by the time the book was set, Einstein had written so many theories he was not regarded as an idiot.

Now the ending. It is apparent to me that the reason a "well-known and respected historian" used a nom de plume for this book rather than his or her own is that he/she constructed such a shit ending for the book they would have been embarrassed for their colleagues to see it. Now I was in the habit of bellowing "WHAT THE FUCK" at each incredible development anyway, but the ending had me wanting to set fire to the book. I felt cheated. Basically, whilst they are in Paris, Sam is cold and distracted. As she leaves to go back to England, she gives Hal his sister's journal. In it, Hal's sister Izzy mentions how Hal had met Wilhelm and promised to deliver the picture etc, and Hal realises that Sam had read this. So what does he do to make it up to her? He runs away to the two lesbians and gets killed in a firebomb 8 years later. This is just an incredibly retarded ending. Don't get me wrong, I love films like Japanese version of The Ring with the unhappy ending when it seems... natural almost. But this just seemed tacked on to make soppy women cry. I mean seriously, I just struggled through the most incredible set of events ever to befall a person (oh he was going to get knighted too) for that? WTF Mackenzie Ford. I don't know if it's a rule for chick lit to end with a stupid tragedy but really, fuck me.

If I was just rating this book on the written style, it would be a Francis Drake. You can tell it was written well because it has inspired me to write at length about it. But, and I realise I am not the target market for this, given how the story was mental and the ending drove me round the bend, this is getting Bloody Mary'd. The ending would actually be worth a Blackbeard rating, but that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the book. Avoid unless you like insanity at a constant pace and love to feel very let down by a rubbish ending.

Dickory Cronke the Dumb Philosopher, or, Great Britain's Wonder

Dickory Cronke, by Daniel Defoe, is a strange book, not least because no-one seems to know whether it is based upon reality or not. But given Defoe's record of producing work in character (his Plague Journal for instance), I will err on the side of fiction based upon a little fact. This is only a short book, and it is split into three sections: first, a recanting of Dickory's life; second, his musings upon religion and philosophy; and third, a selection of prophecies for the 1720s. Dickory's life itself is a little interesting, born dumb but living a good and intelligent life until one day he has a fit and whilst realising that his time is nearly up, he also discovers he suddenly has the capacity for speech. There then follows his philosophies and prophecies. Some I found interesting, but to be honest, I did find myself glossing over a number. Do well by yourself and do not bother yourself with the triflings of other people seemed to be the message coming through again and again. As for his prophecies, I have no idea if they came true or not, and I'm particularly inclined to research. Overall, I would say that this is adequate reading, you really aren't missing out by not reading it and overall I would recommend it only to Defoe enthusiasts who feel that they must read his entire works.

Select philosophies:
  • A wise man spends every day as if it were his last; his hourglass is always in his hand, and he is never guilty of sluggishness or insincerity.
  • Wicked men may sometimes go unpunished in this world, but wicked nations never do; because this world is the only place of punishment of wicked nations, though not for private and particular persons.
  • It is a very ancient observation, and a very true one, that people generally despise where they flatter, and cringe to those they design to betray; so that truth and ceremony are, and always will be, two distinct things.
  • Gentleness and good humour are invincible, provided they are without hypocrisy and design; they disarm the most barbarous and savage tempers, and make even malice ashamed of itself.
  • Do not disturb yourself about the faults of other people, but let everybody's crimes be at their own door.
Select prophecies:
  • About this time a man with a double head shall arrive in Britain from the south. One of these heads shall deliver messages of great importance to the governing party, and the other to the party that is opposite to them. The first shall believe the monster, but the last shall discover the impostor, and so happily disengage themselves from a snare that was laid to destroy them and their posterity. After this the two heads shall unite, and the monster shall appear in his proper shape.
  • Towards the close of this year of mysteries, a person that was born blind shall have his sight restored, and shall see ravens perch upon the heads of traitors, among which the head of a notorious prelate shall stand upon the highest pole.

Reminiscences of a Rebel

As I was browsing Project Gutenberg, the title of this book lured me in. It sounded exciting, and that the author had got up to all kinds of naughty shit. So I was a little disappointed to see on the first page of Reminiscences of a Rebel that the author, Wayland Fuller Dunaway, said that rebel really wasn't the right title for him. However, that disappointment was short-lived, as this is an interesting personal account of the American Civil War, written by one of the losers. Reading it, I became sympathetic to the cause of the Confederacy, given the disputed election of Abraham Lincoln and invasion of the South by the North. I have literally next to no knowledge about this period, so it was interesting again to read the thoughts of one of the participants. He comes across as a knowledgeable, intelligent person, who signed up to fight only because his homeland was invaded. However, his own words will do his cause more justice than I ever could, and accordingly a selection will follow. I found this to be an enjoyable read, and really a good introduction to the Civil War. I definitely want to find out some more.

  • I had no time to become frightened, but I was angered by being pursued on my native soil by men who had no right to invade it.
  • There was neither constitutional nor statute law that justified the invasion of the South by armies from the North.
  • I took the liberty of causing a company to fire a volley into the house and that put a stop to the murderous villainy.
  • When prejudice is overcome by gnawing hunger, a fat rat makes good eating, as I know from actual and enjoyable mastication.
  • Three men tunneled out from Block No. 1, only to find themselves surrounded by Yankee soldiers. Captain Cole, a portly man, became jammed in the passage, and was somewhat like Abe Lincoln's ox that was caught and held on a fence, unable to kick one way or gore the other.
  • Withdrawal from the Union was the right of the Southern States, as appears from the history of the making and adoption of the federal constitution; and great was the provocation to use it. It is not, however, always wise,—either for persons or communities,—to exercise their rights. Secession in the year 1860 was a hot headed and stupendous political blunder,—a blunder recognized by the majority of the people of Virginia, who refused to follow the example of her southern sisters until there was forced upon her the cruel alternative of waging war either against them or against the States of the North. Though secession was a grievous error, nevertheless the war that was waged by the Federal Government was a crime against the constitution, humanity, and God. But now, as we view the present and retrospect the past, who may say that all has not turned out for the best?
  • It is a singular fact that while the war was in progress the acts of secession were considered null and void, and the Southern States were declared to be parts of an indissoluble union, but when the war had ended they were dealt with as alien commonwealths and conquered territories.
  • The Southern people did not go to war—war came to them. Not to gain military glory did they fight, although this meed must be awarded to them. Nor was the perpetuation of African slavery the object for which they took up arms, for in Virginia nineteen-twentieths of the citizens owned no slaves, and there was perhaps the same proportion in the other States of the Confederacy. They simply resisted subjugation by a hostile government whose right to rule them they denied.

Present At A Hanging & Other Ghost Stories

I love Project Gutenberg! This is where I found this short collection of ghost stories from around the 1860s. If you are interested yourself, you can download the text here. I also love Mobipocket as they produce a great free ebook reader for PCs and laptops which you can find here. Now all that's out of the way, what did I think of the book?

It's always difficult for me to write a review for a collection of ghost stories, as most are three pages long maximum. From what I read the author, Ambrose Bierce, published these stories in newspapers in the south of America, so they are all true. Whether you believe them or not is another tale but they were presented as non-fiction rather than fiction. Bierce himself has a good story-telling way, and the stories themselves are perfect ghost stories in that they often sent a chill up my spine at the end. Some are pretty creepy too, like the one with the hidden room full of bodies or the haunted house with a woman's head where spirits come and seemingly wish to play football with it, booting it around the house. If you like ghost stories, download the software and the book and read it on a windswept winter's night. Or if you are like me and decide you don't want to freak yourself out walking to the bathroom, read it the next morning in lovely sunshine!

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