Antony Beevor – Crete: The Battle and The Resistance
Crete: The Battle and The Resistance covers the events before, during and after the air invasion of Crete by German forces in WWII. In some ways it is a sorry tale of miscommunication, poor leadership and war crimes. In other ways it is a valuable testament to the bravery of the Cretans in putting up a resistance against the occupying forces with only limited help from Allied forces. As usual with Beevor’s writing it is not for the faint of heart and not devoid of criticism both of commanders in the field and wartime policymakers, but also of other historian’s interpretations of events. Here’s an interesting documentary which tells the story for those who are interested:

For me the book was interesting because I have recently been on holiday in Crete and learned of the island’s more recent rather than ancient history and came to understand some of the inhabitants’ dislike for Germans. While many years have passed, and new generations should not be blamed, stories of the atrocities served out on innocent villagers still live on. I was ignorant to the fact that Crete had even been occupied in WWII, so when I saw that Beevor had written a book about it, it was a no-brainer to get some much needed education on the subject.

“I think it’s outrageous if a historian has a ‘leading thought’ because it means they will select their material according to their thesis.”

Antony Beevor

Neil Gaiman – The Sandman: Overture
The Sandman: Overture is one of the most impressive graphic novels I have had the pleasure to read and it’s no great surprise that it is from Neil Gaiman. The Sandman series is perhaps my favourite comic book series of all time but that means that I have an expectation of high quality storytelling and innovate artwork – and this book has both. Frankly the artwork (from JH Williams III) is breath-taking on page after page. Published in 2013, Overture tells the story that precedes Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1988) and led on to a paradigm shifting series of amazing comics over the 90s. Rather than say anymore I invite you to watch this video where the author tells the story of how Overture came about:

“Because it is the nature of Dreams, and ONLY of Dreams, to define Reality. Destiny is bound to existence. Death is limited by what she will or will not accept.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Overture

Charles Bukowski – Ham on Rye
Ham on Rye is a semi-autobiographical novel centering on Bukowski’s misanthropic anti-hero Henry Chinaski’s – his childhood and teenage years. I have not read the other books featuring this character – namely Post Office and Hollywood – but intend to do so this year some time once I have cleared my bookshelf of unread books (a not unrealistic hope if I ignore the bookshelf of ‘extra’ Bernard Cornwell books I bought last year). In fact this is the first prose by Bukowski I have read, and I was not disappointed.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Ham on Rye is written in a clipped style but not devoid of strange metaphors and phraseology. It also contains some really nice quotable thoughts about life and an interesting insight into the beginnings of alcohol abuse.

“I guess the only time most people think about injustice is when it happens to them.”

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye.

Bernard Cornwell – Fools and Mortals
Fools and Mortals is a standalone novel by one of my favourite authors best known for the Sharpe and variously titled Last Kingdom series. It centres around the exploits of the younger brother of William Shakespeare, Richard. He is a player in his brother’s troupe and wants to stop playing female roles and move on to meatier male roles with more lines.

Players are two a penny, but plays are not. Richard doesn’t get on with his brother particularly well and has a reputation as a thief and so when two of Shakespeare’s manuscripts (the original manuscripts for his new plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo & Juliet) go missing, Richard is prime suspect. To prove his innocence and loyalty to his brother Richard has to use all his cunning and skills as a thief to find the true culprit and steal back the pages before they can be copied.

Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom (1851) oil-on-canvas by Edwin Landseer. Source: Pixabay.

Throw a little romance, some rivalry between playhouses and some nefearious Puritan enforcers onto a well illuminated Elizabethan backdrop and you have a very entertaining yarn. Some readers might perhaps feel that too much time is spent describing the practice and first enactment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I quite enjoyed it as I am a fan of Shakespeare and that play in particular which has featured heavily in the aforementioned Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. My only problem with the book and it certainly won’t be common for most readers is that I was imagining the comedy characters of the TV series Upstart Crow starring David Mitchell as I was reading. It leant the book a comedy undertone which was not perhaps Cornwell’s intention.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.