Monday, August 18, 2014

Non-Fiction Review: A Higher Call


Title: A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II
Author: Adam Makos
Publisher: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2012. 392 pages.
Source: Library

This book tracks two pilots, one American and one German, up to and away from an amazing encounter over Germany. While the encounter forms the center of the story, the book in fact is a thoughtful account of the German Air Force though the war.

As noted, this book is about much more than a single 10-minute encounter between to planes over Germany. The author freely admits to having begun the project with a strong bias against the German pilots, or anyone who fought on the German side in WWII, and an assumption that all Germans were Nazis. But his research forced him to recognize the human beings on both sides, and in the end it was the German pilot whose story he most wanted to tell. In the process, he tells the story of the German Air Force, at least from one perspective. Along the way he learned that good men fought on both sides, that many never joined or supported the Nazi party, and that once the bombs started falling, it didn't seem to matter so much who was right or wrong--they just wanted to protect their homeland.

As a result, the book isn't exactly what it advertises to be--the central incident takes up only one (admittedly gripping) chapter--but it is well worth reading. When we follow Franz Stigler from boyhood, seeing his love of flying develop and lead him ultimately to the air force and to flying fighters, we also see how many ordinary Germans disliked and distrusted Hitler, who had essentially run a coup, claiming complete control with a party that had won less than half the vote (and then abolished elections). It's not hard to understand Franz's anger when his brother is killed. Then we see him gradually sickened by the death and destruction, until he finally fails to shoot down Charlie Brown's US bomber, though it's so shot to pieces he could have taken it out with a pea shooter.

The book reads like a novel, though it is clearly well-researched. I enjoyed it, and appreciated learning more about the other side, being reminded that there are always humans on both sides of a war.  It is well-edited (though I found one typo :) ) and has little in it that doesn't need to be. Technical details of planes are kept to just what we need to know, and most characters who are introduced in any detail prove later to be important to Franz in one way or another.

For all fans of aviation and/or WWII literature.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed A Higher Call  from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash, Part I

Slowly but surely, I'm making progress through the 2700 photos or so I brought back from Peru!  I posted reports on the first trek we did, in the Cordillera Blanca, here and here.

On finishing our first trek, we retreated to Huaraz for two nights and a day of recovery (and a little shopping). Somewhat refreshed, we headed back out to the Cordillera Huayhuash for our second trek. Naturally, this involved a long (4 or 5 hours) bus ride deep into the mountains on terrifying dirt roads that switchbacked down into and up out of deep valleys (because that seems to be what roads in Peru do). While other members of the party ooohed and ahhed and took pictures out the window, I concentrated on not getting carsick, as I hadn't been able to find my motion sickness pills that morning. (I had, of course, put them somewhere logical, and did find them days later). It is a testament to the skill of our driver that I neither threw up nor panicked on the drive.

First glimpse of the Huayhuash--before the pavement ran out.
We drove all the way to our first camp, to give ourselves a second rest day (some members of the party were sick and needed it). While most of us helped set up camp, our boys proved that teens are still kids--they found a box, hauled out their multi-tools, and turned it into a boat (or at least a barge) to run the rapids on the creek.
The Rio Llamac, not too far from its beginnings. Pretty tame, but still too much for the experimental craft.
The next morning we started for real, with a climb to our first pass (Cacananpunta) at 15,500'. Since we'd been hit the evening before with a storm that dumped rain and hail on camp, it wasn't any surprise that the pass had fresh snow on it.
Cold enough for ya?
Once over the pass, the hike was pretty easy, though, and ended in camp at Tuctupampa, near Lake Mitucocha, nestled under the face of Nevada Jirishanca, at over 20,000' (the mountain, not the camp).  Camp was in a very pretty valley with a meandering stream, which proved to be very deep--too deep for bathing in! That didn't stop us from enjoying the view.
Tuctupampa valley

As usual, it frosted heavily overnight, and the clear morning soon began to gather clouds. We took a detour to the lake, to get a better view of the mountains.
A lake half full of tules, and a mountain flirting with a veil of misty clouds. Not a bad morning.
The sharp-eyed kids spotted a fossil in a trailside rock, and we soon found we were surrounded by reminders that these 20,000' peaks used to be a sea floor.
Sea food, anyone?
The weather held pretty nice as we climbed on up and over Punta Carhuac (also called Yanapunta) (15,300'). A bit down the other side we stopped for lunch, while the mountain views were still great. Below, Eldest Son is watching with both interest and trepidation as Juan, our amazing cook, lays out lunch. Meals were often a challenge for ES, whose Asperger's syndrome gives him a lot of strong feelings about foods, but he ate a lot of things he never could have at home. Hunger is the best sauce, as Miguel Cervantes said. Or, as we say in our family, must be the altitude!
Looking at Nevada Yerupaja and waiting for lunch.
The big treat for the day was a field full of biscachas--relatives of the chinchilla, looking rather like rabbits with squirrel tails. They were the main wild mammals we saw, though we did see Andean foxes on a couple of occasions (at night, so no photos).
I like the tails--they look like fiddleheads.
Our camp at Lago Carhuacocha had incredible views of Nev. Yerupaja and the north side of Siula Grande (featured in the documentary movie Touching the Void).  It was also where we were as we listened to Brazil's futbol team lose spectacularly to Germany. Since the broadcasts were in Spanish, we couldn't follow them, but every time we heard that annoying "gooooooaaaaaaaal" yell, we'd holler, "quien?" and our wranglers would answer glumly, "Aleman." A bit of weather gave us a great sunset, a scenic end to our third day.
Not our dining tent. Limited camp space made this a camp we shared, along with the football (soccer) news.

I had intended to cover one more day in this post, but my computer is on the fritz and it's too much work to access all my photos off the back-up just now, so this will be the end of Part I. You can expect at least two more posts for this trek--the mountains and the scenery are worth it anyway!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor  

Title: Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor
Author: Julie Anne Grasso.  2014, 135 pages
Source: Free review e-book

When his favorite cousin Kat disappears from Enderby Manor, 10-year-old Frankie Dupont, sleuth-in-training, is on the case. He has to deal with dubious and devious characters at the Manor, not to mention the bumbling Inspector Cluesome, before the final dramatic race to save Kat in time.

This was a fast, fun read! Frankie is an engaging character, and the story is well plotted to keep the interest of even reluctant readers. There is just a touch of the absurd, with just-over-the-top characters, and a dash of fantasy.  I went into this expecting another realistic kids-and-school type book, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was something a little different. The book does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but as the story develops and moves farther from the every-day, that becomes very easy.

The book is well edited, and illustrated with fun line drawings that depict key moments in the story. My main reservation is that Frankie has an awful lot of chutzpah, and I kept waiting for him to stumble. Things went just a little too smoothly for him, I think, but that is in part due to the short-and-simple nature of a book intended for younger middle-grade readers.

Kids who enjoy mysteries (I was going to say Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys, but I might just be showing my age a bit) should enjoy this. Some might be a bit put off by the fantasy elements, but as many will probably be drawn in by them, given the popularity of fantasy just now.  I would class this as early-middle grade, for kids maybe 8-10 or 11, and probably very good for reluctant readers as it is written fairly simply and moves fast.

Full Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by the author, in exchange for my honest, not my favorable, review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."