Voices of the Foreign Legion by Adrian Gilbert

Voices of the Foreign Legion by Adrian Gilbert

The French Foreign Legion has established a reputation as the most formidable of military forces. Created as a means of protecting French interests abroad, the legion spearheaded French colonialism in North Africa during the nineteenth century. Accepting volunteers from all parts of the world, the legion acquired an aura of mystery—and a less than enviable reputation for brutality within its ranks. Attracting recruits from all over the world, these new soldiers explain in their own words why they submitted themselves to such brutal training.

Voices of the Foreign Legion looks at how the legion selects its recruits, where they come from, and why they seek a life of incredible hardship and danger. It also analyzes the legion’s strict attitude toward discipline, questions why desertion is a perennial problem, and assesses the legion’s military achievements since its formation in 1831. Its scope ranges from the conquest of the colonies in Africa and the Far East, through the horrors of the two World Wars, to the bitter but ultimately hopeless battles to maintain France’s imperial possessions.

Voices of the Foreign Legion by Adrian Gilbert

Before reading this book, all I knew about the French Foreign Legion was from Brynn Kelly’s brilliant suspense series.

That series was a large part of why I requested Voices of the Foreign Legion for review. I’m glad I did, because it was a really interesting read.

Adrian Gilbert used a lot of primary sources and interviews with former members of the Legion in his book, and it gave a fascinating look into a secretive world.

Formed in the nineteenth century, the Legion is made up of men from all over the world. There’s an air of mystery about it all, and members receive new identities upon entering, which is why it is seen as such a “cool” thing for a guy to do. As in the past, many men enter to escape upheaval at home, and I appreciated how many personal accounts – historical and current – were used.

Unlike many military-themed nonfiction books, this one would make a good read for anyone. It’s definitely not all facts, figures, and too much terminology to get your head around.

Another thing that I learnt from this book? Brynn Kelly sure did her research!

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 18th – 24th March

So. I have news. BIG NEWS. However, I’m not going to share it until everything is finalised. In the meantime, here are some silly pictures:

From my home office window in Canberra on Thursday afternoon. One of Australia’s scruffiest baby birds (that is about half a metre in length – so not so little). What a cute mess!

St Patrick's Day Dancing Canberra 2019

St Patrick’s Day dancing in Canberra last weekend.

Out Now: The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

My review of What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan

My review of Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family

10 Romance Clichés

Uh, Book Depository?

Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family

Penguin Bloom The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family by Bradley Trevor Greive, Cameron Bloom (Photographer).

Penguin Bloom is an extraordinary true story full of hope and courage, featuring Cameron Bloom’s exceptional photographs and a captivating narrative by New York Times bestselling author Bradley Trevor Greive.

Penguin the Magpie is a global social media sensation. People the world over have fallen in love with the stunning and deeply personal images of this rescued bird and her human family. But there is far more to Penguin’s story than meets the eye. It begins with a shocking accident, in which Cameron’s wife, Sam, suffers a near fatal fall that leaves her paralysed and deeply depressed.

Into their lives comes Penguin, an injured magpie chick abandoned after she fell from her nest. Penguin’s rescue and the incredible joy and strength she gives Sam and all those who helped her survive demonstrates that, however bleak things seem, compassion, friendship and support can come from unexpected quarters, ensuring there are always better days ahead. This plucky little magpie reminds us all that, no matter how lost, fragile or damaged we feel, accepting the love of others and loving them in return will help to make us whole.

Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family by Bradley Trevor Greive, Cameron Bloom (Photographer).

Despite the title, this is a book about an Australian magpie (totally different breed to magpies in other countries) called Penguin, who was adopted by a family as a baby and then went on to become famous.

The (true) story went “viral”, and is soon to be released as a Hollywood movie.

I came across this book while on holiday at the coast, and read it in one sitting, though it was surprisingly long and with a lot more text than I was expecting – I was initially in it for the cute bird pictures!

penguin the magpie

Speaking of those pictures, they’re brilliant, and there are lots of them. The book is worth it for the photography alone.

However, there’s more to this story.

The mother of the family had an accident in Thailand which left her disabled and confined to a wheelchair. The book is as much about her coming to terms with her disability (which also left her without her senses of smell and taste) as it is about the bird, and the book begins with a chapter written by the husband, and ends with one written by the wife.

I’ll admit: the attempts to tie the relationship with Penguin to the woman’s personal journey were pretty flimsy. I doubt the bird actually had much at all to do with it, but I was willing to forgive it.

I’ve been living with a local family of magpies for years. Each spring they bring their babies to us, and they hang out on the front and back decks, singing, sleeping, occasionally attacking other birds in their territory. Never would I ever let one into the house, though twice a bird has sneaked inside, which was… interesting…

Which leads me to… it’s madness to keep a magpie inside. They make the most disgusting mess (yes, what you’re thinking). I was wondering about this family and their magpie, and it turns out that after a while they came to the same conclusion, and they moved her outside.

I’m dubious about the family’s behaviour taking the bird in in the first place. Once they leave the nest, baby magpies live on the ground for some time. Every spring, wildlife organisations beg people to leave them alone – they don’t need rescuing. Animal shelters fill up with “rescued” magpies that didn’t need rescuing in the first place, leaving vets completely frustrated.

However, my doubts aside, the story is an interesting one, and the photographs of the bird interacting with the magpie are brilliant. Australian magpies have a terrible reputation, as there are a few violent birds who attack humans in their territory in springtime. However, most magpies are lovely creatures – especially if they know you – and this book goes a long way to proving it.

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan

Girls are sick and tired because sexism surrounds us.

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired is a feminist manifesto that denounces the discrimination and unfairness felt by women from childhood to adulthood. The graphic novel, illustrated in a strikingly minimalist style with images of girls in multiple moods and shapes, invites teenagers to question the sexism that surrounds us, in ways that are obvious and hidden, simple and complex. Its beginnings as a fanzine shine through in its honesty and directness, confronting the inequalities faced by women, everyday. And it ends with a line of hope, that with solidarity, girls hurt less, as they hold each other up with support and encouragement.

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan

(Note: this is a review of the text. I can’t review the artwork, because I read it on my little black-and-white Kindle.)

I didn’t know what to expect from this one. It’s marketed as young adult nonfiction, but – with some parental/teacher guidance, I think it’s appropriate for slightly younger readers, too.

I also didn’t know it was a Canadian publication until I read it, and so a few of the sections reference Canadian society (and racial groups) in particular. That isn’t a complaint; it’s just an observation.

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired is a short read that won’t tell you many things about gender inequality you don’t already know. However, I thought it was a good compilation of facts that could start some meaningful discussions. One of the things that impressed me the most was the way the creators took seemingly “smaller/minor” feminist issues and mixed them in with the “bigger” things.

One argument misogynists and conservative women make about feminism is: ‘You’ve got it great where you live. Look at women in Saudi Arabia!’

(In fact, I recently had an otherwise progressive man tell me Saudi Arabia is great for women…!)

This book makes feminism a global issue, and illustrates that there are issues in every country. The fact little girls are sold into marriage in rural India and Yemen and many other countries doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against catcalling or the marked-up prices of women’s products and services in the West (“the pink tax”). One injustice doesn’t cancel out another.

I started highlighting lines in What Makes Girls Sick and Tired to share, and then gave up, because I’d highlighted about 90% of the text!

This is a book I think would be invaluable in classrooms for the 12-18-year-olds, but only if it’s presented to male students, too.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 4th – 10th March

National Library of Australia Canberra Heatwave Early Autumn Heatwave Sonya Heaney 3rd March 2019

Sunny afternoon for lunch on the terrace at the National Library.

This week saw the premature deaths of two icons from when I was growing up: Beverly Hills 90210’s Luke Perry and The Prodigy’s Keith Flint. Australia saw another shocking murder of a woman by an ex who wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a similar situation to the murder of a childhood friend of mine in 2015.

And in Russia, a huge crowd of people lined up to give flowers and bow to a statue of Stalin. Imagine the world’s reaction if they’d done this for Hitler in Germany…

Two brave activists – Yevgeny Suchkov and Olga Savchenko – were arrested for doing THIS at the event.

I was so unprepared for Luke Perry’s death. He defined my generation. I was going into high school when his character was finishing high school.

Even though I had all the Jason Priestley merchandise (t-shirts, diaries, stickers etc.), Perry was the 90210 actor who emerged as the biggest star – and was apparently a great man behind the scenes. He was one of THE faces of the 1990s, enough that he was featured across the board in other iconic pop culture shows like The Simpsons:

Brian Austin Green, Jason Priestley and Luke Perry in the 90210 opening credits:

My review of How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes

The New Cover Trend

Cover Love

On My Radar

A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty by Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews became a favourite historical author of mine from her very first book, and a huge part of her books’ appeal is her extensive knowledge of the Victorian era.

Matthews also writes nonfiction books about the era, and this one seems like it will be invaluable. I can’t wait to read it:

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty by Mimi Matthews

What did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history.

Women’s clothing changed dramatically during the course of the Victorian era. Necklines rose, waistlines dropped, and Gothic severity gave way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings. Sleeves ballooned up and skirts billowed out. The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-moulded corsets cinched women’s waists ever tighter.

As fashion was evolving, so too were trends in ladies’ hair care and cosmetics. An era which began by prizing natural, barefaced beauty ended with women purchasing lip and cheek rouge, false hairpieces and pomades, and fashionable perfumes made with expensive spice oils and animal essences.

Using research from nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines, and lady’s journals, Mimi Matthews brings the intricacies of a Victorian lady’s toilette into modern day focus. In the process, she gives readers a glimpse of the social issues that influenced women’s clothing and the societal outrage that was an all too frequent response to those bold females who used fashion and beauty as a means of asserting their individuality and independence.

How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes

How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes

Once at the centre of the American conservative movement, bestselling author and radio host Charles Sykes is a fierce opponent of Donald Trump and the right-wing media that enabled his rise.

In How the Right Lost Its Mind, Sykes presents an impassioned, regretful, and deeply thoughtful account of how the American conservative movement came to lose its values. How did a movement that was defined by its belief in limited government, individual liberty, free markets, traditional values, and civility find itself embracing bigotry, political intransigence, demagoguery, and outright falsehood? How the Right Lost its Mind addresses:
*Why are so many voters so credulous and immune to factual information reported by responsible media?
*Why did conservatives decide to overlook, even embrace, so many of Trump’s outrages, gaffes, conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and smears?
*Can conservatives govern? Or are they content merely to rage?
*How can the right recover its traditional values and persuade a new generation of their worth?

How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes

It’s very hard to keep up with the political landscape at the best of times, but in the chaotic era of Donald Trump, it’s downright impossible. This becomes even more the case when someone wants to write a book about it, but I found Charles J. Sykes’ take on the situation fascinating (and fact-filled, which is always nice).

Not being American, I had no idea who the author was when I received and began to read this book (he’s a *conservative* political commentator who goes by the name of Charlie Sykes). What makes this book so fascinating is that it is written by a man on the Trump/Republican side of things, and it’s an honest look at a conservative movement self-imploding and becoming a personality cult.

While I sympathise with domestic American causes that have come under attack since 2016, for me, as a foreigner, my two main issues with Trump and his supporters are the hatred he fosters for anyone without US-of-A on their passports, and his support for Russia (my now-homeless family members in Ukraine would really like him to stop supporting Putin’s war).

I suppose the most hard-line right-wingers will detest this book and label Sykes a “loser” and a “traitor” and every other word Trump likes to throw his critics’ way, but How the Right Lost Its Mind should be read by people on both sides of the political divide.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 21st – 27th January

canberra summer heatwave sunset australia sonya heaney 20th january 2019

Summer heatwave sunsets in Canberra.

A very scruffy red wattlebird trying to cope with the heat (this bird lives on our back deck), and what it looks like most of the time (second image from Wikipedia).

Rome: City and Empire

In Defence of the Unlikeable Heroine

I Kissed a Rogue (Covent Garden Cubs #3) by Shana Galen

Out Now: All is Fair by Dee Garretson

All is Fair by Dee Garretson

Out Now: Prisoner by Jason Rezaian

prisoner my 544 days in an iranian prison—solitary confinement, a sham trial, high-stakes diplomacy, and the extraordinary efforts it took to get me out by jason rezaian

Australia Day

Out Now: Prisoner by Jason Rezaian

prisoner my 544 days in an iranian prison—solitary confinement, a sham trial, high-stakes diplomacy, and the extraordinary efforts it took to get me out by jason rezaian

Prisoner, the true story of what Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian went through when detained in Iran on false charges from 2014 to 2016, is out now.

Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi – also a journalist – was also imprisoned.

In an era where the US president uses Soviet-style language to call the media ‘the enemy of the people’, and in an era where journalists are routinely murdered in countries like Russia, this is an important book.

I’ve come across readers who say they’ll never read a book with a hero or heroine who is a journalist, which is disappointing. If only more people appreciated the risks they take to put the truth out there.

Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison—Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took to Get Me Out by Jason Rezaian

In July 2014, Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian was arrested by Iranian police, accused of spying for America. The charges were absurd. Rezaian’s reporting was a mix of human interest stories and political analysis. He had even served as a guide for Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Initially, Rezaian thought the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding, but soon realized that it was much more dire as it became an eighteen-month prison stint with impossibly high diplomatic stakes.

While in prison, Rezaian had tireless advocates working on his behalf. His brother lobbied political heavyweights including John Kerry and Barack Obama and started a social media campaign—#FreeJason—while Jason’s wife navigated the red tape of the Iranian security apparatus, all while the courts used Rezaian as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal.

In Prisoner, Rezaian writes of his exhausting interrogations and farcical trial. He also reflects on his idyllic childhood in Northern California and his bond with his Iranian father, a rug merchant; how his teacher Christopher Hitchens inspired him to pursue journalism; and his life-changing decision to move to Tehran, where his career took off and he met his wife. Written with wit, humor, and grace, Prisoner brings to life a fascinating, maddening culture in all its complexity.

“Jason paid a deep price in defense of  journalism and his story proves that not everyone who defends freedom carries a gun, some carry a pen.”
John F. Kerry, 68th Secretary of State

Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising by Francesco Marciuliano

Claw the System Poems from the Cat Uprising by Francesco Marciuliano

Cats are done with humans’ crap. For too long they have put up with baby talk, the humiliation of holiday costumes, and the social injustice of being told, “No.” They will not sleep through this anymore. We humans have woken the beast, and in this book they have gathered together to reclaim their voice, loudly and repeatedly until we pay attention. Watch the uprising unfold, through anthems such as “Redefine Terms,” “Accepted,” “Decide,” “A New Dawn,” and “Just What Do You Think You’re Doing?” Show support for your feline friends and try to understand why they’re so spitting mad.

Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising by Francesco Marciuliano

I’m not a poetry person. I had to spend a whole semester at university studying it, and I hated every moment of it!

However, this isn’t your usual poetry book! Grumpy cats are always hilarious (to me, at least!), and you don’t need to be a fan of poetry to enjoy reading Claw the System. I knew I would like it as soon as I saw the cover.

This is the kind of book any cat owner would appreciate.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.