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A Life of Choice: Part One – Book Review

TBfacepicA Life of Choice by Tom Benson is the first part of a five partIASDpic series about a young recruit to the Royal Corps of Signals of the British Army. There are many authors who have drawn on their past military experience to write both fictional and non-fiction accounts of their military careers and quite a few who have relied purely on research and their imagination.  Quite often, though by no means always,  such books will either lack the authenticity of genuine military experience or be steeped in realism and authenticity yet be let down by the execution of the writing. A Life of Choice falls into neither category having been written by a man with not only over twenty years experience as a soldier but who has also been perfecting his writing skills for nearly the past ten years, having read and written in multiple genres. Regular readers of my blog will know from past posts that as well as being a prolific writer, book reviewer in his own right, and contributor to a number of online writing groups but is now an Admin for the Indie Author Support & Discussion site, highlighting and supporting new and established Indie authors. In addition to his own short story collections, Tom Benson has had short stories published in a number of other author’s collections too:

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Further links to Tom Benson’s writing:

Twitter:  @TomBensonWriter

Website: www.tombensonauthor.com

Blog: www.tombensoncreative.com

Blog: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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Amazon Description:

A teenager feels there must be more to life than a dead-end office job and no social life. During his lunch-break one day in 1969, while walking the city streets, he stops to look at the pictures in an Army Careers Information Office window. How far might he go?

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A Life of choice: Part One

By Tom Benson

(Available from Amazon in eBook format)

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timberwolfamazonA trip down memory lane that has you rooting for the young would-be soldier… loved it!, 1 April 2016

TBn5From what I understand this is the first of several parts to an ongoing saga of the life of a young serviceman. When Jim Falkner joins the Royal Corps of Signals he does so as a shy and quiet teenager with little experience of the world beyond his native Glasgow. Through this story the reader is immersed in the young would-be soldier’s training and those first tentative friendships formed, many of which would last a lifetime. It’s often claimed by those who served that joining the army is what made a man of them, and for many that’s true but what the author shows with equal emphasis is that it can just as easily lead to ruination; just as the young Jim Falkner grows in confidence and into the man and soldier he wants to be, we also see the him being drawn into the services drinking culture and hints at the problems that might bring with it in later years. There is also an excellent preface and first chapter that proceeds the start of our young character’s military career portraying a family background and life that might well have played a part in Jim Falkner’s decision to join the British Army, a background that was indeed shared at least in parts my many of the young recruits of the day.

Written in the first person, the story has very personal feel to it, enabling the reader to get to know Jim as a real flesh and blood person rather simply as a well-constructed character. The dialogue is entirely natural and the chronological way in which it’s portrayed and divided into twelve easily digestible chapters makes the story fluid and easy to read. There are many good things about being in the army as the author clearly shows but he doesn’t shy away from the negatives and hardships along the way. Another thing that impressed me was the author’s honesty in the events he portrays; he doesn’t exaggerate or sensationalise in pursuit of a more exciting or gripping story or try to give the impression that Jim is on course to be another Andy McCabe or other such well known military figure.

Although this is a fictional portrayal of Jim Falkner’s early military training and experiences, the author has drawn heavily on both his own life and those of his immediate comrades of the time, making ‘A Life of Choice’ as authentic as any entirely factual biography. I was pleased to discover when reading this that it wasn’t just another ‘pull up a sandbag’ type account relying on the legendary squaddie humour and colourful language for it entertainment but actually a thoughtful and well-written account of those times; yes those elements are present but they are not exaggerated or over-emphasised, though when they are alluded to it’s done to perfection…

“… The creases in his green denim trousers were sharper than the razor I’d used only the day before for the first time…”

“… Where I came from a steam iron was used to settle domestic disagreements…”

Anyone who has served as a regular in the army, or even one of the other services will from the beginning see familiar elements of themselves and their own experiences and might well read this like a trip down memory lane, bringing back happy and sometimes not so happy times. For others, particularly those who may have had or have friends or family who served, this book provides an honest and, true to military life, humorous insight into army training and life and just a few of the many colourful characters. Beyond that though this is also a compelling coming of age story, of the journey from boy to man, accelerated by intense military training along with all the usual landmark experiences of a young man growing up fast – being away from home for the first time, the pain of first love and its loss, learning to drive (in a land rover as opposed to the usual little bubble type cars that most people learn to drive in), and trying to fit in with his peers and all the pitfalls that entails. The heart of this story commences from 1969 through to 1971 when the army then was a very different thing to what it is today, and again, Tom Benson portrays that here to perfection. By the end of this first instalment, Jim Falkner has long since completed his basic training and is now a fully-fledged Signalman en-route to his first overseas posting to Germany. I look forward to reading of his further training and adventures…

 

Further works from Tom Benson: For further information on any of these books please click on the link to the author’s Amazon Author page:

Tom Benson’s Amazon author page:

Short story collections:

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Poetry

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Novels

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A Humbling of Heroes – Book Review

 

blogpic3.jpgOne of my rare non-fiction reviews, a short book by Paul Rees I was alerted to via one of the UK Military/Veteran Fb groups, chronicling not only some of the incredible acts of bravery and self-sacrifice by soldiers and members of Royal Ulster Constabulary during the the ‘troubles’ of Northern Ireland but also everyday accounts of those who simply did their job to the high and professional standards expected of them and whom the author was privilged enough to know at the time. Although not a member of the IASD stable of Indie Authors,  Paul Rees is an author I shall certainly be reading more of.

Paul Ree lives in North Wales with his son, Daniel, and have a house on a farm and love the countryside. He served 7 years in the British Army, five of those years spent in Northern Ireland, and so is well qualified to write the following book.

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Further links to Paul Rees’ writing can be found at:

Paul Rees on Twitter:

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Paul Rees – Author website:

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A Humbling of Heroes -Amazon Description:

A ‘Humbling’ of Heroes is my way of expressing gratitude to people who, in my humble opinion, played a significant part in bringing ‘Peace’ to Northern Ireland.#ukveterans-one voice.

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A Humbling of Heroes 

By Paul Rees

(Available in both print & eBook formats from Amazon)

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timberwolfamazon – One man’s sombre and yet surprisingly uplifting perspective of ‘The Troubles.’

A relatively short non-fiction book of some sixty four pages but one that packs considerably more content into it than the page count would suggest. The book is divided into twelve short chapters, some focussing on individual acts of exceptional bravery and the events surrounding them along with the author’s own commentary while others are more personal accounts of the exceptional men and women he came into contact with. Amid the tragedy and senseless killings of the times, the tone of the book often switches between the sombre reality of the times with that of the legendary humour and banter of the army. The last two chapters, though more accurately described as post scripts take an interesting and political change of direction from the preceding ones, one high-lighting the formation of the ‘UK Veterans-One Voice’ Fb group by Nigel Kelsall, a friend of the author, originally set up in support of veteran of the Parachute Regiment being investigated for alleged involvement in the Bloody Sunday incident of 1972 but now instrumental in organising and promoting the highly publicised veteran marches and protests against such investigations and politically motivated prosecutions of vetersans and serving personnel alike. The final chapter is a personal note from the author briefly reflecting on his times in Northern Ireland and its subsequent history and is thoughts on some of the issues and controversy of soldier prosecutions.

Normally I would expect to read such a book easily in the one sitting but not so this time; some of the content is indeed ‘humbling’ as the title would suggest, but more so for those privileged enough to read it, many of whom wouldn’t be around to do so but the courage and self-sacrifice of the brave men and women whose individual stories are told here (and thousands more like them both at the time and since).

The style of writing is clear and succinct, in some chapters alternating between a 3rd person factual overview, and the author’s own personal commentary on the people and events portrayed, and in others an entirely personal account, not of individual well documented acts of bravery (of which there were many on a daily basis, most of which go unheralded but for books such as this) but simply of fellow soldiers and personnel it was the author’s privilege to know. I also liked that the author included photographs of the people and places he writes about, bringing home the reality of the subject matter, that these were real people, real places, and real events that existed and were taking place almost on the doorstep of the mainland UK. With the exception of the final two chapters, for the most part the author steers clear of the political background of the times and events portrayed, concentrating instead on the individuals, their personal bravery and professionalism, and snapshots almost of the times, but not unsurprisingly given his background, the author’s underlying perspective is quite rightly and unashamedly that of the British soldier.

Given the anecdotal style i.e. chronicling individual stories in their own chapters it’s impossible in some parts not to make comparisons with the likes of Ken Wharton’s equally humbling and well researched accounts of the time. For those who served, particularly during ‘The Troubles’of Northern Ireland, much of the subject matter will already be familiar and no doubt bring back painful memories. In contrast though they will also recognise the unique squaddie humour and banter and equally no doubt see echoes of their own experiences. For others this book gives both a factual and personal insight into those dreadful times much like the ‘letters home’ of veterans of the first and second world wars that can be viewed in numerous military museums and archives as well as some light hearted glimpses of the less serious side of life that was such an essential part of coping with serving a tour of Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s.

There have been many books written by ex-servicemen (and a few women) that either focus on or refer to ‘The Troubles,’- some that are quite excellent, others not so bad, and a few that are so far off the mark that I genuinely question the said authors’ right and experience to write such books. I’m pleased to say that  ‘A humbling of Heroes’ despite its brevity sits well among the very best of such books, and I would say Paul Rees is well placed and qualified to embark on longer and more ambitious projects in whatever he decides to write in the future.

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Books by Paul Rees Click on titles for Amazon links:

When We’ve Said Goodbye

UK Veterans One Voice

A Humbling of Heroes

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The Diehards 1914-16 – Book Review

JTcopyJT Blythe is another author I discovered in the IASD Fb group. He’s not a prolific writer, reviewer or blogger but simply an ex serviceman who wanted to tell a story that was close to his heart, about one of the most horrific periods of our time when millions of men were sacrificed in a war of unimaginable horror and suffering. In his book The Diehards 1914-16 he has done just that. I look forward to reading more from this author should he decide to turn his writing talents elsewhere…

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Amazon Blurb:

In 1914 the ‘Diehards’ the 4th Battalion The Middlesex Regiment went to fight on the Western Front in a war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars.
The horror of the trenches with lice, rats, mud, cold, gas and flame throwers. Men lying dead and dying in no-man’s land some whose bodies would not be recovered until after the war ended.
This account gives an insight into the bravery, courage and dedication shown by those men. Although the characters are fictitious the events are real as are the facts and figures. Author JT Blythe puts together a story woven round the actual battles the Battalion took part in over the period 1914-1915 giving an insight not only to the horrors of the Western Front but also to the realities of the Home Front and the efforts made by many patriotic women who kept the country working in the absence of their menfolk.

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The Diehards 1914-16 

By JT Blythe

(Available from Amazon  as an eBook & in paperback)

5Starscropped

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JTblythe1First off let me begin by saying that this is a book written from the heart with real feeling and compassion; an account of the first world war, blending fact and fiction to not only show the horror and reality of the time but to tell the human and personal side of it for those young men fighting at the front amid the artillery fire and mustard gas, and just what life was like living in the trenches along the edges of that no-man’s land between life and death. Through the fictional stories of a small group of friends and comrades serving at the front we get as close to eye-witness accounts of many of the battles as is possible given that barely a handful of people survive who would even be able to remember the tail end of the war let alone have served through it. Interspaced among the acounts of the constant artillery bombardments, troop movements, and the triumps and losses of those fighting we hear of the their personal lives too, their loved ones back home, and their hopes for the future should they survive the war.

Much of the story is narrated from the third person perspective of four young men serving with the 4th Middlesex Regiment, better known as the Diehards on account of their battle cry of ‘Die Hard’ when going into battle. Billy, Matt, John, and Tommy all believed as did many others at the time that the war would be a brief affair and that they would all be home for Christmas. Had that been the case it’s possible the four of them might have remained lifelong friends but it was not to be, not all the of them would return and even those that did would carry their injuries and battle scars with them. Through their letters home and conversations we learn that Billy was married to Nancy and they had a one year old son, Billy Jnr. After the war he had promised his wife he would leave the regiment and work with is father in the dockyards. Matt was 4 years younger than Billy, and had a girlfriend, Sarah. She was hopeful of marrying Matt after the war, and the two of them settling down on a farm, but Billy had other ideas. Tommy was the youngest of the four, and indeed the youngest in their platoon for which reason most of the older men sort of took him under their wing. He was an only child and his parents were fearful for him fighting at the front. And lastly there was John – Sergeant John Michael Dunn. He was single, and though only 24, the oldest and most experienced of them. He had lied about his age, telling the army he was 19 when in fact he was only 17 when he first enlisted. Though fictional, these touching and sometimes heart-breaking accounts and background stories would have been all too representative of the real lives of so many thousands of young men like them, of so many lives and dreams cut short.

As well as the fighting at the front, those back home had their own battles to fight too. With so many men away fighting in France and Belgium and elsewhere, many women had to work the land, do the dangerous job of making shells in the munitions factories, and all the other jobs previously done by the men folk. Not only did they have to do the men’s jobs, they had to face the prejudice and resentment and often deal with the ‘unwanted attentions’ of those men left behind. JT Blythe clearly shows without their contribution to the war effort back home the fighting at the front would have all been in vain.

There were a few formatting issues, and the book would have benefitted with another round or two of editing and proof reading. There was also some repetition and over emphasis of the descriptive accounts of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, though having served in the artillery myself and already being quite familiar with these elements of the book it’s quite possible I’ve perhaps picked up on that more than most would. But these minor editorial concerns aside, they are more than eclipsed by the passion and feeling that has gone into the writing of this book; overall the writing was of a high standard and the author has given a good account of the Western Front and those serving there without it reading like a text-book history lesson or succession of historical facts and figures. Some of the narrative has echoes of Wilfred Owen, particularly the descriptions of the battles, the deprivation and living conditions of the trenches  through the personal stories of four young men,  serving their country and indeed the women too back home, JT Blythe has given us a human face to the conflict, bringing to life in some small part both the reality of the time, and amid the horror, some of the courage and compassion too.

Beyond the Law & Beyond The Law: Retribution – Double Book Review & Author Profile

TomBBeyond The Law: Retribution is the latest book by author and fellow blogger, Tom Benson, whose own TomB1 TomB2blog features high in my list of ‘follows.’ Beyond the Law: Retribution is the sequel to Tom’s most successful book to date, Beyond the Law.

 

Longtime folllowers of my blog might well remember my posting of a review of Beyond The Law back in early 2014; since this latest book is a sequel to that and for the benefit of those who may be unaware of it I am repeating that review to compliment my review of its sequel. 

As well as reading these excellent novels, please take a look at his blog where you will find some equally excellent short and flash fiction stories to enjoy too along with an absolute treasure trove of writing tips and highly informative and essential self-publishing advice:

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www.tombensoncreative.wordpress.com

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Beyond the Law: Retribution – Amazon Blurb:

In 2004, Martin Cameron is sprung from custody on the streets of Glasgow. The ruthless gangster vanishes, but not before leaving instructions for trusted henchmen. A period of mayhem ensues which includes the murder of two outlaw bikers.
Phil McKenzie aka Hawk, calls a meeting of his small vigilante team, but will they make allies of the Mental Riders Motor Cycle Club?
Will the police recall July 1996 and once again leave battle to commence?
There are turbulent times ahead for many hearts and minds – and Scotland’s underworld.

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Beyond The Law: Retribution (sequel)

By Tom Benson

(Available from Amazon in eBook format)

5Starscropped

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A vicious trail of violence, retribution, and dead bodies… loved it!, 24 Nov. 2015

TomB2This is a retribution themed novel once again dealing with those criminals whose cunning and resources enable them to operate beyond the constraints of the judiciary and elude the regular forces of law and order. Such is the violence and ruthlessness of such men it takes an equally resourceful and ruthless approach in dealing with such criminals, cue the reappearance of ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and his unique band of cohorts collectively now known as BTL (Beyond the Law) enterprises. Hawk and his associates are every bit as ruthless as the criminals they face, with the added advantages of the very best military training in weapons, field-craft, and covert operations. Operating as they do outside normal police investigation and procedure they can’t be openly supported by the regular police, but they can still draw on the covert support of the British intelligence services and their unofficial police contacts, as well as here, some more ‘unconventional’ allies.

Our introduction to Phil McKenzie and the formation of BTL enterprises was dealt with in the prequel to this book. Although there is sufficient explanation and references to the past to allow it to read perfectly well as a stand-alone book I would still recommend reading the prequel first to enjoy it to its full; as well as being re-acquainted with ex SAS operative Hawk, the attractive ex intelligence operative Annabel, the equally stunning motor bike riding Rachael, former pick-pocket Jake, and one or two others, several new colourful characters are added to the mix: Max, the leader of biker gang the Mental Riders, and Intelligence operative and linguistics expert, Ian, to name but two. There are also some pretty brutal and sadistic new villains as well in the shape psychopathic twin brothers.

The story kicks off with the audacious escape from prison custody of Martin Cameron, who within minutes of his escape embarks on his vicious return to crime and violence; determined to re-establish and expand his control of all of Scotland’s major criminal activities, there follows a  bloody trail of violence and dead bodies along the way; he also plans his painful and sadistic revenge on the man responsible for his imprisonment, Phil McKenzie. What he isn’t aware of though is just how eager someone else is for equally sadistic vengeance against himor indeed just how better organised and equipped Phil McKenzie and his organisation are now. In the interim, Martin Cameron’s plans to organise a massive drug shipment into Scotland once again bring him to the attention of one of the Hawk’s former cohorts despite being on the other side of the world at the time.

This is what Tom Benson does best, drawing on his own military experience and memories of growing up on the hard streets of Glasgow, coupled with a true story teller’s imagination. Once again, the author’s attention to plot detail and consistency rivals that of say a Frederick Forsythe novel, and is handled with the same careful planning as the covert operations of the story. The precise levels of detail related to weaponry, covert surveillance, and urban and rural field-craft are excellent, enough to place the reader right there with the characters but not so much to distract from the main story or bog the reader down. The characters are well-developed by way of the gritty and realistic dialogue and the things they do. I also enjoyed seeing how some of the characters had evolved since first encountering them in the prequel, and I must say, the writing here is even sharper and more streamlined than before. I was also impressed at how Phil McKenzie took more of a ‘behind the scenes’ role here, allowing some of the other characters to really come into their own rather than relying just on him to carry the story.  As always, Tom Benson rounds up the conclusion and loose ends most effectively, and leaves the reader with a tantalising hint of another sequel. The way the story is structured and has evolved from the prequel could lend this two book series (so far) to a whole series of books along the lines of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ series…

 

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Beyond The Law (prequel) – Amazon Blurb:

In January 1996, Phil McKenzie leads his Special Air Service team, on a secret mission into Kentobi, Africa. An assassin codenamed Chameleon, kills the Kentobi president, but Phil is framed for the murder. He negotiates liberty at a high price; an end to his military career.

Following a brief secondment to the Metropolitan Police and discharge from the Army, Phil returns to his hometown as Hawk, a vigilante. The term, ‘deniable ops’, finds new meaning as Phil tackles Glasgow’s underworld with his small, unique team. Using stealth, intelligence, and bloody violence, Phil hunts down the city’s Godfather.

 

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Beyond The Law (prequel)

By Tom Benson

(Available from Amazon in eBook format)

5Starscropped

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An awesome book that will keep you hooked right to the end!, 22 Feb. 2014

TomB1A ‘can’t put down’ book that definitely hits the ground running. In an explosive opening chapter reminiscent of Andy McNab, we’re introduced to the central character, Phil McKenzie, and some of the background to his special skills and training. What follows is an equally explosive story of unofficial state-sanctioned vigilantism as he and his cohorts set about tackling the tough and violent criminal under-belly of a crime ridden Glasgow. But this is no simple story of good guys hunting down the bad; set against the murky backdrop of the military and British intelligence, Phil McKenzie and a select team of operatives are up against a criminal alliance that spans not only that of organised crime but also high ranking politicians and police officers. The book takes a number of different and dangerous turns, culminating in one hell of a conclusion.

Some of the characters have definite echoes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. The dialogue throughout is both fluid and natural, as is the writing and realistic portrayal of a world and characters that thankfully, most never get to see outside the pages of a book. The author’s attention to detail and plot-line are approached with the same deadly precision as that of a covert military operation.

This is a book that effortlessly combines the genres of military adventure with that of crime and justice, and one that would sit well in the company of Lee Child, Andy McNab, and Tom Clancy. Should Tom Benson ever decide to write a sequel, it will certainly leapfrog to the front of my ‘to read’ list. Highly recommended…

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Author profile:

In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army.

Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992.

He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.

Tom has been writing since 2007. He has published six novels, two anthologies of short stories, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. He is presently working on two novels, and further anthologies of short stories. Tom is also a self-taught artist.

Tom is a prolific writer of short stories, flash fiction, novels, and a number of poetry collections. In addition to being a great writer and author, he also takes the time to offer advice and support to fellow writers and bloggers. He also contributes to numerous online writing groups, and is one of the founder members and Admins of the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb (IASD) group and website of the same name:

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 www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.wordpress.com

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The Tom Benson collection: click on thumbnails for Amazon links

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TB1a TB2a TB3a TB4a TB5a

Tom Benson’s Poetry collection:

Coming Around - 170714 TomB4 Smoke & Mirrors - 030714 2

Erotica & short stories:

Ten Days in Panama - the cover 2904 Amsterdam Calling - the cover 260714

Thriller/Romances:

Beyond The Law - the cover 2904 A Taste of Honey TB6a

Crime/Retribution themed thrillers:

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In addition to his own writing, Tom Benson has had short stories published in a number of colloborative anthologies, three of which are listed below:

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Not What You Thought? and other surprises – The first of the IASD anthologies. Three guest stories by Tom Benson featured in P.A. Ruddock’s humerous collection of short stories and flash fiction in aid on the ‘Forget-Me-Not’ charity at www.exmodltd.org in aid of homeless ex servicemen and those affected by PTSD. 

 

 

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You’re Not Alone: An Indie Author Anthology – The brainchild of author, book reviewer and blooger, Ian D Moore – an IASD anthology bringing together a multitude of international Indie Authors in aid of the Pamela Winton tribute fund, which is in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. cancer care and support charity Macmillan Nurses.

 

 

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Holes: An Indie Author Anthology – The third and latest IASD short story anthology, inspired by the author, reviewer and talented book cover designer Eric Lhati, again bringing together an international collection of Indie authors to showcase and promote just a fraction of the amazing talents on offer from the world of Indie publishing.

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Further links to Tom Benson’s novels and other writing can be found at:

http://www.tombensoncreative.wordpress.com

http://www.tombensonauthor.com

http://www.tom-benson.co.uk

https://twitter.com/TomBensonWriter

Tom Benson’s Amazon Author page:

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Gunners ‘N’ Grenades – Book Review

sean1I first came accross this book via Amazon’s recommendations as well seeing it pop up in a few facebook posts/recommendations. Although not a member of my Indie Author Support Fb group, having read and enjoyed this book I’m delighted to present my review of it here. Sean Connelly is the author of a number of military themed books, most of which are of the memoir & autobiographical genre. Gunners ‘N’ Grenades is Sean Connelly’s first fiction book, though it still draws on his military past. Having spent fifteen years and being a Bombadier in the British Army, he is well qualified to write in this arena. Sean first started writing after someone suggested that he should write an account of his early days in the army, and since then he has gone from strength to strength in his efforts. 

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Further links to Sean Connelly’s writing can be found at:

www.armynovels.com

Sean Connelly’s Amazon Author page:

Sean Connelly’s Armymovels Fb group

www.twitter.com/armynovels

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Note:  As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…

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Amazon Blurb for: Gunners ‘N’ Grenades –

“… It is the dream of most soldiers to be the best. To join an elite fighting force and be able to perform in any theatre of war is the goal of most British squaddies. With it come respect, honour, comradeship and greater courage.

PERSTO TROOP is made up of some of the best and most experienced soldiers in the British Army… and four delinquents. The latter are about to be dishonourably discharged but someone, somewhere sees their potential and they are offered the lifeline of joining this new elite force. They must now endure the rigours of harsh training that will either make or break them.

Told in the style of a fictional autobiography, Gunners & Grenades, has humour as well as action and follows the ‘nitty-gritty’ of the everyday life of a young soldier in the 1980’s as he grows from misfit to a true leader, covering his exploits from bars to battle and sex to secret operations which culminate in explosive action with the kidnapping of a Sultan’s Daughter at The Edinburgh Tattoo and the race against time to rescue her.

For ‘Sledge’, our delinquent soldier and his mates, this is both a final chance and a dream come true… “

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Gunners ‘N’ Grenades: Sledge’s First Mission 

By Sean Connelly 

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(Available from Amazon in both print and eBook formats, and signed print copies available from the author’s website… www.armynovels.com )

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sean2Thoroughly enjoyed this British military adventure story. Like many such stories it begins with some background events leading up to the situation in which the central character, in this case a young soldier called Sledge, finds himself, and from which the unfolding action emerges. Unfortunately for our hero of the story, Sledge, and the men under his command, display just a little ‘too’ much potential and enthusiasm at the beginning of their careers for what it takes to be a good soldier and very nearly find themselves in danger of being booted out of the army. Thankfully someone higher up sees how Sledge and his oppos might be put to better use rather than being thrown back onto civvie street, and gives them the opportunity to prove themselves in a more demanding role. What follows is a side-splittingly funny (and indeed sometimes harrowing) depiction of the brighter side of army life, military banter, and colourful language that would make even the sturdiest blush at. The reader follows Sledge and his comrades’ progress through their training in a newly formed elite troop that sort of exists as a halfway house between a regular regiment and the elite special-forces, possibly to take on missions that the SAS would want to be able to deny all liability or involvement in. Although highly trained and capable of killing without hesitation by the end of their training, Sledge and his comrades are still just like ninety five percent of the rest of the British Army, i.e. hard drinking, womanising, and a colourful a vocabulary as one can imagine – in other words, typical squaddies (and damned good soldiers to boot) – rather than some unbelievable Rambo type supermen.

The real nitty gritty of the story i.e. fighting a real enemy, doesn’t really take place till say the last third of the book, focusing instead on the men’s training, friendships, and banter, but all combining to form the prefect built up to the conclusion. The contrast between the humour and sometimes madness of army life, and the grim realities that inevitably arise from time to time is well portrayed as the story progresses.

I would say that the best military based adventure books are written by those with some personal experience of military life, but that isn’t to say such experience guarantees an enjoyable reading experience. Quite often the writer’s personal experience is injected into their writing too literally, often resulting in a book that comes across as part fiction, part memoir, and with way too much emphasis on military accuracy at the expense entertaining the reader. Thankfully Sean Connelly hasn’t fallen in that trap; yes his own experience shines through in the writing, and the military detail is spot on (for the most part) but he’s also injected a certain degree of poetic licence into his writing to make for a more entertaining story, creating larger than life characters but who aren’t so far removed from reality that they force the reader to suspend disbelief; for military purists there might well be some areas where it could be argued that the poetic licence has been taken a tad too far, i.e. the notion of a bunch of green teenage royal artillery recruits getting the better of highly trained and experienced infantry men is a little hard to believe for anyone whose actually served, as well as their being propelled at such an early stage of their careers into such a troop, but for the average non-military or civvie reader I imagine it wouldn’t be an issue.

Normally this would be an easy five stars for the humour and thumping good story telling value whilst still remaining credible but there were a few typos and grammatical issues i.e. the odd missing word here and there, which tells me the final draft would have benefitted from another round or two of editing and proof reading. Nonetheless it still gets a five star rating, just not quite a resounding one. If you’re looking for the sort of high octane adrenalin fuelled action of an Andy McNab novel or the cold brutal reality of a Ken Wharton book then this probably isn’t it, but if you enjoy British Army themed escapist story telling that captures at least some of the feel and flavour of military life as it was for most of us then you really can’t do much better than this.

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Further books by Sean Connelly: Click on Thumbnails for Amazon links…

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Military Matters – Poetry Review

This is the second book of Tom Benson’s that I have a reviewed (see my review of Beyond the Law), and the second time I have been thoroughly impressed, though for very different reasons in this case. To reiterate my previous preface of Tom Benson, he is a prolific writer whose works include a number of novels, short stories, flash fiction, and several poetry anthologies. For further information on Tom Benson, please see his blog at:

http://www.tombensoncreative.wordpress.com

 

 Military Matters, by Tom Benson (available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle)

MMTB2This is a substantial anthology of poetry by author Tom Benson. The poems themselves follow a broadly traditional style and format, covering the life and times of the British soldier during times of modern warfare and terrorism. Set amidst the backdrop of Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, every poem tells a story, each one unique in its own way. The subject matter covers everything from frontline battle operations to the pride and dedication of those who serve, saddening tales of heroism, love, and its loss, and of loyalty and courage. You’ll not find the glorification of death and war as epitomised by Brooke or indeed the flowing prose of Owen in his vivid accounts of its horror. What the reader will find here are the hard, often tragic and brutal, but always true and honest observations of a man whose marched and trudged in the very same boots and in the same wars as the men and events he portrays in his poems. In comparison to these past writers, I would say Military Matters bears more relation to Owen than to Brooke, perhaps on account of, Like Owen, Tom Benson did indeed live and experience the things he writes about, whereas Brooke’s sonnets were borne more from the hopeful idealism with which Britain entered the first world war.

Tom Benson neither glorifies nor condemns, but with acute poignancy relates the thoughts, feelings, and accounts of a soldier’s life and the job he does. Whilst the author assures the reader that people and events in the poems are largely fictitious, there can be no doubt amongst the lines and verses there are real memories and experiences upon which some of them are based. I doubt if any serving or ex-serviceman or woman could help but be moved, and pause for thought whilst reading through this anthology. Military Matters also presents a unique and heart felt glimpse to the non-military reader of a different world, and one that helps protect and maintain the peaceful one in which we all hope to live and enjoy our lives.

Those readers who have read and enjoyed the works of Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke might well appreciate these up-dated, modern day accounts of war and the military and how they compare.

For further biographical information on Tom Benson and links to his previous and current writing projects see also:

http://www.tom-benson.co.uk

Beyond The Law – Book Review

This is one hell of a good book by fellow blogger, Tom Benson, whose own blog, http://www.tombensoncreative.wordpress.com, features high in my list of ‘follows.’

Tom is a prolific writer of short stories, flash fiction, novels, and a number of poetry books. In addition to being a great writer and author, he also takes the time to offer advice and support to fellow writers and bloggers.

As well as reading this excellent novel, take a look at his blog, as there are some equally excellent short and flash fiction stories to enjoy too…

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Beyond The Law, by Tom Benson

(Available from Amazon in Kindle e-book format)      

A ‘can’t put down’ book that definitely hits the ground running. In an explosive opening chapter reminiscent of Andy McNab, we’re introduced to the central character, Phil McKenzie, and some of the background to his special skills and training. What follows is an equally explosive story of unofficial state-sanctioned vigilantism as he and his cohorts set about tackling the tough and violent criminal under-belly of a crime ridden Glasgow. But this is no simple story of good guys hunting down the bad; set against the murky backdrop of the military and British intelligence, Phil McKenzie and a select team of operatives are up against a criminal alliance that spans not only that of organised crime but also high ranking politicians and police officers. The book takes a number of different and dangerous turns, culminating in one hell of a conclusion.

Some of the characters have definite echoes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. The dialogue throughout is both fluid and natural, as is the writing and realistic portrayal of a world and characters that thankfully, most never get to see outside the pages of a book. The author’s attention to detail and plot-line are approached with the same deadly precision as that of a covert military operation.  

This is a book that effortlessly combines the genres of military adventure with that of crime and justice, and one that would sit well in the company of Lee Child, Andy McNab, and Tom Clancy. Should Tom Benson ever decide to write a sequel, it will certainly leapfrog to the front of my ‘to read’ list. Highly recommended…

For further information on Tom Benson and his past and current writing projects see also:

 www.tombensonauthor.com

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