The Trigger by Tim Butcher (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 10 hrs.
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The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher, narrated by Gerard Doyle, is a mixture of travelogue and a sort-of-biography of Gavrillo Princip, the man who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and set the wheels in motion for World War I.  Princip has been considered a radical in many texts, but Butcher seeks to remedy that image and bring to life a more rounded view of the assassin, who eagerly sought the unification of the Slav people in a single nation of their own.

Butcher travels as Princip had traveled from his days growing up and in school and until he joins a group aimed at creating a unified nation free from foreign rule.  Moving from the feudal frontier village of his birth through the mountains in the northern Balkans to Belgrade and Sarajevo where Ferdinand was murdered.  While the story of Princip is engaging, the constant reflections on Butcher’s life as a war reporter in the 1990s during a more modern war in Bosnia draws parallels while pulling readers out of the story about the assassin.  Butcher meets some well-meaning people on his journey and some have no information about Princip, while others have pre-formed perceptions of the teen.

Doyle does an excellent job narrating and maintains the readers attention with his inflections and enthusiasm for the subject.  Butcher’s reminiscences about growing up in Britain after WWI and reporting on modern war are distracting.  The most interesting parts of the story are obscured by the travelogue for the most part and could have been reduced significantly to ensure the history shines through.  Readers interested in the history of the region and why Princip assassinated Ferdinand would be better served by another account of the man’s actions.  The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher, narrated by Gerard Doyle, takes too much time outlining the travels of Butcher and his past, focusing merely one-third on Princip, how he was shaped, and why he assassinated the archduke.

About the Author:

Tim Butcher is a best-selling British author, journalist and broadcaster. Born in 1967, he was on the staff of The Daily Telegraph from 1990 to 2009, covering all major conflicts across the Balkans the Middle East and Africa. Recognised in 2010 with an honorary doctorate for services to journalism and writing, he is based with his family in the South African city of Cape Town.

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

Source: Penguin Random House
Paperback, 416 pgs
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The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson is a phenomenal look at the racial prejudices that continue to hold tight in Mississippi, Alabama, and elsewhere, even after then end of WWII when black soldiers fought bravely against the Nazis.  Joe Howard Wilson is returning home as a decorated hero after losing not only men in his unit, but one of his good friends, L.C.  He’s musing on his visit with his father, Willie Willie, who taught him so much and worked with their white employer, Judge Calhoun, to ensure he was educated enough to get out and make something of himself.


Joe Howard Wilson jerked and his hands went straight to his face, and then to his body, for his gun.  Groping. Feeling. Saying his prayers.  Checking to make sure that he was awake and what had happened in that forest in Italy, all the killing was over.  Checking to make sure it wasn’t happening now.”  (page 1)

Joe is a young man still coping with the loss of friends, only to find that the prejudices he dealt with growing up are still present and an additional pressure he has little patience for after serving for his country overseas.  When Regina Robichard, a young attorney still waiting to hear if she passed the New York bar, is called down to investigate the death of a WWII veteran a year later, she finds that the south is not as black and white as she expects it to be.  She’s sent south with a mission from Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP to investigate the matter.  Regina, the daughter of a relatively famous black female activist, is idealistic and tentative in her approach to those she encounters, particularly M.P. Calhoun, who wrote her favorite book — The Secret of Magic.

“The air in the depot smelled just like everything Southern he remembered.  Even inside, no matter where you were, there was always a hint of the earth and the things that died on it.  You could not get away from the scent of things, from the richness of them, if you had lived, like he had lived, so near to the ground.”  (page 8)

Through a neatly woven narrative, Johnson creates a tapestry of the south that depicts not only the racial prejudices present in the south that are held onto tightly even after WWII, but also the deep connections between the whites and blacks within the small community of Revere, Mississippi.  Like all relationships, at first blush racial prejudice is hatred of the other, but looking deeper Johnson demonstrates that there is a love underneath the comments of “mine” and “our” used by whites in reference to blacks in the community.  Revere is a town that is in transition whether it likes it or not, and in many ways, the change is too quick for some and not quick enough for others — especially those like Peach Mottley who see Regina as the catalyst they need.

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson is gorgeously told, and it is riveting from the first page.  Readers will develop an instant connection with not only Joe Howard Wilson and Regina Robichard, but with the other major and minor characters as they continue to navigate the social constructs that are the same and yet changing.  The fairy tales that peek around the realities of the South provide hope of a new world, but they also are endangered by those who wish to halt change in its tracks.

I haven’t been this blown away by a book in a long while, and this one is a must read and a definite contender for the Best of 2015 list.

About the Author:

Deborah Johnson was born below the Mason-Dixon Line, in Missouri, but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.  After college, she lived in San Francisco and then for many years in Rome, Italy where she worked as a translator and editor of doctoral theses and at Vatican Radio.  Deborah Johnson is the author of The Air Between Us, which received the Mississippi Library Association Award for fiction.  She now lives in Columbus, Mississippi, and is working on her next novel.  Check out her Website.






War’s Trophies by Henry Morant

Source: Author Henry Morant
Paperback, 246 pgs
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War’s Trophies by Henry Morant is a tumble in the jungles of Vietnam, Seattle, and in the minds of Vietnam War veterans dealing with latent post-traumatic stress.  Lieutenant Jeremy Hall is a new man on Captain Stephan Wozniak’s unit in Vietnam, and the captain is none too pleased about it.  As part of an intelligence unit, Hall realizes that these missions are not always sanctioned and that what happens on these missions are kept hush-hush for more than one reason.  Through a series of chapters that alternate from 1986 and 1966, Morant takes readers on a journey into the fog of war; he fleshes out the corruption, killing, and the only brand of justice that can be found on the battlefield and parallels it to the cutthroat business of the newsroom.

“Today’s talent lacks sophistication.  There was class to this one.  Kids and punks today think a drive-by with an ejaculation from their Uzi or a sawed-off is a big deal.  They don’t take the time to learn how to do someone by hand.  Even the mob has had to import pizza men from Sicily to get any style.  Someone with a sense of craftsmanship, pride in their work.  Besides, there isn’t anyone around here smart enough I’ve run into who could break into the federal courthouse the way this phantom did and do a kill.”  (page 18)

Although both of these men have left Vietnam’s jungles far behind, what happened in the heat of battle has stuck with them over the last 2o years and refused to let go.  These men must prepare to do battle once again in the concrete jungle, and just like Vietnam, there are many casualties — some of them innocent.  Morant’s characters are complex in their emotions and while Hall and Wozniak are similar in build they are foils for one another, which makes their imminent squaring off all the more dramatic.

War’s Trophies by Henry Morant is a wild ride into the darker side of war and its effects on the soldiers who fight them — do they succumb to corruption and greed at all costs or do they cow to the pressure of the mission and commit unnecessary murder.  How strong can a soldier remain under the constant barrage of bullets, bombs, and fear?  Morant has written a thriller that will keep readers turning the pages.

About the Author:

Henry Morant has been a soldier, sailor and mountain climber and still seeks adventure in the Salish Sea and along the waters of the east coast of the United States. He often can be found at the Schooner’s Wharf bar in Key West, on a sailboat or in a kayak or rower. His first book is War’s Trophies, a thriller based on murder and robbery during an intelligence mission during the Vietnam war and two former army officers’ cat-and-mouse battle for deadly revenge that begins in Vietnam and resolves 20 years later in Seattle.





After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson

Source: HarperCollins
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After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson follows closely on the heels of Somewhere in France (which I read in 2014) and takes a wide look at how the world look after WWI.  Charlotte Brown, friend to Lilly Neville-Ashford in the first book, sees first hand the results of war at home, as veterans are denied pensions and their families are forced to scrape by on what little work is still available for women.  Through alternating chapters between the time after WWI and when she first found work after completing university with the Neville-Ashford family and befriended not only Lilly, her student, but also her brother, Edward, readers are taken through England as it prospered and as it sustained heavy losses because of the war.  The losses are not just physical, but emotional and psychological for the men returning from war, as well as their families.  There are monetary losses and there are losses of freedom — in the sense that women lose their jobs to returning men and men lose many of their physical abilities during the war and must adapt to a new reality.

“Women always put themselves last.  Either it was the mothers she visited in the slums of Scottie Road who only ate after their husbands and children had had their fill, or it was the women from Huskisson Street who, after cleaning and cooking for days, were left with the rag end of the delicacies, with scarcely a slice of cake to share between them.” (page 145)

Even though this is considered a follow up to the first book, Robson offers enough background about the first book that this could be read as a standalone without any problems.  The main focus here is the aftermath of war, the changes for both men and women in a new world, and Charlotte’s ability to cope with her new reality and still strive to improve the world around her, even in small ways.  Readers who enjoy social change and movements will be swept up in the struggles of these families, just as Charlotte is.  Charity is looked on as a handout by many, but Charlotte’s push to have society lend a helping hand to each neighbor on their own is just what this society needs.  Rather than compete or judge others in the neighborhood, she insists on compassion.

Robson’s characters are dynamic, and Charlotte is strong willed and motivated in her efforts.  When she meets a personal challenge she does take a step back, but she soon realizes that the best medicine is to tackle it head on.  When Lilly and Robbie re-enter the picture, so does Edward, and this stirs up feelings in Charlotte that she hadn’t addressed and is still unwilling to admit to even herself.  There’s even a great Jane Austenesque moment in this one that Robson mimics so well.

After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson is a sweeping novel about life after the war because the immediate casualties of war are not the only tolls countries, communities, and families will be expected to take.  Charlotte is a forthright, strong woman in a changing world, but she’s well aware that change cannot happen on its own or at the hands of one woman.  She needs help, as we all do, and to generate change is to work together.

About the Author:

Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children.  Connect with the author on Facebook.