Disclaimer: As an introductory point for those not familiar with the ''1632verse'' series, this book is set in the years 1631-1633 and is an alternate history. It is but one of ten works in publication in just over 'five' years!!! Reading this book by itself is okay, but the first (lead) novel '1632' is free online from the Baen Free Library, and you will be best off enjoying that first. (Note the series is not consistantly labeled by Amazon, see wikipedia or Baen.com for the proper books in the collection. For example, the second novel is listed first under co-author David Weber, and not Eric Flint.)
This is a most unusual, and in my mind a very historical series since it's roots are not just the fruits of one author's thoughts, but based on the ideas and experience of hundreds. Yes hundreds, perhaps thousands. Since 2000 the marvelous webform Baen's Bar [...] has had a niche called 1632 Tech, which initially continued discussions started over in David Webers dedicated forum 'Buships'. After a friendly 'eviction' to the new 1632 Tech forum the discussions continued and picked up steam. It is certain that Eric Flint had not intended the lead book in the series '1632' to be the first of a series--he's said so, multiple times. But when the public calls, an author rethinks his schedule and begins considering feasibility and plot elements. This is what took place on the bar in those days, and has ever since in 1632 Tech. At some point the public won, and Eric conceded to do a sequel and the cheers began.
That concession produced the '1633' novel co-written by NYT best selling author David Weber, which appears under Webers by-line 'first listed author' (Marketing!!!) as the (then) better known author due to the arcane habits of print publication.
But the 1632 Tech forum activity also caused Flint to do something very unusual--he made a decent and perhaps even noble public acknowledgement of his debt to Fans and the whole tubful of published authors that contributed to the frenzied furor of seething ideas on 1632 Tech--He officially opened up his milieu to accept stories from writers and wanabee's. This created an unusual thing--a co-sequel, 'THE RING OF FIRE, albeit published somewhat later--an eponymous reference to the 'miracle' that created the storyline in it's 17th century setting; one smack dab in the middle of the horrendous Thirty Years War (Just for spice, no doubt!). This long work was essentially were co-written at the same time as the 1633 sequel, and both works influenced and shaped the other.
In a single word, both are 'canonical' for the milieu-- i.e. part of the official background for what comes later. Another result is the opening of the Baen's Bar '1632 Slush' (A 'Slushpile' in editor-speak refers to the stack(s) of unsolicited manuscripts that need read and vetted) forum, a place for wanabees (and a few published writers!!!) to submit stories within the milieu for 'Peer Review' and critical editing.
Both Flint and Jim Baen agreed when setting this up to stay out of it, and eventually when the stories were 'Ripe' they were commended to Eric for another anthology. This brought about in succession, first an expermental eMagazine 'The Grantville Gazette' then the expermental publishing of that as a trade paperback and then five more 1632verse anthologies all published first as eMagazines, then eBooks. This book, the Grantville Gazette II, is the second of the six and like all six--again a very remarkable characteristic in a series--all the works published by Baen in any format are considered canon for the series per Eric Flint. So not only are they high quality and tried by fire by picky knowledgable co-fans, but they are the cream of what ferment has been going on 1632 Tech now in it's sixth year, and shape the background and characters that appear in the series' novels.
Many authors have 'loaned' their milieu to others, or equally, invited them for a short story or two, but the standard tradition heretofore has been the works were performed off to the side some where--formulated so they wouldn't impact the main storylines which were held to be sacrosanct to the author that owned it. Well Eric Flint has maintained editorial control, but he has also wrought several new and wonderful things in developing this rich and wondrous mish-mash of novels and short-stories by essentially conceding to restrict his plot developments to the 'neohistorical' framework as are embodied by these shorter works collected into anthologies and then thrice released. A big part of the appeal of this series is Flint's rejection of the importance of 'Big Men' in history and the counter thesis that historical forces are instead made up by the many individuals choosing this over that and sweeping together collectively into a new dawn. These are the stories as seen from that ground level and they are special in their own right.
Others above have commented on the hilarious 'The Company Men', and I too give it kudos. I did not find 'An Invisible War' at all wordy, and suspect that as a tale it will have far more impact within the canon than the former. It deals with Medicine and Education from our day meeting and coming to terms with Medical practices and practioners and the Educational establishment rooted in late-middle age practices, and ... (I won't spoil the plot, suffice it to say, it was very well done and I violated my implicit contract with Baen's by immediately forwarding that story as an RTF file to no less than seven friends I know in medicine related fields. I did pennance by running down the HC the very next day!)
'Bottom Feeders' is a delightful murder mystery complicated by anti-germanic predjudices, and 'Collateral Damage' featured the Airforce giving Richelieu a taste of the future in a thought provoking good tale. 'Just One of Those Days' is written from the viewpoint of a Gustavus' II cavalry trooper and it's dry wit ended far too soon. 'God's Gifts' is a interesting and quite readable vignette that could have been much longer and sadly wasn't--it covered the difficulty's likely faced by the 'approved' German churches when faced with the modern practices of religious toleration and ecumenicalism. In truth, for my part Eric Flint's own 'Steps in the Dance' is the weakest work in the collection and his writing is never weak in any general sense. So buy it early and often. It's good stuff. If you're already into the series, as a canonical work, the decision's a no brainer. Incidently, I gave me 84 y.o. Mom '1632' for Mother's Day last year. :-)