Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943 by Bruce Gamble

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Fortress Rabaul

This is the second of three books about the Southwest Pacific campaign during World War Two.  The first book covered the fate of Lark Force, an Australian army unit stationed on New Britain when the Japanese invaded.  The first few chapters of this book recap much the same events, but from the perspective of the air battles.

Rabaul was a small town on New Britain (north of Australia) which had an excellent harbor, but with pretty much constant volcanic activity keeping the local population from getting too comfortable.    Its position made it the best place for the Japanese to build airfields and harbor ships to dominate the Southwest Pacific and prepare for their invasion of Australia.

This is a book dense with information, with detailed reports on many of the air battles in the area.   There are a few black and white photos, but extensive endnotes.  There is a bibliography, and an index which has separate categories for ships, planes and military units

The repeated air battle reports get a bit tedious, enlivened once in a while with a particularly poignant moment.   It was somewhat startling to see just how ill-prepared Australia was for the air war, and how little the initial American forces were able to do.  So many airmen dead, so many vanished, their fate unknown.

The volume ends with the mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto in 1943, and the definitive turnaround in the course of the war.  The rest will be told in the final book.

This book will be best appreciated by military history buffs, World War Two buffs, wargamers, and those whose relatives fought in the long campaign.

ETA:  Here’s a Japanese propaganda song of the era, with footage of Japanese planes.

Do you like videos with book reviews?  If so, comment.



Book Review: Tom Swift and His Motor-boat

Book Review: Tom Swift and His Motor-boat by Victor Appleton

When I was a lad, lo these many years ago, one of the things that delighted me was running across  old boys’ adventure books, from when my grandfather was young.  The world they described was so strange and far away, even then.  So when I run across one these days, I have a look for old time’s sake.

Tom Swift and his Motor-boat

This is the second book in the original Tom Swift series.  Tom was the son of a gifted but not yet prosperous inventor, and a skilled engineer/mechanic/inventor in his own right.  Early in the series, the books revolved around the latest real-life technology, edging into techno-thriller territory as Tom’s inventions became more advanced.  They were written by a publishing syndicate under the house name of Victor Appleton, and the straight-up science fiction series of Tom Swift, Jr. books were assigned to Victor Appleton, Jr.

In the first Tom Swift book, he had lucked into a motorcycle and had a series of adventures on it, including tracking down a stolen motorboat.   Said boat was pretty banged up by the end, and in the beginning of this book, the owner sells it to Tom at a very reasonable price.  Tom repairs and upgrades the boat, and soon is having adventures on and around the local (very large) lake.  There’s a subplot with the Happy Harry gang that also appeared in the previous volume.  For some reason they seem bent on staying in the area and harassing the Swifts.

This volume illustrates how much the technology of gasoline motors has advanced in the intervening century–Tom and the other motorboat pilots must frequently tinker with the engines mid-race to get the best performance or prevent breakdowns.  It’s made very clear that merely purchasing a faster engine won’t let you win if you don’t know how to use it properly.

The last quarter of the book sets up the airship that will be the focus of the next volume, with the final fate of the Happy Harry gang.

The character of Eradicate (a black handyman) may come off as offensively stereotyped, and Tom shows some mild sexism when it comes to girls and motors. (The romantic interest gets better at it, but only because of his tutoring.) And towards the end, one character suddenly reveals he has more political power than he’d let on, with no foreshadowing.

But these are minor quibbles, and I think this book would be fine to share with a son, grandson or nephew with the usual discussions of what has changed in the last century and why.

Open Thread: Linkspam 10/2/13

Time for the monthly recommendation of other blogs!  I went to the Bloggers’ group meeting at Joule again.  This time the topic was timesaving tips, such as having a calendar to remind you when it’s time to post.  One cool tip for bloggers with families is having a special article of clothing that you wear when you are blogging so people know not to bother you.  “When Daddy is wearing his Chicago Cubs hat, that means he’s busy writing about sports, so don’t interrupt him unless you’re bleeding or the house is on fire.”

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Here are some of the attendees and their blogs that you might want to check out.:

Wyzguys Tech Talk: Computer repair, network maintenance and related issues.  The latest post is about Windows 8 training classes in the Twin Cities area.

Tech Nick Tips:  Web marketing and social media.  The latest post is about misconceptions of business-related social media.

Pianist for Parties: The author writes about her experiences playing piano for various gatherings.  Tomorrow 10/3/13, is Day of German Unity, and she’ll be playing for a celebration of that, so watch this space.

Retirement Education Plus: Information for those planning for retirement or about to retire.  The most recent post was reminding people that if you are already on Medicare, you don’t need to sign up for the ACA separately.

My Cuddle Corner:  The official blog for Shannon Fabrics, which specializes in plush fabrics.  The lastest entry has a picture of cute children in cheetah costumes.  Seriously, these kids are adorable.

Euphoria Gems: does not have a blog yet, but is planning to start one.  Their gimmick is something called “interchangeable gems.”

The Light in the Middle of the Tunnel:  A blog for family caregivers, particularly in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  The latest post is the personal testimony of someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

AccessAbility: provides business services for those companies who want to hire people with disabilities or other challenges.  Their newsletter is not directly accessible, you’ll have to subscribe.

WeCo Website Accessibility Blog:  WeCo tests the accessibility of websites to make sure that they can be used by people with disabilities or other challenges.  The most recent blog post is a profile of one of their testers.  WeCo has, by the way, a very organized blogging plan–if you like reliable posting schedules, these folks do a good job.

Please consider visiting one or more of these blogs–they’d love to have your views, and if you have some pertinent comments, those would be greatly appreciated.

Also consider commenting here with a link to your blog and what it’s about!



Movie Review: Hammer of the Gods

Movie Review: Hammer of the Gods (2013)

It is the 8th Century C.E. and the Viking invaders are struggling with the Saxons in middle England.  King Bagsecg was given a slow but fatal wound in the last battle, so it’s time for him to choose a successor.    Prince Steinar is a good warrior, but has turned his back on religion of all kinds, including the Norse gods, since the loss of his mother.   Prince Harald is (comparatively speaking) a fop, and the youngest son Vali is kind of a wimp.    No, King Bagsecg decides it’s time to call back his oldest son, the long-exiled Hakan.  So he sends Steinar to fetch Hakan.

Hammer of the Gods

Steinar and a small band of warriors set out on this quest, though all signs are against the successful completion of this mission.   Each step of the journey brings them further into darkness and treachery.

This is a higher-budget film than the last one I reviewed, and a much slicker production.   This is not always a plus–Steinar and his main warrior companions are introduced with metallic “boss titles” which is a touch over the top.

The Vikings, protagonists though they may be, tend towards the ruthless end of the scale, as evidenced by an early scene where a “rescue the captive woman” scene goes seriously off-script.  Steinar’s struggle with his lack of faith amid the warring religions of the age are a large theme.  He no longer believes, but holds on to a charm of his mother’s.  (The film never comes down on one side or the other–everything in it could be explained naturally, but there are some odd coincidences.)

The movie is rated “R” in the US for bloody violence, lots of (non-period) foul language and female toplessness.  Trigger warnings: talk of rape, implied incest.

The main female characters seem to have been cast for the pretty rather than acting skills; most of the other actors manage fair to good.

There are strong resemblances to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; the ending is rather different.

I would only recommend this to fans of violent movies with fairly strong stomachs.   I got it as a free rental from Redbox so got my money’s worth.

Comic Book Review: 47 Ronin

Comic Book Review: 47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai

The tale of the forty-seven ronin is one of the classics of Japanese culture.  It’s based on actual events that occurred in 1701-2.  Lord Asano was provoked into an offense that caused him to be sentenced to ritual suicide, his lands were confiscated, and his samurai warriors were made ronin (masterless) and forbidden from seeking revenge against Lord Kira, who was responsible for Asano’s downfall.

47 Ronin

Forty-seven of these men  decided to disobey that order, but their leader Oishi realized that Lord Kira would be expecting them to do that, and in fact had gotten extra bodyguards from a powerful relative because of this.  So the ronin began a year-long plan to lull Kira into complacency before their attack….

This version is ably illustrated by Stan Sakai, creator of Usagi Yojimbo, but without the more cartoony touches of that series.  His research into the period gives the comic weight.  The author of the series consulted with Kazuo Koike, creator of Lone Wolf and Cub, to make sure that the story stayed faithful to its roots.

There’s a considerable amount of violence, especially in the big battle scene at the end, but the depiction is relatively tasteful.  Oishi spends time in a red-light district as part of the plan.  And just in case you didn’t notice the mention before, this story could be triggery for suicide.  With this last, it’s important to remember that Shogunate era Japan had a culture very different from ours, and ritual suicide was viewed as a way of preserving one’s honor.

The series has just ended, but a collected volume will be out soon.  Highly recommended!

For those of you who prefer prose, here’s a review of The 47 Ronin, a book with that and other tales of Old Japan.

A movie called “The 47 Ronin” starring Keanu Reeves as a half-British 48th ronin and having about zero to do with the original story, will be out soon.

Webtoon Review: The Awesomes

Webtoon Review: The Awesomes

Long-time superhero comic book fans will be familiar with the phenomenon.  You’re enjoying a run of your favorite team,  all your favorite characters working together like a well-oiled machine, you could enjoy this forever.   Then suddenly everything changes.  All the good characters leave, your least favorite is suddenly the leader, and a whole bunch of new characters who seem like a bunch of losers come in.  It might be a mandated change by editorial, or the writer changed, or there’s a trademark issue, but your favorite super-team will never be the same again.

The Awesomes

That’s more or less the premise of The Awesomes, a Hulu original series that recently concluded its first season.    Mr. Awesome is the world’s greatest superhero, and he runs the world’s best super-team, which he named after himself.  But it’s come time for him to retire.   Unfortunately, Mr. Awesome’s hand-picked successor Perfect Man decides he wants to go solo instead, and the retiring hero reluctantly has to accept the request of his son, Professor Doctor “Prock” Awesome, to step up.  Prock is very bright and a huge superhero enthusiast, but he’s also a complete wimp with no leadership experience.  And yes, technically, he has a superpower.  But  every time he uses it, it brings him closer to death, and the doctor has told him not to do that.

Since the other Awesomes don’t respect Prock, they all quit except his one friend, the loyal but none too bright Muscleman.   Things immediately get worse when it turns out that Awesome Mountain, the Awesomejet, the Awesomes’ support staff, none of those things actually belong to the Awesomes.   They’re all on loan from the United States Government based on Mr. Awesome’s reputation.   Unless Prock can refill the roster with the aid of Concierge (the support staff member who didn’t say “not me” fast enough) within a very short time period, the Awesomes will be shut down.

Since no self-respecting superhero wants to be on a team Prock leads,  he eventually has to dive into the reject file for heroes that are powerful, but deeply flawed in various amusing ways.    Meanwhile, Mr. Awesome’s archenemy Doctor Malocchio decides this would be a really good time to break out of prison and start his master plan for world domination.

Can the Awesomes pull it together in time to save the other superheroes and defeat Malocchio?

The good:  The animation is pretty good for a low-budget series, and the voice acting is decent to excellent.  Dr. Malocchio’s actor is clearly having the time of his life.  Also, most of the heroes actually are heroic to the extent that they can manage it.   Too many superhero parodies in recent years have been mean-spirited, depicting costumed crime-fighters as anything but  good people.  The Awesomes may have problems that prevent them from being effective heroes, but they’re out there trying.  And many of the jokes are funny, always a good thing in a comedy.

Not so good:  There’s an unnecessary level of crassness to many of the jokes that turned me off–and the time Muscleman casually kills a couple of innocent bystanders and it’s supposed to be funny was not in any sort of taste.   The Jack Links Jerky ads also got to be too much.

Overall:  The crassness makes this series not an unreserved recommendation.  But that may endear it to the more immature viewers who are usually referred to as “mature viewers.”  Parents of younger viewers should watch it first before letting their kids see it.

Manga Review: Voice Over! Seiyu Academy #1

Manga Review: Voice Over! Seiyu Academy #1 by Maki Minami

Hime Kino isn’t much like her name would imply (“Hime” means “Princess.”)  She’s clumsy and tomboyish, and none too bright.  Plus, she’s got a voice like a gravel pit, that only gets worse when she tries to sound cute.  But she’s a huge fan of the Lovely Blazers magical girl anime series of series (basically a thinly veiled Pretty Cure) and especially the first star of the show, Sakura Aoyama.  Seems that Ms. Aoyama helped Hime out of a jam when she was little, quoting the show.  So Hime’s dream is to become a seiyuu (voice actor) and star as a magical girl on Lovely Blazers.

Voice Over! Seiyu Academy

So it is that Hime has come to Holly Academy High School, which has the nation’s top voice acting program.   Because of her odd voice and lack of proper training, Hime is placed in the “Stragglers” group with a ragtag bunch of misfits.  Plus Hime becomes very irritated with Senri, a naturally talented voice student who is Sakura Aoyama’s son, not that he seems to appreciate it.  Senri is moody, and seems to blow hot and cold towards Hime…when he can remember who she is!

Of course, this not being a grim and gritty manga, Hime discovers that she does have the potential to become a talented voice actor–in male roles!  How is she ever going to get that cute magical girl role on Lovely Blazers?

As I have mentioned before, one of the neat things manga does that American comics don’t do as well is series about people pursuing a career.    Readers can learn all about what it takes to be a firefighter, or an anesthesiologist, or in this case a voice actor.  (The manga creator was inspired to do this after her previous series, S*A, got animated and she met the voice-over people.)  For this series, the author has chosen the “enthusiastic rookie who doesn’t have the skills yet” version of the plot line.

Hime is specifically a little dim, which justifies the mistakes she makes and the need to give her info dumps every so often.   And irritable, so she’ll clash with the guy who is the obviously set up love interest.  This makes her seem pretty generic shoujo manga heroine, except for her voice, which the reader will have to imagine.  The Stragglers are pretty likable, but seem to have two character traits each, and it’s unclear if they’ll get more depth.

As opposed to Senri, who as the rival/love interest, is shown to have multiple facets and a backstory we will be learning about over the course of the series.  This “boy who the girl can’t get along with, but will eventually warm up to her” subplot also feels pretty generic.  But other bits feel fresher, such as the idol duo with one member who is unreasonably jealous of his partner’s attention.

The art is decent, and if the school uniforms seem overly busy, that’s deliberate and editorially mandated.

The primary audience for this series is teen-aged girls, but anyone with an interest in voice acting or voice actors should be able to enjoy it.

Open Thread: Books Is Your Worst Enemy: Eight Ways To Defeat It!

This headline brought to you by Widgets for Creating Misleading Headlines that People Will Click On.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

First, a reminder that my giveaway contest is still running through 9/30/13, but not past that, so drop on by there.

And in keeping with the headline, kind of, tell me about a book you really struggled with finishing.

I personally have never gotten all the way through The Silmarillion.  It’s one of the very few books I actually fell asleep during the reading process, several times!

Book Review: Wild Among Us: True Adventures of a Female Wildlife Photographer

Book Review: Wild Among Us: True Adventures of a Female Wildlife Photographer by Pat Toth-Smith

Disclosure:  I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Wild Among Us

This is a coffee-table book of wildlife photographs, with chapters for each kind of animal and the stories of how the photographer got the pictures.    There are indeed some lovely photographs in here.

The stories will be familiar to anyone interested in wildlife photography.  The elaborate preparations,  the missed chances, the miserable conditions and the brilliant moments when that one perfect shot is available.   Ms. Toth-Smith has several terrifying encounters with wildlife, but usually comes out okay, except for that one time with the mosquito.  (There are no mosquito photographs in this volume.)

Depressingly, the photographer details how she needs to take extra precautions from human threats because she is a woman who often travels alone.  Lucky so far, but a few terrifying moments.

The book is kind of expensive at $45 suggested retail price; consider it as a gift for people who love wildlife photography or animals in general.

Book Review: Global Friendship Vol 5 United Kingdom – Zambia

Book Review: Global Friendship Vol 5 United Kingdom – Zambia by H. Aitoro

Disclosure:  I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.   (Technically I won Vol 3, but I’m certainly not going to complain about a free book!)

Global Friendship Vol 5

This is a part of a series of books aimed at children 4 to 7 years of age, to introduce them to the concept of international relations and cultural diversity.  It was published in the United Kingdom, so may be difficult to get hold of in the United States.    (You can tell by the little things, like calling your mother “Mum.”)  This volume covers the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,  Vietnam, West Samoa, Yemen and Zambia.

Each country gets an outline of its borders, a picture of its flag, introductions to typical children in their national costumes, pictures of a few landmarks and stock phrases in the local language.  The national costume of England is a gray business suit with bowler hat and umbrella, but his Welsh, Irish and Scots counterparts are a bit more colorful.

The art is simple, with all the children having identical faces.  The language is also simple, but be warned that most of the foreign words do not have pronunciation guides.  Parents should probably look up the words before reading this to their children.  The paragraphing is off on the introduction of children pages– Each new person speaking should have their own paragraph, even in children’s books.

At the end of the book is a world map that gives a better idea where these countries are.

This is, as said above, an introductory series of books for small children.  Ideally, your kid will become interested in one or more of the countries shown, so that they and their parents can learn more details about that place and its people.  Or maybe they’ll just start singing the “Small World” song over and over.

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