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.

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.

Book Review: A Wilder Rose

Book Review: A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

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

A Wilder Rose

Most of you are familiar with the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, about her life as a pioneer’s child.  If not the much beloved books themselves, then from the also beloved TV series starring Melissa Gilbert.  You may also be aware that scholars now believe that Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane was much more involved in writing the books than either woman ever told the public during their lifetimes.

This is a fictionalized biography of Rose, focusing on the period of 1929-1939, when the bulk of the Little House books were written.  Ms. Albert has based the story on information found in Rose’s journals and letters, plus the scholarly research of such non-fiction biographers as William Holtz, author of Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane.  It’s an appropriate approach, given that the Little House books were a fictionalization of Laura’s life.

While the rest of Rose’s long and interesting life is covered in asides (and a wrap-up chapter at the end,) the focus is on on the difficult mother-daughter relationship between two strong-willed women who were more alike than either would care to admit, despite their deep differences.  There’s also a theme of Rose’s foster children and how they helped her fill a need in her own life.

Rose knew many famous people in her own career as a writer, including living with Helen Boylston (author of the Sue Barton nurse series) for several years in Albania.  These connections turn up at odd moments to advance the story.

One bit that really struck me was Laura complaining how kids these days have it too soft…in the middle of the Great Depression.  Some things never change!  There’s also a look at how Rose’s politics became more Libertarian over time.

There’s a bibliography of the books written by Laura and/or Rose, as well as a list of books about them for further reading.  A list of real people mentioned in the book is included, and a caveat that names of less famous characters have been changed for privacy reasons.

Because it’s based on things that really happened, the ending may seem a bit weak, but it’s well-written and I would recommend this book to older teens and adults who fondly remember the Little House books.

Book Review: A Reader’s Book of Days

Book Review: A Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My review is based on the Advance Reading Copy; there may be small changes in the finished product.

A Reader's Book of Days

Unlike most of the books I review, I have not read every word of this volume, though I certainly intend to.  The format is a page a day of births and deaths of authors, interesting incidents in writers’ lives and fictional events that happened on that day.  In addition, there is an introduction to each month, and a recommended reading list of books that take place during that month or are thematically  appropriate.  Small illustrations by Joanna Neborsky break up the text a bit.

Like many people do with such books, the first date I checked out was my birthday, then an assortment of other relevant dates.  (For example, September 21st (today as I write this) is the birthday of both H.G. Wells and Stephen King.)  I’ve read a few of the monthly essays, and checked the reading list.

As might be expected, the tidbits shared on each day are somewhat scattershot, some fascinating, some trivial.  They’re short, and if one doesn’t please another comes right after.  There seems to be a wide selection, not just the standard dead white men authors being represented.  The introduction mentions an index, but that has not been included in the advance copy.

Overall, this strikes me as the sort of book you give to a reading-loving friend or family member as a Christmas present, and would work well for that purpose.

Book Review: The Global Public Square

Book Review: The Global Public Square by Os Guinness

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

The Global Public Square

The book’s subtitle is “Religious freedom and the making of a world safe for diversity.”  The idea is that for maximum “soul freedom” we need neither a “sacred” public square, where only the official/majority religion can speak to public policy  (as in countries with a state religion), nor a “naked” public square, where no religion is permitted to speak to public policy (officially atheistic states such as North Korea.)  Instead, Mr. Guinness advocates a “civil”public square “in which citizens of all faiths and none are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith, as a matter of freedom of thought, conscience and free exercise, but within an agreed framework of what is understood and respected to be just and free for people of all other faiths too, and thus for the common good.” (p. 180-181)

As that quote might suggest, this book is rather wordy, and Mr. Guinness spends quite a long time talking around the point before coming down to his actual proposals.  He does make some good points.  Freedom of speech and religion can’t just be made real by laws; they also have to become “habits of the heart.”  Many countries sadly have laws that guarantee freedoms that have no actual effect on the ground.  And there have been excesses both by those who would insist on imposing their religious beliefs as law, and those who would ban all religious expression from public areas.

On the other hand, there are times when Mr. Guinness’ viewpoint becomes a little off, as for example claiming that human rights without a faith basis aren’t “real.”  He also elides the purpose for which “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and fails to note that the ACLU does, in fact, work to protect religious expression when it is being unconstitutionally oppressed.  A particularly sticky subject touched upon but not thought about deeply here is whether someone who is in control of a secular institution can impose their religious beliefs on their employees or customers.  (Mr. Guinness seems to believe the answer is “yes.”)

Also, he does that thing where polyamory is in a sentence that makes it seem morally equivalent to bestiality and female genital mutilation.

There are certainly thought-provoking ideas in this book, and if you are concerned about the role of religion and free speech in public policy, it’s one source to consider.  But have a grain of salt with you at all times.

Giveaway: Autumn Giveaway (Ends September 30, 2013)

This giveaway has now ended.  Congratulations to the winner, who will receive an ARC of “Hen of the Baskervilles!”

There’s a chill in the air as fall approaches–time to warm up with a book!

This time the prize is one of seven books that I’ve recently reviewed:

  • Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong
  • Conquering the Chaos by Ravi Venkatesan
  • Dark Harbors  by J.K. Dark
  • Dead But Still Ticking by David M. Selcer
  • Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner

The rules are a bit different this time, so please read them carefully.

  1. This contest runs from 9/16/13 through 9-/30/13.  The contest is open to both U.S. residents and the international community.
  2. Only one book will be awarded, but you get to pick your preferred prize.
  3. To enter, (a) find the review of the book you want and push one of the social media buttons or post a link to it in your blog and/or (b) boost this giveaway by pushing a social media button or posting a link in your blog.  Then post a comment to this entry detailing which options you chose, and what book you’d like.
  4. You can earn a maximum of four chances by both using the media buttons and linking in your blog for both the book you want, and the giveaway itself.
  5. When the contest ends, I will randomly choose the winner, weighted towards the people who have more chances, of course.

By entering this contest, you help increase the readership of this review blog, and improve the chance of more giveaways in the future!  To help you find the reviews, here’s a look at the covers….

Beneath the Bleak New MoonChaosDark HarborsTickingHen of the BaskervillesLiesFlag

Book Review: What Is a Pacemaker?

Book Review: What Is a Pacemaker? by Jeffrey L. Williams, M.D, M.S.

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  The book itself has a disclaimer reminding the reader that it is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

What Is a Pacemaker?

As the number of people surviving to the age where they might need a pacemaker increases, the need for material explaining just what a pacemaker is and does, and the benefits and dangers of the technology, has grown.  Dr. Williams has decided to go beyond the usual pamphlet approach to give a fuller overview of the subject.

Sections of the book include a refresher on how the heart operates normally, why one might need a pacemaker, the technology involved, pre- and-post-operation care, the implantation procedure, and the possible complications that can result.   I’d have liked a brief history of pacemaker development, but it’s not relevant medical information.    Most of the questions a potential pacemaker user or their caretakers might have are answered.  At times, the medical jargon does get a bit thick, but most of the relevant terms are explained when they come up and there is also a glossary.

There’s a list of reliable internet sites on this and related subjects, plus a list of the references used if you are a bit more research oriented and want to follow up.  The index is very basic, but it’s a short well-organized book.  Illustrations are in black and white, and relevant to the topic.

The primary market for this book is people who are likely to need pacemakers in the near future, but I suspect the primary buyers will be hospitals and medical facilities to give said patients.  As the book itself emphasizes, be sure to follow up any questions you have with your own physician–there’s no substitute for hands-on medical care.  Still, this book is very informative, and I recommend it as a first stop.

Book Review: Waco’s Debt

Book Review: Waco’s Debt by J.T. Edson

This book is part of the “Floating Outfit” series, about a particularly illustrious group of cowboys who work for the OD Connected ranch in Texas.   As the title suggests, the star of this volume is Waco, one of the youngest members of the crew.  Waco’s foster father and brothers are murdered, and he returns to the ranch where he grew up to track down the killers and protect his foster sister Mary Anne, who has returned from education in the East.

Waco's Debt

This is a Western of the old school, morally unambiguous.  The good people are good, the bad people are despicable, and soft city folk need some real rough living if they want to amount to anything.  There’s a sidebar romance with one of Mary Anne’s friends being wooed by a greenhorn that Waco takes under his wing.

It’s a quick read, with plenty of action and a side trip to Chicago, where Waco runs into some old friends.  Waco was eventually spun off into his own series of books, and became a U.S, Marshal.  If you like your Westerns fast-paced and reasonably clean, this is a fun book.  Trigger warning, though, for some off-screen domestic abuse by the villain.

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