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ARC Review – John F. Kennedy and PT-109 by Richard Tregaskis

John F. Kennedy and PT-109

John F. Kennedy and PT-109 by Richard Tregaskis. November 15, 2016. Open Road Media, 191 p. $9.99 ASIN: B01LVZ9SFI.

“From the bestselling author of Guadalcanal Diary: The thrilling true story of the future president’s astonishing act of heroism during World War II.

In the early morning hours of August 2, 1943, US Navy motor torpedo boat PT-109 patrolled the still, black waters of Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands. Suddenly, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri loomed out of the darkness, bearing directly down on the smaller ship. There was no time to get out of the way—the destroyer crashed into PT-109, slicing the mosquito boat in two and setting the shark-infested waters aflame with burning gasoline. Ten surviving crewmembers and their young skipper clung to the wreckage, their odds of survival growing slimmer by the instant.

Lt. John F. Kennedy’s first command was an unqualified disaster. Yet over the next three days, the privileged son of a Boston multimillionaire displayed extraordinary courage, stamina, and leadership as he risked his life to shepherd his crew to safety and coordinate a daring rescue mission deep in enemy territory. Lieutenant Kennedy earned a Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart, and the story of PT-109 captured the public’s imagination and helped propel the battle-tested veteran all the way to the White House.

Acclaimed war correspondent Richard Tregaskis—who once beat out the future president for a spot on the Harvard University swim team—brings this remarkable chapter in American history to vivid life in John F. Kennedy and PT-109. From the crucial role torpedo boats played in the fight for the Solomon Islands to Kennedy’s eager return to the front lines at the helm of PT-59, Tregaskis tells the full story of this legendary incident with the same riveting style and meticulous attention to detail he brought to Guadalcanal Diary and Invasion Diary.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Richard Tregaskis including rare images from the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. — Publisher’s Description

 

From history classes and documentaries I was definitely familiar with John F. Kennedy and in a cursory way familiar with his naval career, especially as it related to action with PT-109.  Until reading this book, however, I was unaware of the full story of not only Kennedy’s service, but of the PT boat program as a whole.

Richard Tregaskis is perhaps best known for his gripping account Guadalcanal Diary, but I had been unaware that he also wrote several more WWII histories, this one in particular.  First published in 1962 during the Kennedy administration, John F. Kennedy and PT-109 serves to highlight the military career and heroism of who was then the sitting President of the United States.  Tregaskis seems to have written it through that lens, as there is very little that does not paint JFK in the most glowing light, and honestly, I can see why.  The calm and poise he seemed to show throughout the harrowing days after the sinking of PT-109 and his efforts to save himself and his crew are second to none.

As for Tregaskis’ account, it is very methodical to say the least.  He does an excellent job painting the scene, not only of a young Lt. Kennedy’s military career up to that fateful day in 1943, but how he came to be in the Pacific Theater and on a PT boat specifically.  We are walked through step by step the young officer’s entry to naval service while at the same time learning about the development and implementation of the little PT boats that served so heroically in the war.  Tregaskis had taken very little liberty with the facts surrounding events and this makes John F. Kennedy and PT-109 a good piece of source material for research on this subject.

My only real knocks on this text is that first, because of the methodical nature of the prose I was not as gripped in the story or held in suspense as much as I would have liked to be.  I had trouble imagining myself serving there alongside Kennedy and really experiencing the danger and horror and fear that must have swept over each crew member (whether they would have admitted it or not) after their boat was lost.  This could also be in part because I knew how it would all turn out in the end!  My second fault was the lack of maps, diagrams, and pictures about Kennedy and his PT boat and crew.  I am not sure if this is a feature of just my copy, or is the final publication will have these items.  As a visual learner, I would have enjoyed reading much more if I was able to see and experience these within the text or as an insert, rather than looking elsewhere.  Overall these are not enough to dissuade me from recommending John F. Kennedy and PT-109 to anyone interested in the subject matter and I would consider this as a possible addition to my high school library collection.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the opportunity to read and review John F. Kennedy and PT-109.

Three of Five Stars

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Posted by on November 18, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Review – Doctor Who: The American Adventures by Justin Richards

Doctor Who: The American Adventures

Doctor Who: The American Adventures by Justin Richards. October 25, 2016. Penguin Group (UK), 192 p. $14.99 ISBN: 978-1405928724.

“Travel through time and space with the Twelfth Doctor in these six brand new adventures, set in a host of locations across the US and eras from throughout US history.

An invisible spacecraft turns up at the Battle of New Orleans, an alien presence is detected at the 1944 D-Day landings, and ghosts take over New York’s subway tunnels as they’re being dug in the early 1900s…

Filled with mystery, excitement and the Doctor’s trademark wit, these timeywimey stories will delight any Doctor Who fan.” — Publisher’s Description

 

I have to start off by saying that I love Doctor Who.  I have for a very, very, very long time.  I am one of those kids who used to live for Saturday nights and tune into PBS to watch the funny talking man fight monsters in rubber suits with hokey special effects.  As I grew older, I came to appreciate the stories more and more and in fact, was able to appreciate the rubber effects even moreso.  I was devestated in 1989 when the Doctor left me, and was beyone ecstatic when he came to FOX, and then again to the BBC for his current run.

What was able to get me through the downtime were the books and audio adventures, especially the books.  I loved reading everything Who and still do, although taking on more adult responsibilities I have much less time.  When I came across the opportunity to try Doctor Who: The American Adventures, however, I made time and you should too!

Written primarily for children and tweens (the publisher recommends ages 9-12), Doctor Who: The American Adventures is not very deep or technical, and it does not need to be.  Six separate adventures see the twelfth (presumably, since it’s not specified in any real way) Doctor jumping in and out of American history, anywhere from 1846 to 2017 and taking on baddies to right wrongs.  Each story is complete and stands alone from the others in the book and anything on the televised series or other materials.  These are perfect for getting a younger reader immersed in a little history, a lot of science fiction, and the wonderful universe of Doctor Who.

Author Justin Richards is very well-versed in writing Who, having penned several novels already, including a few of the old Missing and New Adventures I came to know and love and it clearly comes through in each of his stories here.  There’s the perfect mash of rollicking adventure, action, and technical science (though to a lesser extent).  They are very reminiscent of the short stories that used to appear in Doctor Who Magazine and make for very quick, easy reading.

I highly recommend this collection to any Doctor Who fan, but remind you to remember the intended audience for this collection of stories is children and young adults.  If you are looking for the hard-hitting, technical interwoven plotline type of stories, you won’t find them here, but you will have lots of fun!

Many thanks to NetGalley, the Penguin Group (UK), Smith Publicity and Justin Richards for the opportunity to read and review Doctor Who: The American Adventures.

Four of Five Stars

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Posted by on November 18, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Review – Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic by Aaron Wallace

Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic

Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic by Aaron Wallace. September 2016. Pensive Pen Publishing, 206 p. $15.95 ISBN: 099805920X.

“In the first and only book ever written about the beloved 1993 Halloween movie, Aaron Wallace takes readers deep into the world of Hocus Pocus to learn everything they never knew. He provides a lighthearted but scholarly look at the film in its all spooky-kooky glory.

You’ll learn:
• The fascinating history behind “Come, Little Children (Sarah’s Song)” and “I Put a Spell on You”
• How Steven Spielberg shaped the movie
• Why there’s all that talk about yabbos and virgins
• How Hocus Pocus got away with being the edgiest Disney movie ever made
• Whether a sequel could really happen
• And much, much more

Featuring a foreword by Golden Globe nominee Thora Birch (Hocus Pocus’s Dani), afterword by Mick Garris (the film’s writer and producer), and the largest collection of Hocus Pocus fun facts and trivia ever assembled, this is the ultimate unofficial fan guide for Halloween and movie lovers everywhere. Finally, Hocus Pocus is celebrated as the classic it’s become. You’ll love the movie more than you ever knew you could.” — Publisher’s Description

Just in time for Halloween, Hocus Pocus in Focus is the second book in a series of “thinking fan’s guides” by author Aaron Wallace.  Keeping true to the formula he developed in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World (reviewed here), Mr. Wallace closely examines the 1993 film on a variety of levels.  While some might be leery that a “campy” 1990s film can warrant an entire book, Mr. Wallace is able to fill his 206 pages with a wealth of information and trivia included with some in-depth analysis to make it worth the read.

Without giving away too many of the details (What fun would it be for you to read then?), Mr. Wallace is able to take apart the plot, settings, and intimate details of the film and allow you to look at it from an entirely new perspective.  You can see after reading how this was really an atypical Disney film, even for the “new look” Michael Eisner Disney of the 1990s.  By placing itself in the context of Disney trying to branch out and expand to more audiences, Hocus Pocus was actually rather groundbreaking for the company.  Learning about the inner workings of the production, how certain elements of horror, suspense, and established movie tropes blended together, and the immense love of the cast for the film really brings the importance and the love for this film “in focus”.

All that said, Hocus Pocus in Focus is definitely a book primarily for the hardcore fans of the film as the smaller details would be lost on a casual fan who had only seen it a few times. However, it is also accessible to those who are interested in film (specifically Disney films!) in general.  It’s well worth doing yourself a favor and following the author’s advice to watch Hocus Pocus both before and after reading as both a preparation for the details in the book, as well as being able to look for everything discussed after!  I did this myself, as I believe the last time I saw Hocus Pocus was close to 15 years ago and it was well worth it!

Many thanks to Pensive Pen Publishing and Aaron Wallace for the opportunity to read and review Hocus Pocus in Focus.

Four of Five Stars

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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in Reviews

 

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ARC Book Review – Tarkin (Star Wars) by James Luceno

Tarkin (Star Wars)

Tarkin (Star Wars) by James Luceno. November 4, 2014. Del Rey, 289p. $28.00 ISBN:9780345511522.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.” — Publisher’s Description

Taking on one of the most intriguing characters in the Star Wars universe, James Luceno does an admirable job fleshing out the persona of Wilhuff Tarkin. Played perfectly by Peter Cushing in 1977, Tarkin has always been an enigma. How did this man become the commander of the Death Star and an equal to, or sometimes seemingly a superior of, Darth Vader himself? Luceno weaves a story filled with action surrounding a joint Tarkin-Vader mission for the Emperor and flashbacks to Tarkin’s childhood and adolescence.

Set five years after the events in Revenge of the Sith, we are treated to a triple threat here: the growth of Tarkin into the man we see in Star Wars: A New Hope, the continued development of Darth Vader as he grows in the Dark Side, and the seeds of the Rebellion that will reach its pinnacle 15 years into the future.

The action opens on the mysterious Sentinel Base where the newly promoted Moff Tarkin is overseeing a project of epic proportion for the Emperor.  The base is attacked by remnants of the Separatist Movement from the Clone Wars.  While he is able to deflect the ambush, Tarkin is recalled to Coruscant where he faces the Emperor and is tasked to lead a joint mission with Darth Vader to root out the Separatists and eliminate them completely.  While on this mission, the Moff’s cruiser, Carrion Spike, is hijacked and after being used by the Separatists to attack Imperial installations it is up to Tarkin and Vader to track the ship down before more damage can be done, all the while unraveling plots and conspiracies over two years in the making.

To say I had high hopes and expectations for thie book would be an understatement   As a life long Star Wars fan, I have always been intrigued by Grand Moff Tarkin ever since seeing him on the big screen.  What made this ruthless Imperial tick?  How did he get to such a prominent position in the Imperial pantheon, especially command of the Death Star?  When I saw that James Luceno was taking the reins and fleshing out this story, I was even more excited, and was not let down!

Tarkin reads more like an espionage thriller and psychological case study than a science fiction adventure, as with most other Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.  The pacing was deliberate and methodical, giving you a true sense not only of the way in which the main investigation in the story is handled, but also a look at the personality of Tarkin himself.  Luceno never lacks on the details, but the story does not get bogged down in them either.  By weaving in stories of Tarkin’s childhood and adolescence, as well as the trials he endured to shape him, we are treated to a wonderful character study that slowly reveals more complexity and layers to Wilhuff Tarkin than you would ever imagine existed.  Couple that with the asides and glimpses into characters such as Vader and the Emperor while interacting with Tarkin, and the entire triumvirate truly comes alive.

There are some points where the action seems to drag, but, much like Tarkin himself, the story is well metered, calculated, and focused on its desired end.  Readers looking for lots of action will be disappointed, but hopefully not for long as they get to know and understand the personality of one of the most calculating and fearless leaders of the Galactic Empire.

Many thanks to LucasBooksNetGalley, and James Luceno for the opportunity to read and review Tarkin early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on  November 4, 2014.

Four out of five stars.

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Posted by on November 2, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review – 24: Underground by Ed Brisson and Michael Gaydos

24: Underground

24: Underground  written by Ed Brisson with art by Michael Gaydos. November, 2014. IDW Publishing, 124 p. $19.99 ISBN:9781631400544.

“Find out what sent Jack Bauer spiraling into his darkest days as an international fugitive in the several years following the events of the final season. ” — Publisher’s Description

Jack is back!

24: Underground is a look at what has become of out favorite CTU agent after he had been branded a terrorist by the US government and sent on the run as a fugitive after the last full televised season of Fox Network’s 24.

In this book, we find Jack Bauer living as “Borys Melnchuk” in the Ukraine where he is working as a dock worker under the supervision of Petro and living happily with his girlfriend (and Petro’s sister) Sofyia.  All is well for Jack until in a whirlwind of events, Petro’s brother Roman runs afoul of the Russian Mafia, causing the gang members to seek out Petro to pay the debt.

Of course, Jack cannot let Petro deal with this all on his own and as a result jumps in to help on the promise that with one stolen shipment from the docks, the debt will be paid and all forgiven for Petro.  Things never go as they seem and soon the CIA in the Ukraine is aware of Jack’s presence there, the mobsters kidnap Sofyia as bait for Jack, since they have a personal vendetta against him, and there is that infamous race against time to get everything sorted out before innocent lives are lost in the crossfire.

Sticking to the familiar 24 formula, this story sees Jack betrayed and double crossed at several turns, bringing back the famous line: “I thought we had a deal!”  He’s also involved in several close firefights, gets himself a wound that needs tending to and has a hostage taken to being him out of hiding while running from two different groups after him for completely different reasons and without knowledge of each other. While a little predictable, this formula did work well on television, and it works well here.  Sometimes it feels a little rushed, but the twists and turns you would be expecting and familiar with out of a 24 story are all present and very well executed.

The artwork in this graphic novel is phenomenal as well.  It’s dark, very dark at times, but this adds wonderfully to the tone and feeling of the story.  Granted, we have to remember that 24 always took place over that 24-hour time period so this is expected.  Even more important in the art is the way that Gaydos has captured the edge of your seat quality of Brisson’s writing and story and shows that in the settings, and especially on Bauer’s face.  You really can believe that Keifer Sutherland is there on the page with the familiar intense look and I swear, I was able to read all the lines in his voice and felt that intensity of tone as well. All of that said, this is definitely not a book for the kids.  The brutality and graphic nature of the Russian thugs, as well as Bauer’s fighting style are vividly portrayed and may not be for the weak of heart.

Overall, this is a high quality, albeit short and a little rushed work.  Easy and quick to read at a little over 100 pages, I would have been much happier with another 50-75 fleshing out some of the characters a little more and building up to the final action.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to IDW PublishingNetGalley, and Ed Brisson & Michael Gaydos for the opportunity to read and review 24: Underground.  The final version will be released on  November 12, 2014.

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Posted by on September 28, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Book Review – Crucible (Star Wars) by Troy Denning

Crucible (Star Wars)

Crucible (Star Wars) by Troy Denning. July 2013. LucasBooks, 336 p. $27.00 ISBN:9780345511423.

“When Han and Leia Solo arrive at Lando Calrissian’s Outer Rim mining operation to help him thwart a hostile takeover, their aim is just to even up the odds and lay down the law. Then monstrous aliens arrive with a message, and mere threats escalate into violent sabotage with mass fatalities. When the dust settles, what began as corporate warfare becomes a battle with much higher stakes—and far deadlier consequences.

Now Han, Leia, and Luke team up once again in a quest to defeat a dangerous adversary bent on galaxy-wide domination. Only this time, the Empire is not the enemy. It is a  pair of ruthless geniuses with a lethal ally and a lifelong vendetta against Han Solo. And when the murderous duo gets the drop on Han, he finds himself outgunned in the fight of his life. To save him, and the galaxy, Luke and Leia must brave a gauntlet of treachery, terrorism, and the untold power of an enigmatic artifact capable of bending space, time, and even the Force itself into an apocalyptic nightmare.” — Publisher’s Description

Crucible is the latest in the long line of Expanded Universe Star Wars novels.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Expanded Universe, these are the stories that fall outside of the canon of the six Star Wars feature films.  The events in this universe remain very true to themselves and range from times thousands of years before the first Star Wars film (called BBY – Before the Battle of Yavin) to forty-five years After the Battle of Yavin (ABY) which is when Crucible is set. We are treated to a much older cast of characters than I was used to in Crucible, and obviously much has happened to these characters in the time between last seeing them on screen and this novel.

I was only familiar with some of the events in the Expanded Universe, having read a few novels set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, but to fast forward 40 years was a little intimidating.  Fortunately, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this novel as Denning provides ample background to understand characters’ motivations and enough back story to keep the reader informed without having to read the entire EU backlog.  If anything, it’s intrigued me to delve deeper into some of the series that I have missed over the years.

The story itself in Crucible is an enjoyable space adventure.  The action is fast paced, with a few intermittent moments where is slows, but stops just short of becoming dull in those moments.  Even those not wholly familiar or invested in Star Wars or its Expanded Universe may enjoy this novel, but it’s not recommended.  The audience for this will end up being those who have seen at least the original trilogy of movies and/or have read most of the EU books or won’t mind the research.

That said, it was great seeing characters we were familiar with including Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, and even Lando Calrissian.  On the downside, from the first sentence it seems like we’re constantly being reminded that this is a Star Wars novel.  Constant references to the films and some of those obscure at best (how much mileage has the phrase “nerf-herder” gotten over the years, I wonder) became tiring after a while.  Add to this continual reminders that the Jedi deal all the time with the Force — we have Force lightning, Luke feels something in the Force, Leia reaches out with the Force, objects are moved with the Force — We get it by now, the Force is ever-present and used by Jedi for a great many things, so the phrase “with the Force” became tiresome after a while.

Aside from these minor points, the feel of the novel was definitely Star Wars for me, however.  Interesting villains on many levels with different stages of adventure, wit, and humor with a sprinkle of spirituality keeps the novel moving at fast clip and kept me engaged throughout.  Even with missing many of the previous EU novels, it was pretty obvious that Crucible is going to serve as a bridge between previous stories and a new series of adventures.  As such, it makes for a great one off adventure for those looking at trying a new Star Wars adventure without feeling the need to commit to a five to six novel series.

Many thanks to LucasBooksNetGalley, and Troy Denning for the opportunity to read and review Crucible.  The final version will be released on  July 9, 2013.

Four out of five stars.

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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review: The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic

My review of a fantastic Science Fiction Adventure/Mystery!!

NJBiblio Reads

The Far-Time Incident

The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic. 2013. 47North, 342 p. $14.95 ISBN: 9781611099096.

When a professor’s time-travel lab is the scene of a deadly accident, the academic world and the future of St. Sunniva University get thrown into upheaval. As assistant to the dean of science, Julia Olsen is assigned to help Campus Security Chief Nate Kirkland examine this rare mishap…then make it quietly go away!

But when the investigation points toward murder, Julia and Chief Kirkland find themselves caught in a deadly cover-up, one that strands them in ancient Pompeii on the eve of the eruption of the world’s most infamous volcano. With the help of their companions—a Shakespearean scholar and two grad students—Julia and the chief must outwit history itself and expose the school’s saboteur before it’s too late.” — Publisher’s Description

The Far Time Incident is one of those books that…

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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Reviews

 

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