Month: February 2018

doomsdayAuthor Nick Pollotta returns with this second installment in the trilogy of the story of Bureau 13, the secret agency within the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for the tracking and apprehension of all supernatural creatures that pose a treat to the safety of the nation.  In book one, we were introduced to Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team of supernatural crime fighters and followed them on their mission to save mankind from complete destruction.  The book was filled with all sorts of characters, weapons that we can only dream of and battles nothing short of epic.   The team returns in this second part, tasked with another earth shattering mission to save the world as we know it.

The story begins in a research lab whose location and origin are unknown.  What we do know is that an experiment has been conducted in which the goal is create a super human that heals instantly and is primed for infantry.  The recruits are former soldiers declared dead to society.  However, they are far from deceased, retaining scattered memories of their former lives.   They are self-aware and a scuffle breaks out after a disagreement following an attempt by a test subject to turn on his human controllers.  One subject is left standing, former Lt. Col. Kensington Sanders who we come to know as Alpha.  He becomes part of Bureau 13 in ways he could have never imagined.

Life for the agents is pretty normal with plenty of ghosts, demons and other creatures to chase.  But during a routine training exercise, an alarm is sounded indicating that a breach has occurred in the main containment facility.  However, this is no ordinary breach and a call to arms is broadcast.   The battle is surreal and the subsequent investigation reveals that there is far more to the story than meets the eye.  Bureau 13 does not just have a jail break on their hands but another crime on a much larger scale.  And to solve this crime, they need all of the help they can get, including Alpha and a few other recruits that blend right into Alvarez’s squad.  And later in the book, they are even joined by a familiar face.

In book one, the action was non-stop and came from all directions.  It was a high-octane ride from start to finish.  While book two has plenty of action, there is more of a story line that builds up to the conclusion.  The team is composed of seasoned veterans having engaged in endless deadly battles but here they are also investigators.  And their methodical approach feels like a scene out of Criminal Minds.  And similar to part one,  the second part of the book takes place in New York City with the USS Intrepid playing a critical part to the book’s conclusion.  The story seems completely far-fetched but in the world of Bureau 13,  the impossible is always possible.  And Pollotta keeps this ride going as only he knows how.  Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team are always on the job but can they save the world?

ISBN-10: 1554047056
ISBN-13: 978-1554047055

fiction

13-1Nearly all of the reviews I have written have been of books that are classified as non-fiction.  This review will be different as I have a taken a short break from the normal material to let my mind have some fun with this book that was recommended to me by a co-worker.  It is book one in a trilogy and the review for the second book will follow shortly.  The cover of the book gives the reader the indication that it is a novel of horror of the most unspeakable kind.  However, I can assure that is not the case but the book is a non-stop ride from beginning to end.  If I had to give it a definite classification, I would reply that it is a place where the Men In Black meets The Suicide Squad, Harry Potter with a touch of Fallout added.  But what exactly is the book about?  And what on earth is Bureau 13?

The story begins from a first person point of view as a battle with supernatural forces takes place.  The central character to the story is Special Agent Ed Alvarez who joins Bureau 13, a secret division of the U.S. Department of Justice tasked with tracking down and eliminating all supernatural threats to the United States.   He forms a team composed of characters of the most unusual sort and together they become Team Tuna Fish.  Alvarez is assisted by Mindy the martial arts expert who is also fluent in Japanese, Jessica the mind reader, George a former solider in the Army, Father Donahue who gives the team a religious supplementation and sorcerers Raul Horta and Richard Anderson.  Their commanding officer is Horace Gordon, Division Chief of Bureau 13 who bluntly informs the group that a large cloud has formed off the East Coast of the country in the Atlantic Ocean and threatens to unleash a fury of supernatural creatures upon the only place they have all called home.  Beneath the cloud is an island from which the nexus of the dark cloud is formed.  The group has a simple mission;  get to the island, infiltrate the encapsulate city and destroy everything that poses a threat to the survival of mankind.  However, with Team Tuna Fish, nothing is ever that simple.

Science-Fiction fans will absolutely love this book. Pollotta has a brilliant imagination. The creatures are as outrageous as the battles the team is forced to fight but the story never loses its pace and is supplemented with excellent sarcasm and quips about American society.  Some of the action takes place in and around New York City which stood out to me as a native New Yorker.  We have a joke here that nearly all disaster films and books take place in New York City for reasons only the creators know. Thankfully, my city survives here but the same cannot be said for many other things in the book. But with a legion of demonic creatures determined to erase humanity, clean and safe are not adjectives that comes to mind.  This is a war between good and evil with carnage and a near apocalypse.

From start to finish the book just keeps going and just when you think the author might slow down and take a break, another curve ball is hurled toward the reader. If you are looking for a good book that lets the imagination run wild peppered with adult humor, you will find this book to be a gem.

ISBN-10: 1554047099
ISBN-13: 978-1554047093

 

 

 

fiction

MarilynOn August 5, 1962,  newspapers around the world relayed the news of the death of Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) the night before at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, California at the age of thirty-six.  The cause of death was listed as suicide from an overdose of the drugs Pentobarbital and chloral hydrate.  However, decades after her death, several question still remain regarding that tragic night of August 4, 1962.  What really happened that night and why was she paid a visit by then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) and his brother-in-law Peter Lawford (1923-1984)?

The image we have been given of Monroe is a drug-addicted sex symbol, starved for validation from the opposite sex and unable to cope with the rigors of Hollywood.  Her previous suicide attempts gave credence to this perpetuated image and for many, it was the ending that they expected for quite some time.   Her life reads like a tragic novel of a heroine unable to fully come to terms with herself and seeking love and affection in all of the wrong places.  However in just thirty-six years, she lived a live that some can only dream of.  At at one point in her life, she was the most desired woman in the world.  Donald H. Wolfe takes us back in time to the those final days in August, 1962 to piece together what really did happen and why.

The book opens by revisiting the night of August 4 and the pandemonium that ensued following Monroe’s death.  Immediately we learn of several disturbing facts that set the tone of the book. Wolfe does an incredible job of keeping the suspense going and the reader engaged.   And rightfully so, he not only explores her death but also provides a concise biography that sets the stage for events that took place later in her life.  Behind the facade of a starlet singing happy birthday to the President, lay a woman raised in a childhood which could best be described as tragic.  However, in order to understand Monroe’s life and her death, it is necessary to explore her beginnings which Wolfe presents to us without breaking the momentum of the book.  And I can assure you that once you start you will be hard pressed to put it down.

Although the book is about Monroe’s final days, there are many sub-stories that are told which gives us an inside view of the inner-workings of Hollywood and politics in the middle of the twentieth century.   As she moves through one circle to the next, some of the biggest names in show business, sports and politics make an appearance in her life such as   John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Clark Gable (1901-1960), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999).   However, among all of the people who cross paths with her, her life takes a much darker and tragic turn through her association with the Kennedys and their associates and it is this relationship that forms the crux the remaining third of the book.  After you have finished the book, you may come to see the administration in a different light.  Today it is public knowledge that an affair did take place between Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.  And if all accounts are correct, Monroe and Robert Kennedy also had their intimate moments.  The sexual content is fodder for gossips and tabloid magazines.  But what was critical was the true nature of their relationship and the many secrets Monroe possessed about the most powerful man in the country.   In fact, it is quite possible that she did have the power to bring down a presidency.   Was this the reason for the urgent visits by J. Edgar Hoover to the White House in May, 1962 and that last visit by Robert Kennedy on the day she died?  Or was this the reason for the heated arguments that took place between Monroe and Robert Kennedy in the weeks leading up to her death? And how much did she know about their association with Frank Sinatra and mobster Sam Giancana?  Certainly, many of their discussions which were likely picked up by the FBI may never be known.  Other recordings by the President are locked away in the Kennedy library.  A little over one year after Monroe’s death,  John Kennedy himself was cut down in a hail of bullets in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  Several years later, Bobby would be gone as well, also the victim of an assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968.  In death they joined a long list of political figures and stars that died during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.

Marilyn Monroe remains a sex icon decades after her death.  Young women still hang posters of her on their walls and purchase t-shirts with her image.  In death, she became a legend whose left this world far too soon.   Her life was in some ways a soap opera with affairs, fairy tale romances, political scandals, drugs, mental health issues and tragically, broken homes.  Sadly, many people in her life failed her not just on one but on several occasions.  But if there is one inspiring aspect of the story, it is her resiliency to move forward in life and command respect even in the most difficult of times.   And had her life taken a slightly different course, then perhaps she might still be alive today well into her senior years and full of knowledge about Hollywood’s golden era.  This is the story of the life and final days of Marilyn Monroe, a true Hollywood icon.

ISBN-10: 0688162886
ISBN-13: 978-0688162887

Biographies Investigative Report

MaoPreviously, I reviewed Frank Dikötter’s The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 and The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976, investigative accounts into life under the rule of Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976).  In the first volume, Tragedy of Liberation, we learned about the transformation of China following the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) and his Kuomintang Nationalist party.  In the third volume, The Cultural Revolution, the behind the scenes political battles are put on display revealing the dysfunction that had engulfed Mao’s inner circle.   Here in Mao’s Great Famine,  Dikötter takes us back in time to the Great Leap Forward and its catastrophic failure between the years of 1958 and 1962.   I feel the need to point out that by far, this part of the trilogy was the most difficult to read. As usual, Dikötter’s writing style is to the point and very concise.  The difficult part is the material at hand.   Today we know a fair amount about the Great Leap Forward and how it failed to transform Chinese society.  The famine that ensued is known but what may not be known are the facts about what really happened behind the closed doors of China as a government struggled to move a nation forward as widespread hunger decimated its population.

If you are a reader with a sensitive stomach or easily disturbed, this may not be the book for you.  But if you are a reader that is able to digest material that is emotionally and mentally difficult to accept, then this book will be one that you can add to your reading list.  Some may wonder why a book such as this is needed.  I believe it is important because it reveals to us what many probably did not and do not know.  The details are sometimes gory and all around tragic.  At several points in the book, I wondered to myself how human beings could do the things that they did to each other.  The policy of collectivization and the labor mandated by the government devastated the country in ways from which it is still recovering.  Mao’s grip over China was relentless and his failure to first grasp the severity of the situation and his lack of action to halt the descent is mystifying and infuriating.   And considering what was known to have occurred in counties across the country, I am astounded that he was able to sleep at night with the blood of millions of Chinese on his hands.  Perhaps towards the end of his life and in closed-door meetings, he did voice concern and repulsion about what was transpiring. But if that did happen, those facts have remained secret and are locked away from public view. One day we may find out more of the truth but for now we can only assume.

In between the descriptions of famine and violence,  I did pick up a possibly unintended message in the book; we should all be grateful for the privileges and comforts in life that we have.  I personally have never had the experiences detailed by Dikötter.  And I can only imagine what life for them was like.   Through his work, I now know their stories and can see their pain but I can never say that I know their struggle.  Daily episodes of gratuitous violence, sexual assault, exhaustion, inhumane living conditions and death occurred with no reprieve.  And when people did try to make their voices heard, they were met with severe resistance by cadres unwavering in their adulation to the Chairman.  Lives were ended and others had their career ruined as the Red Guard made its presence felt throughout the country.  Those who did not succumb to violence, often had to deal with extreme hunger, disease and mental degradation.  The number of deaths that occurred is not known for sure but as we see in the book, it is believed that over 40 million Chinese people died during the Great Leap Forward. It is by far the worst case of systemic mass murder the world has ever seen and hopefully never will see again.

Today, Mao’s picture can still be found across China and his tomb in Beijing is open to the public.  But as we come to know more about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, we will be forced to reexamine what we thought we knew about the Chairman and the legacy that lives decades after his death.  This book is a hard look at the Great Leap Forward and all of its infamy.

ISBN-10: 0802779239
ISBN-13: 978-0802779236

Investigative Report

 

20180603_003443On June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty was on a reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean Sea near Sinai, Egypt.  The morning started off normally until members of the ship’s crew noticed Israeli fighter jets circling above. The process was repeated several times more before a full-scale attacked was launched upon the unsuspecting ship.   Thirty-four men perished in the attacks.  Nearly all of the survivors were severely wounded with injuries that could only be described as horrific.  The attack caused international outrage as the American and Israeli governments acted to contain the fallout from the nefarious attack.  The official statement was that the attack was a grave error committed by Israeli forces upon a ship that allegedly had no clear markings identifying it as a United States Naval vessel.  Members of the crew disputed this and some have made their voices heard in an attempt to tell what they know about that day tragic day in June, 1967.  James M. Ennes, Jr., was a member of the crew and survived the attacked with a severely broken leg and other mental and physical injuries. He was one of the lucky ones and never wavered in his conviction to tell the truth about what he remembers from that day.  Here he tells us the story from his recollections on record for the reader to digest and form an informed opinion.

The book was published in 1979, roughly about twelve years following the attack.   Mysteries of that day still remain but it is here that we have a more accurate picture of what really did happen and a possible explanation as for why it happened.   Ennes states that there are some aspects of the incident that will probably remain unknown for a long time.  But what he does reveal about the incident is shocking and confusing. Perhaps the biggest question is why would Israeli fighter planes attack a U.S. vessel clearly marked and not on a combat mission?

The story begins before the Liberty arrives near the coast of Egypt.  Orders were dispatched for the Liberty to change its position but were never received by the ship due to poor communication channels.   If the orders had been received, then maybe this book would not exist.  Ennes’ memories are very candid and show some what life is like for men on the seas, far away from home and surrounded by water on all side. The anecdotes  at the beginning of the book are entertaining and slowly we are introduced to the characters in the story.   Their mission appears to be moving along slowly until June 8, when all hell broke loose.  It is at this point in the book, where we reach Defcon 1 and the fallout is horrifying.  Readers with sensitive stomachs may find the latter part of the book highly uncomfortable to read.  The descriptions of the injuries sustained by survivors and the deaths of other crew members are told in detail giving a graphic picture of the carnage that ensued.   And what is even more appalling is the lack of support from Washington and the conflicting orders given to military personnel that sought to provide assistance to the critically injured ship and its crew.

As we make our way through the book and the attack is over, the period of recuperation and investigation comes into focus.  This is the point in the book where shock turns into anger.   Nearly all of the major political figures involved are deceased and unable to answer questions we may have.  But what did happen as Ennes shows us, is that a cover-up was initiated at the highest levels of government for reasons which eluded the crew.   Citations for bravery and reparations by the Israeli government followed but the manner in which they occurred will stun even the most hardened readers.  The lives of the surviving crew members were changed forever and few have been able to fully tell their stories without repercussions from military brass and the White House.  Even today, fifty years later, secrets remain about the motives behind the attack.   We may never know all of the details of the attack but we do have a place to start here. Ennes deserves an additional acknowledgment for being able to distinguish between the actions of the Israeli government and people of the Jewish faith.   Having survived an attack of such nature, it would have been fairly easy for him to cast all Jews as perpetrators of an unthinkable crime. But Ennes avoids the pitfall and makes it clear that the attack was carried about by Jewish people but by individuals with motives of their own.

Towards the end of the book, Ennes touches on the possible motive behind the attack.  And while there is no conclusive evidence that his belief is correct, it is a highly plausible explanation.  In time his words may prove to be true but for now, we are still saddled with a number of unanswered questions surrounding the attack.  But with this story of tragedy and perseverance, we are closer to fully understanding the events of that day.

ISBN-10: 0394505123
ISBN-13: 978-0394505121

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