The Far Reaches

( 11 )


The year is 1943 and World War II in the Pacific rages on, with Americans engaged in desperate battles against a cunning enemy. Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow is on hand at the invasion of Tarawa, as the United States Navy begins throwing her Marines at island after bloody island across the Pacific. But nothing goes as planned, and young Americans go up against fanatical defenders.

As blood colors the waters around Tarawa, Josh flounders ashore through a floating graveyard of ...

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The year is 1943 and World War II in the Pacific rages on, with Americans engaged in desperate battles against a cunning enemy. Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow is on hand at the invasion of Tarawa, as the United States Navy begins throwing her Marines at island after bloody island across the Pacific. But nothing goes as planned, and young Americans go up against fanatical defenders.

As blood colors the waters around Tarawa, Josh flounders ashore through a floating graveyard of dead men and joins the survivors. Critically wounded, Josh expects to die. Instead, Sister Mary Kathleen, a pretty Irish nun, nurses him back to health, then shanghais Josh, sidekick Bosun Ready O’Neal, and three American Marines to a group of tropical islands invaded by a brutal Japanese warlord. Josh and his little band must decide whether to help the Sister fight the battle she demands, return to Tarawa and the “real” war, or settle down in the romantic splendor of the South Seas.

With an incredible eye for historical detail, edge-of-your-seat writing, and the talent of a master storyteller, Homer Hickam delivers another page-turning tour de force.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Far Reaches

"Excellent." —Kirkus

“Entertaining…compelling and historically grounded.” —

“Packed with action and pathos…[Hickam’s] impressive writing skills chronicle a near-catastrophic battle early in World War II….it is here that Hickam injects his rich and colorful characters into the story.” –

Praise for The Ambassador's Son

“A tightly wrapped tale of wartime action.”

Publishers Weekly

“Homer Hickam establishes himself as an heir to such greats as James Jones and Herman Wouk.” —James Bradley, bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers

"This fast-moving tale of action, intrigue, and romance during World War II is filled with fascinating characters and vivid backgrounds. Hickam is one of the best yarn-spinners in the business." —James Reasoner, author of The Last Good War“A well-written piece of WWII fiction that would be worth reading even without its bonus characters.” –Roanoke Times

“Hickam effectively weaves storytelling and exhaustive research on Kennedy into a thrilling tale” –The Denver Post

“A fast-paced adventure novel with sea chases and skin-of-their-teeth rescues…the real strength of the book lies in the characters. The main protagonists are well-drawn and credible…[and] the peripheral characters truly shine.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch

"THE AMBASSADOR'S SON is the reason I love to read. It takes you to a place where propellers and tides and bullets decide men's fates and you feel like you're sweating along with the heroes and villains. Homer Hickam is such a good writer that I'd probably read anything that he put out, but this adventure made me feel like a kid again." —Rick Bragg, bestselling author of ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN'

"Homer Hickam is the best natural storyteller I've read in years." -Stephen Coonts

Publishers Weekly

This is Hickam's third WWII action saga featuring Capt. Josh Thurlow, an officer exhibiting military insight and preternatural fighting abilities. The book opens in 1943 as an American fleet assembles off Tarawa, and the Marines prepare to land. Observing from the deck of a transport, Thurlow points out flaws in the attack plan and predicts the disaster that follows. Although only a spectator, Thurlow cannot resist the lure of battle; he leaps into a landing craft, struggles to shore and rallies the few surviving Marines until reinforcements arrive. Wounded during the melee, Thurlow loses consciousness only to awaken in a caravan of outriggers with a beautiful young nun, a dozen Polynesians and three nondescript Marines. The nun and her flock had endured the invasion as prisoners of the Japanese and are returning to the Far Reaches, their home islands, now occupied by Japanese troops. The nun has near-impossible plans in mind for Thurlow and a painful secret of her own; fans of the genre will know what to expect. Hickam (Rocket Boys; The Ambassador's Son) keeps the stakes high and the tension taut in this fast-moving historical. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Hickam sends his recurring hero, Josh Thurlow, to the World War II invasion of Tarawa and then off to an edenic atoll with a few stalwart troops and a complicated Irish nun who hopes he will carry out her own battle plan. Introduced in The Keeper's Son (2003), U.S. Coast Guard Captain Thurlow, sea-savvy native of the Outer Banks, operates independently under the mandate of Navy Secretary Frank Knox, sending back private reports and analyses providing the Secretary with unfiltered information on the successes and failures of the Navy's mission. The invasion of Tarawa, with which this rouser begins, threatens to be a disaster of the first order. The American strategy of island hopping has brought the fleet to a low-lying string of islands well defended by Japanese troops prepared to fight to the death. The emperor's forces have prepared earthworks that seem impervious to the Navy's giant guns, and the day the Marines have picked for invasion is cursed by a tide that will send the invasion craft straight into murderous reefs. Thurlow, seeing that the Marines have no idea what they are getting into, joins the troops and is quickly involved in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. He, his fellow Outer Banksman Bosun Ready O'Neal and a handful of Marines make it out alive, spirited off to the islands of the Far Reaches. They have been rescued by a band of islanders led by Sister Mary Kathleen, who has already escaped the Japanese once and is dead set on going back to settle things with her former captors. When the outriggers land the little fleet on the Far Reaches, it takes no more than a few minutes for them to succumb to the charms of the islands and the islanders. But Sister MaryKathleen, with whom O'Neal is hopelessly in love, will not let anyone forget her mission to invade the main island where she endured captivity and fell from grace. Excellent war and, when the guns aren't firing, equally fine peace.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312383053
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/24/2008
  • Series: Josh Thurlow Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.22 (w) x 6.08 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Homer Hickam

Homer Hickam is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Rocket Boys, which was made into the acclaimed movie October Sky. He is also the author of the previous Josh Thurlow novels, The Keeper’s Son and The Ambassador’s Son. He is married to Linda Terry Hickam, an artist, who is also his assistant. They share their time between homes in Alabama and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Read an Excerpt

The Far Reaches

By Hickam, Homer

Thomas Dunne Books

Copyright © 2007 Hickam, Homer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312334758

Chapter One
“Sister, we die now?”
“If it is God’s will, Nango.”
The American bombardment had gone on for nearly an hour, and it seemed the big sand fortress might collapse beneath the weight of the mighty shells. Still, even as the thunderous assault sent down a rain of sand and coral dust on top of them, Sister Mary Kathleen smiled encouragingly at the muscular and intricately tattooed young man who had asked her the most pertinent question. She reflected, even at that awful moment, that they were quite the pair. Except for a wrap of bright red lava-lava cloth about his waist and a necklace of white cowrie shells and shark’s teeth around his thick brown neck, Nango was essentially naked. She, on the other hand, was completely clothed from the top of her head to her slippered feet in the white shrouds of the habit of her sisterhood, the Order of the Sacred Blood. She allowed her smile to fall on the other fella boys, too. They had backed against the wall and were regarding her in anxious silence. “Prayers, me boys,” she told them, pressing her hands together and letting her smile broaden to show them she wasn’t afraid, even though she was. “Let them flow up to heaven. I’m praying to me little Saint Monessa, God bless her. She’ll get us through this. I’m certain of it.”
One of the fella boys replied in their nativetongue, a dialect of the Marquesan language, which was itself a subgroup of ancient, premissionary Tahitian. “I think the Japanese will kill us soon, Sister.”
“Japonee no killem me!” another of the fella boys replied hotly in pidgin. It was Tomoru, a giant of a man, covered like the rest with elaborate blue tattoos. He puffed out his hairless, muscular chest. “Me killem Japonee, Sister. You say, me do.”
“No, Tomoru,” she replied in his language. “Do not say such things, even in pidgin. They may understand.”
“They” were the Japanese troops, the rikusentai, Imperial marines, who had crowded inside the sand-covered fortress to stoically wait out the ferocious American naval artillery pounding of Betio, the main island of the atolls called Tarawa. In contrast to the near-boredom of the Imperial troops, most of whom were quietly sitting on the earthen floor, Sister Mary Kathleen observed a nearby naval lieutenant whose legs were trembling. Each time a shell landed nearby, his startled eyes darted toward the dull roar of the explosion, and then he would visibly swallow. Sister Mary Kathleen’s heart went out to the man. He was clearly terrified, yet so constrained by his nationality and rank that all he could allow himself was an inner scream that she could hear quite clearly.
When a lull in the bombardment went longer than a minute, Sister Mary Kathleen caught the Japanese lieutenant’s eye, and he hurried over. “May I help you, Sister?” he asked, breathlessly.
She nodded and said in a near whisper, “I’m sorry, Lieutenant Soichi, but I really must go.”
She nodded again, her summer blue eyes modestly downcast. “Go,” she reiterated.
“Ahhhh,” Lieutenant Soichi said, understanding now. “Go. Well, I understand why you would not care to squat over a pot like the others. I will be pleased to accompany you outside now that the shelling has stopped for the moment. But we will have to hurry.”
“I am quite able to hurry, Lieutenant,” she said, smiling at him.
He tried to smile back, but he was too nervous, and it came out a bit crooked. “Let me just explain the situation to Captain Sakuri.” He cast an uneasy glance at the native men behind her and confided, “Those men, they always look like they want to murder me.”
“Aye, Lieutenant. That is because they do.”
“Ah, well,” he shrugged. “I suppose they have good reason.”
She nodded. “Yes. Very good reason. More than you might imagine.”
After absorbing her comment, Soichi bobbed his head and then picked his way through the lounging troops and thence to a rikusentai officer who harangued him about something for several minutes, then dismissively waved him away. Soichi bowed to the man deeply, then put on his helmet and hurried back to the nun. “We may go now, Sister. If you’ll follow me.” He nodded toward an aperture in the fortress, one of two.
The aperture led to a zigzag corridor lined with sandbags stacked ten feet high. Since he had designed the sand fortress, the lieutenant proudly explained the purpose of the crooked opening. “If a bomb or artillery shell should explode outside, Sister, its force and shrapnel have no direct path to the interior of the fortress. My design also forces attackers to come through the corridor no more than one or two at a time. This makes it easier for defense.”
“Faith, ’tis a grand design, indeed,” Sister Mary Kathleen said with feigned enthusiasm, feigned because she wished to continue to curry the lieutenant’s favor. He had been kind to her and her fella boys since their arrival on the atoll, and she feared what might happen without his influence. “Where did ye learn to build such a truly magnificent fort, Lieutenant?”
Soichi shrugged, though it was plain from his expression that he was pleased by her compliment. “I studied a few books on field fortification architecture,” he said modestly, “and I used my imagination.”
“It shows, Lieutenant. Aye, it does.”
Soichi nodded in gratitude, then led her through the sandbagged corridor to the outside, where dawn was struggling to appear. The sand and powdered coral covering the flat atoll was made pink by the rising sun, which glowed like a distant ember through the dust raised by the barrage. The air stank of scorched gunpowder. It burned her nose and made her sneeze.
“God bless you, Sister,” Soichi said without irony.
She sneezed again. “Oh, this awful sulfurous smell! It is a hellish stench!”
Soichi sucked loudly between his teeth. “Yes, Sister, the stink of hell, indeed.” He chose a path behind a steep wall of sand. “Here we will be safe. I designed this embankment to stop naval artillery, which tends to come in flat. The shells hit and throw up dirt but otherwise have no effect. I had many such walls built all over the island.” Soichi stopped and pointed toward a grove of palm trees and low bushes that were sheltered by the sand wall. “Now, Sister, if you’ll go there, I will stay here to ensure your privacy.”
She expressed her gratitude, then had her private moment in the bushes and returned to find Soichi consulting his wristwatch. “I think the Americans will be starting their bombardment again soon,” he told her. “You must hurry back to the fortress. Just follow the path.”
“Yer not going with me?”
“Yes. I mean no. I’m sorry. Answering such a question with a negative when it should require a positive is a peculiarity of English that is hard for most Japanese to grasp. But never mind. Yes, I’m not going back because I intend to find a hole to crawl into and somehow survive the coming battle. Captain Sakuri, as you may have noticed, is not pleased with me. He thinks I am weak because I do not share his enthusiasm for dying. If I go back with you, I think he intends to force me to lead some kind of insane banzai charge.”
“I shall miss ye, Lieutenant,” she said truthfully. “Ye’ve been like a knight to a lady in distress.”
He bobbed his head. “It has been my pleasure, Sister. Now come with me. I wish to show you something.”
He led her up the slant of the embankment and then bade her to lie down beside him so that they could just peek over it. Her flowing white habit rustled as she flattened herself against the warm sand. On the other side, she observed a cratered moonscape and a grove of shattered palm trees. Beyond was a glittering lagoon, and past it lay an astonishing number of big gray ships strung broadside to the beach.
“The American fleet,” Lieutenant Soichi advised. “Aboard those ships are many rough, angry men. Admiral Shibasaki has laid down a challenge to them. He says a million Americans could not take Tarawa in ten thousand years. I think it will take considerably less. They will be landing very soon.” He inclined his head in her direction. “Why don’t you go with me, Sister? I think there’s a chance we could even make it to the next island. The crossing is shallow.”
She could not take her eyes off the ships, wondering about the men aboard them, imagining them looking back at the atoll, and what they might be thinking. Were they frightened? Or perhaps they were eager for a day of fighting. The only Americans she had ever been near were rich yachtsmen who had pulled into the harbor near the convent on Ruka. Of course, she had not been allowed to talk to them. Only the older nuns and the priests had enjoyed their fellowship. Her impression of them, based on brief observations, was that they were a bit loud, and their women a bit aloof.
“Sister? Did you hear me?” Soichi asked.
“Aye, Lieutenant, I heard ye, but surely ye know I cannot abandon me fella boys.”
Soichi sucked between his teeth. “You don’t understand, Sister. The rikusentai, haven’t you noticed their preparations? They can hardly wait to die. This battle is going to be a bloody nightmare. I beg you to escape it. Come with me.”
Her smile was grateful but her answer firm. “No, Lieutenant. I cannot. If I die here, then God’s will be done. Me fella boys and I have come far together, and together we will stay.”
He nodded. “I understand. You are loyal. It is a fine thing to be loyal.”
“Dear lieutenant,” Sister Mary Kathleen said, “how was it you came to this terrible place?”
His answer was bitter. “My father thought it best if I joined the militarists. It was a business decision, you see. We import and export a variety of goods and require many government permissions. So, despite my most excellent American education, I entered the navy and was sent here to this awful place. I do so hope this pleases my honorable father! And you, Sister? How did you come to be here? It has never been clear to me.”
“I suppose ye might say it began when I took me vows in Ireland,” was her wistful answer. “’Tis a long story.”
“Then I regret I shan’t stay to hear it,” Lieutenant Soichi replied cordially. He led her down to the base of the embankment, then waited while she shook the sand from her habit.
Although there was little doubt he was ready to leave, and quickly, Soichi tarried long enough to give her some final advice. “Stay in the fortress, Sister. I designed it well. It will survive the bombardment, although your ears will surely ring from all the noise. When the invasion comes, find a dark corner, you and your Polynesians. Crouch down and keep yourselves quiet. From their talk, I fear some of the rikusentai may decide to vent their frustrations on you. Never look them in the eye, that’s my counsel. To them, it is a sign of aggression to which they must respond. Be meek and humble and perhaps you will get by.”
She put out her hand to him. “Meek and humble. ’Tis the nun’s stock-in-trade, Lieutenant! Thank ye for looking after us so far.”
“Sister, my countrymen are all going to die. Pray for them, if you will. They are brave men who think they are doing the right thing.”
“Yes, all right, Lieutenant,” she answered. “God go with ye now.”
“We’ll find out if He’s with me soon enough, Sister,” Soichi answered, then bowed to her, put his hand on top of his helmet, and ran like a rabbit. Sister Mary Kathleen watched him go, watched him pick his way through a scruffy bramble of wilted sea grapes and then pause before making a run across an open field. He was heading for another long barrier of sand, and he almost made it. Halfway across the field, there came from overhead a horrible screeching noise, and Lieutenant Soichi froze, then looked up as if God had called him to show his face to heaven. That was the last time Sister Mary Kathleen, or anyone, ever saw him. The hideous screech ended in a vast, terrible roar of orange fire, molten steel, and flying sand.
Lieutenant Soichi, Sister Mary Kathleen’s only Japanese friend on the atolls of Tarawa, was gone forever, vaporized by a huge American naval artillery round that otherwise dug a shallow crater in not much of anything. She looked resentfully toward the sky, then angrily crossed herself. “Saint Monessa!” she called. “Fly to God, my dear sweet child. Beg for me. Ye are my only chance!”
As if in reply, angels in heaven shrieked back their hatred of her. Shaken, it took a moment before she realized it was not a snarling heavenly host but screaming death hurtling anew from the sea. Sister Mary Kathleen cast another pleading look at the sky, then put her head down and ran for her life.
Copyright © 2007 by Homer Hickam. All rights reserved.     


Excerpted from The Far Reaches by Hickam, Homer Copyright © 2007 by Hickam, Homer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Reading Group Guide

     The year is 1943 and World War II in the Pacific rages on, with Americans engaged in desperate battles against a cruel and cunning enemy.  Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow is on hand for the invasion of Tarawa as the United States Navy begins the grand strategy of throwing her marines at island after bloody island across the Pacific. 

     As blood colors the waters around Tarawa, Josh flounders ashore through a floating graveyard of dead Americans and joins the survivors, determined to somehow wrest victory from disaster.  Gravely wounded, and nearly driven insane by the heat, blood, and carnage of the desperate battle, Josh expects to die.  Instead, he is spun off on one of his greatest adventures when Sister Mary Kathleen, a young and pretty Irish nun, nurses him back to health, then shanghais Josh, sidekick Bosun Ready O'Neal, and three American marines to a group of beautiful tropical islands invaded by a brutal Japanese warlord.  Josh and his little band must decide whether to help the Sister fight the battle she demands, return to Tarawa and the "real" war, or settle down in the romantic splendor of the South Seas. 

      Hickam expertly weaves the adventures of these hot-blooded characters tighter and tighter until the Sister's secrets and sins are finally revealed during a horrific battle in the lair of the warlord.  With an incredible eye for historical detail, edge-of-your-seat writing, and the talent of a master storyteller, Homer Hickam delivers another, page-turning tour de force.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2014


    Lightiningkit spotted a vole and she raced past them both and lunged at it...and trapped it in her paws...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2014


    He nodded in agreement, purring softly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2007

    Leaves No Cliche Untouched

    Filled with character sterotypes, bad dialogue, ridiculous plot turns, and complete lack of any understanding of the geographical and historical context in which the story is set.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2007

    A great work of literature and war

    As a lover of fine literature, especially set during the World War II era, I have been very taken with Mr. Hickam's 'Josh Thurlow' series. The opening scene of the battle of Tarawa really brings the blood and grit of what that battle must have been like. Then, following Josh and Sister Mary Kathleen to the Forridges (the Far Reaches) is a pleasure. Hickam is going for something more than the standard WWII genre fiction. This is literature told in a most compelling way. Highly recommended. I promise you it will be a page-turner, filled with wisdom you won't soon forget. I know I won't.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    Great book

    All around great storytelling at it's best. Definitely worth the read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2007

    One of the best books ever

    This is one of the best books to come out of World War II. It is one of the best books to come out of anywhere recently. I am a WW II buff and I have never ever read any fiction about that war as good as this one. I felt like I was in the battle of Tarawa. But Hickam is more than a pedestrian writer of cheap novels about war. This is a novel that engages a reader, grabs you by the throat if you will, so that you really CARE about these people and when things happen to them you feel it viscerally. I can best explain it by suggesting you go to your local book store, pick up the book, and read the end of chapter 51. I felt a chill go down my spine when I finished that chapter because all that Hickam had written had been aimed at that moment. Just remarkably good writing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2007

    Best Homer Hickam Novel to Date!

    Couldn't wait to get my copy--then couldn't put it down! Great read, great story, another great book from Homer!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    Just finished The Far Reaches. It's a great read. Loved all the characters, especially Sister Mary Kathleen. Josh Thurlow is a character who has grown on me. In this novel, he is so real I think Hickam is either channeling him or he's based on a real person. As in all the Thurlow books, Hickam not only writes a page-turner but also teaches a little history. The opening chapters of the battle of Tarawa are absolutely spell-binding. I think I learned what it was really like in that battle and I'm a huge WWII buff. Hickam captures the sand, grit, sweat, and stink of battle like few authors. W.E.B. Griffin seems always a little above the fray. Hickam has Thurlow right in the middle of it. After Tarawa comes the islands of the Far Reaches. I will never forget when I read of Sister's greatest sin. I thought I had it all figured out but Hickam surprised me at the end. Just good writing and a reading pleasure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2007

    A Page Turner!

    If you like a 'stay up all night' book with adventure, romance and memorable characters, this one is for you! Hickam's research and wonderful writing ability to set you smack dab in the middle of any of his stories makes The Far Reaches' opening with Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow in that terrible battle on Tarawa in 1943 INTENSE to say the least. Then, his always surprising plot twists keeps the readers turning pages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2007

    Helluva read!

    I got this book the day it came out the book cover art just jumped off the shelf at me...very 'Saving Private Ryan' feel. And, the author Homer Hickam really knew how to reel me in and keep me hooked! The lead character Josh Thurlow is a tough as nails guy, and the battle action in the book was gritty and super-realistic. I couldn't put the book down. I bet this will be one of THE big summer reads this year.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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