Sunday, December 28, 2014

River of Death

As I read MacLean's books, I'm discovering they're largely formulaic -- protagonist is mini-God, omnipotent and omniscient, female love interest is not what they seem to be, the bad guys are pretty bad but easily handled by the protagonist, lots of action which usually isn't remotely believable. This book is no exception. At least it's short. Hamilton, the protagonist, takes an expedition on a trip into a South American jungle in search of the Lost City, rumored to have a bajillion items in gold. And it does. He needs neither a map nor compass, as he's been there before and knows all. He repeatedly saves the group from danger. And while actually searching for a Nazi who mysteriously hides himself and his weapons cache and heavy equipment in an impregnable fortress, there is a predictable plot twist, as is often the case in the author's books. This book is a pretty sad effort at entertainment. It's not that entertaining, it's not as action packed as some of his other books, there are very few likeable characters, including the protagonist, and I just couldn't wait to finish it and be done with it. Not recommended. Other than Guns of Navarone, I don't know if I'll be reading any more of his books. I've read four and find his books extremely limiting and poorly written.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book ... until the very end. And I found the ending so damn confusing with characters I don't remember ever hearing about that I'm dropping it from five stars to four. Which is a bit disappointing because this is a pretty original book told in a cool, gritty, noir style which makes it pretty appealing. Morgan does a nice job with this story. Former U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed and resleeved in Bay City, formerly San Francisco. How he made it from Harlan's World to earth is cleared up when it's relayed to him that one Laurens Bancroft has resleeved him with the task of solving Bancroft's murder, or else. Sleeves are what digitized copies of one's personality, memories, dare I say souls, are downloaded into to create a new version of that person. Conceivably, the rich could live forever and they're called Meths by the poor and downtrodden and are scorned by them. Needless to say, Bancroft is quite rich. And he has a hottie wife. Who doesn't want Kovacs to continue his investigation. Neither does the Bay City police department, in the name of detective Ortega, who is the girlfriend of the person's body Kovacs was resleeved in. There's a lot of sex and violence in this book, perhaps more than some people would like. However, I found none of it gratuitous, even though it was pretty explicit. People try to take Kovacs out and he has his revenge. He's pretty ruthless, in part due to his elite Envoy military training. One of the things I liked about this book is it's pretty cyberpunk without being very cyberpunk. Nice trick, Morgan. Again, as I said, I loved this fast paced, action-oriented book until the end and the ending just left me confused. Are some new characters really introduced to close out the book, or did I just miss them in reading through the bulk of the book? I don't know. I just don't like the way the author tied things up. I think it could have been done so better. Still, strongly recommended.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Icon

IconIcon by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book by Forsyth. It was epic in scale. And he pulled it off masterfully. The first half of the book is plot set up, which is typical of the author. He's really into details and logistics, so this part of his books often bores some readers. But not me. I like finding out about all of the details that go into an operation. The second half of the book was action packed and I had a hard time putting the book down.

The plot revolves around post-Soviet Russia circa 1999. It's falling apart, is broke, its leadership in shambles. Up steps a charismatic leader named Igor Komarov, who's expected to become president in the upcoming election and who vows to return Mother Russia to its glory. However, he's not what he seems to be. He's a Hitler wannabe who is going to practice genocide on Jews, ethnic minorities, the military leadership, etc. And he's got all of his plans written down in a "Black Manifesto," of which there are three copies. One of them is foolishly left on his secretary's desk and an old ex-soldier who now cleans Komarov's headquarters sees it, reads some of it, realizes its importance and steals it. He then gets it to the British embassy, where it works its was back to British intelligence. The document is shared between British and American governments, but they choose to do nothing, so a group of highly influential and secretive world leaders meet to discuss the situation and come up with a solution -- to send in a spy to destabilize Komarov's platform and discredit him, thereby ensuring he loses the election. The person chosen to do this is ex-CIA agent Jason Monk. Monk fights it, but Sir Nigel Irvine (a great character!) convinces him to do it, and so he goes in.

When Monk arrives in Moscow, he immediately calls in a favor of a particular Chechen who is head of the Chechen underworld and he gains their support and protection. He then starts making the rounds, contacting the military's leadership, the state police's leader, the head of the Russian Orthadox church, and a major bank president who also presides over the television media. These people, after being confronted with the facts of the Black Manifesto, turn on Komarov and his security chief, Colonel Grishin. Meanwhile, Grishin finds out Monk is in the country and has an old score to settle with him, so he puts his Black Guard troops at work trying to locate him. Monk moves around, and this is a weakness of the book I think, and is almost omniscient in anticipating their moves and making adjustments for himself and his Russian collaborators. Sir Nigel makes it to Russia to meet with the clergy and comes up with the idea of returning Russia to a czar-based country, which is accepted by said clergy. He then comes up with a distant heir to the throne and promotes his return to Russia to take over.

When Komarov and Grishin realize their time is almost up, they do something completely crazy -- attempt a New Year's Eve coup in Moscow. But Monk anticipates this and helps prepare the military the the police, so the coup attempt fails and everything works out beautifully. The climactic scene between Grishin and Monk is largely anticlimactic, though, and that was disappointing.

It's not Forsyth's best book, but it's an entertaining one, with a lot of research having gone into Russia, their crime scene, politics, etc., and it's certainly worth reading. Monk is a bit too super human to be very believable, but he's a likeable character, so one can overlook that. Recommended.


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where Eagles Dare is the most fast-paced, action-oriented, craziest thriller I have ever read. Which is good, because it's largely unbelievable. The plot is too crazy, the characters too unreal, etc., et al for this to be read as a believable book. And that is a shame.

In the book, a team of six British commandos and one American OSS agent parachute into the Alps to gain entrance to a German fortress that can only be accessed by aerial gondola. It's also the headquarters for the Gestapo and Nazi intelligence. It's surrounded by a barracks of German alpine troops, who are supposed to be elite.

The reason for this mission is, theoretically, to rescue a downed American general who is in charge of coordinating D-Day. They need to get him before the Germans get info out of him, so time is of the essence. We soon see, however, other reasons for the mission.

The protagonist, Smith, though is problematic. See, he possesses super human strength and endurance and is generally omniscient. In other words, not remotely believable. He rides atop the gondola twice without being blown off, in one case with Germans grabbing his legs and trying to throw him off. With the altitude, the high winds, and the cold, it just doesn't seem likely. Additionally, this book is full of double and even triple agents and Smith knows all. We're never told how he comes by half of his information; we're just to accept it. I have problems with that.

Nonetheless, as I said, it's an action packed book, a real page turner. It's rather stunning how they pull this off, all the while with people dying off all around them, and the twist at the end is a real shocker. Of course Smith knew of the twist. Yeah. I'd give this book three stars for believability, but it's so good, I'm giving it four. Recommended.


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Fifth Elephant

This is another excellent Discworld novel and it stars the City Watch, probably my favorite series within the series. In this book, Sam Vines, commander of the Watch and now a Duke, is sent to Uberwald on a diplomatic mission to see the dwarf king's coronation. He takes with him his wife, a female dwarf, a troll (always at war with dwarves), and an assassin. Also, Captain Carrot is hunting his werewolf girlfriend, leading them both to Uberwald, where they both play a major part in the plot. Along the way, Vimes meets vampires, werewolves, and of course, dwarves, with some Igors thrown in for good measure. He discovers being a diplomat is a lot harder than being a cop, and since he's a copper, he of course finds crime happening everywhere. There's a lot of action in this book, perhaps more than most Discworld books, and a lot of treachery everywhere you turn. Vimes does an excellent job of saving the day by the book's end and everything ends happily, as it should. One very funny sub-theme is Colon's taking over the City Watch while Vimes is gone and going power mad. It's priceless. I wouldn't start with this book if I were new to the Discworld novels, but it does stand on its own and can be read as such. It's a delightful book and strongly recommended.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Night Ranger

The Night Ranger (John Wells, #7)The Night Ranger by Alex Berenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was an interesting read. On one hand, it was an exciting, action packed thriller that was hard to put down. On the other hand, the author wrote in some loose ends and his portrayal of women in general leaves something to be desired, much to my surprise.

In previous books, former CIA agent John Wells saved the country and maybe the world from biological weapons, nuclear war, etc. Big stuff. So this one is on a smaller scale. He gets a call from his estranged son, Evan, who pleads with him to go to Kenya and Somalia to track down four college age aid volunteers who have been kidnapped. Doesn't sound like much, does it? But it is. He discovers a conspiracy on the part of the leader of this aid group to kidnap his own nephew and three others, hold them for awhile, and release them with the release of his new book, making him a best selling hero. But things don't work out that nicely. First, the young people are all very unlikeable. Scott is a frat boy dick who gets away with anything. Owen wants Gwen, a vapid, beautiful blond sorority girl. And the other girl just seems to be along for the ride. So a Somali warlord finds them, kills the fake kidnappers, kills Scott when the kid mouths off to him, and takes the remaining three to his camp in Somalia to hold them for ransom. Wells figures this out. Problem. Corrupt Kenyan police arrest him for nothing at all, so he has to escape and now he's being hunted by them. He's trying to use his old CIA contacts for help locating the camp, which works out, and he goes there, one against 60 or 70 armed militia men. Seems a little unbelievable, but Berenson is such a great writer, he can have you believing just about any scenario he writes. And so he saves the day. As you knew he would. It's more exciting than that, but I don't want to give the plot away.

My problems are these: Wells went to Africa as a favor to his son, yet we never hear anything that results from this action. Do the two draw closer? Does his son forgive him for "deserting" he and his mom when he was little? We never find out. Additionally, John's girlfriend Ann just seems to be a minor plot device that is literally useless. We never get to know her, so we really don't give a crap when Wells is kissed by an African woman who's after him (or so it seems). Screw Ann! I couldn't care anything at all for her because the author hasn't given her a remotely significant role to play in these books. Also, the women all seem to be pretty stupid in this book, led by the two college girls. Absolute airheads. If I were a feminist, I think I would be pretty ticked about this representation of women in the book. Moreover, there's the Evan problem. He turns from this total nerd in love with Gwen into this vicious monster, willing to kill just about anyone and anything and it seems completely out of character for him. I had a hard time believing it.

So how do I rate this book? Considering all of the problems, it probably deserves three stars. But considering the action and how exciting this book is, it probably rates five stars. So I'm giving it four and going with that. If you like the John Wells character, you'll probably like this book. Recommended.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Golden Rendezvous

The Golden RendezvousThe Golden Rendezvous by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an odd book to read and is an odd book to review. On one hand, so much of it is unbelievable and downright stupid, I want to give it two stars. On the other hand, it's pretty action packed and is somewhat of a page turner. I couldn't put it down. So I'm not sure what to say.

An atom bomb is stolen from an American base. A British ship, however, is where the plot takes place. It's truly bizarre. It's a cargo ship, okay, but has also been converted into a luxury liner -- without the traditional luxuries. It's just got 12 luxurious rooms and good food, but no pools or dancing or gambling or ports of call or anything. It goes where the captain wants it to go; there's no itinerary. And there's a waiting list of kings and presidents trying to get aboard, willing to pay millions to do so. And yet they transport cargo. Simply stupid as hell.

Be that as it may, our hero, Carter, the first officer, helps run the ship. And he turns out to be nearly omniscient, omnipotent, has near super human powers and it's simply too unbelievable to make you feel like it's remotely real. Murders start occurring on the ship. Carter figures out what's going on. Pirates from a small third world government hijack it for the purpose of hijacking another ship carrying $150 million, as this country is broke and needs the money. Carter gets shot in the leg, while others get shot too. He's transported to the hospital bay, where he is treated -- and from where he escapes to save the day, in a manner that's altogether unbelievable, again. And again, he figures out exactly what's happening -- the pirates have the bomb and are going to blow the ship with its passengers and crew to pieces so there will be no witnesses to the piracy. So he disarms the atomic bomb. With the help of a gorgeous rich girl. Naturally. And when everything is over, he is surprised to hear that they are getting married in a month. She tells him so. Bizarre ending. It reminded me of a Doris Day, Rock Hudson movie ending. Of course, this book was published in 1962, so perhaps that makes sense.

Even though there's nothing remotely believable in this book, I actually enjoyed it. It was fun to read. It had a a lot of action. It had evil characters, good heroes, the pretty girl, guns -- everything. If only the author had put some more time into making it seem real. Oh well. I guess this book is somewhat recommended....

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Witches' Brew

Witches' Brew (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #5)Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to think of this book. This is the fifth book in the series and I loved the first one so much, I've wanted to read all of the others. And most have been decent -- but not as good as the first one.

In this one, Ben Holiday and Willow's daughter, Mistaya, is growing at an astounding rate. She's two, but looks 10 and acts 15. In other words, she's a spoiled little bitch and entirely unlikeable and I didn't like this about the novel. And it centers around her, for the most part, so we're inundated with her attitude. So, someone comes to the castle and issues Ben a challenge for the kingdom of Landover. If he can defeat seven monsters, he'll keep his kingdom. If not, the challenger gets it. Strangely, though, Mistaya is kidnapped almost immediately and used as bait for Ben to follow this stranger's rules. While traveling with Mistaya in a fruitless effort to find her safety, Questor and Abernathy are sent back to Ben's home world of Earth, where Abernathy is turned from dog back to human and he is elated. Of course, not all is as it seems. Nightshade, the witch, is behind everything and steals Mistaya to train her to become a witch -- and to unwittingly kill her father.

In the last book, I complained that Ben seemed pretty dense, which was odd considering that he had been a high priced, successful attorney in Chicago and was now king of the land. In this book, he's just as dense and so is Willow. In fact, they spend most of their time together in the book "holding" each other for support -- and that gets pretty damn old very quick.

There is magic in this book, of course. And we get to see some of the characters we know and like, such as the Earth Mother and her mud puppy and Strabo, the dragon. And Ben does somehow defeat several monsters through the help of his alter ego, the Paladin. But by the time Ben has figured out what's going on, the reader figured everything out eons before and is annoyed by his ineptitude and I've got to fault Brooks for that. I want to give this three stars, but because it's a Landover book and I enjoy the series and because it does introduce some new people and elements to the setting, I'll give it four. Cautiously recommended.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

We Can Build You

I've read nearly 40 books by Philip K Dick and have loved most. This book was only the second sci fi novel I couldn't finish, so that says something. I got halfway through and gave up. It's about two guys who own a company that makes electronic organs who decide to branch out and make robots of Lincoln and other Civil War persons. One of them has a schizophrenic 18 year old daughter named Pris (remind you of anyone?) who's batshit crazy. She and Louis, the protagonist, develop a love/hate relationship, but aside from just how goofy the premise is and how woefully written it is, the thing I really hate is the dialogue. It's terrible! I love you. I despise you. Would you want to have sex with me? No, I don't think so. Let's have sex. No. OK. I'm in love with you even though I don't know you at all. Maybe this is more a reflection of Dick's private life and his affairs with women than anything else. It's just stupid though and entirely unbelievable. I was excited when I got the book because I had heard some good things about it, but I can't get past its weaknesses. It's a poorly written book. Not recommended.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Silent Man

The Silent Man (John Wells, #3)The Silent Man by Alex Berenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good book in the John Wells series by Alex Berenson. It's the third book. In the first two, CIA agent John Wells has pretty much saved the world, or at least the US, so it's hard to imagine the author being able to concoct another plot that would live up to the first two. But he does. The book opens with a Russian scientist at a nuclear facility who is pressured into helping to improbably steal two nuclear bombs for Muslim militants. They intend to detonate the bombs in Washington during the State of the Union address. The story of these militants and their travels with the bombs to North America is very interesting.

Meanwhile, one morning Wells and his fiance, Jennifer Exley, are on their way to work at the CIA when they are attacked by Russian assassins who are killed after killing some CIA agents and severely wounding Exley. In the previous book, Wells had seriously humiliated a powerful arms dealer who has, in turn, contracted with some Russians to get his revenge. Needless to say, after this attack, Wells is ticked. This doesn't bode well for the arms dealer. Wells flies to Russia to get at and kill the Russians behind the attack and does kill three of them, but has to fly out of the country as he is pursued by the KGB. The arms dealer is so frightened of a pissed off Wells coming for him, that he offers a truce -- information in exchange for letting him live. Wells agrees when he hears the information. It's about the nuclear bomb theft and all hell breaks loose after that. It's a great race to the finish and the finish is almost anticlimactic, but it's still satisfying, in my opinion.

However, one of my complaints about the book is Exley's very minor role. She's John's fiance and we barely see or hear anything from her. She's an afterthought. Additionally, in the first book, a lot was made of Wells and his conversion to Islam, but that's almost never broached in this book. I found that strange. Still, it was a good book, an exciting read, and the author has this unique knack of taking implausible sounding scenarios and making them seem entirely realistic. The only other thriller author I've read who does it that well is Forsyth. That's high praise, coming from me. I'd read these books in order, if possible, but it's not necessary -- it stands on its own. Good book. Recommended.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Feet of Clay

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19)Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read most of the Discworld novels now and have loved some and enjoyed most. Feet of Clay is now my favorite. This book has it all! First of all, it's a City Watch series book, which I love, so that's good. Then, there are mysteries to be solved. Two old men have been murdered, presumably by golems, and Lord Venitari is being poisoned. Someone has to save the day! And it's the City Watch, led by Commander Sir Sam Vimes, followed by his loyal group of Captain Carrot, Angua, Detritus, Colon, and Nobbs. Additionally, there's now a new member of the watch, an alchemist, Cheery Littlebottom. His job is forensics. His role in this book is to bring up questions of minorities and gender identity. Because this dwarf is actually a she -- Cheri. It's pretty funny to watch her progress to wearing lipstick and so on while the male members of the Watch look on, not knowing what to think.

The golems, hard working "things," are going crazy in this book. We find late in the book that they have banded together to create a golem king, but it turns out to be really crazy, hence the crime sprees. However, other people are banding together to discuss succession should Vetinari so unfortunately cease to exist. The leaders of the community want a yes man in place, someone who will do what they're told to do because they're too stupid not to. But they've got to have some royal blood somewhere. Enter Corporal Nobby Nobbs. He's found out he's an earl, due to odd lineage, and is treated as such by the upper crust, who try to talk him into becoming king. But he's pretty dense and it doesn't work out as planned.

Vimes still has to find the poisoner. Could it be the Dragon, a vampire who maintains the history of the royal families of the area? Good question. Vimes will answer it too.

We don't see Death in this book much, if at all, and he's my favorite Discworld character, so that's unfortunate, but there's so much action and suspense in this novel, that it more than makes up for it. This is Pratchett at his best and I strongly recommend it.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Preserving Machine

The Preserving MachineThe Preserving Machine by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Preserving Machine is a pretty good collection of short stories by Philip K Dick from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s. Some of his best work is here. I had already read several of these in other collections, but there were many new ones and I definitely enjoyed this book. Among the stories that stood out for me were "War Veteran," about an old man who is a war veteran from a future war yet to be fought by Earth -- and lost. The authorities move quickly to try and change the future and it's really interesting to see how things work out. Another is the famous "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which of course was the basis for the movie Total Recall. For the life of me, I don't see where they got that movie from this story, but it's a good story about a man who yearns to go to Mars and his only way is through a VR-type experience where he goes as a secret agent. However, while the men performing this service for him are engaged, they discovered he actually has done this and just doesn't remember. It turns into a real mind f*ck. Great story. Yet another story I enjoyed was "Oh To Be a Blobel!". A war has been fought between humans and blobels, great amoeba-like beings, and on both sides, spies were used who had to undergo changing into the form of the other. When we read this story, our hero changes from being human to being a blobel throughout the day and is miserable. A coin operated psychiatrist introduces him to a female blobel who changes to human at certain times of day, thinking they would have something in common. And they get married and have kids. Hybrids. Then divorced. Then the unthinkable. At the end of the story, Vivian resorts to blobelian world class science to be converted into a 100% human so she can get back together with George -- who has converted into a blobel, so he can start a business on their planet. Wacky and sad. I do have a complaint, however. PKD wasn't always kind to his female characters, probably cause he had constant problems with his five wives and women in general. In "Retreat Syndrome," John states, "So you doomed our cause, out of petty, domestic spite. Out of mere female bitterness, because you were angry at your husband; you doomed an entire moon to three years of losing, hateful war." Later, in "What the Dead Men Say," Johnny thinks "He did not like the idea of working for a woman...." So, PKD misogyny is present in full force. Take it or leave it -- it's up to you. Even with the flaws, this is still a good book with some really good stories, so I definitely recommend it, not only to Dick fans, but to anyone who wants to become acquainted with his writing.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Negotiator

The first fourth of this book is pretty boring, but then something big happens and things liven up so that it ends up being a first class thriller.

In the book, the US President and Russia’s Gorbachev are about to sign a disarmament treaty that has conservative hard liners TICKED -- enough to do serious damage to derail this treaty and see it go away. And so the president's son is kidnapped over in England. The White House calls in the best hostage negotiator in the world, a retired commando named Quinn, who agrees to do it only if he can do it his way. They reluctantly agree and then start breaking their agreement almost from the beginning.

The first 100 pages or so of the book is a set up leading to this moment. The next, I don't know how many, numerous pages are of Quinn and the hostage taker negotiating and it's excruciating. Truly boring. But necessary to the plot and I understand that. So when, halfway through the book, the president's son is set free, I wondered what Forsyth was going to do to fill up the rest of the pages. Only to see this kid get blown sky high just as he's wandering back to the good guys. Wow! Did not see that coming. Suspicion falls on Quinn, of all people, and he takes off to Europe with Sam, his female FBI lover, to chase after the hostage takers, all of whom are being taken out before he reaches them. But how? And by whom? Something's not right and he has to get to the bottom of it. It turns into a real page turner and I've got to say, I was not disappointed. I tend to love Forsyth books, even with all of the detail. So, recommended.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tales from the Pittsburgh Steelers Sideline

I love reading books about my favorite football team, but this one was kind of disappointing. It started with a bang and ended with a whimper. It started out with the early teams and players and told interesting stories about them before continuing on to the teams I'm most familiar with -- those of the 1970s and beyond. Naturally, there are many stories of the teams and players from the '70s, although not nearly enough. I believe the fourth Super Bowl they won was not mentioned once. What the hell is up with that? Chuck Noll is given is due, and rightly so. Bill Cower is given his due too, and rightly so. But then, as you read on, you realize something. The author is giving you annual draft picks with a sentence or two or three about each thrown in for good measure. By the end of the book, that's all you get. Virtually nothing at all about the three Super Bowls of the 2000s. In fact, I don't remember anything at all about the Super Bowl we won against Seattle. What the hell is up with that??? There are stories about some of the great players in this book -- Earnie Stautner, Mean Joe, Franco Harris, some of the lesser known players from the '70s teams. You would think they'd include stories about Hines Ward, Troy, Ben, etc., as well as some from the '90s like Kevin Greene, who's always a Hall of Fame finalist. So, I enjoyed some of what I read, but a lot of stuff -- a ton of it -- was left out and that's inexcusable. This author just ended up cheating the reader by relating annual draft picks and how they turned out. And that does not a book make. Not recommended.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Korean Intercept

This was an interesting thriller that was so improbable as to make it seems virtually impossible, unlike many other thriller books out there. The book centers around the space shuttle Liberty. Its mission is aborted and it's forced to return and land, not in the US, but in North Korea. While the few survivors try to survive, the North Koreans, Chinese, and Americans are in a desperate race against time to find the shuttle and the survivors in order to avert a potential nuclear war.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, aside from how the shuttle is diverted, it's by whom that strikes me as absurd. I just can't buy it. I won't spoil it for possible readers by divulging it here, but it's really rather stupid, in my opinion. Then, there's the larger than life superhero of the novel, Trev Galt. He's actually an asshole who refuses to take orders from anyone, including the president of the United States, and is capable of leaping single buildings in a bound and taking on 400 men with one swing. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but the author really makes him out to be some kind of superhero, and that got old. Make him realistic, please. How about John Wells or Bob Lee Swagger? Trev Galt? Unbelievable moron.

This book had a lot of potential and it's still fairly decent. There's some good action in it. But the author makes some mistakes along the way that bring the book down a couple of stars. Cautiously recommended.

The Devil's Alternative

This was one of the most exciting books I've ever read! It's a Cold War story about the US versus the Soviet Union, mixed in with some Ukrainian nationalists bent on raising hell in Russia and upsetting world events as a result. We've got the CIA. We have the Politburo. We have the world's wheat production, which -- when I first started reading this -- I thought was going to be boring, but actually turns out to be essential to the plot. We have weapons reductions. We have war plans. We have super tankers and terrorists. We have romance. I could go on and on. And Forsyth doesn't go into his usual excruciating 100 page detail on the planning of an assassination or hostage taking like he normally does. In this book, the head of the KGB is killed -- in one page! Amazing. No details at all. I loved it. Talk about a real departure for the author. Of course, there is planning, yes, but none of the mind numbing lengthy stuff that bores the average reader to death with so many of his novels. This is a real page turner. I couldn't recommend it more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Dogs of War

The Dogs of WarThe Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Dogs of War is another excellent Forsyth book that is well plotted and heavily detailed with some limited action at the end. It's almost an injustice to call it a thriller, but a thriller it is. Just a slow paced one.

It's about Zangara, a small republic in West Africa, where a mountain is discovered that is thought to have tin in it. However, it's discovered to be platinum and about 10 billion dollars' worth. The mining company that has done this survey, located in London, is eager to gain mineral rights to the mountain, but the dictator of the country is cozy with Russia and the concern is once it's made known what's in the mountain, Russia will get first dibs. So, the owner of this company dreams up this elaborate scheme to hire mercenaries to overthrow this African nation's government and install a puppet regime which will give him mineral rights to the mountain containing the platinum.

Enter Cat Shannon, mercenary. He's one of the best, if not the best around. He and his gang are looking for work when he's approached with this offer and so begins a lengthy round of planning and logistics that would bore the hell out of many readers (including my wife), but really gives one the feel of what it takes to purchase, transport, and store black market arms, as well as other goods. Shannon has 100 days to execute his plan. He buys a ship, hires a few more men, trains, and on Day 100 storms the beach, ready to take on the dictator's men. I'm not going to give away the ending of the book, but suffice it to say that there is such an unexpected plot twist that I pushed my rating up from four to five stars based solely on that alone. Simply brilliant.

This isn't Forsyth's best book, but it's really pretty good. I understand they made a movie of it and now I shall have to seek it out and watch it. If you're easily bored by books that aren't fast paced 100% of the time (or even 50%), this isn't the book for you, but if you like good political and military thrillers with depth, I'd give this a try. Recommended.

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The Black Unicorn

The Black Unicorn (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #2)The Black Unicorn by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boy, a lot of people really don't like this book. Well, I do. Granted, it's not as good as the first book in this Landover series, but I still think it tells a good story. In it, one night Ben Holiday, the new king of Landover, his wizard Questor Thews, and the sylph Willow all have dreams that compel them to go on individual quests because of what they see in their dreams -- Ben sees his former law partner in Chicago in trouble and crying out for Ben's help, Questor sees some magic books he can acquire, and Willow sees a black unicorn and a gold bridle meant for it. However, the evil wizard, Meeks, reappears and is the source of these dreams. He follows Ben back into Landover and exchanges identities with Ben, getting Ben kicked out of the castle and taking over the rule of the land. He then takes possession of the books that Questor attained and goes on an extensive search for the black unicorn, which apparently possesses some serious magic that he wants to harness. Meanwhile, Ben sets out on a search for Willow, anticipating great danger for her and wanting to save her from it. He is joined by a fantastic character, a fairie creature in the form of a "prism" cat named Edgewood Dirk. He accompanies Ben on his journeys, saves his life on occasion, and tries to impart wisdom in a game playing, cryptic cat-like way that merely infuriates Ben. (Brooks seems to really GET cats in his portrayal here.) He learns nothing. And this is where people have a problem with the book. In the first book, Ben used his skills learned as a world class lawyer to guide his way through becoming king of Landover. In this book, he's dense as a rock. I mean, dumb as hell. Midway through the book, a 10-year-old child can figure out what has happened to Ben, but it's not til the end of the book that he himself does, this after Dirk has hinted at it repeatedly. Apparently this infuriates a number of fans. I take it with a grain of salt and knock the book down a star. Of course, since this is a four book series, you know Ben's going to beat Meeks and win in the end, but it's fun to see it occur. And there's the love interest between Ben and Willow, although it's also frustrating to see how dense Ben is about his feelings regarding Willow. Still, this wasn't a bad book. I like magic and fantasy and there's plenty of that here. I've already read the third book in this series and I think it's a bit better, so chalk this up to trying to write a sequel to a really good first book and falling a bit short. Nonetheless, recommended.





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Friday, October 17, 2014

Lords and Ladies

This is another excellent Discworld novel and perhaps Pratchett's best effort at character development. By the end of the book, you feel like you've really gotten to know Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Mustrum Ridcully, Magrat Garlick, the Ogg brothers, and various others. Well done, Sir Terry!

In this book, one of the Witches series, Magrat has quit her witching ways and is about to marry the King and become Queen of Lancre. Except she finds that it's boring being a queen and she misses being a witch. Meanwhile, these young witch wannabees are doing things they shouldn't be doing and open up a door to this world from another in which evil elves -- not the cute ones we envision -- appear to wreak havoc and even kill. The elves' queen is determined to take over and it's everything Granny and Nanny can do to stop her. Along the way, there's actually romance for the older witches (and a wizard and dwarf), a lot of phallic jokes, standard Pratchett humor, a funny scene when meek Magrat goes off and takes on the elves herself with a crossbow and sword. Even though this is one of the Witch series books, I think it could probably stand on its own, although I also think it would help to have read several others so that you're already familiar with some of the characters, such as Unseen University's Librarian, who's in Lancre with some other wizards for the wedding. This is actually kind of a dark book for Pratchett, humor withstanding, and free will is a topic that's explored here. I can find no fault with this book and I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Shadow Patrol

Even though this book has a very good rating on Goodreads, I've read some fairly lukewarm reviews and I have to say that I'm somewhat mystified. I thought this was another excellent John Wells novel by Alex Berenson. In this one, the CIA station in Afghanistan is in tatters because a double agent blew up a number of CIA agents in one sitting (based on a factual story) and it's never recovered. Now there's reason to believe there's a mole in the unit, so Wells is brought in to go over there to see if he can discover anything. And he's met with overt hostility by the CIA people there. So he heads out into the Afghanistan wilderness, where he encounters some bad guys. He travels to a US military base to give a speech and hears rumors that the military and the CIA are in league with the Taliban, of all organizations, to sell heroin, and that there are special forces people involved too. Working with his old CIA boss back in the US, Wells finds out info that is crucial to his finding those involved and, of course you know he's going to save the day in the end, but it's pretty exciting to see it come to pass in the pages as you read. This isn't Berenson's best Wells novel, but it's pretty good. It sure kept me reading. And I learned a lot about Afghanistan and the military role over there, as well as the CIA. The thing I love about the author is he always seems to write the most realistic thrillers I've ever read, besting his contemporaries by far. Maybe it's his training as a reporter with the New York Times, or maybe he's just gifted, but I really appreciate that about him. I feel like I can trust his books, even though I know they're fiction. I'm giving this book five stars and I certainly recommend it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dead Zero

Dead Zero (Bob Lee Swagger, #7 Ray Cruz, #1)Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book started out really well, but the ending was so incredibly stupid that I have to give it just a couple of stars. The book starts out with Ray Cruz, a Marine sniper who is tasked with having to assassinate an Afghan warlord named Ibrahim Zarzi. However, out in the Afghan wilderness, he and his spotter are jumped by mercenaries (American). His spotter is killed, he is wounded, but escapes. He tries to complete his mission, but a missile destroys the building he was going to use to do it on.

Fast forward in time. The FBI comes to one Bob Lee Swagger, the hero of Hunter's books up til now. Retired and an old former Marine sniper, they want his help in locating and stopping Cruz, because they've received a message from Cruz that he's going to somehow finish his mission, killing Zarzi in the US as he tours the country. He's changed his ways and is an American golden boy now, and we're promoting him for Afghan president. The problem is, the mercs are still after Cruz, and now they're after Swagger.

It's an action packed, fast paced mystery/thriller that is pretty exciting and even though it's not remotely believable, unlike Alex Berenson's novels, it's still a good ride. And then something happens. A few things.

I don't know how to write spoilers in these reviews, so I'm just going to write it here:

*** SPOILER ALERT***

Cruz turns out to be Swagger's son. Nice coincidence, that, don't you think? Now we can keep the book series alive, even as Swagger gets to be too old to continue. I didn't like that. Not at all. And I've read the next Cruz book and I hated it, so ... not thrilled.

The FBI finds out there's an emergency at the White House and they need a sniper. They call all of their snipers and find they've all gone home because they're tired out from what they just went through. So the FBI goes to the White House with Swagger and Cruz, who apparently aren't tired at all. But here's the thing -- doesn't the president have the ... Secret Service at all times? Wouldn't you think they'd have plenty of men around to terminate the threat? Wonder why Hunter didn't think of that....

Here's the kicker. Major spoiler. The ending is so damn stupid as to make the entire book useless. The bad guy did everything because he's pissed off at the West (and the US) for the introduction of the birth control pill in 1960 and what that has done to women. Yep. Women work now and earn just as much, if not more, than men. (Don't know where Hunter got that utterly false statistic.) Women should be barefoot and pregnant, apparently, and should know their place. The family unit is shrinking. Western society got along quite nicely for centuries with men in the lead and now, thanks to birth control, women are running wild. So Islam, with its misogynistic views, is our only hope. Yeah, I know. Can you believe that shit? That's the biggest pile of horseshit I've ever read. To think that an intelligent reading audience would buy that as the reason for taking down the US by a traitor is asinine. So I would give this book one star, but I'm giving it two because it was exciting, up til that point. Still, definitely not recommended.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Cobra

The CobraThe Cobra by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Cobra was a bit of a disappointment for me, especially since I love Forsyth and most of his works. The premise is pretty simple. The president, who is clearly meant to be Obama, decides to take on the cocaine cartels and wants them wiped out. To do this, he turns to an ex-CIA man code named "The Cobra," who assures him that with appropriate time and resources, he can do it. He then recruits an ex-soldier named Cal Dexter to be his second in command. And thus begin my complaints with the book.

After this initial introduction to The Cobra, we almost never see him again until the very end of the book. How odd is that? Instead, Dexter is everywhere -- all over the world -- coordinating the logistics for putting together cocaine hunter/killer special ops groups who are going to take on the cartels by air and sea. Additionally, friendly governments are recruited to help, the British by sending their special forces, others by ramping up security. And halfway through the book, after tons of planning, the operation begins. And goes on and on. And the good guys -- who are real god -- and the bad guys -- who are real bad -- go at it, with the good guys winning virtually 100% of the time, so incredibly easily that you have to wonder if the government actually followed this novel as a planning guide, could it eradicate the drug trade? Forsyth makes it look so damn easy. And that's not remotely realistic.

There's a twist at the end that brings The Cobra back into the story and also involves Dexter. By now, the cartels have figured out what's going on to a certain degree, but seem powerless to stop it. Amazing. What happens at the very end was a bit of a surprise to me, and a welcome one, actually, but it couldn't save the book. Why name the book "The Cobra" when it actually should have been named "Cal Dexter?" It doesn't make sense. Why write a book that makes winning the war on drugs -- which America has stunningly lost to a shocking degree -- look so incredibly easy when we know it's not? It's not remotely realistic. Some people complain of boredom due to the incredible detail and planning that went on during the first half of the book. Well, that's basically Forsyth's way, so I personally don't have a problem with that. But it's got to lead somewhere. And this led nowhere. Another complaint -- there's no sense of suspense or real danger to the good guys in this book. You get that in the Odessa File, the Jackal, the Fourth Protocol, etc., but not here. It's just non-stop intercepting and destroying drug shipments left and right. The only danger is to the bad guys. Not much of a thriller.

Normally I highly recommend Forsyth books, but I'm afraid this time I can't. I'm not even sure why I'm giving it three stars instead of two. I guess out of respect for the author. Not recommended.




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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Interesting Times

Interesting Times (Discworld, #17)Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this Discworld novel so many weeks ago that I can't remember if I was going to give it four stars or five! I think five, so that's what I'll do. I also can't remember enough to give it a decent review, and for that, I truly apologize. I've read too many books in between.

This book is another in the Rincewind the Wizzard series, and it's really very good. In it, he's chosen to go to the Agatean Empire on the mysterious Counterweight Continent -- a place that appears to be like ancient China, with a little Japanese thrown in for good measure. The emperor is dying and various factions are vying to take over upon his death. However, there's an ancient legend that at just such a time in centuries past, a great wizard rose up with his Red Army and won the war, enabling the "right" emperor to live on. Rincewind is supposed to be that wizard, reincarnated. Of course they don't know he's inept. But he's got his magical Luggage with him. And he runs into Twoflower again! Not only that, but he runs into Cohen the Barbarian, who with several other ancient barbarian heroes, have decided to ruthlessly take over the Agatean Empire and rule it themselves. It's seven and against an army of 700,000. They like their odds. The rebels Rincewind encounters are exceedingly polite. Their slogans are hilarious. And of course, as you knew would have to happen, Rincewind saves the day. I won't tell you how, though. You have to read it to find that out.

Interesting Times is an interesting book and Pratchett does a nice job of taking non-pc, yet playful, jabs at other cultures, while still taking a few at his own. I don't know if this is the last Rincewind book I'll read -- I suspect it is -- but the character couldn't have gone out on a higher note. Certainly recommended.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Small Gods

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It's a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man's a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it's meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there's a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he's a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it's become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there's Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian "brother" to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don't go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he's going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there's an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis "awakes" to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. "YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can't stand to be alone and now he's in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called "He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron." Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, "In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone." "There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites...." "And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving --" -- well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There's a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn't take everything we're fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett's good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It's a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Third Bullet

The Third Bullet (Bob Lee Swagger, #8)The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book. It was a real adventure to read and even though it plodded along at times (I wouldn't call it a "thriller."), I guess it was kind of a suspense novel. Bob Lee Swagger is a former Marine sniper who gained fame in Vietnam. Now, he's approached by the widow of a writer who was murdered in DC, potentially because he was on to something new with JFK's assassination. So Bob takes this on, goes to Dallas, and starts snooping around. And almost immediately is the target of an assassination attempt, which he thwarts through some good shooting. Ah, the author is a gun man. He's knows his guns and even though at times it feels like he's nearly arrogant about his knowledge, he does make things seem realistic. Since the dead assassin is Russian, Swagger goes to Russia to look into some things and is attacked there. He escapes through some good shooting and the help of a colleague, a fellow sniper. At this point in the book, the author does something odd. He starts narrating chapters through the "diary" of the mastermind behind JFK's assassination and it adds and takes away from the story. It adds, because we find out how it was actually accomplished and it's fascinating reading. It takes away because it's not entirely believable. As we go through the course of the story and Swagger gets closer to the truth, the diarist starts writing in "real time," which obviously can't be happening in real time. It stretches the imagination. Oh, there was indeed a second shooter, in a neighboring building. And there was a support team. And Oswald was a puppet. And the author is good. This really reads like nonfiction. Every tiny little detail is laid out for inspection, and then related to the reader as plausible, and it really works. While Swagger is debunking conspiracy theories, the author essentially creates a new one which is the best one I've heard/read yet. It's really possible, or so you're led to think. Of course, our hero -- Swagger -- has to track down the culprit and the final pages are action packed, so perhaps it's a bit of a thriller, but the book has a largely satisfying ending, so that's good. I've read a lot of reviews that say this book doesn't stack up to other books by Hunter and some that have problems with the mastermind's diary, like me, but I'm able to overlook that and enjoy, for the most part. Still, I've got to knock it down from five to four stars for that. However, it was a very detailed, well thought out book and I heartily recommend it.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Clans of the Alphane Moon

Clans of the Alphane MoonClans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had some good ideas, but PKD asks the reader to make too many leaps of logic to be able to give this book a decent score.

CIA agent Chuck Rittersdorf splits from his psychiatrist wife, Mary, who's a marriage counselor. She prompts this and she's really portrayed as an evil bitch, so I have no idea why he was so intent to get back together with her later in the book. Meanwhile, Chuck picks up a writing gig with famous TV comedian Bunny Hentman, and starts taking uppers to hold both jobs down at the same time. These drugs are supplied by an alien slime mold who has telepathic powers and apparently wants to help Chuck as he orients himself to a new lifestyle in a downgraded conapt (apartment). He even sets Chuck up with a love interest, of sorts.

Well, Mary is hired by the feds to go to Alpha III M2, a moon of some type, to start therapy on groups of former psychiatric patients who were abandoned many years ago by Terra (Earth) during their war with Alphane, now over. These former patients have set up clans on the moon, made up of various psychiatric types -- ie, Deps (depressives), Mans (manics), Paras (paranoid schizophrenics), etc. However, the CIA is interested in this venture, so they create a simulcra to go to the moon with Mary and others on this mission, and Chuck will be controlling it from Terra. So he decides to kill his ex-wife through this android-type being.

Crazy, yes? Well, that's standard PKD fare. It starts getting out of control when Benny, his new employer, has a brainstorming session with the writers -- and Chuck -- during which time they decide to write a new act about a CIA agent who is going to kill his ex-wife through a simulcra on another planet. Just like Chuck has planned. Bizarre coincidence, or is it?

The CIA finds out about Chuck's drugs and fires him. As soon as he's fired, so does Benny, presumably because he no longer has Chuck as a CIA insider to work with. However, the CIA goes after Benny for his doings with Alphanes, and he escapes on his own rocket. Chuck finds himself on the moon, where Mary is. Coincidence? Easily done? Yes. Here's one area that was really too hard to buy -- the Para leader is given an ultimatum by Mary (with all of the clan leaders) to return to their former lives or face military action by Terra within four hours. So of all of the alternatives they come up with, the ONLY one is for him to *obviously* go to Mary's spaceship and seduce her and talk her out of it. Huh? Excuse me? WTF??? What kind of warped idea is that? But that's the obvious choice, and I'll be damned if he doesn't go and seduce her on her ship. But she turns out to be more than he bargained for and turns into a sexual beast who nearly kills him in her passion. Only Dick can write this stuff. When he wakes up from his sex-induced coma, she's gone and Terra is on the attack.

I'm not going to give away the ending, but it's surprisingly upbeat. Maybe that's because Dick was probably struggling with all of these issues in his own life -- his marriage woes, job and finance woes, his worries of mental illness -- so he wrote a good ending so he could expect one in his own life. That's my two cents, anyway. It's not a bad book, but it just leaps to conclusions that no rational person would draw too many times and I just can't eagerly recommend it. If you're a fan, you'll probably like it. If you're new to the author, I wouldn't start with this one.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Faithful Spy

The Faithful Spy (John Wells, #1)The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Faithful Spy was a very exciting book to read. I like spy/thriller novels, although I actually don't read that many of them, and this was among the best I have read.

John Wells is a CIA agent who has successfully penetrated al Qaeda. He's been with them for years, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, he hasn't been in touch with his CIA bosses for years and they don't even know if he's still alive or if he's still on their side. See, Wells has converted to Islam and learns to deplore America's superficiality and arrogance. That said, he makes contact with Special Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, which he didn't foresee, and shortly after, he's plucked from his Pakistani village by al Qaeda leaders to go back home to America for a hugely important mission, one they don't fill him in on. Meanwhile, the head of al Qaeda's nuclear "program" is captured in Iraq and, through torture, fills the US in on potential plots in the US and on John Wells.

Wells comes home and goes to the CIA, where he is given a hostile greeting by the director. However, his handler, Jennifer Exley, still believes in him. He's put in a virtual prison, but escapes because he wants to stop al Qaeda from whatever it is they're plotting. What follows is an exciting series of challenges, chases, biological warfare, and confrontations, ultimately with Omar Khandri, John's al Qaeda handler.

When I read reviews of this book, I was shocked to see how many people viewed it as more of the same. They deplored the love story in the book and thought the middle part of it was boring. I couldn't view it more differently. I thought the love story was great and really enjoyed the ending. I also thought some of the "boring" parts allowed the characters to be flushed out pretty fully, so I had no problem with that. Just because Wells has to wait to be contacted by his handler doesn't mean it's boring, sorry. I thought the terrorism scenarios painted by Berenson were horrifyingly realistic and well thought out. I think he did a great job with this book, and even though it shares some similarities with Frederick Forsythe's The Afghan, it's a really good book that stands on its own. Strongly recommended.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Headcrash

HeadcrashHeadcrash by Bruce Bethke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm so pissed off I read this book. It took a real stretch of imagination to buy into the virtual reality world the author creates, but then you reach the ending and it's so insanely stupid, you wonder what the hell you just did and why. I'm never going to get those hours of my life back!

Jack Burroughs is a sysadmin for a large multinational corporation who loses his day job because of a vindictive new boss. However, in his off hours -- which he now has a lot of -- he resides in cyberspace, in a virtual reality world. He likes to hang out in a virtual bar called Heaven, where he has created a cool version of himself, unlike his mega-nerd reality. He hangs out there with his best friend. Strangely, a hot woman calling herself Amber comes along offering him a million dollars to commit cyberpiracy and steal some files from his former employer, or so he thinks. He takes her up on it, with the support of his buddy, and is shipped some cutting edge virtual reality gear, which includes gloves, footwear, a bra, and yes, an anal dildo. That took some doing on the author's part. Still, he jacks up, goes in, gets the info, delivers it and is told it was only a test. Now he has to do the hard part -- the real job. Well, you would think thievery from a large corporation with strong defenses would be hard, but now he has to go up against -- get this -- an author. Yep, a big, bad writer. Who works with the Department of Defense on his insipid novels, so he allegedly has all of the cutting edge cyber defenses. That was really hard to believe. Nonetheless, he and his virtual reality buddies storm the place and he gets waxed, waking up -- I think -- in what's supposed to be a semi-real courtroom, staffed by a teddy bear judge, a prosecuting doll, and a bird, among others. There he's sentenced to exile on a deserted island, where he apparently goes, only to wind up a beach boy in Hawaii. And that's the end. How freakin' STUPID is that??? It's like the author wrote himself into a corner with his craziness and decided to go balls to the wall with total insanity to end the book because he couldn't think of anything better. This was a stupid book and I can't believe I wasted parts of two otherwise good days on it. Certainly not recommended. Not even good cyberpunk. Oh, and the author claims to have invented the word "cyberpunk," just as an FYI. Whatever.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Truth

The Truth (Discworld, #25)The Truth by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a marvelous Discworld novel, one that I enjoyed immensely. William De Worde, son a a "Lord" (wealth), leaves his family's fortunes to strike out on his own. He starts a newsletter that goes, mostly, to foreign dignitaries, but at some point happens upon a "real" story and some dwarves with a printing press and his newsletter grows into a daily newspaper -- the Ankh-Morpork Times. Soon, he has hired a writer, Sacharissa, and a vampire as a photographer who turns to dust whenever the flash goes off. He needs a drop of blood in his ashes to resurrect himself. (However, he's a reformed vampire and has sworn off human blood to be accepted in society, instead going for songs and hot chocolate.)

Some local higher ups hire two thugs -- Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip -- to kidnap the city's Patrician, Lord Vetinari, and frame him for theft and assault. Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip are crazy and violent and soon William is hot on the trail of this mystery, at times crossing the city Watch and Commander Vimes, at times aiding them too. I didn't really care for Vimes' portrayal in this novel, however. He's portrayed as a very angry man, and I've really enjoyed his character in other Discworld books, so it threw me off. Someone to be avoided, whereas in other books, he was valiant. Whatever.

The short of it is William uncovers the plot, credits the Watch, Vetinari is freed, and the Times grows and expands to other cities and countries.

I enjoyed seeing what went in the paper. I enjoyed the wordplay. ("The truth will make you fret" as a typo...) I enjoyed seeing a competing paper, the Inquirer, a tabloid full of trash, print absolute hogwash and was mortified to see the people drawn more to it than the Times, a parody of our own world. I don't know if this is my favorite Discworld novel, but it's up there. It's a really good story with a great ending and several layers to an alternating serious and hilarious plot. Definitely recommended.




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Friday, July 18, 2014

Maskerade

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maskerade is a delightful book telling a wonderful tale of intrigue, humor, and female empowerment. Once again, the witches of Lancre are back and I think this is my favorite witch book. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg feel it must take three witches to make a coven, and since Magrat has left the coven to become royalty, they think Agnes Nitt might be a suitable replacement. The problem is, Agnes and her alter ego, Perdita X. Dream, have gone to Ankh-Morpork and joined the opera. Agnes is a young girl with a rather sturdy build (okay, fat) and she's not viewed as star material. Instead, her beautiful, skinny, completely untalented roommate Christine gets the leads. Agnes sings in the chorus, but she sings the lead while Christine mouths it and thinks she's performing beautifully. However, I'm jumping ahead. Agnes has a beautiful voice and she can even harmonize with herself. She doesn't want to be a witch; she wants to sing. But the opera has a secret -- there's a ghost haunting the opera and when she happens along, people start dying. This ghost appears as the one in the Phantom of the Opera, which this book spoofs. Soon, everyone is terrified of the ghost and wonders just who or what it is.

Meanwhile, Granny and Nanny go to Ankh-Morpork to fetch Agnes and take her back to Lancre where they'll entice her to join the coven. Their journey is hilarious. I think Nanny is especially funny in this book. When they reach the city, they stay at a house of ill repute, based on one of Nanny's son's recommendations. Additionally, Nanny has written a book -- a cookbook. An obscene cookbook. And she's not made any money off of it. So Granny takes her to the publisher and uses their magical skills to induce the publisher to pay her a lot of money. They were given free opera tickets by a fellow traveler who's in it, so they go and hear about the ghost. They decide they're going to get to the bottom of things and go spend thousands to get Granny gussied up as a grand dame. They then go to Mr. Bucket, the owner, and "donate" $2,000 to get Box Eight, which is always left free and empty for the ghost. Soon, the ghost appears and a chase ensues with Granny and Nanny cornering the right individual. I had guessed who the ghost was before it was revealed, but there were still delightful plot twists and turns in figuring out who the ghost was. In the end, the two witches save the day and Agnes goes home to join their coven.

Pratchett doesn't take on the BIG themes he does in other Discworld books (like war and racism), but he does poke fun at opera and theater and I really enjoyed that. In fact, here is a translation of some typical opera-speak from its original foreign language:

This damn door sticks
This damn door sticks
It sticks no matter what the hell I do
It's marked "Pull" and indeed I am pulling
Perhaps it should be marked "Push"?

Okay, how funny is that? This book is a great Discworld novel and I think just about anybody would enjoy it. Highly recommended.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Going Postal

Going Postal (Discworld, #33)Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Going Postal is an utterly delightful book to read. My last Discworld novel wasn't as good, so I was hoping for a return to form by Pratchett, and I am not disappointed. The book is a prequel to one I read a few weeks ago -- Making Money -- that I enjoyed just as much.

Going Postal is about con artist Moist von Lipwig, who is about to be hanged for his various crimes, until Patrician Vetinari, tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, gives him a new lease on life. Lipwig can hang until dead or he can take over the defunct Ankh-Morpork Post Office and use his many skills to fix things up. He, not too surprisingly, chooses the Post Office, and so his new life begins. Upon going there, he finds a broken down old building that hasn't been in use in decades and that is filled to capacity with letters dating back decades. There are also two employees, Stanley and Groat, both of whom seem to lack some semblance of sanity. Vetinari has also given Lipwig a golem, Mr Punch, as a probation officer/servant. They make an interesting pair.

Well, Lipwig sets out to transform the Post Office. He starts by delivering an old letter from an old man who wrote it 40 years ago, asking for the hand in marriage of his sweetheart. She never got it, they never married, life moves on. Except that now that he has this letter, it's delivered to the woman and as they're both widowed, they decide to get married after all these years and make a big deal about it, which makes the papers. Lipwig then visits the Golem Trust, run by a feisty young woman whom he romances in the book, and gets her to donate several golems for mail delivery. Additionally, some of the old (okay, ancient) staff return to help out.

The primary form of communication on the Discworld is through clackers, and they're run by the Grand Trunk, owned and operated by rich crooks. It's like a cross between cell phones and email. They have towers throughout the countryside where they send and receive messages in code and "crackers" can hack in and disrupt things. The problem with the Grand Trunk is that it's expensive and it's always broken down. So Lipwig decides to go head to head against them and offers to deliver any message they can't for considerably less, setting off a firestorm of publicity and controversy. Additionally, he comes up with the brilliant idea of creating "stamps" that people can buy for various denominations that, when stamped by the post office, will get their letters delivered. Amazing. Soon, all of Ankh-Morpork is bustling about the Post Office and everything looks good. Until it's burned by arson. Von Lipwig pulls off a masterful stunt of publicity by publicly praying to the gods for $150,000 to rebuild the Post Office, goes out of town to dig up exactly that much that he had buried some time before from one heist or another, and the town thinks he virtually a god himself when he returns with the money. Brilliant. Soon, it all comes down to a challenge between the Trust and the Post Office -- who can deliver a message to a far off country first? It's about two months away by coach and hours away by clacker. Lipwig assures everyone he will get there first and people bet on him to do it. I won't tell you how he pulls it off, but he does and winds up the hero, ending a great tale.

This book is chock full of Pratchett's standard brand of Monty Python-esque humor, witticisms, and satire. There are a lot of laughs in this book. And of course, as is typical of Pratchett, he injects enough of our world into it to make the Discworld seem realistic and to show how silly ours sometimes is. This is the 12th Discworld book I've read and I'm reading them out of order, but they're all good enough to stand on their own. If you want a fun, quick read, I certainly recommend this book. You can't go wrong with it.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sourcery

Sourcery (Discworld, #5)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels so much that it pains me to not give one of them five stars, or at least four. However, I thought this one was lacking in some ways. It felt forced.

The premise is about the story of an eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son. And he was a wizard. A wizard squared... a source of magic... a Sourcerer. Coin is the boy's name and he's pretty vicious. He's actually ruled by the staff his wizard father left him -- and inhabited somehow, tricking Death in the process. At about age 10, he shows up at Unseen University, home of the wizards, and demands to be named Archchancellor. However, our favorite inept wizard, Rincewind, has taken the Archchancellor's hat, and no one can be named Archchancellor without it. Coin demolishes virtually everything in existence and builds a new series of towers for wizards to rule in. Meanwhile, Rincewind and Conina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian, escape to Klatch (I think), which is Discworld's version of the Middle East. There they encounter a magician who puts the hat on his head and starts battling Coin and the other wizards. And people die. Which disturbed me. See, in the numerous other Discworld novels I've read, the wizards have been loveable, incompetent, bumbling fools who hang out together. However, in this book, they're all enemies of each other, constantly plotting each others' deaths, and that didn't mesh with my vision of Discworld. The scenes of the wizards doing battle reminded me more of one of the later Harry Potter books than of Discworld books. Dark. Not funny.

Anyway, along the way, Rincewind and Conina pick up a sultan and Nigel, the barbarian in training. These don't seem to serve much of a purpose to the plot, other than to provide some easy jokes for Pratchett. Also, we see Twoflower's Luggage make another appearance, but while it attempts to follow Rincewind around, it never actually does much of anything and seems to be another useless plot device. Additionally, my favorite Discworld character -- Death -- doesn't contribute much to the book, appearing in the beginning, and then a couple more times later on. I missed his rye style of speaking.

Of course, Coin is ultimately defeated and then magically turns into a good guy, which I had a hard time buying, but not before he disappears for the entire middle half of the novel. That was strange. It was all Rincewind at that point. Don't get me wrong -- I like Rincewind. It was just a little jarring to see Coin disappear from the narrative like that. I think Pratchett had a good idea in this novel, but just wasn't able to pull it off as he usually does with his Discworld novels. And even though this was my 11th or 12th Discworld book I've read, I know I'm not tiring of the series because I've already started another and I'm loving it. So, if you like Discworld, I'd read it, but if you're unfamiliar with the series, I definitely wouldn't start off with this one.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Color of Magic

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read about 10 Discworld books, but wanted to read the first one in the series, so I finally got it and I just finished it. And let me tell you, it was an enjoyable book to read. The book is broken up into four parts, so it can be a little disjointed in some places, but overall the writing was what we've come to expect from Pratchett. This book introduces a delightful character named Rincewind who is a wizard, albeit a very terrible one who wouldn't know how to DO magic if it bit him on the leg. He does know one spell that he remembered from his time at Unseen University before being kicked out for ineptitude. Rincewind is a coward, but bravely so. He also has Lady Luck on his side, so his cowardice is helped out considerably at times throughout the book. One day, a character named Twoflower shows up from another country far away lugging a piece of luggage (that walks on many small feet and has a life of its own) and is overflowing with gold. Twoflower is curious to see Ankh-Morpork, the big city at the center of Discworld, but his curiosity gets him into trouble and, besides, he's utterly clueless to the dangers posed by his obvious riches. Rincewind is goaded by Lord Vetenari to show Twoflower the sights -- safely -- and so an adventure begins. During their times together, we meet a barbarian hero who is a narcissist and loves to pose for pictures, dragons and their masters, a water troll, dryads, a frightening monster living in a temple out in the sticks, a frog, a terrorist on some airplane in another plane of existence, and so much more. Rincewind is always fleeing danger in terror, only to inexplicably save the day by tripping over his own feet and perhaps those of a guard somewhere, injuring them somehow and allowing them to escape. Twoflower, meanwhile, knows no fear and while they're flying on a dragon, he excitedly looks down at the ground far beneath them while Rincewind cowers in fright. My favorite Discworld character, Death, makes an appearance or two, but he's not as funny as he is in later Discworld novels. All that said, I really didn't care for the ending at all, so that's why I'm marking it down from five to four stars. Still, it's a good start to an excellent series and I certainly recommend it.




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The World Jones Made

The World Jones MadeThe World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent book, but not a great PKD book. It's about Floyd Jones, a precog who can see exactly one year into the future and as a result has to live events out twice, once in his visions and once in his reality. It's also about Cussick, a Fedgov security agent (cop) who spots Jones at a freak show, displaying his talent by reading fortunes. He turns Jones in to be processed, as such people are typically sent to forced labor camps for life, but Jones is released upon the realization that everything he says turns out to be true and they can no longer hold him. Cussick's wife, Nina, becomes enamored of Jones and joins his new revolutionary party that has helped make Jones a preacher and seer. See, there's an alien life form called Drifters that Jones says is invading Earth and the surrounding planets and he is intent on saving Earth from the oncoming war. These Drifters are single cell organisms similar to amoebas, and as such, don't seem very devastating. PKD draws their mystery out well though. In one scene, we see Nina and Cussick go with a couple of his co-workers to a drug bar in San Francisco, where two hermaphrodites put on a horrendous sex show. Cussick is devastated to find out that his wife has taken an apartment there, dissatisfied with her life, and divorce proceedings follow. Jones, meanwhile, grows in popularity and the multitudes are joining his cause, intent upon overthrowing the world government. In the meantime, there's this bizarre subplot where mutants are grown to populate Venus, as we regular humans can't live there. They're kept in an isolated "Refuge," not exposed to Earth's atmosphere, air, etc. Later in the book, Jones and his millions of followers are in Germany, getting ready to march on a city (not sure why...) when an assassin is sent to kill him. The assassin wounds him, but doesn't kill him and this makes Jones even more larger than life, as it appears he can't be killed. Shortly after, Jones and his minions overthrow the government, throw those formerly in power into jail, release the people in the labor camps, and send rockets into space to see about populating other planets. They also continue to kill Drifters. As this is happening, the Venusian mutants are sent in two rockets to Venus, where they land and form a colony. It's a bizarre transition and one I didn't fully buy into as these formerly very sheltered beings are able to construct buildings, transportation, crops, etc., with no training. Soon, Nina comes back to Cussick because it appears that Jones has failed, as the Drifters have enabled a ring around the system, ensuring we can't escape into outer space. These plantlike beings are just part of a greater alien invasion. I don't want to give the final plot away -- whether Jones lives or dies -- but you can imagine it'd be hard to kill someone who can see into the future and knows everything that will happen. Still, at the climax of the book, it's Jones who has the final say and Cussick and his family escape to Venus, where they live in their own Refuge, communicating occasionally with the mutants. I guess this is an optimistic, upbeat ending to a depressing book. I thought the book was fairly poorly written with virtually no transitions between major scenes, the reader just being jarred into a new scene with no warning. Also, I had a hard time wrapping my head around Jones and his living through things twice. Too much of a mindf**k for me, I guess. I also didn't like how one of the characters introduced early in the book, Tyler, who Cussick seems to develop a minor "thing" for, just disappears completely from the book with no warning. It's bizarre. She's kind of a major/minor character and I wasn't prepared for that. PKD does that occasionally, but he's normally better about tying up character plots and this was disappointing to me. I guess this book could be given four stars, but it's so dark and so convoluted with some sad writing efforts that I can only give this book three stars and just cautiously recommend it.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

To Sail Beyond the Sunset

To Sail Beyond the SunsetTo Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

On March 7, 2014 I reviewed Robert A. Heinlein's "I Will Fear No Evil" and gave it one star. It was a sex-obsessed orgy with little "science fiction" to offer. Realizing it was published in 1970 during the Sexual Revolution, I thought maybe it was a one off. I was wrong. I started "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" yesterday and the initial premise seemed good -- a woman wakes up in bed with her cat and an unknown dead man, and she doesn't know who she is or where she is. Sounds good, right? Wrong. The next umpteen chapters are flashbacks to nineteenth century Missouri where Maureen, the main character, learns about sex as a pre-pubescent from her father and proceeds to whore herself out to every possible boy and man available. And to make matters worse, the dialogue is simply unbelievable. Witness the exchange between 12 year old Maureen and her pervert father. She says, "...this is why your anatomy book doesn't show the clitoris. Mrs. Grundy wouldn't like it because she doesn't have one." Um, okay.... Then "Father, there is something here that doesn't make sense. Why is 'vagina' a good word while 'cunt' is a bad word? Riddle me that." Seriously, how many 12 year old girls talk about clits and cunts with their father??? And he's egging her on to lose her virginity too! Which she finally does when she's 14, and damn proud of it too. The book reads like a cross between the Penthouse version of Caligula and de Sade's "Juliette," but not as good. There's adultery, swappings, orgies, incest, etc., all over the place. I'm no prude, but Heinlein was a serious perv and he wrote this book in his eighties! Finally, the thing that kills it for me is there's little science fiction. Oh, there's time travel and alternate universes, but those hardly matter to the plot of Maureen getting laid as often as possible. It's a very disappointing book to read and since this is my sixth Heinlein book I've attempted, it's also going to be my last. He was a seriously overrated, perverted sicko writer with little to offer. Definitely not recommended.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Vastalimi Gambit

The Vastalimi GambitThe Vastalimi Gambit by Steve Perry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book started out promisingly, but devolved into a muddled mess with a very disappointing ending.

I generally like Steve Perry books and I had read the first book in this series, which I thought was okay (just okay), so I thought I would give this sequel a chance. And he let me down. Oh well.

The book is about two members of the Cutter's Force Initiative, a team of mercenaries -- Kay and Wink. Wink is a human doctor and a merc. Kay is an alien Vastalimi, all of whom are stronger and faster than humans. It's almost impossible to beat them in combat. Kay has been serving with Cutter when she gets a message from her brother telling her of a plague that has broken out on her home planet of Vast and asking her to return, as she's an excellent Healer. Kay goes and brings Wink with her. However, it's dangerous. The Vastalimi don't like humans and they don't like Kay either. Indeed, she's challenged to a battle to the death, which she wins. We meet her brother, a doctor, and her sister, a member of the police. On Vast, the police are all powerful. They are judge, jury, and executioner and can kill you on the spot if they deem it warranted.

Meanwhile, Cutter and his crew are fighting a minor merc war on a backwater planet. This part of the book just seems like filler to me. It really adds nothing. So back to Kay and Wink. Wink determines it's poison that's killing off the Vastilimi and he and Kay start asking questions. Then they get kidnapped. They're not heard from for several days, so Cutter and the others leave their planet and go to Vast to search for them. However, they've escaped and are out interviewing potential suspects. And on and on. It gets really boring, the interviews. It seems like filler too. Perry must have had a minimum words requirement to fulfill because this book could have been edited down.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

The end is beyond anticlimactic. It's deeply disappointing. The culprit behind the murderous plague is Kay's sister. She thinks the police are going downhill, that they're not getting the quality of the recruits they once got. So she concocts this plan to kill off various criminals, as well as innocents -- including members of her own family -- to throw people off the trail, just so the police would look good in solving the crime and so they could recruit better once again. Yeah. It's utterly stupid. And to make it worse, Perry can't write a book without gratuitous sex scenes, so Wink and Kay end up in the sack together, with Wink thinking about a threesome. And that's it. The ending sucks!!! I can't believe I read this. For part of the book, I was engaged. There were some exciting moments. But the slow parts drag it down and the ending kills it. Too bad. Not recommended.

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