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:


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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