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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