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The Twelve Caesars
Suetonius, Michael Grant, Robert Graves
War of Eagles
Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

Treasure (Dirk Pitt #9)

Treasure - Clive Cussler

A late Roman ship locked in Greenland ice changes history, but a wax tablet describing its journey could bring the treasures of the Library of Alexandria back to the world.  Treasure is the 9th book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular hero goes from searching for a sunken Soviet sub to searching for a missing cruise ship with foreign heads of state and then looking for the fabulous remnants of the Library of Alexandria in Texas near the Rio Grande.

 

The last head of the Library of Alexandria finishes his inventory of the treasures he’s taken to be preserved in an unknown land only for his mercenaries to anger the local barbarians that attack and kill nearly everyone, except for the librarian and one ship that didn’t trust him cast off leaving him behind.  Almost 1500 years later, archaeologist Dr. Lily Sharp finds a Roman coin in Eskimo village in Greenland while off the coast Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino help the U.S. Navy find a sunken Soviet sub when suddenly a commercial airliner with the UN Secretary General onboard flies overhead and crash lanes into the ice.  The archaeologists, Pitt & Giordino, and the Navy personal launch rescues but find three survivors with most dead by poison but the 1st and 2nd officers killed by the missing pilot, one of the best assassins in the world.  Using the equipment on the Navy ship, Pitt finds a late Roman vessel trapped in the ice with the crew preserved along with a log of the ship’s journey and why they were there.  But Pitt, Giordino, and Dr. Sharp are sent to Colorado to talk with a Library of Alexandria expert and end up in a car chase after rescuing the UN Secretary General Hala Kamil from another assassination attempt, though an inept one, wanted by an Islamic cleric in her native Egypt because of her popularity.  The Egyptian cleric, in an alliance with a Aztec religious fanatic in Mexico, orders his expert assassin to abduct the Presidents of Egypt and Mexico from their cruise ship at a Third World economic conference in Uruguay.  The addition of Kamil who wanted to confer with both Presidents and Senator George Pitt, Dirk’s father, which the expert assassin views as both finishing his airplane job and leverage against the United States in the search.  Pitt, Giordino, and Rudy Gunn takeover a NUMA ship in the south Atlantic and figure out that instead of sinking the cruise liner, a Mexican freighter was sunk and the cruiser made to look like the freighter for the benefit of satellites then wrapped in plastic that was covered in water so as to look like an iceberg to hide in the Strait of Magellan.  U.S. Special Forces raid the ship, killing the Mexican terrorists who had secretly left with the VIP hostages to an old mining operation on a nearby island that the NUMA people were left only to be defeated by Pitt and others barely though the hostages saved.  The expert assassin, blinded thanks to Pitt, wanting revenge kills the Egyptian cleric for setting him up for failure while he sends his deputy to kill Pitt.  The NUMA computer using a map outline from the Roman ship and the journey log’s description locates the landing spot in Rome, Texas near the Mexican border.  The Aztec religious fanatic inspires the poor citizenry of Mexico to gather at the border then invade the town of Rome only to be confronted by Pitt at the dig site then killed along the deputy assassin in a three-way fight before an explosion supposedly destroys the treasure and sending disappointed Mexicans back across the border.  It is revealed that treasure was buried in another of the seven hills around the Texas town and that the Egyptian and Mexican religious fanatics were brothers from mixed race marriage of a three generation old crime family with tentacles around the world along with another brother who was being groomed to takeover Brazil.

 

Cussler takes a cue from era of the book’s publication, late 80s, and eliminates the Cold War cliché subplots instead going for Third World populism as well as religious fanaticism subplots that worked better from a story standpoint, yet the White House political and policy scenes felt like a drag to the story as a whole.  If anything the Library of Alexandria element was probably the weakest subplot since beginning with Julius Caesar’s accidental partial destruction of the Library nothing from the original was left by the time Cussler’s “last librarian” buried the treasure in Texas and Alexander the Great’s mummy had probably been moved to an Alexandrian church under the false belief it was the Apostle Mark—and is probably in St. Mark’s in Venice if it was smuggled out by merchants centuries after the Muslims took over.  As for the characters, the main antagonist was the expert assassin who was very formidable and almost got Pitt killed from the grave while the two religious fanatics were the typical “evil overlords” who were more secondary villains than anything else.  Pitt was an over-the-top ladies’ man, having sex with both Kamil and Sharp, but got beaten up with all the fighting done over the course of the novel.  However just because they had sex with Pitt doesn’t mean Kamil and Sharp weren’t interesting characters and showed an improvement of Cussler’s writing.

 

Treasure improved in areas over the previous Pitt installment through went back in another, but it’s overall quality was on par with Cyclops and the overall story was better.  This a great adventure story with everything from treasure, assassins, political intrigue, and daring feats which is well worth your time if you’re interested in a light read over a few days.

Secrets of the Lost Races

Secrets of the Lost Races - Rene Noorbergen

The seeming roller coaster of the rise and fall of civilization is made even more questioning with “out-of-place artifacts” through into the mix.  Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen examines these items and accounts from across the globe of modern-day technology to theorize that these are leftover knowledge from an antediluvian civilization that was slowly lost.

 

Using the early chapters of Genesis and very peculiar fossil finds, Noorbergen makes the case for the Biblical Flood then uses the same early Biblical chapters to make a case for a highly advanced civilization that the Ark survivors remembered enough to reboot civilization that would slowly decline as thousands of years past as the knowledge was slowly lost.  Throughout the book Noorbergen tackles various issues from potentially ancient sourced maps of the globe before European explorers created their own, the apparent physical evidence of nuclear war in the ancient past along with texts describing it, and the supposed concurrent existence of Stone Age cave men and various civilizations that were suppose to be thousands of years apart.

 

To give this book a chance one must believe in the Biblical Flood or be willing to be open to it as well as be open to Noorbergen’s interruption with it; one also has to account with the fact that this book was originally published over 40 years ago with looking at the evidence especially since further research has discounted it (the Zeno brothers) or more of a question mark.  Noorbergen is very insistent that the theories of von Daniken or Sitchin that advanced technology is from extraterrestrials doesn’t make sense even though his book is very much in their vain.  Yet in trying to fit in so much in around 200 pages, Noorbergen misses out on better analytical explanations.

 

Secrets of the Lost Races is an intriguing use of evidence that “ancient astronaut” theorists have brought further to a different purpose.  While Rene Noorbergen’s interest in the Flood and Noah’s Ark is various obvious, it doesn’t take away from his theory but adds emphasis to it.  If you’re interested in an alternate view of history this is something you might be interested in.

To a God Unknown

To a God Unknown - John Steinbeck

Belief in things seen and unseen is different for everyone, yet how one acts on that belief has ramifications to others and yourself.  To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck follows newly arrived Joseph Wayne has he begins a family ranch believing his father’s spirit inhabits a tree that protects the land which scares religious individuals in and around the ranch.

 

Joseph Wayne receives the blessing of his father, John, to leave Vermont and go to California.  Upon arriving and purchasing land, Joseph receives a letter from his religious brother Burton about the death of their father but after reading the letter Joseph feels his father in a huge tree next to the house he’s building.  Joseph’s three brothers and their families arrive months later and start a growing cattle ranch with Joseph always interested in the fertility of the land and his cattle while giving reverence to the tree which gets noticed by Burton.  The nearby town receives a new teacher which gets every single male’s attention, but Joseph somehow gets her to be his wife and the two have a “interesting” marriage that results in a son, young John, and ends with his wife’s death at a sacred rock that is on Joseph’s land.  After the ranch hosts a fiesta in which Joseph’s behavior towards the tree alarms the local priest and Burton.  Burton decides to leave for a safely Christian town but removes a ring of bark around the tree leading to its death.  Almost immediately the weather turns and over the next year drought devastates the ranch leading to Joseph’s brother leading what cattle he can to greener pastures while Joseph’s stays with the land.  Then as he watches the last water dry up from around the sacred rock. Joseph cuts himself and sees his blood moisten the ground then thunder in the distance.  He then sacrifices himself for the land and feels the rain in his dying moments.

 

Belief and how it affects people is the central theme of the novel, though the connection between farmer/rancher and the land goes hand in hand with it.  There are also clashes of belief, from Joseph’s paganism to the Christianity of Burton and the local priest who is also in conflict with local Indian beliefs.  This theme is the essential to the entire book as every character has their beliefs which make them unique and how they relate to everyone else.  But while Steinbeck goes into character beliefs, it doesn’t mean they’re all well rounded characters especially the women though Joseph’s sister-in-law Rama comes close.

 

To a God Unknown is the last of Steinbeck’s early works before his commercial and critical success but gives a glimpse of his later more well-known works.  As my first non-school related (The Pearl) Steinbeck work, I found this thought-provoking and intriguing but still a tad “rough” in style.  However, if you’re interested in getting to Steinbeck try this book and see if like myself, you’re figuring out which other Steinbeck books you’ll want to read.

Bio-Strike (Power Plays #4)

Bio-Strike (Tom Clancy's Power Plays, Book 4) - Jerome Preisler

In the already bloody and terror stricken 21st Century, another nightmare of biological warfare is looming thanks to Harlan DeVane who wants to show off his new “product” be getting revenge on UpLink International’s CEO Roger Gordian.  Bio-Strike the fourth book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler sees UpLink’s top brass and Sword security force at first figure out what is wrong with their boss then who did it and finally how to cure it all with time slowly whittling down.

 

Using a genetically modified hantavirus, Harlan DeVane plays to sell the bioweapon to both sides of various conflicts across the globe but wants to take out Roger Gordian for his own pleasure due to the failure of his space terror plan several months before because of UpLink’s Sword security.  The Sword operative that was the unknown mole in the previous book is forced to administer the activating viral agent that sends Gordian into intensive care and doctors scrambling to find the cause, while UpLink’s Sword leadership begins their own investigation which eventually leads to the mole who directs them to his boss a southern California drug lord in league with DeVane but suddenly finding himself in escalating situation with a cross border rival.  The two drug lords have a meeting where one is killed sooner than his rival wanted, but he then dies via car bomb planted by the free agent informant who set the two drug lords up against one another.  The informant then hands over a copy of a conversation between the mole and the drug lord talking about the viral activator to a Sword operative who was scouting the drug lord meet up.  Based on the conversation, the Sword team is able to track down DeVane’s lab in Canada and strike at it while getting the medical samples to nullify the bioweapon and save Gordian’s life from the virus.  Out tens of millions of dollars and having pissed off his clients, DeVane isn’t a happy man.

 

Overall the book is good, however in the overall series the story in this book appeared too soon especially after how Shadow Watch ended.  DeVane went with being fine with being stopped to wanting to kill Roger Gordian in a span of months, which given that the DeVane arc will continue for several more books it seemed like a big escalation since it’ll calm down over the next few books.  One of the annoying things in the book was that the President-elect of Bolivia was assassinated via the virus, but later in the book he was from Brazil and later Peru so a big editor failure.  Yet despite issues I talked about earlier in this paragraph, this is probably the best book of the series as the primary plot and the various subplots were well connected resulting in very good quick read that results in time well spent.

 

Bio-Strike is potentially the best book of the Power Plays series, even though Jerome Preisler had DeVane’s grudge against Gordian go from 1 to 10 just like that was a weird decision it didn’t undermine the overall story.  After the let down of the previous installment of the series, this book really picks things up and makes you interested where the series will go from here.

The Curse of Oak Island

The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World's Longest Treasure Hunt - Randall Sullivan

The riddle wrapped in a mystery inside the enigma that is a small island just barely off the shore of Nova Scotia has tantalized and tortured people for over two centuries.  The Curse of Oak Island by Randall Sullivan covers the history of the longest treasure hunt from the individuals involved in the hunt to the theories of what is or isn’t on the island including the History Channel reality series of the same name.

 

Building upon the Rolling Stone article he wrote 13 years before, Sullivan was invited back to the island by the producers of the reality show to write this book, appear on a few episodes of the show, and interview the Lagina brothers. Starting with the historical backdrop of the Oak Island area, Sullivan goes over the often-told discovery of the Money Pit but thorough research finds out that the named three discoverers is not agreed up as well as their biographies.  Throughout his 220 year history, Sullivan goes into the numerous lead searchers as well numerous theories of who made the Money Pit and what they believed was buried in there from pirate/privateer treasure to French Royal Jewels to possessions of the Knights Templar to cultural treasures connected with Roger Bacon.  The history of the last 60 years on the island which focuses on the now-deceased Fred Nolan and Dan Blankenship with their rivalry and how they joined the Laginas search as well as how the titular reality series came about is covered extensively compared to the earlier history as Sullivan had first-hand access to the participants.

 

Given the murky history of Oak Island, Sullivan did an excellent job and navigating everything connected with the long story of the Money Pit.  However, the biggest grip I had was with the intertwining of the history and the various theories, I personally felt that it would have been better to break up the history of the search in two and have all the theories discusses in-between.  Sullivan actually goes against the show’s narration of events several times in relating the history of the island and previous searchers, however he never discusses “the legend that seven must die” which is hinted at being the “curse” in the show’s open for the first four or five seasons.

 

The Curse of Oak Island is a fine look at the history surrounding the search of the Money Pit and the men who’ve dug on the Nova Scotia island.  Randall Sullivan gave the reader an idea about the individuals who kept the search going and what they believed they were searching for while also showing the toll it took on them and the island itself.  Overall it’s a fine book, but not laid out very well.

Shocking Secrets of American History: 115 Surprising and Amusing Tales

Shocking Secrets of American History - Bill Coate

Shocking Secrets of American History is a collection of 115 anecdotes over the course of history from the colonial period to the 20th Century written by Bill Coate.  Subtitled as “115 Surprising and Amusing Tales”, this was anything but as nothing was shocking, surprising, or amusing.  Besides that, there were incorrect historical information, typos, and at least one incorrect photo.  For an author who taught history for sixth and eighth grade as well as college, this isn’t good product.

J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers

J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers - Brian Eugene Strayer

An Advent preacher when he joined the embryonic Seventh-day Adventist movement in 1852, John Norton Loughborough would spend the next 72 years as a preacher and administrator before being the last of the pioneers to pass leaving lasting legacy to the denomination only behind Joseph Bates and the Whites.  Brian E. Strayer’s J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers is the first major biography of influential preacher, missionary, and Church historian that was a little man who cast a long shadow.

 

Strayer begins with an impressive family history that gives background not only to Loughborough but how he was raised, including the influence his grandfather had on his spiritual life, and how in his youth he was influenced by the Millerite message.  Loughborough’s resulting spiritual wandering in the years after the Disappointment before deciding to become a “boy preacher” at age 17 among the Advent Christians then his introduction to Seventh-day movement and later conversion to Sabbath were give significant time as well.  Yet 85% of the book took up Loughborough’s 72 years among the Seventh-day Adventist movement covering his time as a preacher, president of numerous conferences, missionary to fields both domestic and foreign, and finally Church historian who was the last link to the “early days” for 3rd- and 4th-generation Adventists in the late 1910s and 1920s.  Throughout Loughborough’s relationships with other important and influential denominational leaders was examined including Ellen White whose admonishments were welcomed by Loughborough in contrast to other Adventist leaders some of whom would later leave and attack not only the denomination and White.  Strayer covered in detail Loughborough’s fight against apostacy and his role as the first Church “historian” as well has the lasting influence he had in both areas among Adventists.

 

Given the place in denominational history that Loughborough, Strayer used a wide range of sources to give a thorough look at his subject including what surviving letters he could find (Loughborough burned his own) and Loughborough’s own diaries (that was saved by a nurse instead of destroyed upon his death).  Unlike the only other biography of Loughborough that followed the subject’s own apologetic look at Adventist history, Strayer brought a critical eye to his subject including Loughborough’s Church history books that influenced Adventist historiography for half a century.

 

  1. J. N. Loughborough is a well-written, well-researched look at the last pioneer of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Brian Strayer showed the large footprint and long shadow this “little man” had had until this very day. This is a highly recommended biography for anyone interested in Adventist history.

St. Thomas Aquinas On Law, Morality, and Politics

On Law, Morality, and Politics - William P. Baumgarth, Richard J. Regan, Thomas Aquinas

Combining the Neo-Platonist influenced theological and political thoughts of St. Augustine with Aristotelian influenced reasoning, St. Thomas Aquinas drastically changed medieval theology and political thought which would farreaching consequences ever since.  On Law, Morality, and Politics is a selection of excerpts from Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and two from On Kingship that provide the reader a glimpse at his thinking.

 

Of the roughly 280 pages in this collection, almost four-fifths of dedicated to the exploration of law and justice in various facets.  The minute differences between types of law (divine, natural, and human) that Aquinas discusses in full then the various types of justice is a mind-numbing exercise of reading that almost makes one throw away the book.  The final fifth of the book of selections features a little morality but mostly on politics from leadership to church-state relations of various types.  With exception of the two selections from On Kingship, Aquinas’ style of listing objections to the points he is about to make then stating his opinion and finally replying to the previous objections is rather self-aggrandizing.  Yet save for a short introduction, there was no commentary to help the layman reader to understand what Aquinas was saying—though in the last fifth of the book it was easier because Aquinas’ thoughts were straightforward compared to the law and justice sections—and making it hard to keep reading.

 

On Law, Morality, and Politics by St. Thomas Aquinas is a collection of excerpts, with two exceptions, from his most famous work yet only the last fifth of the book is clear cut and straightforward.  The lack of commentary to help the read understand what Aquinas is trying to make clear and why it is important makes understanding the thinking of the man hard.

Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth

Unfinished Tales of NĂºmenor and Middle-Earth - J.R.R. Tolkien

The legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is vast and not everything was fully written out, however that doesn’t mean the incomplete material isn’t interesting.  Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth is a complication various stories begun and partially revised by J.R.R. Tolkien then edited into a somewhat readable fashion, along with alternate versions, by his son Christopher that reveal backstories from all Ages of Tolkien’s world.

 

The first two-thirds of the book covers the First and Second Ages with focuses in the former on Tuor journey to Gondolin and more details to the Children of Hurin while the latter focused on various elements of Numenorian history and the history of Galadriel and Celeborn.  The last third of the book focuses on the Third Age with background stories and histories to various events and people that feature in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings from the disaster at Gladden Field when Isildur dies and the One Ring is lost to the foundation of the friendship of Gondor and Rohan to the Battles of the Fords of Isen and Gandalf’s view of the Quest of Erebor and the Nazgul’s hunt for the One Ring.  And on top of those backstories are histories on various people and items featured in the four books, namely the order of the Wizards.

 

Unlike The Silmarillion in which Christopher Tolkien edited his father’s writing into narrative chronicle, he left his father’s work unfinished and supplemented them with alternative versions that his father hadn’t rejected.  This decision made the first two-thirds of the book a chore to get through or simple something to skim, however in the last third of the book the tales and histories were essentially complete with only some details not decided upon by the elder Tolkien before his death thus making for a better read.  Frankly it’s this final third which is the highlight of the book especially anything related to the elder Tolkien’s most famous works, in particular is “The Quest of Erebor” that connects The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings together than just the One Ring.

 

Like The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales is for hardcore Tolkien enthusiasts that want every detail they can get from J.R.R. Tolkien.  Though the final third of the book has material that general readers might enjoy if they loved the author’s two well-known books, it might not be worth the money to buy this book new for it.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush - Jon Meacham

Coming to the Oval Office at a critical time in foreign and domestic affairs, the Presidency of George H.W. Bush was filled with successes and failures but guided by a steady hand.  Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham brings together independent historical research and interviews from the former President and numerous family members as well as political colleagues and advisories to bring the life and career of the 41st President to readers.

 

Meacham begins the biography with a family history of G.H.W. Bush’s father and mother showing how their lives were shaped that would influence their second son and made him the competitive though ego suppressing individual he was.  Though Meacham gave overall historical background for certain situations, this was a book focusing on the life of G.H.W. Bush and what he did throughout his life from his post-war decision to forgo an easy career on Wall Street to join the oil business to Texas and being his own man in politics and not agree with everything his father Prescott believed while serving in the Senate.  A political career that had as many defeats as victories, G.H.W. Bush’s path to the White House was through public service, especially throughout the 1970s especially in the diplomat sphere that would later impact his handling of foreign affairs of his Presidency.  Meacham covers the Vice Presidential and Presidential terms in detail which cover over half the book before ending with the former President’s unique retirement as elder statesman and father of a serving President of the United States and an analysis of his relationship with his son during those years.

 

Taking roughly a decade of research, interviews, and writing Meacham presents a thoroughly well-rounded view of the 41st President, Barbara Bush, and their relationships with their children within reason.  The elder Bush and Barbara allowed Meacham a free hand in written and this is evident in their attitudes to individuals being put in print and Meacham analysis of various controversies particularly Iran-Contra scandal.  If there is one drawback is that at the time of publication the 41st President was still alive with several years left to live and express his views on things, but also a biography after the subjects death allows time afterwards to fully analyze their lives and that difference was evident.

 

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush is a very written and thorough biography of the 41st President of the United States.  Like his other biographies, Jon Meacham’s research and analysis give a vivid description of his subject and his family.  This is a highly recommended biography for anyone interested in the 41st President or the particular time in the 20th Century when he was in office.

Call to Treason (Op-Center #11)

Call to Treason - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

The death of a British financial giant after attending a party hosted by a U.S. Senator that’s ready to start a third-party run for the White House grabs headlines then a suddenly downsized Op-Center gets a call from Scotland Yard.  Call to Treason is the eleventh book written by Jeff Rovin of the Op-Center series as a suddenly out-of-work Mike Rodgers is recruited by Senator Orr to be apart of this third-party run for the White House when Op-Center begins investigating the death of a British financier who’s business ideas opposed those of the Senator thus forcing Rodgers to make some hard choices as events unfold.

 

General Mike Rodgers attends a party thrown by Senator Don Orr and finds himself being recruited to join the Senator’s team for a run for the White House, also at the party is British financier William Wilson who hours later is killed in his hotel room by an unknown woman with an injection underneath his tongue.  The next day Rodger’s learns from Paul Hood that Op-Center’s budget has been slashed and he is out of a job which makes his decision to join the Orr campaign easy but then Darrel McCaskey gets a call from Scotland Yard to take a look at the Wilson’s death he finds the injection site with he coroner and suddenly Op-Center is investigating the death and having to investigate Senator Orr’s party guests and his staff making Rodgers be in a tough spot.  Orr’s soon to be Vice Presidential candidate Admiral Link, a former head of Naval Intelligence and director of covert ops at the CIA, thinks this is Hood trying to get Op-Center’s funding back and is hostile to Rodgers.  Then a American businessman is murdered the same way as Wilson making it appear like a serial killer, but McCaskey’s wife Maria Corneja sees it as a way to distract from Wilson.  The two hit the pavement and the misdirection gets them to focus on Link and Orr’s staff, which results in Link sending an E-bomb to Op-Center that knocks out all their electronics and kills someone.  Though he had told Hood he was resigning that day, Rodger’s is pissed at the death of a coworker and tells Hood he didn’t official change his resignation date and will join the investigation.  McCaskey and Corneja find out that a Washington detective was being blackmailed then using information that Rodger’s remember from his interaction with Orr’s staff arrest the killer while Rodgers realizes he’s being had at the third-party convention in San Diego when suddenly Link is kidnapped.  However, Rodger’s figures out that the target is Orr and stops his abduction then locates Link who admits that he had the second victim killed to keep his plan to discredit Orr and force him out of the race especially after Orr had Wilson killed.  Orr and his staff are arrested the next day and Rodgers effectively kills the newborn third party.

 

From the beginning this book was a mess, the first thing was slashing Op-Center’s budget in the era of Homeland Security and the War on Terror which were referenced in the book when the exact opposite would have happen especially given Op-Center’s record of taking out terrorists.  The downsizing was essentially a vehicle to get Rodgers on Senator Orr’s team to make his conflict of interest to add to the story, only it became frustrating since it rolled back character development of several books.  But the worst part of the book was the unreliable narrator device Rovin used for two character POVs to create a surprise twist at the end of the book, however given that over 10 books and every other POV in this book he had never used this device before thus making it’s inclusion problematic at best or just plain lying to readers at worst.  The only good thing I could say about this book were the McCaskey’s interacting with one another. 

 

Call to Treason is the penultimate book in the first run of the Op-Center series, but it’s probably the worst.  Since finishing the book my view of it has diminished a lot as it seemed that Jeff Rovin was told that the series would be ending after the next book, War of Eagles, and he decided to just call it in.  The result was a insult to readers who were teased with a potentially interesting political thriller and were instead given a Swiss cheese novel with glaring plot holes and diminished characters.

Cyclops (Dirk Pitt #8)

Cyclops  - Clive Cussler

Off the coast of Cuba is a small isle and a shipwreck unconnected with one another until a wealthy financier off treasure hunting in his blimp disappears, soon they’ll connect everything from the moon to a lost Amazonian treasure.  Cyclops is Clive Cussler’s 8th Dirk Pitt book in which his titular character flies the skies in an antique blimp, escapes then returns to a secret Soviet base, and save the city of Havana from a fiery fate.

 

A U.S. ship named Cyclops is carrying a legendary gold statue from a fabled Amazonian city when a rogue wave sinks the vessel in 1918, roughly 70 years later financier Raymond LeBaron with his two men crew goes searching for the ship in his antique blimp and disappear.  Several weeks later, Dirk Pitt’s sailing race is ruined when LeBaron’s blimp reappears on a crash course towards a beach front hotel that Pitt stops thanks to help from people on the beach.  But instead of LeBaron and crew in the blimp, there are three dead Soviet Cosmonauts that Feds quickly get from the Miami police after they learn from Fidel Castro that he put them in the blimp in a secret communique because he wants to separate from the Soviets.  This is just something more on the President’s plate as he has just learned that a group of industrialists, government officials, and military officers had for two decades planned, constructed, and ran a colony on the moon with the colonists about to return after six years.  Unfortunately for the secret group, the Soviets have found out about the colony and attempt to capture it only for the colonists to kill the Soviet soldiers who had only five days to prepare.  Pitt is recruited by LeBaron’s wife to find her husband, but Mrs. LeBaron plans to fly to Cuba to give Castro the President’s answer but the Cuban military attacks the blimp resulting it in crashing into the sea close to the site of the Cyclops demise but they find the treasure is missing after diving the wreck but find a body of a old time diver.  Pitt, Mrs. LeBaron, Al Giordino, and Rudy Gunn then make their way to a nearby isle off Cuba only to stumble upon a secret Soviet base.  This base is a top secret listen station as well as the headquarters from a planned Soviet takeover the Cuba to install a puppet Communist government while planning the Americans.  Pitt escapes, but the CIA spreads the story that he is dead as disinformation to the Soviets as they plan to attack the base and knock it out. But they move up the timetable after they learn the Soviet government wants to use the base to get a suddenly stuffed Space Shuttle to land in Cuba to take all the information from the moon colony.  Pitt and the CIA capture and destroy the base just in time for the Shuttle to land in Keys though Raymond LeBaron dies, but on their return to the CIA transport Mrs. LeBaron puts a gun in Pitt’s gut and forces him to head to Cuba and Castro.  The two make their way to Havana and the Swiss Embassy where they’re informed of the Soviet plan to assassinate Castro but they can’t find the supposed low yield nuclear, but after learning what the cargos of the three ships the Soviets sent to Havana were Pitt figures out the plan to firebomb the city.  Pitt and roughly two dozen CIA agents hijack two of the Soviet ships and get them out as far as they can out of the harbor before the Soviet’s destroy them hours early that results in roughly 3000 casualties instead of essentially the entire city.  Castro survives and kicks the Soviets out while accepting aid from the U.S. under the Red Cross then gives Pitt a ship with a crane after figuring out where Raymond LeBaron, who had found the Amazonian treasure to start his financial empire and killed his partner 30 years before, left it.

 

Unlike the previous two books, Cussler steered clear of Constitutional issues which was a welcome development however there were major chronological issues in connection with events in the last two books but that didn’t really matter much overall.  Although due to the time period when this and other novels in the series were published, the Cold War aspect along with the horrible cliché Soviet characters and Communist world takeover agenda just drags down the enjoyment of the novel especially since real life showed that this was a paranoid American idea.  Cussler’s characterization of women improved overall, though there were one scene which was gawd awful, with Mrs. LeBaron especially in relation with Pitt.  As to the main character, Dirk came off as incredibly lucky throughout the novel though did have moments of brilliance that didn’t come off as Gary Stu.

 

Cyclops improves in quality over its predecessor as Clive Cussler works together three different story arcs into a fun, intriguing novel.  Though the Cold War aspect and associated stereotypes connected with it got annoying, it didn’t ruin the book.  Overall this is a fun action-adventure novel for anyone wanting to spend a few days reading.

Three Kingdoms

Three Kingdoms - Luo Guanzhong, Moss Roberts

The long-lived Han dynasty is finally succumbing to effects of a weak Emperor and corrupt government that is cause injustice throughout China resulting peasant revolts while nobles strive to reform the court.  Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, probably, dramatizes the 112-year history of the end of the Han dynasty as the empire divided into the titular three kingdoms before being reunified under the Jin while being true to history for nearly the entire text.

 

The weakness of the Emperor Ling and his corrupt court results in the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Emperor asks all loyal subjects to come to arms to fight the rebels.  Among that answering the call is Liu Bei, a scion of the Imperial clan, who befriends and joins in a sworn brotherhood Lord Guan and Zhang Fei, Cao Cao a member of a long servicing Han bureaucratic family, and Sun Jian an accomplished general.  The numerous warlords crush the rebellion but remain in charge of various districts when the Emperor dies thus setting the stage for the warlords vying for power by controlling the child Emperor and then his young brother when Ling’s immediate successor is deposed (then murdered).  Sun Jian heads to the Southlands and founds a dynasty that is cemented by his son Ce that eventually becomes the Kingdom of Wu.  Cao Cao’s Machiavellian political acumen and military success results in him getting control of the last Han Emperor, Xian, and control of the northern heartland that eventually becomes the Kingdom of Cao-Wei.  Liu Bei and his sworn brothers bouncing from district and district trying to restore the independence and good governance of the Han but the warlords that they serve under continue to fight for their own power.  Then the brotherhood is joined by a military-political advisor Kongming that uses Bei’s connection to the Imperial house to establish power in the Riverlands, in the west of the empire, to establish the kingdom of Shu-Han.  Yet if not for the alliance between the Riverlands and Southland against Cao Cao in the battle of Red Cliffs, the three-fold division of the empire would not have happened.  After the death of Liu Bei and his sworn brothers, Kongming becomes takes up their cause by his six campaigns against Cao-Wei are not successful in conquering the whole of the Northern Heartland.  Upon Kongming’s death, the Sima family rises within the ranks of the Cao-Wei that they eventually usurp and reunify the Empire as the Jin dynasty.

 

Though Luo Guanzhong wrote his masterpiece roughly 1200 years after the events of the novel, he used extensive historical records plus numerous legends and popular stories from the period to enhance Three Kingdoms.  The resulting novel is considered seven parts history and three parts fiction, the later portions surround the adventures and actions of Lord Guan and Kongming respectfully whose impact on history was either enlarger or their effectiveness increased.  On top of that Luo Guanzhong, along with Mao Gonggang who edited the text a century later, had a political agenda to favor Liu Bei over Cao Cao that giving the former great virtue while the latter is considered a usurper.  The four-volume 2339-page novel is an engaging piece of historical fiction with a lot of annotation, by Mao Guanzhong and translator Moss Roberts, though it isn’t perfect.  From the text itself, there are hundreds of named characters though most of them are minor characters that are hard to keep straight through the major and secondary characters are easy to keep straight.  The Chinese name convention of surname given name is followed throughout and after a while it’s easy to get use to; however one of Luo Guanzhong’s decisions was to have some individuals have multiple names, most notably Liu Bei (Xuande) and Kongming (Zhuge Liang) that at times confuses the reader.  The majority problem with the novel is unfortunately the Foreign Language Press edition that I read had grammatical and spelling errors on almost every page that too be fair was easy to read through but was a tad annoying.

 

Three Kingdoms is a Chinese historical classic novel that I found to be a very readable novel thanks to the true to original translation approach of Moss Roberts that gave Luo Guanzhong’s masterpiece it’s full meaning.  Though most of my issues are due to the publisher’s grammatical and spelling errors, they didn’t takeaway from the great historical story that was presented and gives the reader an insight into Chinese history and cultural thought.

Nostradamus Predicts: The End of the World

Nostradamus Predicts: The End of the World - Rene Noorbergen

The most famous psychic in history is also the most discussed to figure out what he was predicting, Nostradamus.  Rene Noorbergen collects numerous prophecies from the French seer that seeming point to a catastrophic Third World War that affects nearly the entire world, you’re safe if you live in southern Africa and Australia, sometime in the 90s.

 

Over the course of 264 Quatrains and other prophetic passages by the titular seer, Noorbergen gives a description of the lead up to and military action of a four-year world war that features tactical nuclear strikes and biological warfare that devastates Europe but also other parts of the world, except Australia.  In response to an alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union (thus showing this book’s age), a Middle Eastern nation conquers the region and allies with China to achieve world domination.  The two powers attack Europe, but the Middle Eastern power goes for two-thirds of Africa while China does the same for Asia and the Pacific (except for Australia).  England and Wales somehow flood while London becomes an island which affects how the British help other European nations, a Papal controlled Italy is devasted followed by France, and the two conquering powers are joined by East Germany and Poland.  The United States and the Soviet Union basically don’t do anything for 2-2 ½ years before finally “counterattacking”, first taking out China before facing off against the Middle Eastern threat which ends somewhere in Iran.

 

First published in 1981, the predicts were first said to happen sometime in the 1980s but for the 1991 release some of the predicts were changed for the 1990s though references to the conflict happening in the 80s were still in there.  The chronology of events is all over the place with Noorbergen going by “campaigns” though with events on the other side of the world happening simultaneously but only being written about five chapters later it made events appear disjointed.  The fact that the book was re-released in ’91 because of Desert Shield/Storm and was promoted around Saddam Hussein is not surprising since many Christian writers did the same thing by predicting that Hussein would be the Antichrist on the rise, only for the Coalition to win the ground war in 100 hours making everyone have egg on their face.  Although everything in the book is far-fetched, the one that took the cake was the United States and Soviet Union/Russia not really doing anything while other nations used nuclear and biological weapons; let’s just say they would have, strategic nuclear strikes on military targets of the two aggressive powers and the war is over with a far less death toll.

 

Nostradamus Predicts: The End of the World is a cobbled together book of prophetic predictions by the titular seer, interpreted and arranged by Noorbergen to fashion a not so good prediction about World War Three.  It’s really out-of-date and when it was first published wildly nonsensical, if you have it just recycle it.

Redemption in Genesis: The Crossroads of Faith and Reason

Redemption in Genesis: the Crossroads of Faith and Reason - John S. Nixon

The Bible is all about Jesus, he is pointed to or followed in every book, but Scripture begins in Genesis and within its well-known stories John S. Nixon reveals Christ and the plan of Redemption.  Although many might say that eight passages covered by Nixon—Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, and three events from the life of Abraham—show Jesus or aspects of the plan of Redemption, Nixon doesn’t touch the surface but truly goes deeper.  As a part of this depth, Nixon begins his book by explaining that a 21st Century believe must use both reason and faith but only if the latter comes first.  With this approach the reader must be ready for a very thought-provoking study, however Nixon doesn’t overwhelm the reader with overly theological prose but presents his in-depth study in very reader-friendly wording.  Though deceptively short at around 160 pages, this book will take time to read but it is worth it.

Shadow Watch (Power Plays #3)

Shadow Watch (Tom Clancy's Power Plays, #3) - Tom Clancy, Jerome Preisler, Martin H. Greenberg

The 21st Century from its inception has been bloody and prone to new security risks with UpLink International seemingly connected in some way, then the Space Shuttle explodes on the launch pad.  Shadow Watch is the third book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler that sees UpLink and its Sword security forces come up against a different type of adversary that sees Roger Gordian’s idealism as a threat to his black-market businesses.

 

The Space Shuttle Orion catches fire and explodes on the launch pad killing its commander as Roger Gordian is an eyewitness as UpLink is the major contractor of the ISS that Orion was to begin construction.  Several days later a mercenary force attacks an UpLink run ISS related facility in Brazil, which makes the next ISS-related launch by the Russians seem like the next target.  Which is what Harlan DeVane and his mercenary leader want not only UpLink but the Russians to believe as well.  But DeVane wants the “attack” to be a diversion so that his mercenary chief can plant a device on the ISS component to turn it into a weapon he can attack and blackmail governments with, however UpLink’s new Sword operative sniffs out the plan and prevents the device from being installed though the mercenary agent escapes.  But DeVane gives UpLink its due but moves on to the next project.

 

Unlike the two previous books in the series, this one is pure setup for the future installments because it introduced several significant characters though at the expense of a focused story that all the plotlines easily connected with one another.  The book bounces all over the place from Cape Canaveral to Brazil to San Jose to Maine to Bolivia to Albania to Kazakhstan with a specific plotline (or several) in each location that related to the main plot but honestly some could have been scrapped.  Preisler dedicated an entire chapter to a Brazilian train disaster caused by a smaller version of the device that DeVane planned to install on the ISS component, but it was separated into about five different points-of-view that just made it weird and essentially seem like filler.  The feel of the entire book was just setting things up for future books.

 

While Shadow Watch isn’t necessarily a good book, it’s alright and frankly meant to introduce many characters that will prove pivotal to future installments of the series.  Once again dealing with creating a story around a computer game, Preisler did a passable job but not as good as either of the two previous books in the Power Plays series.