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Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980
Rick Perlstein
Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy
René Descartes

Flood Tide (Dirk Pitt #14)

Flood Tide - Clive Cussler

A ship goes down in unknown waters leaving only two survivors that know where a vast amount of Chinese heritage is located, a ship that a human trafficking Chinese businessman would do anything to find.  Flood Tide is the fourteenth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt with the titular character attempting to stop a human trafficking ring to the U.S. and preventing a massive economic and human disaster in Louisiana.

 

A ship taken by the retreating Nationalist government is loaded the national treasures of China before Mao’s Communists can get them in 1948, but before it reaches it’s destination it sinks in a violent storm with only the ship’s engineer and his girlfriend surviving on a freezing shore.  In 2000 Dirk Pitt is vacationing and recovering from his injuries in Australia at Orion Lake when he realizes the cabin he borrowed has been search by the security of a Chinese businessman’s estate at the other end of the lake.  Intrigued Pitt investigates only to find the mansion is a holding prison for illegal Chinese immigrants while the bottom of the lake is littered with dead bodies.  Pitt saves new victims from drowning including an undercover INS agent and wrecks to the estate’s docking area before escaping down the Orion River to the Pacific from the security force.  The INS raid the estate and the businessman Qin Shang begins damage control, including sending feelers to the White House and the President who he has given money to for his reelection campaign.  Pitt teams up with Al Giordino to investigate a cruise ship in Hong Kong that Shang had bought and was refitting believing it’s to continue his illegal human trafficking ring, but find it empty except for automated guidance equipment that then navigates the ship across the Pacific without a crew.  The pair return to the U.S. and Pitt along with the INS agent survive a car chase against Shang’s henchmen, but NUMA and the INS have a spat leading to them not working together anymore.  Pitt and Giordino head to the Louisiana to investigate Shang’s shipping port that is in the middle of no where from the Mississippi when the duo figure out how his human trafficking network works in the area and again save the INS agent that Pitt keeps running into.  Shang’s automated cruise ship arrives on the Mississippi River, but Pitt figured out Shang’s plan to redirect the flow of the Mississippi bypassing New Orleans and going to his out-of-the way port by blowing a levee and scuttling the cruise ship across the river.  Pitt and Giordino takeover the ship and guide it into the levee’s breech to prevent a massive disaster.  Shang flees to China where the Communist government will protect him while as there is battle in the U.S. between those he bribed against those who want him charged with terrorism.  After learning everything to know about Shang including his search for the ship carrying his nation’s treasures, Pitt and NUMA discover the location of the wreck in Lake Michigan after talking with the survivor of the ship and his wife.  NUMA, the Navy, and a Canadian salvage vessel recover everything before they leak the location into Shang’s channels.  His massive ego leads Shang to arrive in Canada to border his own salvage vessel and goes down first only to find the ship empty with Pitt and Giordino springing a trap that send Shang to the bottom to die like all those at the bottom of Orion Lake.  Admiral Sandecker and the head of the INS threaten the President to keep their own jobs with his own political future in the balance.

 

Having previously listened to the audiobook edition, I had completely forgotten about the Chinese treasure ship or Shang bribing of U.S. politicians but do remember the human trafficking and diverting the Mississippi plot points.  That was because the human trafficking and Mississippi diversion plots were the good parts of the book while the other two were forgettable.  Pitt comes off as superhuman given what he went through in Shock Wave while the INS agent Julia Marie Lee could have been a good character if not for becoming a multiple time damsel-in-distress character.  Qin Shang could have been an interesting antagonist if not for some the trope material that Cussler saddled him especially at the end of the book.  In fact, Cussler’s politics are heavy handed throughout the book and his “not-Clinton” but totally Clinton President were a little too much for my tastes.

 

Shock Wave is a okay book at best and felt a like downgrade in quality from Clive Cussler’s previous installments of his bestselling series.  While not as bad as some of the early books in the series, this book was a disappointment given the good elements that were undermined by the bad.

The Moon Is Down

The Moon Is Down - John Steinbeck

Soldiers loyally following their Leader act on the advice of a small coal mining town’s traitor to take it over for the benefit of their ongoing war.  The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck is wartime novella about a how occupying soldiers learn that peaceful townspeople do not like being told what to do.

 

Taken by surprise, a small coastal town is overrun by an invading army with little resistance. The town is important because it is a port that serves a large coal mine. Colonel Lanser, the head of the invading battalion, along with his staff establishes their HQ in the house of Orden, the democratically elected and popular Mayor.  As the reality of occupation sinks in and the weather turns bleak, with the snows beginning earlier than usual, the townspeople are getting angry and confused. Lanser, a veteran of many wars, tries to operate under a veil of civility and law, but knows that amongst those whose freedom has been taken away by force there are no peaceful people. A miner quits and when kills an officer who orders him back to work in the mine. After a summary trial, the man is executed by a firing squad, but the incident catalyzes the people of the town to begin resisting. Transportation and communication lines are taken out, mine machinery breaks down often, and whenever soldiers get comfortable, they are killed including a young lieutenant infatuated with the widow of the miner who stabs him to death before escaping to the hills.  The cold weather and the constant fear destroy the occupying force’s morale, many of whom wish the war to end so that they can return home. Members of the resistance escape to England and ask the English for explosives so that the townspeople can intensify their efforts. English planes parachute-drop small packages containing dynamite sticks and chocolates all around the town. In a state of panic, Lanser takes the Mayor and his friend Dr. Winter, the town doctor and historian, hostage and lets it be known that any guerilla action will lead to their execution. Mayor Orden knows his people will not stop active resistance and accept his imminent death.  Knowing that the townspeople will use the dynamite any moment, Orden and Winter discuss Socrates in front of a stunned Lanser until the first explosion.  Orden calmly walks out the door before Lanser can verbally order his execution.

 

Published in the spring of 1942, Steinbeck wrote this obvious propogandist novella to inspire the Allied war effort and through clandestine publishing in occupied Europe to inspire resistance fighters against their German occupiers as well as collaborators.  While the town and country are unnamed, it was not hard to tell it was Norway given the clues Steinbeck sprinkled throughout the text.

 

The Moon Is Down is also a wonder example of John Steinbeck’s writing that is a quick read for anyone deciding if they want to read his more famous works to learn his style. While written for more political than literary purposes that does not diminish the impact of the narrative nor does Steinbeck not put in his best work.

Parallel Lives

Parallel Lives - Arthur Hugh Clough, Plutarch, John Dryden

Roughly 1800 years ago, a biographer and historian decided to compare the great men of Greece and Rome to one another to give his readers inspiration to follow their example or what to avoid.  Parallel Lives by Plutarch chronicles the lives of the greatest men of the ancient world and the times they lived in.

 

To show the influence of character—good or bad—of the great men of more remote past of Greece and the more recent past of Rome was Plutarch’s main aim in his biographies of these great men especially when he compared them to one another.  Yet throughout his writing he shows the times these great men lived to the benefit of readers today that might know the overall history, but not the remarkably interesting details or events that general history readers might never know about.  The usual important suspects like Alexander, Julius Caesar, and their like but it was those individuals that one never heard of today especially those Greeks between the end of the Peloponnesian War and its takeover by Rome save Alexander.  This revised edition of the John Dryden translation contains both volumes in one book resulting in almost 1300 pages of text thanks to the fact that they added four lives that Plutarch wrote independent of his parallel pairs which included a Persian monarch, yet this printing is of poor quality as there are missing letters throughout which does slow reading down for a moment.

 

Parallel Lives is a fascinating series of biographies of individuals that in the second century AD were the greatest men in history to those living at the time, a few of which have continued to our time.  Plutarch’s prose brings these men to life as well as the times they live in and influenced which history readers would appreciate a lot.

Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know

Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know - Animal Planet

Over the course of nine seasons and 100 episodes, for intrepid individuals searched numerous locations to find evidence related to Bigfoot and become one of the top rated shows in the history of Animal Planet.  Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know by Martha Brockenbrough is a tie-in book aimed at young children to provide information related to the subject of an undiscovered North American ape.

 

This book is geared towards younger readers and fans of the Animal Planet tv series of the same name with the aim to giving information on the mysterious upright walking ape that might be stalking the wilderness of North America.  Investigating such questions as “Does Bigfoot Exist?” as well as investigating the evidence supporting that they do, not only in North America but around the world, but also looking into the various hoaxes and misidentifications that many skeptics bring up this book treats it’s target audience with respect and aims to promote critical thinking.  For the readers that believe bigfoot exists there is a “how to” guide about bigfooting and how to collect possible evidence of the creature when found.  And throughout are eyewitness accounts from the first four seasons of the show with comments from one of the Finding Bigfoot team members.

 

While roughly 140 pages, this is an oversized book filled with pictures and easy to read text size.  Though intended for children, adults will find this informative as its for general audiences of both believers and skeptics.  Brockenbrough’s prose is engaging towards a younger audience without being insulting while keeping adults reading as well.  The introduction by Finding Bigfoot star Cliff Barackman, a former teacher, starts the book off right with telling how he came to accept the existence of Bigfoot after growing up as a kid enjoying learning about “monsters”.

 

Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know is an easy-to-read and informative look into the subject of an undiscovered North American ape whether you’re a child or a child at heart.

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastards #2)

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch

The Gentlemen Bastards are excellent con artists on the land, but then unforeseen events send them onto the waves to become pirates.  Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards sequences as Locke and Jean find their plans upset by politics, the one type of con they tend to avoid.

Locke and Jean are working a two-year con of the owner of the grandest casino in Tal Verrar, the Sinspire, when their plans are upended by the Bondmagi threatening revenge.  They decide to get start their endgame with Locke admitting to the owner he and Jean have been cheating other gamblers to set things up only to be abducted by the secret police of Tal Verrar’s military commander-in-chief.  The Archon poisons the duo to force them to work for him to become pirates and get allies from the Ghostwind Islands to attack shipping around Tal Verrar so the archon can get money to strengthen the navy from the city’s merchant council as well as gain the political upper hand, but promises them temporary antidotes.  Suddenly in the archon’s service, the duo use this new wrinkle as part of their Sinspire con as the owner is an “ally” of the merchants whose wealth is in his vault.  After a six-week crash course in sailing, the duo and a ship’s master spring prisoners from a military prison and take an outfitted ship provided by the archon towards with Locke as the charismatic captain.  Things go well until the ship master dies just before their first storm and it become obvious that Locke and Jean are not sailors and there is a mutiny with Locke and Jean left on a little boat in the ocean.  Two hours later, a real pirate takes their former ship and the duo are rescued through the pirate captain finds their cover story fishy but allows them to stay alive.  Locke and Jean prove themselves on the ship and in the raiding another ship thus becoming full-fledge crewmen then reveal to the captain everything.  After arriving at the Ghostwind Islands, the pirate captain tells the other major captains of the archon’s plan and her plan to end it by “playing” along until they get a shot at killing the archon, the other captain’s agree either wholeheartedly or begrudgingly.  Weeks later, Locke and Jean report to the archon about their adventures and that they convinced a captain to hit the waters around Tal Verrar as well as continue their Sinspire con.  The pirates begin doing small time ship raids and mount a massive assault on a town to the northwest where peasants let themselves be put through cruel and humiliating games by nobles for money.  The archon isn’t pleased and demands a proper raid or never see him again, but then another pirate captain appears and attacks their ship believing his previous decision to approve the plan unwise.  Locke, Jean, and their pirate allies are victorious but at a personal cost to Jean and they decide to end things in Tal Verrar across the board.  Locke and Jean enlist the aid of the merchants against the archon then finish their Sinspire job by stealing the owner’s paintings then getting captured by the secret police who are waylaid and killed by the merchant’s operatives who take their masks and then proceed to the archon who attempts to kill them when the false secret police stage their coup though during the confrontation the chemist of the poison is killed and only one vile of antidote is available for Locke and Jean.  The two give the former archon to their pirate allies to do with as they please and go to sell the paintings only to find their replicas, getting only a fraction of what they were expecting.  Locke secretly gives the antidote to Jean and the duo sail off to the unknown.

While the overall book a good, after the halfway point it felt like there was a series of “add-ons” where people were introduced or events would happen that would be the next narrative turn of events with the set up for the pirate ship-to-ship battle the biggest example.  In contrast, the flashback intrudes to the events after the previous book up and during their set up for the Sinspire con not only gave the reader how Locke and Jean got to where they were at the start of this book but also foreshadowed things that you were looking forward to play out in the narrative flow.  The further developments of Locke and Jean were excellently written, and the major secondary characters were fun as well which compensated for the narrative “add-ons”.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is a nice follow up to the first Gentleman Bastards book, but also felt like a let down as well.  While Scott Lynch continued to develop Locke and Jean as well as creating some good secondary characters, the narrative flow felt off and as the book went along it was telling.  Overall a nice book with an ending that makes a reader curious about what will happen next.

Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (The Last Lion #1)

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 - William Raymond Manchester

Before he became the face of the dogged determination in World War II and the voice of inspiration for the British people, Winston Churchill was a scion of a noble family looking to make his mark and coming close on many occasions.  The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 is the first volume of William Manchester’s biographical trilogy which deals with Churchill’s early life and his adventurous political career until he was shunned by power and entered the political wilderness.

 

A scion of the ducal Marlborough family, Winston Spencer-Churchill was the eldest son of a second son and his American wife.  Before even getting to Winston’s birth and life, Manchester paints the social, cultural, and political landscape he would be born into, be indoctrinated to believe in, and defend his entire life.  Throughout his life, Winston would use the connections of his parent’s friends and acquaintances to advance himself early in his career while a boon to his military and early political careers it hardly made up for the fact that both his parents were aloof to his existence even for the times of the British upper class.  Manchester relates Winston’s school misadventures and horrible academic record for the classical education expected off one of his station, but while he failed to understand Greek or Latin his “remedial” studies of English year after year would serve him the rest of his life as a journalist, author, and speaking in Parliament.  While he served in wars in the frontier of the Empire, first in India then in Sudan, and afterwards in South Africa he initially went there as a “journalist” but used his military rank to join battles or was recruited by the commander on the spot to lead men.  Upon the completion of the Boer War, during which he was taken prisoner and escaped, Winston entered politics in his eyes to take up his late father’s torch.  Once on the floor of the House, Winston’s speeches were events to be listened to and to be written about in the papers.  His familial connections got him in touch with the high circles of the Conservative party, but the issue of Free Trade and his own “radical” views on issues made him become a Liberal and soon found him apart of the new government the party form and would be until after the events connected with Gallipoli during the First World War resulted in him taking to the trenches on the Western Front.  After a return to a position in the Government, Winston soon found him edging away from the Liberal Party that was dying in the face for the rise of the Labour Party and soon returned the Conservatives to be among their new Government.  Yet the same tensions that made Winston leave the Party in the first place were still there but with more animosity but it was the issue of India sent Winston still a Conservative into the political wilderness that many of his political adversaries believed him to be finished, especially at his age.

 

In nearly 900 pages of text, Manchester not only details the first 58 years of Winston’s life but also the times he lived in while slowly setting things up for the final volume for the events in which he is most well-known to the public today.  There seems to be a bias by Manchester towards Winston that does make it through to the page instead of a little more balanced writing in places, however Manchester does not shy away that Winston’s views and words around the India issue essentially were racist even though at the time it was common thought by many in Britain.  Manchester gives balanced view of Winston’s relations with the working class while at the same time revealing why Labour and the press said he was against them.  The account of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaign that is always blamed on Winston is given fully fleshed out including what actions Winston were accountable for and those he was not and why it was he that the failure was attached to.

 

Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 reveals the times and environment in which Winston Churchill was brought up and how they shaped him as he entered politics and attempted to rise to power.  William Manchester gives a full picture of a young then middle-aged politician whose life was a roller coaster that influenced the British Empire its domestic and foreign affairs, but never held ultimate power and seemed never to.  If one wants to know Churchill this book is a great place to start.

S.N. Haskell: Adventist Pioneer, Evangelist, and Editor

S.N. Haskell: Adventist Pioneer, Evangelist, Missionary, and Editor - Gerald Wheeler

A scion of New England culture who join a new faith born from the same location, his influence upon the Seventh-day Adventist church has been profoundly positive though in his zeal to defend it has had some negative consequences.  S.N. Haskell: Adventist Pioneer, Evangelist, Missionary, and Editor is Gerald Wheeler’s second book of the Adventist Pioneer series as he follows the life of Ellen White’s most ardent defender and the impact he had on the church as well as how the times he grew up and lived in influenced him.

 

Wheeler begins his biography of Haskell by how he married his first wife Mary who was over two decades older than he was before describing the upbringing in the small New England town that made Haskell agree to this marriage even though he was about to become a preacher.  After beginning preaching, Haskell interacted with Seventh-day Adventists and investigated the Sabbath then began keeping it though it was a visit by Joseph Bates that truly converted he and his wife.  Once an Adventist, Haskell through himself into everything he could within the denomination from preacher to eventually administration—serving as president of three conferences at the same time across the country at one point—as well as writing articles from various publications.  Though at first opposed to the Whites, because of his own dictatorial attitude but once confronted by Ellen through of her testimonies to him that opposition changed to become Ellen’s greatest defender.  Wheeler relates Haskell’s career and its impact his first marriage in which his wife stayed at home and how things changed during his second marriage to Hetty who traveled with him around the world.  Wheeler also goes into Haskell’s writing, marketing, organizational, and missionary endeavors throughout the book in which like many Adventist pioneers they were jacks-of-all-trades for the denomination.  Throughout the last third of the book, Wheeler relates Haskell’s defending of Ellen White’s ministry in various ways but most particularly with the “daily” controversy and W.W. Prescott whom he did not trust, but his arguments in defense of White’s ministry injected elements of Fundamentalism into the denomination that would causes issues within the denomination at the end of this life and long afterwards.

 

Throughout the book Wheeler emphasizes the cultural background of various regions of the United States as well as the historical events happening in the nation and other nations that Haskell did missionary service in that influenced his time there.  In the chapter end notes Wheeler would list numerous books that would further inform the reader about the cultural and historical trends that not only influenced Haskell but the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a whole.  While Wheeler does discuss Haskell’s distrust of W.W. Prescott and his role in the “daily” controversy as well as the implications of his arguments in opposing Prescott because he believed Prescott was undermining Ellen White, but Wheeler seemed to avoid Haskell’s character assassination of Prescott to Ellen White as written seen in Gilbert M. Valentine’s biography of Prescott.

 

S.N. Haskell: Adventist Pioneer, Evangelist, Missionary, and Editor not only follows a pioneer of the Adventist denomination but also the times he lived in and the social trends before and during his life that affected him and the denomination.  Gerald Wheeler’s scholarship and writing style makes this another great biography in the Adventist Pioneer series that anyone interested in the history of the denomination would want to read.

Dark Zone (Op-Center #16)

Tom Clancy's Op-Center: Dark Zone - George Galdorisi, Jeff Rovin

The Crimea has become one of the most dangerous places on the planet as it could spark a war that no one really wants, but for some that is exactly what they’re counting on.  Dark Zone is the fourth book of the Op-Center reboot as original series author Jeff Rovin joins George Galdorisi as Op-Center is faced with rogue elements in Ukraine looking to start a war with Russia that will force NATO to join.

 

A female Ukrainian agent meets with the former U.S. ambassador in New York to get information about Russian military movements and is murdered by a Russian assassin then her fellow agent apart of the Ukrainian embassy is also murdered by the same assassin.  The U.S. ambassador learning of his friend’s murder gets in contact with Op-Center about his conversation with her and that her apparent murderer keeps calling him with her phone.  Director Williams sends a two-man team to meet the ambassador only for them to save his life from the assassin and his accomplice.  Meanwhile in Russia, Putin appoints an ambitious yet cautious general to command an enlarged military base to project so much power against Ukraine that they will simply be defeated mentally.  Unbeknownst to Russia is that a famous Ukrainian tank commander has set a trap for them which included the appearance online of a VR program of their huge military base which led to the murders in New York.  Williams and Op-Center after finding the VR program come to the conclusion that a rogue faction in the Ukrainian military is planning to start a war between Russian and NATO with an attack on the base that will cause Russia to attack Ukraine.  The Special Forces team is sent to the region to observe but in route they find the team that is to attack the base and send the force to intercept them.  The Ukrainian commander leads a large assembly of tanks—out of nowhere—towards the border and the Russian commander response by leading his tanks to the border, leaving the base open for attack through the Op-Center Special Forces team is able to stop them just outside the Russian base though the Ukrainian team leader is killed by a sniper which causes a grenade explosion.  The Russian commander is ordered back to the base, already relieved of command due to failing to secure his base; the retreat of the Russians from the border is a victory for the Ukrainian commander even though the attack on the base didn’t happen as his goal was to embarrass the big bad bear.  Williams and Op-Center are happy to prevent a war, but they decide to prevent the next Russian assassin to take up station in New York by outing him to the NYPD who threaten to leave or die as a terrorist.

 

This was a great military-political thriller for anything connected with Ukraine and Russia, but Op-Center and their Special Forces team are just around.  Honestly if this book did not have anything connected with Op-Center written in it this would have been a great exciting read, but because of the Op-Center stuff in it this is a middling book.  Everything connected with Op-Center just felt like it was put in there because this was an Op-Center book, not that anything was particularly bad but as I got further into the book I cared less about what was happening in and around Op-Center or what they were going to do and see if the Ukrainian plan would work in anyway.  I guess Rovin and Galdorisi were showing that sometimes Op-Center is blind to the realities on the ground and can sometimes only do little things to protect U.S. interests but that would effectively undermine the organization from a reader’s viewpoint so, I’m just confused as to the structure of this book.

 

Dark Zone is a mishmash book with one great story element and one that was just meh, unfortunately it was the series titular organization and their personnel that were the meh story element not that they were bad but because they weren’t interesting.  Jeff Rovin in his return to the Op-Center series and George Galdorisi is what appears to be his last effort created a Ukrainian-Russian mini-conflict but totally failed to be relevance to Op-Center existence in a book in its own series.

Shock Wave (Dirk Pitt #13)

Shock Wave (Dirk Pitt, #13) - Clive Cussler

Around the Pacific Ocean zones of death are springing up with animals and humans the victims with NUMA racing to find out what is responsible and learns it is greed.  Shock Wave is the thirteenth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series, the titular character races from islands off the coast of Antarctic in the South Atlantic to various points across the Pacific to stop a greedy businessman who aims to destroy the diamond market at whatever cost.

 

While investigating the deaths of a large number of marine animals in the Antarctic Ocean, Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino encounter a group of stranded tourists lead by guide Maeve Fletcher on Seymour Island.  Their Australian cruise ship—the Polar Queen—disappeared after a mysterious "disease" three of the tourist group.  After the tourists are ferried to NUMA research vessel Ice Hunter, Pitt and Giordino find the Polar Queen going in circles while the current is moving it on a collision course with a group of jagged islands.  Pitt is able to board the ship manages to narrowly avoid the crash then explores the floating coffin as the crew and passengers are lying dead across the ship until he finds only one survivor on board Deirdre Dorsett, one of Maeve’s estranged sisters.  After a skeleton crew from the Ice Hunter takes over the Polar Queen, Pitt and Al uncover evidence that suggests extremely high-powered soundwaves were the cause of the deaths.  This is latter backed up by more outbreaks of mass deaths on a cargo ship, a Chinese junk, and a Russian whaling fleet.  Spotting leaving one of the scenes is a futuristic yacht belonging to Dorsett Consolidated Mining Company, a gemstone mining company head by the ruthless Arthur Dorsett.  He is also the father of Maeve—who took the name of a great-great grandmother when she cut ties with her family—and Deirdre as well as their older sister Boudicca.  Due to her leaving the family and giving birth to twin sons out of wedlock with a young man Dorsett disapproved of, Maeve was set up to die on Seymour Island by her family only for the fact she was in a cave at the time of the attack did she survive.  Based on the yacht and borrowing the US Navy’s sonar net in the Pacific, NUMA discovers that the acoustic plague is caused by a convergence of soundwaves from four sources around the Pacific all owned by Dorsett Consolidated including the family’s privately owned Gladiator Island near Australia.  Pitt is sent to investigate the Dorsett mine off the coast of British Columbia, enlisting the help of Mason Broadmoor, a local First Nations fisherman.  Broadmoor and others from his tribe, help smuggle Pitt onto the island and is given a tour of the mine by a disgruntled employee which includes the revolutionary mining method that uses soundwaves to dig through the clay to find diamonds.  As he attempts to leave the island, he is discovered by Boudicca and learns Maeve’s sons are being held hostage in return for her to spy on NUMA and mislead them if necessary.  Broadmoor rescues Pitt and the two use jet skis to escape the island.  Pitt, Al, and Maeve travel to Wellington to another NUMA vessel with the plan to infiltrate Gladiator Island to save Maeve’s sons.  However, Dorsett finds out and his security team is able to capture the trio after a chase around the docks.  The next day, the three are abandoned in the southwest Pacific Ocean in a small craft away from the shipping lanes in the path of a tropical cyclone.  Through, luck and deciding not to die without a fight they make it to a small island that has a wrecked sailboat.  Using material from both craft, they construct a new ship and head to Gladiator Island.  Upon arrival they infiltrate the island, discovering Maeve’s twins are in the main house they break in.  While Maeve and Al get the boys, Pitt encounters Dorsett and kills him.  Before Boudicca can kill him, Al bursts in and the two fight before Al kills Boudicca who turns out to be Maeve’s brother not sister.  Unknown to the trio, NUMA discovered a future kill zone right off the coast of Honolulu and through blood, sweat, and guile are able to obtain a giant reflector from a government agency, dismantle it, load it on the famous deep-sea recovery ship Glomar Explorer, and take it to the convergence zone.  Just in time, NUMA gets the reflector into the sea and send the soundwaves to Gladiator Island with the knowledge it’ll set off the two volcanos on the island.  Just after the successful operation, Sandecker gets a call from Pitt and tells him to evacuate.  Pitt’s group races towards the Dorsett yacht and the helicopter on it, once onboard Deirdre shots Maeve, mortally wounding her, as well as Pitt who is wounded but snaps Deirdre’s spine.  Al takes the twins in the helicopter while Pitt launches the yacht and gets far enough away to survive the pyroclastic ash cloud.  Pitt is later found by Al and Sandecker on the derelict yacht, taken to a hospital to mend, and returns to D.C. sad that he lost Maeve.

 

Like Inca Gold before it, this book’s main plot has stuck with me for over twenty years since I listened to the audiobook.  Overall, the book has held up well in fact the megalomaniac Arthur Dorsett who cares only for profit even at the expense of family—in fact willing to kill some members if they aren’t with him—comes off as really believable especially today.  Cussler’s writing of Dirk was mostly good but there were times were he came off as “too good to be true” in abilities that while not stretching believability giving it a lot of tension.  Maeve as the “lead” female character was alright for the most part, but in general the descriptions of actions, physical characteristics, and thoughts of female characters were stereotypes and caricatures in an effort to paint Boudicca as different for the reveal near the end of the book.  Unlike the previous book, the subplots didn’t tie in very well with the main plot of the book the main culprit was the knockoff Trilateral Commission group aiming for a “One Economic Government”, it felt like Cussler was unsuccessfully tapping into conspiracy theories in the mid-90s for a little boost when he could have just had it be the DeBeers-led diamond monopoly group be the subplot and tie in better with the rest of the novel.

 

Shock Wave was a very good follow up installment in the series, while not at the level of Inca Gold it still showed that Clive Cussler was creating quality stuff on a consistent basis and looked like he would be for a while.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc: Personal Recollections -

She was an unschooled country peasant that lifted the fortunes of her uncrowned King and nation on her shoulders, but when she needed them was abandoned.  Joan of Arc stands alone among Mark Twain’s bibliography as a historical novel about the one person in history he admires above all others.

 

Twain’s account of Joan of Arc’s life is written from the perspective of a fictional version of Joan’s former secretary and page Sieur Louis de Conte written at the end of his life to his great-nephews and nieces.  The first part of the book focuses on her life in the village of Domremy, essentially where all but the last two years of her life occurred, and the beginning of her visions then quest to fulfill the commission she received.  The second part is her successful meeting with the King, formal acknowledgement of the Church that she wasn’t a witch, then her year-long military campaign—with numerous breaks due to political interference and foot dragging by Charles VII—that saw her mission completed, and finally her capture by the Burgundians.  The final part of the book was of her year in captivity and the long grueling “legal” process that the English-paid French clergy put her through to murder her as a heretic.  The final chapter is of Conte giving a brief account of the feckless Charles VII waiting over two decades to Rehabilitate his benefactor after allowing her to be murdered by not paying her ransom all those years before.

 

This was a labor of love for Twain to write and it was easy to tell given how professionally researched it was in every detail.  While many 20th-Century critics and other Twain admirers don’t like this book because it’s not “classic” Twain because of his praise of Joan given that she’s French, Catholic, and a martyr when he disliked or hated all three; they didn’t seem to understand his hero worship of this teenage girl who put a nation on her shoulders to resurrect its existence.  Yet, while this was a straight historical novel there are touches of Twain especially in Conte’s “relating” the adventures of the Domremy boys when they were not in Joan’s presence, especially Paladin.

 

Joan of Arc is not the typical Mark Twain work, but that doesn’t mean one can not appreciate it for well, if not professionally, researched historical novel that it is.

Wild Card (Power Plays #8)

Wild Card - Tom Clancy, Jerome Preisler, Martin H. Greenberg

There is trouble in paradise as oil, murder, and long-lived shadowy cabals overshadow Trinidad just as UpLink is setting up an installation.  Wild Card is the eighth and final installment of the Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler as Pete Nimec goes to Trinidad on a working vacation and steps into international intrigue while suspended Tom Ricci goes renegade to rescue a kidnapped daughter for a small-time Mexican cartel leader.

 

Over two centuries ago, a French nobleman living on Trinidad and an English pirate form a partnership that their descendants continue by selling oil to rogue nations that the United States have put an embargo on.  A Trinidadian Jarvis Lenard escapes from a rogue element within a high-end resort’s security force after his cousin attempted to blow the whistle and was murdered, staying for weeks in a nature preserve causing fits to the rouge security force.  Pete Nimec is sent to look at the new UpLink project in Trinidad as well as figure out about the mysterious emails they received, he sees an oil transfer not knowing at the time what he saw but later figures it out, but the rogue security teams aims to kill him and his wife while they’re enjoying the resort.  Nimec and his wife escape on a boat, making their way to the nature preserve where Lenard is hiding and swims out to them as Sword helicopters come in and scare off the rogue security team’s helicopter.  Meanwhile Tom Ricci is on leave from UpLink after saving New York City because he did so without letting local, state, and federal authorities as well as the company know what was happening.  Ricci links up with the former DEA agent that has helped him on two previous occasions, helping save a kidnapped young woman whose father is a Mexican cartel leader while starting a friendship with Julia Gordian.

 

Unlike the previous book in the series, the three subplots that were not only worth their print on paper but came together to create a satisfying whole.  The first and only prologue in the series that showed the creation of the centuries-old partnership between the families of a French nobleman and an English pirate that had their descendants coming up with this oil smuggling scheme that is found out.  While the character development was sparse for returning characters, one-off characters had development put into them—especially Jarvis.  If this was written to be a quick page turner it succeeded but given the scattered shot subplots not only in this book but the previous one the well of ideas had run out for the series.

 

Wild Card is the final book of the Power Plays series, the ending of which was written in a way so that Jerome Preisler could either continue it or not depending on the publisher.  While a drastic improvement over the previous book in the series, this book showed that the series did not have enough legs to continue.

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles #2)

The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two - Patrick Rothfuss

How does a man become a myth in his own time, well he does stuff and recounts his adventures to an audience either through stories or songs then lets gossip do it’s thing.  The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is the second installment of The Kingkiller Chronicles framed around the second day of Kvothe’s recounting of his life with the Chronicler of their agreed upon three-day conversation.

 

Continuing the narrative where he left off in The Name of the Wind, Kvothe recalls his education at the University and feud with fellow student Ambrose that culminated in Ambrose getting him arrested on charges of Consortation with Demonic Powers, a capital crime, for having called the Name of the Wind. Despite successfully defending himself in court, Kvothe his tuition will be extremely high for the new term tuition due to the negative attention he has attracted to the darker aspects of the University. Kvothe decides to take a term off during which Count Threpe arranges for Kvothe to aid the Maershon Lerand Alveron in Vintas in hopes that Kvothe might earn a writ of patronage.  Arriving in the Maer seat in the city of Severen, Kvothe tricks his way into a meeting with the Maer and is contracted to write songs and letters to woo a young noblewoman that the Maer wants to marry.  During this shadow courtship, Kvothe saves the Maer’s life by discovering and thwarting a plot to kill the Maer thus earning the nobleman’s respect.  After saving his life and helping win his bride, the Maer charges Kvothe to lead a group of mercenaries to hunt bandits that have been waylaying taxmen in The Eld.  It takes a month, but the group find and kill the bandits.  A few days later they stumble upon the Fae Felurian, Kvothe travels after her, has a lot of sex, is able to use the Name of the Wind to combat her power, and convinces her to let him go but only after speaking to The Cthaeh about his future.  Upon his return to the “mortal” world Kvothe learns he endangered the life and career of an Adem warrior by copying and learning the Adem way of fighting.  The two travel to Ademre where he earns the right to train and learn the Adem way of life and fighting then earning the right to enter the school for further training if he wanted but in doing so saves his friend’s career.  After being given an Adem sword, Caesura, and learning the Adem legend of the Chandrian, Kvothe sets off for Severen once again.  On this way he comes across robbers posing as Edema Ruh that kidnapped and were assaulting two young women from a nearby village, Kvothe kills the robbers and returns the two young women to their village then races to the Maer’s court before the news reaches him to present himself, the waylaid taxes, and his deed in person.  The Maer’s new wife makes her thoughts on the Edema Ruh clear—utter contempt—to which Kvothe knowledges he is one and his days at court are over.  The Maer shows his gratitude by pardoning him for killing the robbers, providing a writ of performance, and ensuring Kvothe’s University tuition is forever compensated.  Upon his return to the University, Kvothe and the bursar make a deal so both Kvothe and the University will get money from the Maer’s coffers achieving financial independence for Kvothe.  In the present day during pauses in recounting his life, Kvothe and Bast help out the townspeople from around the Waystone Inn before Kvothe is beset by two soldiers prompted by Bast to rob him in an attempt to revitalize his friend but Kvothe loses and waits his apparently soon death while Bast kills the soldiers.

 

Unlike the first book, this book did not become tedious as Kvothe’s time at the University did not last long and throughout he was doing different things that set up things later in the book.  The only time the book became a tad annoying was Kvothe’s sexual adventures with Felurian that was basically read like Rothfuss writing his teenage fantasy.  The contemporary scenes at the Waystone Inn did not seem as engaging in this book, but I feel that it was because the flashback narrative was a lot more engaging than the previous book with everything Kvothe was doing.

 

The Wise Man’s Fear is clearly superior to its predecessor that began paying off things Patrick Rothfuss set up in the initial book.  As the final book is taking a while to be written, I don’t feel a rush to know how Kvothe’s story ends but I’d like to read how it ends whenever it comes out.

The Girl Who Lived Twice (Millennium #6)

The Girl Who Lived Twice - David Lagercrantz

Two sisters, mirror opposites, have been on a collision course for years and now it comes to a head on either side of an investigation into an ill-fated Everest expedition.  The Girl Who Lived Twice is the sixth book of the Millennium series and third by David Lagercrantz, sees the final confrontation between Lisbeth and Camilla after finding out the truth behind an incident on Mount Everest.

 

Lisbeth Salander attempts to kill her sister Camilla in Moscow, but can’t pull the trigger and goes to Copenhagen and gets into a relationship with a domestically abused woman while spying on her sister and helping in-a-slump Mikael Blomkvist investigate the death of a homeless man.  Blomkvist’s investigation happens when a coroner calls him because the dead man has his phone number and Mikael learns the man accosted a female journalist spouting about the Swedish Defense Minister who is enduring a disinformation campaign from Russia.  The homeless man turns out to be a Sherpa who was apart of an ill-fated expedition up Mount Everest that caught global attention because of the death of a socialite who was on it, but it turned out so was the Defense Minister before his political career.  It turns out the Minister’s friend was working for the Russian mob and essentially killed the socialite for her American billionaire husband who is also connected with the mob and convinced the Sherpa to leave her and help the Minister off the mountain instead.  The Sherpa feels guilty and after the death of his wife loses his mind and wants to tell the truth, but the Minister is convinced to get him out of Nepal to a asylum in Sweden but he later escapes and the Minister’s corrupt friend killed him then started blackmailing him resulting in him almost committing suicide but Blomkvist saves him.  While Blomkvist is going to interview the Minister, he is abducted by Camilla and her associates to be tortured and get Lisbeth to them.  Lisbeth now in Sweden, tracks them down, and confronts her sister who attempts to set Lisbeth on fire only to light herself up instead and kills herself because she is no longer beautiful.  The Minister’s corrupt friend is arrested, Mikael’s new lover writes the article about the truth of the ill-fated expedition, and he learns of Lisbeth’s “help” at his stalled article.

 

While Lisbeth and Mikael are “featured” they aren’t the heart of the book, that goes to the characters created by Lagercrantz that are connected with the main plot of the mysterious Sherpa and an ill-fated Mount Everest expedition he was apart of along with the future Swedish Defense Minister and his friend as well the socialite that died on it.  Throughout Lagercrantz’s books in the series, Lisbeth has been sidelined and Mikael has been “used” more but only for original characters to have the spotlight.  If the Mount Everest plot had been a book not connected to the Millennium series, I might have really enjoyed it more.  But this series is supposed to be about Lisbeth Salander and throughout the last three book it has not been.  The “climactic” confrontation between Lisbeth and Camilla at the end, is so disappointing that the build up over the previous books was a waste as well.  Frankly Lagercrantz’s Lisbeth is a pale imitation of Larrson’s Lisbeth thus making this and the previous two books a waste.

 

The Girl Who Lived Twice might be billed a Lisbeth Salander novel, but in fact she’s just a name so David Lagercrantz can sell books.

Behemoth, or The Long Parliament

Behemoth, or The Long Parliament - Stephen Holmes, Ferdinand Tönnies, Thomas Hobbes

For supporters of Charles I and his son, the middle of the 17th Century was a hard time and in the aftermath of the Restoration was a time to show they were right.  Behemoth is Thomas Hobbes’ history of the lead up to the English Civil War and the resulting Interregnum.

 

Covering roughly two decades of political, military, cultural, and religious upheaval within the frame of a dialogue, Thomas Hobbes uses the political framework written in Leviathan to analyze the breakdown of political order and how it was restored.  The first and second section of the book concerns how Charles I strong political position was undermined by seven factions acting independently of one another and how the King’s attempts to combat one faction were used by other factions to represent tyranny against their own party eventually leading to a rupture and war between King and Parliament.  The third section covered the civil war itself with neither side getting an advantage until the rise of Oliver Cromwell turned the tide for Parliament that eventually lead to the capture of the King and after political machinations from both sides, Charles is put on trial then executed.  The last section highlights how Parliament had no idea how to replace the King and went from one solution to another all the while Cromwell continued to accumulate power until taking over the place of Charles in all but the title of King.  However, after Cromwell’s death and weakness of his son’s leadership, General Monck uses his army to takeover the political situation and invite Charles II to take the throne.

 

While Hobbes uses the ideas in Leviathan to frame this history, it is essentially a Royalist view of the history of the 1640s and 1650s.  Throughout the book the prime factor that Hobbes saw as being the instigator of Parliament’s position against the King wasn’t taxes, but religion more specifically Presbyterian minister preaching from the pulpit against the King so they could achieve leadership of the nation like John Calvin had done in Geneva.  Though Hobbes did mention several other factors, his obsession on the religious aspect overawed everything else in this history which at times became too much.

 

Behemoth is ultimately a royalist history of events in the mid-17th Century.  Thomas Hobbes shows the breakdown of political order when the sovereign’s position is challenged and usurped by those that have no right to it and the chaos that follows, but through his partisan lens.

Scorched Earth (Op-Center #15)

Tom Clancy's Op-Center: Scorched Earth - George Galdorisi

After making a huge propaganda killing against the United States, a terrorist leader is incensed when a retaliatory strike hits too close to home and makes his war even more personal. Scorched Earth is the third book of the Op-Center reboot and the first exclusively by George Galdorisi as retired Admiral Chase Williams coordinates his Op-Center team in fighting the war on terror that has suddenly become personal on both sides.

General Bob Underwood—a special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL—is kidnapped after his security detail is massacred then hours later is beheaded on live television. American forces retaliate with a strike on Mosul resulting in the death of the ISIS leader's son, his father promises vengeance. A homegrown terrorist cell kidnaps the admiral who oversaw the strike on ISIS but are accidentally foiled in their attempted to send him to Mosul to be killed and retreat to a hideaway in rural Maryland. Based off information that it’s Geek Team Op-Center’s SEAL team is sent to Iraq to investigate all the aircraft delivering to the city, but come up empty resulting in the Geek Team backtracking and the terrorist cell and finding their location in Maryland. Op-Center’s CIRG team locates the house and rescues the admiral while taking out half of the terror cell. Meanwhile the admiral’s son, a SEAL himself, believing the Navy fumbled the ball goes AWOL to Iraq with help from an old teammate and infiltrates the ISIS headquarters in Mosul but is captured. The SEAL team, with information from the Geek Team, with a contingent of Rangers rescues the prodigal son while shaming the ISIS leader.

Like the previous book this was quickly moving story was an engaging read from start to finish, especially the first two-thirds of the book when the kidnapping of the admiral was the main plot. However, once his son decided to go rogue the end of the book was relatively telegraphed paint-by-the numbers ending. Yet despite the “going rogue” cliché and the ISIS leader’s desire to “go live for the evening news”, the action was particularly good which made up a tad for the headshaking narrative turn. Overall Galdorisi’s solo effort was good and while I wish he would have avoided the stupid “going rogue” trope as it probably would have improved the book some, it did not ruin it.

Scorched Earth is a good military-political thriller and is George Galdorisi only solo effort in the reboot series, so far. While I did not like subplot that finished off the book, it did not make the book bad and throughout the action scenes were solid. Overall, this book is better than a vast majority of the original Op-Center run.

Inca Gold (Dirk Pitt #12)

Inca Gold (Dirk Pitt #12) - Clive Cussler

The vast amounts of gold the Inca possessed at the time of Pizarro is legendary, yet even as the Spaniards plundered the riches they began wondering if they had found everything.  Inca Gold is the twelfth book in the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler as the titular character and his ever faithful friend Al Giordino begin their adventure with going on a rescue mission in the Andes only to end up needing rescue at the end in the Sea of Cortez.

 

In 1532 a fleet of ships sails in secret to an island in the middle of an inland sea. There they hide a magnificent treasure vaster than that any Pharaoh would ever possess. Then they disappear, leaving only a great stone demon to guard their hoard. In 1578 the legendary Sir Francis Drake captures a Spanish galleon filled with Inca gold and silver and the key to the lost treasure, which includes a gigantic chain of gold, a masterpiece of ancient technology so huge that it requires two hundred men to lift it and a large pile of diamonds worth more than 200 billion dollars that belonged to the last Inca. As the galleon is sailed by Drake's crew back to England, an underwater earthquake causes a massive tidal wave that sweeps it into the jungle. Only one man survives to tell the tale.  In 1998 a group of archaeologists is nearly drowned while diving into the depths of a sacrificial pool high in the Andes of Peru. They are saved by the timely arrival of the renowned scuba diving hero Dirk Pitt, who is in the area on a marine expedition. Pitt soon finds out that his life has been placed in jeopardy as well by smugglers intent on uncovering the lost ancient Incan treasure. Soon, he, his faithful companions, and Dr. Shannon Kelsey, a beautiful young archaeologist, are plunged into a vicious, no-holds-barred struggle to survive. From then on it becomes a battle of wits in a race against time and danger to find the golden chain, as Pitt finds himself caught up in a struggle with a sinister international family syndicate that deal in stolen works of art, the smuggling of ancient artifacts, and art forgery worth many millions of dollars. The clash between the art thieves, the FBI and the Customs Service, a tribe of local Indians, and Pitt, along with his friends from NUMA, two of whom are captured and threatened with execution, rushes toward a wild climax in a subterranean world of darkness and death – for the real key to the mystery, as it turns out, is a previously unknown, unexplored underground river that runs through the ancient treasure chamber.

 

This is the book that originally got me into the Dirk Pitt series—via audiobook—and over twenty years later it very much holds up as a fun adventure yarn that keeps the pages turning.  While the book isn’t perfect for various factors, the first being that the “main” antagonist went from being clever conman that kills when necessary to a raging would-be killer in one scene in the middle of the book that was jarring especially since his main henchman was already a wanton murderer who took pleasure in it.  Cussler switches with his female “lead” with Dr. Kelsey being replaced mid-book with Pitt’s on-off flame Loren Smith, but for once Smith is fully fleshed out and not giving off damsel-in-distress vibe like previous books.  The main positive of the book is that all the subplots are not only intriguing but have good characters like Billy Yuma that tie into the main plot as the book reaches its climax.

 

Inca Gold is the book I personally feel that the Dirk Pitt series began hitting its stride at least what I remember from the late-90s to the mid-00s.  Clive Cussler mixes characters, plot, and action to create a real page-turning adventure that will make you take a look around for more of his titular character.