Sahara (Dirk Pitt #11)

0671521101.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Sahara by Clive Cussler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Within the vastness of the Malian Sahara hides numerous mysteries, some like the desert itself are deadly and some will change history. Sahara is the eleventh book in Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular character traverses back and forth across to save the world from a threat created from chemical pollutants.

A week before the surrender at Appomattox the ironclad CSS Texas runs the gauntlet of Union ships and artillery down the James River then heads out to the Atlantic after displaying their prisoner, Abraham Lincoln. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sets up a hoax assassination with the murder of an actor at Ford’s Theater by setting up John Wilkes Booth. In 1931 Kitty Mannock is flying over the Sahara in quest of a new aviation record when a sandstorm takes out her engine and she crashes in the desert; she dies ten days later but after finding an iron ship. In the present a convoy of tourists crossing the Sahara reach a scheduled stop at a village in the country of Mali where they are attacked by red-eyed savages who kill and eat them, with only the tour guide escaping. Meanwhile, working in Egypt on an archaeological mapping of the Nile, Dirk Pitt rescues Dr. Eva Rojas, a scientist working for the World Health Organization, from assassins sent by the military dictator of Mali Zateb Kazim with the backing of French businessman Yves Massarde. Eva’s WHO team flies to Mali investigate a mysterious disease while Pitt, Al Giordino, and Rudy Gunn are ordered up the Niger River to find a pollutant that is causing red tide to mushroom out of control and where that pollutant is coming from. The WHO team and the NUMA trio run afoul of Kazim and Massarde with the former captured and sent to a unknown gold mine as slave labor and the former running around Mali to find the source of the pollutant that Gunn has identified and escaped the country to report on. Pitt and Giordino find out Massarde’s detoxification facility is the culprit but are captured and sent to the gold mine, but escape over the desert and only saved by finding Kitty Mannock’s plane and salvage the parts to escape to Algeria via land yacht. Once in Algeria, Pitt and Giordino lead a UN rescue team on an assault on the gold mine to rescue foreign nations then battle the Malians in an abandoned French Foreign Legion fort until US Special Forces arrive in relief and kill Kazim in the process. Pitt and Giordino capture Massarde, poison him with contaminated water so he dies as a savage madman. The two then venture out into the Sahara using Mannock’s journal to locate the CSS Texas and find Lincoln.

The Lincoln subplot—including everything connected with it—is the major reason this book barely gets the rating it does, it’s bad and ruins an otherwise good book. The next complaint is the “happy ever after” type ending which features the secondary characters introduced in the books, which along with the previous subplot soured the ending of the book. Cussler’s female characters were an assortment of good and bad, the tertiary characters like soldiers in the UN rescue team who were actual soldiers not medics stood out because the major female character (Rojas) might have been a doctor but was two-dimensional. The main plot with Pitt, Giordino, and the major antagonists was actually very good as well as the Kitty Mannock subplot, however everything else just brought it down the overall book.

Sahara is a book that was good but could have been better if not for subplot and characterization choices that Clive Cussler made. Pitt is at his action-packed adventurer best, but it was fringe features that distracted me from enjoying things.

Dirk Pitt

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium #5)

1101974168.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye: A Lisbeth Salander Novel by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Months after confronting her sister and feeling that she is become far to well-known, Lisbeth Salander can’t help but stand up for the underdog as well get revenge on those that made her childhood hell. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the fifth book of the Millennium series and second written by David Lagercrantz that follows Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as they examine the twisted history of Sweden’s recent past.

Nearing the end of a two-month jail sentence for crimes committed while protecting August Balder, Lisbeth Salander observes that Bangladeshi prisoner Faria Kasi is tormented nightly by ruthless prisoner Beatrice “Benito” Andersson. Already needing to use a computer after a visit from her former guardian Holger Palmgren informs her that she was involved in something called the Registry. Suspicious, Salander forces the Warden to let her use his computer, where she learns the Registry is a secret project that places exceptional children in specific environments to test the effects on their growth. Salander asks journalist Mikael Blomkvist to investigate in her stead, pointing him to wealthy businessman Leo Mannheimer. Blomkvist learns that Mannheimer had been acting strangely lately and comes to suspect that not only does he have a twin, Dan Brody, but Brody has been going around pretending to be Mannheimer. Meanwhile Palmgren’s investigation alerts Rakel Greitz who poisons him and takes the file. Blomkvist arrives too late, but Palmgren tells him to find Hilda von Kanterborg, a former Registry agent whose initials were in the file, before he dies. Blomkvist tracks Hilda down and, though she doesn’t believe Dan stole Leo’s identity, she confirms that they are twins. She also tells him that Greitz tried to take Salander away from her family as a child as part of the experiment, only for her to react violently and escape. Blomkvist confronts Mannheimer who, after saving him from Greitz’ henchman Benjamin, reveals that he is Dan and why he’s impersonating his brother. While this is happening, the Warden of Flodberga makes plans to transfer Benito to another prison. Upon learning this, Benito prepares to kill Faria, which she reveals she was hired to do by Faria’s brothers. However, Salander stops and severely injures her, sending her to the hospital. After Salander is released, she investigates Faria’s history, learning how she ended up in prison and that her brother Bashir hired Benito. Salander tricks Bashir into confessing on video and convinces Faria’s younger brother Khalil to do the same to the police for a murder he committed. She then plans to go after Greitz after talking with Blomkvist, only to be kidnapped by Bashir and an escaped Benito. She gets an alert out to her hacker allies, who manage to track the truck they’re in and alert the police. With Faria’s help, the police find them just as Salander escapes and arrest Benito, Bashir, and their colleagues. After recovering from a wound sustained in her escape, Salander confronts and subdues Greitz and Benjamin, deciding to spare the former so she can suffer the shame of her reputation being ruined as she’s arrested. Faria’s charges are lowered and she’s presumably released. The people involved with the Registry are sent to prison as Millennium publishes Leo and Dan’s story. Everyone who knew Palmgren gather for his funeral, where Salander makes a speech about her guardian.

While the novel is entertaining in areas, the plot is sluggish and the tension relying on an overreliance of annoying tricks. In fact, the book doesn’t feel like a Salander novel as it’s labeled because compared to the Larrson trilogy she’s only an instigator to the plot while Blomkvist feels to be more important of the two main characters. Lagercrantz’s own created characters were focused on more than Salander thus making it seem like she’s only billed on the cover to sell books. Its hard to know that if this book wasn’t connected with the Millennium what I would think of it, but given it is I’ve got to rate it the lowest of the series so far even after a good previous installment.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye feels off from the rest of the Millennium series and doesn’t measure up to David Lagercrantz’s previous effort in the series. While some parts are entertaining and add to Salander’s mythos, she is in the background of a book that bills her as the main character.

White Sand (Volume I)

1524104868.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The desert planet of Taldain is locked between two suns so that that with one side is constantly in light and the other in constant darkness with powerful magic apparently only occurring amongst the sands on the dayside. The first volume of Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand graphic novel trilogy is an introduction to a new world of the Cosmere and another unique magic system.

Kenton, a weak but skilled sand master, tries to earn a higher-ranking position in the guild of sand masters by running the Mastrell’s Path, despite the disapproval of his father, the Lord Mastrell. The day after Kenton proves himself on the Path, the sand masters gather for a ceremony where new rank advancements will be granted. One man, Drile, is demoted for having attempted to sell out himself and others as mercenaries. Just as Kenton is grudgingly granted the highest rank, his father is shot with an arrow, and an army of Kerztian warriors attacks. The sand masters, being surprised and unprepared, are soundly defeated. Just before his death, the Lord Mastrell unleashes a wave of power that leaves Kenton buried beneath the sand. After waking, Kenton is joined by Khrissalla, Baon, and two Darkside professors who are lost. They are searching for information about Khriss’ late fiancé and the “sand mages” he sought. On the way to the nearest city, they are attacked by a small group of Kerztian warriors. Kenton’s sand mastery suddenly proves to be inaccessible, but Baon drives the warriors away with his gun. Upon arriving in Kezare, Kenton’s powers return with greater strength than ever, and he stands before the Taishin, who plan to disband the Diem of sand masters. He is granted the position of acting Lord Mastrell and is given two weeks to convince the Taishin otherwise. Kenton returns to the Diem and drives away the rebellious Drile, who Kenton believes was responsible for betraying the sand masters to the Kerztians. Elsewhere, Trackt Ais works to catch a crime lord, Sharezan, amid threats to her family. The Lady Judge meets with Ais and asks her to spy on Kenton. Meanwhile, Khriss inadvertently locates Loaten, an infamous Darksider, in her search for information. He offers little direct help but sets her on a path to meet with the leaders in the city. Ignorant of the role of the sand masters, and of Kenton’s new station, she arrives at the Diem just as Drile returns to do battle with Kenton.

The story has all the hallmarks of Sanderson book with excellent execution of character introduction and conflict amongst the important members of the cast. The art of Julius Gopez and coloring of Ross A. Campbell bring this unique world and environment alive very well. However, while the elements that makes Sanderson, well Sanderson, are there the book also doesn’t feel like Sanderson. I do not want to blame scriptwriter Rik Hoskin for this, the change of format to graphic novel from the usual book could be the main factor and Hoskin could very well be the reason this story still reads like a Sanderson story but there is a noticeable difference from other Sanderson works. The other main issue I somewhat have is more biological than story, the color pigmentation of the characters is reversed from what it should be given the planetary environment they are living in unless there was a cosmic shift that changed things.

White Sands Volume I is a wonderful addition to Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere and is given a unique place in it with the graphic novel format. The art and color are amazing, yet the change from word medium to visual does have an impact on how Sanderson’s style comes across. Overall a very good beginning with story, characters, and atmosphere.

Cosmere

Cutting Edge (Power Plays #6)

0425187055.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Cutting Edge by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

In equatorial Africa as a small nation attempts to become a leader in the region through its offshore resources and becoming headquarters to information revolution for all of Africa, but who is in charge is suddenly up in the air. Cutting Edge is the sixth book of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler, as Roger Gordian’s UpLink International takes over a pan-African fiberoptic network he unexpectedly finds himself against Harlan DeVane who’s attacked his company and tried to kill him already.

Offshore of Gabon two divers for a French technology company die after sabotaged by Harlan DeVane’s associates which leads to the company selling their fiberoptic network to UpLink and getting government approval even though DeVane bribed numerous politicians to stop it. Pete Nimec leads the Sword team as UpLink moves into the country as DeVane plans to strike at UpLink and Gordian himself. DeVane begins to harass UpLink’s buildup including an assault on a convoy, but as a distraction for his main strike against Gordian. DeVane activates his mercenary agent who activates his sleeper sell in the United States that stalks the Gordian family before finding a target, his daughter Julia. The DeVane’s crew abducts Julia from the greyhound rescue shelter she’s been volunteering at, killing one of the owners and her infant daughter in the process. After the police visit UpLink headquarters, Tom Ricci begins investigating her kidnapping skirting around the police to get evidence that quickly leads to the conclusion it’s the same man who he faced off in Ukraine and Ontario. DeVane sends Gordian a ransom message to dissolve his company immediately or his daughter dies, however before Gordian decides to do so Ricci finds where Julia is being kept and leads a Sword team that rescues her and kills the mercenary that’s trouble them for years. In the end, DeVane slinks away from Gabon.

Preisler emphasize characters and technology throughout the book, not at the expense the plot but the narrative was quickly transitioned from one time period to another until towards the end during Julia’s kidnapping. Though Preisler does a great job at exploring DeVane’s, Nimec’s, Ricci’s, and the mercenary’s characters in this book and keeps the reader hooked; yet the departures into technological explanations bogged the book down at times. This book was longer than the previous installment which resulted in a overall better book.

Cutting Edge is a return to the very good standard that Preisler established in this series after the substandard previous installment. With DeVane exit at the end of the book, the best subplot of the three of the last four books is finished with a bit of satisfaction for the reader that’s invested in the reading the series.

Power Plays

The Story of Wales

1849903735.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Story of Wales by Jon Gower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The perception of Wales has changed over the past two millennia not only within its own borders, but also how others look at it. The Story of Wales by Jon Gower follows the 30,000-year history of the land that would one day become Wales that’s story is still being told today.

Beginning with a prehistoric burial during a warm period of the Ice Age era, Gower takes the reader through the human occupation of the 8,023 square miles that would become Wales. Until after the Roman occupation, the people within Wales were apart of the larger Briton culture, it was only after the Anglo-Saxons came that Wales came into being and the Welsh identity began to be formed. While both the evolving English and the evolving Welsh had many petty kingdoms eventually the English unite while the Welsh didn’t not, resulting in the larger kingdom slowly beginning to influence its smaller neighbors. After the Norman conquest, the Welsh were almost always on the cultural defensive until they finally were overthrown by Edward I. As a conquered people the Welsh attempted to keep themselves united but the things changed with the Welsh-descended Tudors making their leaders important but also saw them annexed by England resulting in English laws and language being more and more forced upon them for the next 400 years. Gower goes into the effects of the Reformation and later Nonconformity upon the Welsh as well as how the land, or more importantly what’s under the surface, lead to the nation becoming the first to be industrialized not England. Yet even with all the work, the Welsh were still oppressed as outside—English—money and ownership dominated them resulting the rise of labor unions resulting in first Welsh liberalism then later Labour beliefs in the 20th Century. Gower ends the book about how modern Welsh identity has been centered around saving the Welsh language and how it’s unique cultural traits are being revived and saved along with how the successes of Welsh Rugby have united the nation over the past century ultimately resulting the political devolution.

Boiling down millennia of history is not easy, but Gower does a remarkable good job at juggling the political, the cultural, and everything in between. However, how accurate some of the details are is a little questionable especially in relation to other nations as Gower has several mistakes especially relating to English history—Henry Tudor is mentioned as both a Lancastrian and Yorkist claimant within a few paragraphs—thus making it not a perfect book. Yet it feels that Gower, a Welshman himself, knows his Welsh history and facts thus making this a very reliable read.

The Story of Wales is fascinating read of a small nation that has survived its uniqueness throughout almost two millennia of facing a large political and cultural entity on its doorstep. Jon Gower knows Wales and its history thus making this a very good read for anyone of Welsh descent—like me—interested about where their ancestors came from.

2020 Reading Plan (January Update)

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From August 7, 2015.

Hello,

January was a surprising successful beginning of the year with a total of five books, all from my original list. Let’s see the stats for the month/year so far…

Overall Total: 5/45 (11.1%)
Original List: 5/45 (11.1%)
Total Pages: 2118 (423.6)

I’ll not be doing mini-reviews anymore–check out my reviews in the links below–and simply do best/worst with assorted thoughts.

The best book this month was easily Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, this standalone had a lot of hype and I was worried it would live up to it…I was quickly dispelled of this concern. A close second was The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood, a great narrative history of a very complicated conflict. The was no contest for worst book was the Giovanni Pico della Mirandola treatise collection, On the Dignity of Man.

Since the start of the year I’ve reading A.G. Daniells by Ben McArthur as my weekend exclusive. I’ve been taking my time on this book since Dr. McArthur was the chair of the Southern Adventist University History Department before, during, and after my time as a History major there and unfortunately lost his battle with cancer several years ago and I want to be diligent. I’ve begun reading Plutarch’s Parallel Lives in mid-January however it’s going slowly and I need to get going on in it since it’s 1309 pages and I’m through less than a 50.

That’s January’s update, see in you February.

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner
Out of the Ashes (Op-Center #13) by Dick Couch & George Galdorisi
On the Dignity of Man by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola*
The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
The Story of Wales by Jon Gower
Cutting Edge (Power Plays #6) by Jerome Preisler- REREAD
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium #5) by David Lagercrantz
Sahara (Dirk Pitt #11) by Clive Cussler
Into the Fire (Op-Center #14) by Dick Couch & George Galdorisi
Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler & Jeanne T. Heidler
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss
Zero Hour (Power Plays #7) by Jerome Preisler
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Inca Gold (Dirk Pitt #12) by Clive Cussler
Scorched Earth (Op-Center #15) by George Galdorisi
Behemoth, or The Long Parliament by Thomas Hobbes
The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2) by Patrick Rothfuss
Wild Card (Power Plays #8) by Jerome Preisler
Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Shock Wave (Dirk Pitt #13) by Clive Cussler
Dark Zone (Op-Center #16) by Jeff Rovin & George Galdorisi
Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (The Last Lion #1) by William Manchester
Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastards #2) by Scott Lynch
Flood Tide (Dirk Pitt #14) by Clive Cussler
For Honor (Op-Center #17) by Jeff Rovin
Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (The Last Lion #2) by William Manchester
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Atlantis Found (Dirk Pitt #15) by Clive Cussler
Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (The Last Lion #3) by William Manchester & Paul Reid
The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards #3) by Scott Lynch
Valhalla Rising (Dirk Pitt #16) by Clive Cussler
From Manassas to Appomattox by James Longstreet
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Trojan Odyssey (Dirk Pitt #17) by Clive Cussler
The New Emperors by Harrison Evans Salisbury
Best Served Cold (The First Law #4) by Joe Abercrombie
Black Wind (Dirk Pitt #18) by Clive & Dirk Cussler
Truman by David McCullough
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
Treasure of Khan (Dirk Pitt #19) by Clive & Dirk Cussler

Parallel Lives by Plutarch
Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes
A History of My Times by Xenophon
The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

*=Original Home Read
^= Home Read
+= Random Insertion

Warbreaker

0765360039.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Princesses, an atheistic god, two near immortals who have history, a zombie army, and an interesting magic system that involves color can only result in something very interesting happening. Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker follows two princesses in a strange land, a grumpy near immortal, and a god that doesn’t believe in himself as politics, religion, and personal conflicts swirl together to either bring peace or war.

Idrian princess Vivenna has been prepared her entire life to marry the God King but at the last moment her father sends her unprepared and carefree youngest sister Siri instead. Vivenna follows hoping of save her sister and meets with Lemex, her father spy in the city, and a team of mercenaries in his employ led by Denth. However, Lemex dies shortly thereafter, though not before bequeathing his large sum of BioChromatic Breath to her. Vivenna and Denth’s team begin making guerilla attacks against Hallandren’s supply depots and convoys that will hopefully give the Idrians an advantage in the seemingly inevitable war all the time watched by one Vasher, a mysterious man who can use his Breath to Awaken objects and wielder of a sentient sword called Nightblood. Siri, after spending many terrified nights waiting for the God King to consummate the marriage, finds that he is not actually the feared entity that she thought, but has actually had his tongue cut out by his priests, making him nothing more than a figurehead. They bond as Siri teaches the God King to communicate, however she comes believes that the priests are secretly plotting to kill her and the God King if she produces an heir, and fears that Hallandren will soon launch a war against Idris. Siri finds potential allies in the unorthodox god Lightsong, who is plagued by nightmares of war and is struggling to discover his purpose, and the Pahn Kahl servants headed by Bluefingers. After being temporarily kidnapped by Vasher, Vivenna discovers that Denth is not working for her but against her, having been hired by an unknown third party to instigate the war with Idris, and she barely escapes their custody with her life. Vasher finds her after weeks hiding and living destitute in the Idrian slums of Hallandren. Together, Vivenna and Vasher work to undo the damage done by Denth and avert the war before Vivenna convinces Vasher to try and save her sister. However, Vasher is captured and tortured by Denth, who is revealed to have been working for the God King’s Pahn Kahl servants, who are trying to incite war between the Idrians and Hallendren so that they can take gain their freedom. The servants capture Siri, kill many of the God King’s priests, and throw the God King in the dungeon along with several gods including Lightsong. The Pahn Kahl, having gained the Commands to control the city’s undead Lifeless army, send them to attack the Idrians and start the war. Lightsong sacrifices himself by giving the God King his Breath, which heals the king, giving him his tongue back and allowing him access to his godly cache of BioChromatic power and save Siri from being murdered. During this Vivenna uses her own budding powers to break into the God King’s palace and free Vasher, who kills Denth. Vasher reveals that he is actually one of the Five Scholars, ancient beings who originally discovered the Commands for using BioChromatic Breath, and bestows upon the God King the code to awaken the city’s secret army of nearly indestructible D’denir Lifeless soldiers that sent to destroy the Lifeless army before it can reach Idris. While Siri and the God King begin a new rule and life together, Vivenna joins Vasher as he sets out on another quest to a distant land.

The narrative of the story is divided between point-of-views of Siri, Vivenna, Lightsong, and Vasher thus giving a wide swath of the two distinct cultures and religions that have vast misunderstandings not only with one another but within themselves. Sanderson’s creation of such a unique magic system is by itself a reason to read the book because of just how innovative it is and how it’s still not completely understood by those who use it even a long-lived individual like Vasher who helped shaped what is already known. Sanderson’s princess swap at the beginning of the story caused instant character reexamination and growth that helps drive the narrative while at the same time Lightsong’s quest to figure himself out while the populous believes him to be a god was another unique perspective that helped pushed the narrative forward in many locations. There is so much that was good, that it’s hard to find something to criticize.

Warbreaker is a unique standalone book within Brandon Sanderson’s larger Cosmere that blends fascinating characters and cultures with a stunning magical system to create an amazing narrative. If you’re interested in reading a Sanderson book and don’t want to be stucked into a series, this is the book you should read.

Cosmere