Line of Control (Op-Center #8)

b001ql5mdc.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Line of Control by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The most dangerous border on the planet is days, if not hours, away from potentially exploding in a nuclear fireball but suddenly finding itself in the middle of the crisis is Op-Center’s own Striker team. Line of Control is the eighth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin picks up right where the last book left off as Paul Hood deals with government spending cuts, Mike Rodgers and the Strikers are headed to India to help find Pakistani missile silos only to find itself in the middle of a secret Indian conspiracy to use Kashmiri terrorists to setup a preemptive nuclear strike.

Traitorous NSA agent Ron Friday is on hand in Srinagar, India when a terrorist attack destroys a police station, a Hindu temple, and a bus of Hindu pilgrims. Friday realizes something isn’t right especially when the regular investigating agency is left out of the loop. The cell of Kashmiri terrorists responsible for bombing of the police station know they’ve been set-up and take the young Indian woman they had been holding as a hostage with them towards Pakistan to prove they are innocent of escalating this into a religious war. Op-Center suddenly finds its Striker team heading into dangerous situation especially once the new NSA chief gets in touch while on the phone with Friday who reports what he witnessed and the apparent sidelining of the usual Indian investigative team. Satellite coverage shows the usurping Indian agency attempting to the capture the terrorists only to fail thanks to the Kashmiri terrorists finding the cellphone on their hostage, who happens to be a civilian operative. Like Friday, the Op-Center team realizes this is a plan to set up a preemptive nuclear strike by elements in the Indian government and decide to have Striker help the terrorists get their hostage to Pakistan to tell her story. However, the Indians and Friday have other ideas while the one wants their plan to go off without a hitch the other is serving his own interests. Unfortunately for Op-Center, all but three members of their Striker team are killed while parachuting into the Himalayas by Indian groundfire but Rodgers is one of the survivors and kills up with Friday, the Indian young woman, and one of the terrorists then leads them to a secret Pakistani missile silo on the titular Line of Control where they use a communications link to get the young woman’s story out to the world thus preventing a nuclear exchange. Rodgers, the young woman, and the Indians who were after them escape the Pakistani facility before it explodes, but the self-serving Friday dies. The resulting international praise for Op-Center is nothing compared to the domestic as Striker is disbanded and it will be severely downsized.

Published in 2001 before the 9/11 attacks, Line of Control focused on what at the time was considered—and probably still is—the greatest risk of a nuclear confrontation in the world. Like most of the books in the series Rovin has written a few implausible elements in the book—namely the new NSA chief not reprimanding Friday for some of the things he said to Bob Herbert or the young Indian civilian operative’s many personality changes throughout the book—however unlike the last book they were more forgivable. Yet from the outset the Paul Hood point-of-views essentially gave away the fact that the series would be taking a major shift with a change in how Op-Center would function in the future thus when the Striker team was butchered it was the writing on the wall that Op-Center would have a paramilitary wing anymore and sets up how Rovin will make the agency unique compared to the CIA, NSA, and others. Given all that, the action sequences throughout were well written and plotting was well down making a for an overall nice read.

Line of Control is a watershed moment in the Op-Center series as some of the elements that made the agency unique came to an end and Rovin decided to go into a new direction with the series. Overall the book is good action piece and overall better narrative than the previous installment as well as making this one the high quality books of the series.

Op-Center

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Vixen 03 (Dirk Pitt #5)

055358944x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Vixen 03 by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A deadly biological weapon thought long-lost is suddenly out in the world and a South African-planned black-op terrorist attack on the United States meant to discredit an insurgency to white rule intertwine with only one man finding himself at the crux to stop them. The fifth book of the Dirk Pitt series, Vixen 03, by Clive Cussler finds the intrepid NUMA Special Projects Director racing to first solve a mystery and then racing to save the nation.

An Air Force transport plane takes off in a January Colorado blizzard carrying a deadly cargo, but the storm results in the plane crash landing on top of a snow covered lake then sinking. The Pentagon, under orders from Eisenhower, alters the records of the plane to hide its deadly secret. Thirty-four years later in South Africa, Scottish naval captain-turned-farmer Patrick Fawkes goes to a meeting with the South African Defense Minister and discusses the feasibility of a black-op, which Fawkes explains is impossible yet during the meeting his family is murdered during an attack seemingly by the African Army of Revolution run by an American-born black against the white South African government. As a result Fawkes talks the Defense Minister into letting him do the black-op, which the AAR finds out about and gets the info to the American government though they regard it highly unlikely to take place. Meanwhile in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains, Dirk Pitt is at the cabin of his current girlfriend, Congresswoman Loren Smith, when finds parts from an old aircraft in the garage that Loren believes her deceased eccentric father found while hiking. Bored while not having sex, Pitt begins investigating and stays at the cabin after Loren returns to Washington where she runs afoul of a black congressman who supports the AAR for his own political ends and attempts to blackmail her after getting racy photos of her and Pitt sleeping together. Pitt’s investigation results in him identifying an aircraft that shouldn’t be in Colorado but in the Pacific and along with his friend Al Giordino and an Air Force Colonel Abe Steiger investigate a nearby lake and find the wreck along with the body of Loren’s father—he supposedly blew himself up. Steiger is stonewalled in Washington while Pitt heads to his assignment raising a Union ironclad, but travels to Virginia to talk with the man who assigned the plane’s mission and finds out it carried a deadly biological weapon. Pitt finally informs his boss Admiral Sandecker and NUMA raises the aircraft but find that 8 out of the 36 shells are missing. Pitt, Giordino, and Steiger confront Loren’s neighbors who killed her father and sold them to an arms company for extra money. After conning the arms company Pitt and Steiger track down six of the eight, but the last two were accidently purchased by the AAR but really the South Africans for their terrorist attack. Fawkes with his unwitting black crew and the kidnapped AAR leader in an overhauled battleship go up the Potomac to within range of Washington and start bombarding the capital on December 7. The U.S. government “warned” by the South African Prime Minister launches an attack on the battleship since Fawkes doesn’t know he has two biological weapons. Pitt is able to get onboard the battleship and neutralizes one of the weapons, but the other was already loaded into a tube. The shell is fired, but do to it being a biological warhead it parachutes and a helicopter piloted by Steiger intercepts it and flies it out to the Atlantic. Pitt travels to South Africa to bury Fawkes and meets with the South African Defense Minister, who orchestrated the murder of Fawkes family and who sent the Prime Minister warning, is killed by a member of his own staff and a member of the AAR then buried in Fawkes’ grave.

Set a 1988, Cussler’s guess at the overall situation in the world was off but still made for interesting alternate history in which to set his book’s narrative. The two main plots following Pitt and Fawkes were well written while the two main subplots of the AAR and Loren Smith were underwhelming. Fawkes as a good tragic figure who setup by the Defense Minister was easy to guess, while Loren Smith’s first appearance as Pitt’s on-and-off girlfriend was just showing off Pitt’s sexual greatness and given his characterization in these early books isn’t surprising. The science behind the biological weapon was a little farfetched if one really thought about it, but overall it wasn’t the worst thing in the book. Critically nothing was bad, but there were a lot of things that alright.

Vixen 03 is a nice next installment in the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler, building up on Raise the Titanic! Overall it’s a good book with only a few bits that were unfortunately off putting but nothing compared to earlier books. While the not the best book of the series I’ve read so far, it’s shows a lot of improvement on Cussler’s part.

Dirk Pitt

Women Warriors: An Unexpected History

0807064327.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review

The phrase warrior women evokes many images, most with “boob” armor as a prominent feature however history tells a different story. Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler covers millennia of historical records and new archaeological discoveries from Shang China to modern day examining the women who went into battle in numerous ways.

Toler covers not only the more famous warriors like Boudica, Joan of Arc, Lakshmi Bai, Hua Mulan, the Trung Sisters, and Tomoe Gozen among others but also spread her reach to lesser known historical figures of prominence as well as “every day” women. Toler brings to light many reasons why women went to war including adventure, defense of family and home, and surprising cultural as well. Also examined is how contemporary and modern-day historical accounts of these women use many of the same phrases like “she fought like a man” thus bring to the forefront the seemingly universal gender role that war is to many societies—though not all. Many of the women that Toler relates in her book, disguise themselves in men’s clothing and several continued using men’s clothing after their military service and one was “crossdressing” before she entered military service. Finally Toler covered the recent turn in archaeological findings that not all burials that contained weapons were men, but many women and the raging debate on if those women were actual warriors and if those weapons were ceremonial—though if men were buried with jewelry it showed they were rich.

The book’s text covered roughly 210 pages, but many of those pages having a considerable amount of footnotes that were both positive and negative in the overall quality of the book. Toler does focus on the famous few warriors, but spreads her eye to all parts of the globe and showed the diversity and commonality that all women warriors had. Her criticism of how women warriors were depicted over the millennia and across cultures showed many of the same trends with relatively few exceptions—China. However the book is far from perfect and while Toler packed a lot in 210 pages, she kept on repeating the same things over and over again including in her numerous footnotes. It was one thing to say something critically in a witty and sarcastically way once thus making an impression and making the reader aware to look for future instances of what Toler was criticizing, but to repeatedly make wisecracks over the same criticisms again and again just resulted in them losing their effect and become tiresome. Unfortunately the many repeated comments and footnotes makes one wonder if Toler had cut them out, if she could not have moved some of the interesting things she put in the footnotes because she “ran out of space” into the actual text if the book wouldn’t have come out better.

The overall Women Warriors: An Unexpected History is a nice primer and introduction to the many women who fought throughout history and the complex history surrounding them. While Pamela D. Toler does a wonderful job in bringing many women to the spotlight, her repeated phrases—including overdone wittiness—and almost overly expansive footnotes take away from the quality of the book.

E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to the Agent of Division

0828019827.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_E.J. Waggoner: From The Physician Of Good News To The Agent Of Division by Woodrow W. Whidden II
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the pivotal figures at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference sessions, he did not plan to follow his father into ministry but when he did he tragically followed his example. Woodrow W. Whidden’s E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division follows not only the life of the Adventism’s most controversial figures, but also the developments of his theological thinking which both contributed to Seventh-day Adventist thinking and to his separation from Adventist doctrines.

Whidden brought the most out of limited sources available to detail Waggoner’s life beginning with the troubled family life of his troubled Adventist minister father and egotistical, uncaring mother. Waggoner’s family were encouraged and rebuked by Ellen White throughout the young E.J.’s childhood and his home life might have led to heartbreak later in his life. Not wanting to follow his father into the ministry, Waggoner studied medicine and became friends with John Harvey Kellogg as he began his career in medicine which came to an end after a “vision” at a campmeeting in which Waggoner was impressed by Christ on the cross and began his lifelong theological study of justification and sanctification. Upon entering the ministry, Waggoner became was prolific in preaching, lecturing, writing, and in editorial work for the next two decades in both the United States and Great Britain but that would later result in have no time to nurture his marriage resulting in a scandalous divorce after his family’s return to the United States. The lead up and aftermath of the 1888 Minneapolis is hinge of the biography and Whidden analyzes Waggoner’s role thoroughly. Yet the most interesting aspect of the biography was Whidden’s analysis of Waggoner’s theology on justification and sanctification throughout his life divided into four time frames by Whidden.

The difficulty of finding sources to chronicle Waggoner’s life did not deflect from Whidden’s achievement in revealing the numerous facets of his subject’s life especially in the lead up to the “biggest” scandal in Adventism at the time with Waggoner’s divorce. The most important aspect of the book was Whidden’s in-depth discussing of Waggoner’s evolving theological beliefs, especially justification and sanctification, and how his bent towards mysticism as well as his slow moving away from distinct Adventist doctrines. Another important aspect is Whidden’s analysis of Ellen White’s interactions with Waggoner both in encouragement and concerned rebuke as well as if Waggoner’s later theological beliefs takeaway his emphasis on his Christ-centered message before, during, and after 1888. If there is on serious drawback is that Whidden’s study of Waggoner’s theology is very deep and can be a tad mindboggling.

E.J. Waggoner is an insightful look into the life of one of the most important second generation figures in Adventism. Woodrow Whidden’s expert work on getting out the most from the few primary sources available as well as his theological analysis is a great asset for any reader in Seventh-day Adventist biography and history.

The Political Writings of St. Augustine

0895267047.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Political Writings of St. Augustine by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 0.5 of 5 stars

The most important voice in political thought throughout the Middle Ages, influencing even St. Aquinas, was that of St. Augustine. Through excerpts of sermons, letters, and selections from City of God, the 4th-century theologians’ view of the world of man is shown both in its maturity and development.

Covering almost 360 pages, the vast majority of it being the words of St. Augustine, this book’s quality comes down to the introduction by Henry Paolucci and the appendix containing a lecture by Dino Bigongiari. Instead of helping set the stage for understanding the works the reader was about to encounter Paolucci’s introduction really didn’t do anything to give context just information about the man and his works overall. However the lecture of Bigongiari opens the reader’s eyes to understanding what they had just read, but that’s only if they made it to the very end of the book after potentially giving up trying to figure out why some of these selections were included. In fact the reader learns more in the last 15 pages of the book about St. Augustine’s political thoughts than the previous 340+ by the theologians own hand. It would have been better to have Bigongiari’s lecture as the introduction so as it give the reader insights about how to understand the author’s thinking.

The Political Writings of St. Augustine is a nice selection of the theologian’s writings about political subjects, however because of the way the book is structured the reader will not understand the man until the very end if they even get that far. I can only recommend the lecture by Dino Bigongiari presented at the end of the book, the rest is unfortunately worthless.

The Bone Clocks

0812976827.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything that happens has consequences in the future and one weekend for a 15-year old teenager after a fight with her mother has unexpected consequences throughout the rest of her life. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows the life Holly Sykes through her own eyes and those four other characters during 60 years of her life.

The book begins with a 15-year old Holly Sykes leaving home after a fight with her mother, only to have a life altering weekend for herself involving a trip to a paranormal world that she forgets and her family as her younger brother disappears. The book ends with a 74-year old Holly taking care of and wondering about the future of her granddaughter and foster son as climate change and resource depletion are sending the world towards a new dark age, though a surprising return of an old acquaintance results in them having a future. Between these two segments we follow the lives of an amoral political student Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, author Crispin Hershey, and Marinus who is both a new and old acquaintance of Holly’s for a period of time in which they interact with Holly during different periods of her life that at first seem random but as the narrative progresses interconnect with one another in surprising ways including glimpses into a centuries long supernatural war in which Holly was directly involved in twice.

From beginning to end, Mitchell created a page-turner in which the reader did not know what to expect. The blending of fiction and fantasy from the beginning then science fiction as the story went beyond 2014 (year of publication) as the narrative continued was expertly done. The use of first-person point-of-views were well done as was the surprise that the book wasn’t all through Holly’s point-of-view but switched with each of the six segments of the book giving the reader a mosaic view of Holly’s life. The introduction and slow filling in of the fantasy elements of the story were well done so when it really became the focus of the book in its fifth segment the reader was ready for it. On top of that the layers of worldbuilding throughout the book were amazing, as characters from one person’s point-of-view had random interactions with someone in another and so on. If there was one letdown it was the science fiction, nearly dystopian, elements of 2043 in which the political-economic setting seems farfetched—namely China who would be in trouble if there is an energy crisis and thus not dominate economically as portrayed in the book—that made the denouement land with a thud.

I had no idea what to expect from The Bone Clocks and frankly David Mitchell impressed me a lot, save for the final 10% of the book. The blending of straight fiction, fantasy, and science fiction was amazing throughout the narrative and the numerous layers of worldbuilding, plot, and slowly evolving of the mostly unseen supernatural war that was instrumental to main points of the narrative. If a friend were to ask me about this book I would highly recommend it to them.

The End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return (The Earth Chronicles #7)

The End of DaysThe End of Days by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When viewing history as cyclical past is prologue, so if that is the case how does the 21st Century compare to the past? The End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return is the seventh and final book of Zecharia Sitchin’s The Earth Chronicles examines the events of the present and comparing them the ancient past from the 21st Century B.C.E. to the start of the Christian era through numerous Biblical, extra-Biblical, and various other texts to bring his research to a conclusion.

Sitchin begins his examination of the “End of Days” by giving a quick overview of his research in the previous sixth books about the Annunaki and the beginning of human civilization before tying it into the expectation of a coming or return of a Messiah figure. Sitchin then sets the stage for this expectation by reviewing the contention between the Enlil and Enki factions amongst Annunaki resulting in what he believes was a nuclear attack in the Sinai to take out of the Annunaki spaceport and Sodom & Gomorrah to stop Marduk from taking control but resulting in allowing him to take control due to fallout taking out his human opponents. With this background, Sitchin then explains how the supposed “New Age” resulted in national gods and fighting between nations in the name of their particular God. Yet throughout these wars objectives of the “Landing Place” of Baalbek, “Mission Control” in Jerusalem, and the important crossroads city of Harran were all pointed out due to the belief that soon the Annunaki home planet Nibiru would return and with it Anu might come to bring peace. Sitchin reveals that instead of Anu bringing peace, nearly all the Annunaki left Earth disappointing their followers and leaving humanity on its own. Sitchin then ends the book by showing the Israelite prophets continued to talk about the Return and how it connected to Elijah and Jesus before going over his theory of a waystation on Mars shows that the Annunaki do intend to return in the future.

Given this was the last book of his series, Sitchin went right into the review of his previous research and setting the stage from the human disappointment of the “failed” Return and then their new hope of a future one. One of the obvious things that needed to be answered from Sitchin was when the Annunaki left—since we don’t see them on Earth now—and he actually gave a date not just a range of years. Though the reviewing of material in the first third of the 300+ page book was a little annoying, Sitchin has over the course of this series about how to do it quickly while also adding new material throughout it so when he launched into the “new” material things were set up nicely. However, it became obvious while reading that my opinion that the previous installment, The Cosmic Code, did not need to be written was correct as it was mishmash of material that could have gone into When Time Began and in this book. But I believe that Sitchin wanted a seven book series because Earth was the seventh planet of the solar system in Annunaki thinking and he wanted that tie in.

The End of Days completes Zecharia Sitchin’s series with a conclusion with the Annunaki stay on the Earth and the hints of a possibly return. Though I don’t adhere to Sitchin interpretations of Biblical text or his Annunaki theories in general, there are some things he conjectured that are actually intriguing to think about. This book is a good finish to The Earth Chronicles that had been released over the course of 30 years and for his long time readers it’s highly recommended.

The Earth Chronicles