Mission of Honor (Op-Center #9)

0425186709.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Mission of Honor by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Out of the morning sun, militiamen kidnap a Catholic priest and suddenly the government of Botswana is wondering what is going on while the Vatican turns to their secret allies as well as extends a feeling to Op-Center. Mission of Honor is the ninth book of the Op-Center by Jeff Rovin finds the crisis management agency negotiating between the political fallout from Kashmir and figuring out how to react to events in the stable southern African nation that everyone quickly realizes that Europeans are pulling the strings.

Leon Seronga leads his Brush Vipers militiamen on a raid of Catholic church and kidnaps Father Bradbury to take to Vodun priest Dhamballa. The travel to the Vodun-Brush Viper hideout and treatment makes Bradbury call his missionary deacons and tells them to leave Botswana, the first step of Dhamballa’s desire to his homeland returned to the Vodun gods not the Catholic one. Bob Herbert gets a call from Edgar Kline, an old South African colleague who now works for Vatican Office of Security, wanting Op-Center’s help to find their missing priest though he’s on his way to the U.S. to ask an American bishop to temporarily replace Bradbury until his return. Meanwhile Paul Hood informs General Mike Rodgers that Striker would not be reconstituted but wants to create a Black-Ops HUMINT unit lead by Rodgers who is enthusiast about creating it and quickly gets things moving on the Botswana front with help from Herbert. Hood then learns from the head of Japanese intelligence that some European businessmen with ties to Botswana doing things in China, which sends Op-Center looking at outside influences behind the kidnapping. Seronga and a young recruit kill two deacons then travel with two Spanish soldiers, sent to support the Vatican, to the airport to meet the American bishop to kidnap him only to see him assassinated and the gunman shot by an airplane pilot who takes off. The two Brush Vipers exit the airport but are followed by Maria Corneja the first Op-Center undercover agent in the country. Eventually Maria joins the two to find a peaceful end to the situation knowing they didn’t kill the bishop, but someone wants the government and the world to blame them. Two more agents, Aideen Marley and David Battat, join up with the Brush Vipers and Maria then convince a disappointed Dhamballa to give them Bradbury and to come along with them as well while the Brush Vipers disperse before the Botswana military arrives. Though the situation in the Botswana is been cooled down, Hood and the rest of Op-Center want to get at those outside the country that started the situation.

This is the best book of the series since the fifth installment, Balance of Power, with very good character development and the switch from a military resolution to HUMINT Black-Ops resolution being the biggest reasons why. The transition of the workings of Op-Center also marks the transition of the series to hopefully a better overall product especially with the reintroductions of characters Marley, Battat, and Corneja from past books to a story threads connecting to the next book in the series. However, the book isn’t perfect with the biggest thing was the religious aspect not because that it was religious but because it was all incorrect. Vodun is a West African religion and one of the influences (along with Catholicism) in West Indian Voodoo, however Botswana is in southern Africa and has no indigenous connection with Vodun. And Botswana is a majority Protestant Christian nation (66%) with Catholicism less than 10%, making the placing of this story in the nation weird on numerous counts.

Mission of Honor might be the best book of the series with Jeff Rovin changing the titular agency’s focus from having a military solution to a black-ops approach with a reintroduction of characters from previous installments as field agents. While not perfect, this book has stuck with me for 17 years with being memorable from the series and is still very good.

Op-Center

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Night Probe! (Dirk Pitt #6)

0553277405.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Night Probe! by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Months before World War I consumed Europe and brought Britain’s Empire to the fields of France, a historic treaty could have changed everything if not for two accidents. The sixth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series, Night Probe!, finds the series protagonist on a historical and internationally significant hunt for a Treaty that sold Canada to the United States even as the aforementioned nation is on the verge of splitting and the United Kingdom is sending it’s great secret agent to stop him.

On the same day, a railroad disaster along the Hudson River and a ship sinking in the St. Lawrence kills two diplomats from the United States and Great Britain heading from Canada to their respective capitals with signed treaties that sells Canada to the United States. After both men die and the treaties presumed lost, President Wilson communicates with his British counterpart to forget that it ever happened. Three-quarters of a century later, Heidi Mulligan finds a unknown letter by Wilson communicating to Prime Minister Asquith about the North American Treaty setting off a chain of events that discovers evidence about the unknown treaty and makes it’s way across the Pond to the British archives sending 10 Downing Street into a panic and getting out of retirement it’s greatest secret agent, Brian Shaw (not at all James Bond, but is basically an older James Bond). One of those Heidi tells is friend (from Vixen 03) Dirk Pitt who doing his own research on top of Heidi’s gives his circumstantial evidence to the new President, who was previously in the Senate with his father. The President uses the information as part of his plan with the embattled Canadian Prime Minister threatened with Quebec secession while recovering from an assassination attempt by a Quebec terrorist group headed by his own right-hand man in his cabinet, who is also having an affair with his wife. Shaw seduces Heidi to learn everything she does and then attempts to prevent Pitt from getting either copy of the treaty but comes just short. Pitt gets the Treaty to the President, who is speaking to the Canadian Parliament and announces the historical find while inviting the provinces to apply for statehood.

Before anything else, the biggest issue with this book is Cussler’s total lack of understanding of the Constitution, Canadian history, and the Commonwealth of Nations. Of the three it’s the Constitution as all treaties must be approved by the Senate, which a President that had been a sitting Senator would know as well as Pitt’s father who is still a Senator, and after 75 years attempting to bring it to a vote would probably result in a Supreme Court case. The second is the Commonwealth of Nations are all self-governing and not the British Empire under a new name, so while it would have been embarrassing to Britain it wouldn’t result in what happened in the book. Now let’s get to the story; overall, it’s a good overall adventure tale with a good spy subplot and some good political intrigue (Canadian) and not so good (President). Pitt was able to get more nuisance and Heidi Mulligan was the best female character in the series so far, Brian Shaw as the older not-James Bond but basically is was a nice touch and good way to segue into so many plots. The Canadian political intrigue, if fleshed out more, could have been its own book but just added to the overall quality and somewhat makes up for the lack of understanding of various things on Cussler’s part.

Night Probe! is a very good installment of the Dirk Pitt series that is unfortunately undermined by Clive Cussler’s intentional or unintentional lack of understanding over various political and historical factors. The various adventure, spy, and political intrigue subplots work well together to create fun book to read if you don’t think too much.

Dirk Pitt

The Sound and the Fury

9f8e658e2f894ae59314d735367444341587343The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the greatest novels of the 20th-century follows the disintegration of former Southern aristocrats looked at in four different ways. The Sound and the Fury is considered William Faulkner’s greatest novel, following members of the Compson family over roughly 30 years in which the once great aristocratic Southern family breaks down from within and influence socially.

The book begins with man-child Benjamin “Benjy” Compson remembering various incidents over the previous 30 years from his first memory of his sister Caddy climbing a tree, his name being changed after his family learned he was mentally handicapped, the marriage and divorce of Caddy, and his castration all while going around his family’s property in April 1928. The second section was of Quentin Compson, skipping classes during a day of his freshman year at Harvard in 1910 and wandering Cambridge, Massachusetts thinking about death and his family’s estrangement from his sister Caddy before committing suicide. The third section followed a day in the life of Jason Compson who must take care of his hypochondriac mother and Benjy along with his niece, Caddy’s daughter Quentin. Working at a hardware store to make ends meet while stealing the money his sister sends to Quentin, Jason has to deal with people who used to lookup to his family and with black people who irritate the very racist head of the Compson family. The four section follows several people on Easter Sunday 1928 as the black servants take care of Benjy and gets for the Compsons while Jason finds out that Quentin as runaway with all the money in the house, which includes the money he stole from her and his life savings. After failing to find Quentin, Jason returns to town to calm down Benjy who is having a fit due to his routine being changed.

In constructing this book, Faulkner employed four different narrative styles for each section. Benjy’s section was highly disjointed narrative with numerous time leaps as he goes about his day. Quentin’s section was of an unreliable stream of consciousness narrator with a deteriorating state of mind, which after Benjy’s section makes the reader want to give up the book. Jason’s section is a straightforward first-person narrative style with the fourth and final section being a third person omniscient point-of-view. While one appreciates Faulkner’s amazing work in producing this novel, the first two sections are so all over the place that one wonders why this book was even written and only during the last two sections do readers understand about how the Compson family’s fortunes have fallen collectively and individually.

The Sound and the Fury is overall a nice novel, however the first two sections of William Faulkner’s great literally derails interest and only those that stick with the book learn in the later half what is going on with any clarity. I would suggest reading another Faulkner work before this if you are a first-time reader of his work like I was because unless you’re dedicated you might just quit.

Politika (Power Plays #1)

0425162788.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Politika by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the man who transitioned Russia from a Communist government to a free-market capitalist one dies with no clear successor with his nation on the verge of famine, numerous factions in the Russian Federation begin aligning to take power. Politika is the first book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series, created by Clancy and Martin Greenberg but written by Jerome Preisler. With Russia in chaos and some looking towards help from the United States, some Russian elements target Americans including employees of American tech giant UpLink to grab power but draw the ire of the company’s CEO.

The death of Boris Yeltsin in the fall of 1999 results in the Russian Federation being ruled by a political troika of Vice President Vladimir Starinov, the nationalist party leader Arkady Pedachenko, and Andrei Korsikov a Communist-era functionary supported by the military leading a nation on the verge of famine towards an uncertain future. As Starinov goes to the United States and the West for food aid and loans, Pedachenko sets about worsening his country’s food situation and plots to turn American opinion against his country with a devastating New Year’s Eve terrorist attack in Time’s Square with the help of terrorist for hire and local Russian mobsters. Roger Gordian, the CEO of tech giant UpLink International, known this unprecedented terrorist attack could result in attacks on his employees around the world since the security branch of his company, Sword, into investigative mode to find out who sponsored the attack and so better secure is employees. Using various sources in the U.S. government, Sword operatives connect the attack to the Russian mob and its leader in Moscow even though everyone else is looking at a right-hand lieutenant of Starinov’s. After an attack on an UpLink satellite station in Russia, Gordian authorizes getting at the mob boss then in okay his security force to prevent an assassination attempt on Starinov set up by Pedachenko. Using the information proved by UpLink, Starinov secures his position and regains aid from the West while Gordian is left mourning the loss of his employees.

Having to base Politika off of a computer game of the same name, Preisler developed a story as best he could under the circumstances though there were some problems. The order of terrorist attacks on either the American homeland or corporations aboard might have been changed to allow a better rational for Gordian and UpLink’s involvement as it doesn’t make sense for a corporation to investigate the greatest terrorist attack on the side, if however it were investigating into the attack on it’s own facility and it got linked to the attack in Time’s Square it would have resulted in a more natural story process. That said, the overall concept of a international corporation having a strong security arm that would at within the laws of its host nation to protect itself is intriguing and reminds me why I became a fan of this series when I was a teenager. That Preisler, with Clancy and Greenberg, was able to predict Yeltsin’s presidency ending in 1999 and the worst terrorist attack on American soil happening in New York City way back in 1997 is eerie, especially with references about the Twin Towers from points-of-view in New York. If there was one thing I didn’t like was that Gordian was given a cliché separation and/or divorce angle to his character at the start of the book, given how that same storyline drags down the Op-Center series I’m not looking forward to it in this one.

While Politika was based off a computer game, Jerome Preisler was able to write around that issue as best he could to at least establish the main elements of the Power Play series going forward in UpLink, it’s CEO, and its security arm Sword. Overall a good read and nice beginning to another Tom Clancy created series.

Power Plays

The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Wandering towards the North and the ongoing war with a broken, the former torturer Severian nears the end of his journey just to begin another.  The Citadel of the Autarch is the final installment of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the exiled torturer Severian’s journey away from the Citadel and how he returned.

Severian continues his wandering North towards the war when he finds a dead soldier and brings him back to life using the Claw.  They find the Pelerines Camp and are cared back to health as Severian had picked up a bad fever.  While recovering he is selected to judge a storytelling contest, but before he can render his verdict, he returns the Claw to the Pelerine alter and is asked by the Camp’s leader to find a holy man close to the front and save him.  Severian goes, meets the man in his house of multiple time periods, but the man disappears while Severian is leading him away from the house.  Returning to the camp alone, Severian finds it has been attacked and abandoned.  Finding the new camp, he sees his new friends either dead or with worse injures than original.  Severian wanders again and falls into an auxiliary cavalry unit and joins an attack on the Ascians but is injured and saved by the Autarch himself after the battle.  The Autarch, the androgynous brothel guide of Shadow and Vodalus’ agent in the House Absolute in Claw, gives Severian a lift in his flier which is shot down and tells Severian to eat a piece of him so he can become the new Autarch.  Severian does so but is captured by Vodalus’ rebel forces which as Agia in the ranks wanting to kill him.  But after joining up with the Ascian army, Severian is rescued by the green man he saved in Claw via a time tunnel where Severian meets aliens that as Autarch he’ll be tested to allow man to return to the stars if he success or neuter him if he fails like the previous Autarch.  Dropped off on a beach, Severian finds a new Claw of the Conciliator and makes his way back to Nessus and the Citadel.  Using the memories off all the previous Autarchs, Severian sends the Citadel into an uproar of activity.  He returns to his first home in the torturer’s tower, figures out that Dorcas is his grandmother who died soon after giving birth to his father who was sent a warning message in Shadow, and has a philosophical rant about what his position is before being whisked off the planet to be tested.

This story was engaging up until the Autarch returned to the story and Severian awful philosophizing began in earnest.  Though Wolfe wrapped up several storylines or wrote things to just end, I really didn’t care because of how much I had disliked the previous two installments especially Sword.  Severian is an unreliable point-of-view character, which wouldn’t be bad if he wasn’t the only point-of-view or completely nuts or stupid or whatever Wolfe decided to have him be in a given chapter.  The cosmic philosophizing by the aliens or Severian’s attempt at it becomes unreadable because I by now don’t care and just wanted to see the story ended or interesting things happen.  Honestly, each story in the storytelling contest were better stories that this one or the entire tetralogy together.

The Citadel of the Autarch ends Gene Wolfe’s classic The Book of the New Sun as well as my interest in anything written by Gene Wolfe.  While this final installment is better than its immediate predecessor, the series went into a decline right after the first book.  I don’t get the hype of this fantasy-science fiction “classic” and feel it’s overrated.

The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Upon reaching his assigned city, a young executioner goes on the run from the city’s Archon after failing to kill someone and travels further north towards a war he’s only ever heard of.  The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe is the third volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the tale of the exile executioner Severian attempting to figure out what is happening in this slowly dying Urth.

Having arrived in Thrax and taking up his position as Lictor of the city, Severian finds Dorcas depressed to the lover of the city’s most hated man and wondering about her past life.  The Archon invites Severian to a costume party to kill someone, upon his arrival he meets a woman in a Pelerine’s robe who faints and once Severian helps revive her then is seduced only to find out that she’s the individual the Archon wants dead.  Instead Severian shows her mercy then escapes a fire creature looking to kill him and sees Dorcas off as she leaves to the South to find out about her past.  Severian takes to the mountains heading to the North and runs to Agia whose allied with the man behind the fire creature to kill Severian, but after an attack by an Alzabo they go their separate ways.  Severian adopts a young boy also named Severian and they journey North, encountering a village of possible sorcerers when a black oily creature attacks looking for the older Severian but results in saving the two travelers.  Coming across an abandoned city, the boy is killed and Severian thwarts a resurrected tyrant from using him.  Continuing his journey Severian arrives at a lakeshore and is drugged by the village leader to be taken across the lake to the castle of a giant, but Severian escapes and gets aid for the waterfolk who ask him to lead them against the giant to is enslaving them.  Arriving at the castle, Severian discovers that Dr. Talos and Baldanders run the castle with the former being a creation of the latter.  After conversations with aliens, the three men fight and the waterfolk help finish off the giant Baldanders after Severian kills Talos.  Continuing towards the North, Severian attempts to digest everything he’s experienced.

Where to begin, I don’t know if Severian thinks with his penis too much or Wolfe writes him to be just stupid.  Throughout the story there is more and more sci-fi elements brought into narrative with some nice fantasy touches, however because Severian continually becomes an unlikeable character because his first-person narration is all over the place thus making the flow of the plot disjointed.  The fact he can’t just kill Agia after she admits to attempting to kill him just makes Severian look incompetent.  There is a chapter devoted to Severian reading a story from a book to the young Severian, the story was obvious a combination of the Roman foundation myth and the Jungle Book but was a highlight of the overall story because unlike the nonsensical play in Claw it was the most enjoyable part of this particular installment.

The Sword of the Lictor continues the downward spiral of this “classic” due to the fact that the point-of-view protagonist continues to get more unlikeable because of his clear stupidity and that fact that Gene Wolfe can’t put together a narrative that makes for good reading.  With this as the penultimate installment of the tetralogy, my hope for the finale isn’t high.

The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer

1419734490.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women who Changed Soccer by Caitlin Murray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads program in exchanged for an honest review.

The premier women’s national team in the world and the gold standard all are judged upon, saved soccer in the United States not that US Soccer cares to pay them for it. The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Change Soccer by Caitlin Murray reveals the struggles and triumphs of the United States Women’s National Team from its inception through to the present day both on the field and within the confines of power within the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The Women’s National Team came together by accident in 1985 for a FIFA sponsored mini-tournament in Italy, from that small start began the rise of the powerhouse of Women’s soccer. The circumstances around this beginning would color the program in the eyes of U.S. Soccer as being unimportant for decades to comes and the uncaring concern of FIFA for developing the Women’s game was another hindrance, including calling the first Women’s World Cup anything but. Yet beginning in 1996 with the inclusion of Women’s soccer in that year’s Olympics in Atlanta, the U.S. Women would begin changing the face of the sport in the American consciousness. The pivotal moment came in 1999 with the third World Cup tournament taking place on home soil, without much hype brought about by either FIFA or U.S. Soccer, it was the players themselves that for half a year prior to the tournament promoted it in every city that would host games with clinics and friendlies that made the tournament a success in the beginning but also put pressure on the team itself to perform on the field. The victory of the U.S. Women in 1999 followed by the 2000 gold medal saved the sport of soccer in the United States—this from a Hall of Fame men’s player—after the U.S. Men’s disastrous 1998 World Cup performance. Yet after all their success, the women weren’t paid better nor given better overall treatment by U.S. Soccer. This trend would continue until present; the U.S. Women would continually have success while the U.S. Men would struggle though it was the latter that U.S. Soccer would treat like princes. The repeated failures of women’s professional leagues, two sabotaged by Major League Soccer, has been a financial burden for women players and the third attempt funded and run by U.S. Soccer has become a bargaining chip between both players and federation in the long running pay equality struggle between the two for almost two decades.

Chronicling the ups and downs both on and off the field of the USWNT in a readable manner was not an easy task for Murray. Devoting herself to the “Team” as a whole and its members at a given time, Murray would only give brief biographical sketches of historically important and momentarily prominent players but enough to help the overall work. Dealing with the team dynamic over the decades and the team vs. federation battle over the same period, Murray was able to shift between one and the other seamlessly mainly because both go together hand-to-glove. The financial issues that are prominent in the news today are nothing new between the two, it is just that the players have decided to come out in public including using U.S. Soccer’s own 2016 budget showing the organization is only profitable because of the Women’s team, a situation even more pronounced after the Men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, the team dynamics of players relationship with themselves and with their coaches shows that Women’s team is not immune to human nature and egos especially as seen in the 2007 World Cup in which the veteran’s backstabbed Hope Solo and then convinced the team to shun her when she spoke out for having been replaced in goal for a semifinal match.

The National Team is quick-paced biography and history of a group of players that join, stay, then leave to make room for the next generation, but everyone deals with the same burden to succeed and fight U.S. Soccer. Caitlin Murray’s gives the reader both an overview and intimate look at the team, it’s accomplishments, and failures. With the 2019 World Cup just around the corner, this is a must read for fans of the best Women’s Team in the world.