Out of the Ashes (Op-Center #13)

1250066700.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Out of the Ashes by Dick Couch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The combination of the refocusing of intelligence after 9/11 and Congressional budget cuts shuttered the original Op-Center, fifteen years later after the worst terrorist attack since 9/11 the new President decides to reestablish it. Out of the Ashes by Dick Couch and George Galdorisi relaunched Tom Clancy’s Op-Center series as former four-star admiral Chase Williams is tapped by a new President to relaunch Op-Center to avenge the latest terrorist attack and work to prevent the next one.

A rich Kuwaiti couple are assaulted in New York by upset Giants fans after a game resulting in the wife being braindead, her husband hires a Indonesian engineer/terrorist-for-hire that results in a attacks on four NFL stadiums and hacked other stadium’s PA to cause panic. In the wake of thousands of dead, the new President and his National Security Advisor decide to reform Op-Center are surprised when Paul Hood turns them down only to learn he has ALS, but did bring his recommended pick former Admiral Chase Williams who the President approves after along discussion. It takes Williams three months to get a skeleton version of Op-Center up and running with the focus on the Kuwaiti and the Indonesian who are taken out by Joint Special Operations Command team under Op-Center’s control. Almost a year and a half later, a Saudi prince in charge of a oil pipeline through Jordan and Syria finds the new Syrian government an obstacle and decides to have the U.S. get rid of it. Hacking a military drone, he makes it appear that the Syrians have missiles that can take out the newly arrived U.S. carrier group which sets off the U.S. military to begin planning an attack on Syria. The new leader of Syria goes to Iran to ask for help and the new Grand Ayatollah mines the Strait of Hormuz adding fuel to the Saudi prince’s plan. However, a civilian analyst realizes there is issue with the drone footage and send it to her former colleagues at the NRO who agree and determine the site is in Saudi Arabia but the captain of the ship she is on refuses to send the information up the chain of command. However, Op-Center intercepted the emails and redirected their JSOC team from investigating Syria to the site in Saudi Arabia only for the civilian analyst and a Navy helo pilot to take it upon themselves to go to the site and get shot down by the prince’s on-site leader and captured. The JSOC team rescues the two women, “interview” everyone on the site, and send the information to Op-Center which is sent to the White House stopping all plans for an attack on Syria. But the President orders a strike on Iran’s mining capabilities, which results in the Iranian leader to order a Sarin attack in Washington as retaliation. Even though Williams warns the FBI Director repeatedly, the attack still occurs. After Williams gives the President the information his team had collected, the President orders the death of the Grand Ayatollah and destroys the Iranian navy as retaliation. The civilian analyst loses her job and the helo pilot her wings, but both are recruited by Op-Center.

The book suffered not from two authors but two different stories that could have each made a good book being shortened and mashed together. This resulted in the actual Op-Center portions of the book being shafted with only Chase Williams the only character connected with it being given depth and character interactions shown being stilted and dry in comparison to the scenes in the Middle East were the characters and dialogue were more rounded and livelier. Yet despite the mashed together stories, Couch and Galdorisi did one other “mistake” and that was the helo pilot and civilian analyst’s rogue trip seemed more Hollywood than reality which the author’s were at pains to portray actually though there was a goal in mind as seen at the end of the book though it had been telegraphed the entire second half of the book. Yet the book was fast moving and kept the reader interested if you were able to figure out quickly that it was essentially set up for the future books.

Out of the Ashes restarts the Op-Center franchise though a book that contained two stories that would have been good books on their own but were forced together by either the decision of the authors or by the publisher. Dick Couch and George Galdorisi gave an interesting preview of what they might bring the series though it could also very easily make one not continue given the issues with the book.

Op-Center

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

0385541015.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Baseball is a simple game; a pitcher throws a ball towards a batter who swings either missing or hitting the ball to put it into play. K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner explores the how the importance of the pitcher and the tools he uses has grown over 150 years of the sport as strategy has evolved along with and against it.

As the title of the book says, Kepner divides the book into ten chapters focusing on the different types of pitches that have endured throughout baseball history and some that have risen in prominence but have nearly faded away by the time of publication of the book. Through interviews and anecdotes from current and past players—both pitchers and hitters—that Kepner conducted himself or researched from past articles written as far back as the first decade of the 20th Century, the story of each pitch’s evolution and the prominent players that used them is discussed through particular careers and game situations that defined baseball history.

Kepner is extensive in his research in showing the history and the importance to the game that each pitch, through the careers of Hall of Famers or players that had spectacular runs for year but not an entire career. Yet Kepner had an issue with distinguish pitches that are very close to one another in one way or another though he tried his best, it wasn’t that I was looking for a tutorial on how to pitch but definitive elements about why pitches that appear similar to the casual fan are completely different and to me he didn’t quiet accomplish that.

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches is a very good look at one of the most important positions in American sports over the course of 150 years and how the players who played the position were able to gain an advantage over their competitors.

Western Civilization since 1500

0964fb29968767759764b486577444341587343Western Civilization Since 1500 by Walther Kirchner
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Covering over 450 years of history in a little over 300 pages seems a daunting task, even more so when it begins in Europe and slowly spreads across the globe. Western Civilization since 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of European global dominance from the beginnings of “modern times” to the generation after World War II when the periphery powers of the United States and Soviet Union rose to dominance.

Kirchner spends the first 20 pages doing a quick recap of Western Civilization from its Sumerian beginnings to 1500. Then over the course of the next 300 pages, Kirchner divides the approximately 450+ years of history into 20 chapters of specific “eras” whether political and/or cultural developments and happenings. Unlike Kirchner’s previous survey, there was no real “highlight” for the general reader though the significance of some cultural individuals—writers, painters, composers, etc.—that in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college were never mentioned or those that were mentioned that Kirchner didn’t thus showing the difference 30-35 years makes in historical studies. Kirchner obvious adherence to the Marxist theory of history was on full display, but it did not necessarily mean a favorable view of Communist regimes or leaders. As study aid for college students in the mid-1960s there were some interesting miscues (the misdating of the Battle of Yorktown stands out), omissions (the genocidal famine caused by the First Five Year Plan), and downright lies (that the U.S. citizens were sympathetic to the British from the beginning of WWII). Given that this book is over 50 years old there is dated terminology that wouldn’t be used today, not all for politically correct reasons, that would make the reader do a double take if they didn’t know when this book was published.

Though this small volume is meant as a study aid to college students and a quick reference for general readers, to which is essentially succeeds, it is pretty old and should be used by astute history readers to learn how the study of history has changed over time.

Western Civilization to 1500

Dragon (Dirk Pitt #10)

0671742760.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Dragon by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Cold War seems to be winding down, but a new economic war appears to be on the horizon with the added element of nuclear blackmail. Dragon is the tenth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular hero finds himself sucked into a espionage war between the U.S. and fanatical ultranationalist Japanese businessmen and criminals looking to create a new empire.

On 6 August 1945, a B-29 Bomber “Dennings Demons” takes off from the Aleutians with an atomic bomb headed for Osaka without knowing the “Enola Gay” is headed for Hiroshima and vice versa; however a Japanese pilot shots down the bomber which lands in the water not far off from a little island off the Japanese coast. Forty-five years later a Norwegian cruise ship in the Pacific finds an abandoned Japanese cargo ship and find a car leaking radiation moments before it detonates destroying the cargo ship, takes out of the cruise ship in the shockwave as well as a British research vessel. Underneath the surface a British submersible is also damage from the nuclear shockwave is found by an experimental NUMA ocean floor crawler—piloted by Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino—from an underwater research facility that must be evacuated due to earthquakes caused by the nuclear explosion. After getting to the surface, Pitt and Giordino are flown to D.C. and are “volunteered” to join a task force to tackle the nuclear threat from Japan due to them smuggling nukes in the country in cars. The two go outside the process and give the task force big clues that tips off the Japanese that their plan has been found out. Undercover agents in both Japan and the U.S. take on security forces with both sides, but things hit the fan when the Japanese kidnap Pitt’s on-off love interest Congresswoman Loren Smith along with an influential U.S. Senator. Thanks to a British undercover agent, the task force is able to locate the Japanese command center and launch a two-prong attack with Pitt & Giordino acting a decoys to let the rest of the task force get in and destroy the command center but both teams are surprised by robots upsetting their plans. The five task force members are forced run for their lives in a human hunting game, but Pitt as the first to be the prey tricks his hunter and turns the tables on him. The task force escapes with Loren, the Senator, and the mastermind behind the Japanese plot but their attempt to cause damage to the command center doesn’t work. The Japanese decide to set off a nuke in Wyoming, but the task force has found the wreckage of “Denning’s Demons” and plan to use the NUMA crawler to get the atom bomb and set it off in a nearby fault to take out the little Japanese island that the command center is built in. Pitt keeps Giordino from joining him and is able to fulfill the plan to detonate the bomb, but the escape route doesn’t workout making everyone think he doesn’t make it until a month later when the crawler comes up out of the ocean on a little island in front of a resort with a haggard Pitt asking for some fresh food.

At the time of publication (1991) the Cold War was over and with it the clichés of earlier Pitt novels, so Cussler compensated with Japanese business takeover on steroids. Overall the plot was solid with none of the scenes really dragging the book down, unlike the previous book. Of the characters, the main antagonists were a tad on the cliché side but were written well enough to still be a little rounded. Dirk Pitt was less of a lady’s man this time around, but to offset that Cussler made Pitt be perfect at everything including beat the author himself in a classic car race. Though I’ll give credit to Cussler for having Pitt referencing Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game before he was hunted and doing homage to it in his own book.

Dragon is a product of its time, an overall fine book that kept the reader hooked but also not the best in the series in my opinion. Clive Cussler keeps on going back and forth in how to describe his main character from book to book, but at least he isn’t the jerk he was in the earlier books in the series.

Dirk Pitt

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4)

1101872004.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The triad of Big Brother, industrial espionage, and organized crime suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of a very intelligent young woman who has the means to make their lives difficult. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the fourth book in the Millennium series but the first written by David Lagercrantz in replacing the late Stieg Larrson as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist find themselves racing to save the life of an 8-year old boy savant from a dark triad of corruption wanting him dead.

Uber-intelligent computer scientist Frans Balder leaves his Silicon Valley job, returning to Sweden to take custody of his autistic son August. He later learns from several sources his life is in danger but ignores the warnings until his paranoia makes him call Mikael Blomkvist. But as Blomkvist, who is intrigued with Balder since he hired Lisabeth Salander to find who stole his research, arrives just as Balder is murdered in front of his son who can draw picture to appear lifelike while also a mathematic genius. The group that killed Balder is already being tracked by Salander, who had hacked the NSA to get information on them and their “allies”, and after learning of Balder’s death starts following the case when she learns there is a leak in the murder investigation and that August is targeted because of his skill. Shot in the act of saving August, Salander takes the boy with her to keep him safe thanks to the efforts of Blomkvist and others including one of his young colleagues. But then the group comes after Salander they target Blomkvist first and he comes face-to-face with Camilla Salander which wards him from the trap, but his younger colleague isn’t so lucky and after lengthy torture divulges Lisabeth’s location. Camilla and her gang attack, but Lisabeth takes out three of them—though not her sister—allowing August and she to escape. An NSA employee comes to Sweden and uses Blomkvist to out his corrupt coworkers and leadership, but Lisabeth gives Blomkvist the information she got from the NSA to add to the “whistleblower” interview.

Though it’s been several years since I read the original trilogy, I did notice a difference in this book with my memory. Both Lisabeth and Blomkvist are similar but more brooding than what I remember which made a difference as the book went along. Lagercrantz’s writing style compared to what I remember of Larrson’s was noticeable, while not bad it changed the feeling of the “world” Larrson created and how the narrative was structured. There was similarities and stark differences that this both a familiar and weird at the same time. Overall, the fact that I’m still interested in reading the fifth book should give an indication that it’s a fine continuation of the series.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a good continuation of Stieg Larrson’s Millennium series with David Lagercrantz taking the reins in writing. While there are noticeable differences to go along with some similarities, the latter was enough to keep me interested in reading the next book and to see how it goes.

Treasures of the Lost Races

1572582677.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Treasures of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Buried treasure whether coins or artifacts made of gold—though silver isn’t bad either—are being found by archaeologists and normal everyday people is an allure for more to go out to be the one to have the next big find. Treasures of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen chronicles some of the amazing discoveries of treasures found around the world, searches for lost treasures, and theories about how advanced artifacts were from “primitive” cultures.

While a good portion of Noorbergen’s writing is about amazing treasures found over the years and were interesting, another large portion was about the search for various treasures which is where some of the major problems with the book were located. While Noorbergen’s discussion on the Copper Scroll treasure list from either Solomon’s Temple or the Second Temple was fine as was his search for the remains of Pharaoh’s army of the Exodus, it was the Ark of the Covenant and lost Incan treasure were things got mindboggling. In the former, Noorbergen focuses on a story of a US Army chaplain who supposedly glimpsed the Ark while his unit was chasing German soldiers in Palestine after their retreat from Egypt which absolutely makes no historical sense; in the later Noorbergen goes off on underground tunnels in the Andes that the Inca might has used to stash gold from the Spaniards and goes off on a tangent from his previous book. At a length of 174 pages, one wonders if Noorbergen was just padding the book though it resulted in it being disjointed.

Treasures of the Lost Races had its interesting sections, but Rene Noorbergen wrote a book that was disjointed and in some places completely inaccurate making it not a very good follow up to Secrets of the Lost Races.

Cold War (Power Plays #5)

0425182142.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Cold War by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The cold barrenness of Antarctica is about to become a battleground as an international uranium consortium aims to take out UpLink’s research base to hide their illegal activities. Cold War is the fifth book of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler as UpLink security chief Peter Nimec journeys to Antarctica when a prototype Mars probe and recovery team goes missing only to find himself battling mercenaries employed by consortium with tentacles stretching to such places around the world like Scotland and Switzerland.

Three personnel from UpLink’s Antarctic base, Cold Corners, are attacked by an unknown group while searching for a missing Mars rover prototype, prompting Roger Gordian to Peter Nimec to the base to find the missing people. Having to quickly get use to the living conditions, Nimec deals with a storm that also contains a group do mercenaries that attack the water usage plant making Nimec want to strike back and find their missing people. A huge solar flare storm interferes with communications with both the Sword assault team and the mercenaries, but Nimec’s team was able to overpower the mercenaries. In Scotland, a series of accidents, murders, and suicides gets the attention of a detective that gets a tip from UpLink security after following a hacker and finding suspicious emails about a hit on one of the dead individual’s from the head of the UK’s nuclear authority. In Switzerland, Gabriel Morgan the head of the consortium whose mercenaries attacked UpLink is looking to take out Cold Corners, get rid of his UK partner for her mishandling of the events in Scotland, and arranging to buy Picassos the world didn’t know exist after verification from his favorite forger.

All three subplots are interesting and slowly threads connect each one of them making this a very intriguing book until suddenly it was over, all three plots cut short. Of the three subplots, the Scottish plot was the best even though it ended abruptly (not counting the tacked-on Epilogue) and frankly due to how it was cut short the Morgan subplot was worthless. Given that the previous installment was over 100 pages longer, this book was too short and really hurt the overall product of the book that was shaping up to be a great page turner.

Cold War is probably the most disappointing book in the series so far, Jerome Preisler’s creation and set up of all three subplots were great and as they slowly twisted together the book was hard to put down then suddenly it ended with a thud and empty feeling. While this book isn’t the worst in the series, it was a major letdown given how it started off.

Power Plays