Tournament Upstart

ccbf31666864d71596e2b687177444341587343Tournament Upstart by Thomas J. Dygard
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

A small-town basketball team is playing against teams from the big cities looking to shock the state of Arkansas. Tournament Upstart by Thomas J. Dygard follows a little Class B team that’s decided to play against the big boys of Class A for the state championship, unfortunately not only do they have those teams to contend with but also their own internal struggles.

Taken from the perspective of their 23-year old rookie coach Floyd Bentley, the Cedar Grove Falcons arrive at Talbott State University trying not to be overawed by the big arena or facing the defending state champions in the quarterfinals. But after their upset victory, season-long tensions among the players boil up to the surface after Floyd’s inexperience with such a big event occurs. Over the next two days, Floyd attempts to get everyone back on the same page on the team even as they achieve another upset and then battle for the state championship that comes down to the final shot.

While the game action is well written, the basic set up at the beginning of the book—primarily how a team could go up a Class and the tournament still have the correct amount of teams—quickly raised questions followed closely by Floyd’s “mistake” which didn’t make much sense if you looked hard at it. The internal divisions were not bad, but they did strain the narrative somewhat.

Overall Tournament Upstart had a good premise but the young adult narrative quickly falls apart if looked at too closely. It’s not bad, but I’ve read other of Dygard’s work that I find better.

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Balance of Power (Op-Center #5)

440382fddbd0a39596b524e7177444341587343Balance of Power by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

With ethnic tensions suddenly boiling to the surface, Spain looks like it might go the way of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union or be kept together by a strong man in the image of Franco until Op-Center is put into the crossfire. Balance of Power, the fifth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin, ghosting for the titular Tom Clancy, once again finds Op-Center operatives in the middle of an international crisis but this time one of their own is set up with deadly consequences and vengeance is on everyone’s mind only to find that taken away by a man who allowed the attack to happen in an effort to forge Spain in his own image.

Sent to Madrid to help negotiate between two ethnic factions of the country, Martha Mackell is murdered by an assassin contracted by the very people she had been sent to help. The men who ordered her assassination are then killed on the orders of the Spanish Chief of Staff who is looking to become the next Franco by inciting ethnic riots around the country, especially in his native Castile. With one of their own killed and a NATO ally tilting between violently separating and a totalitarian regime, Op-Center must do everything in their power with the help of local Interpol officers to contain the situation. Yet Director Paul Hood must also confront a situation in his marriage while Darrel McCaskey, Op-Center’s FBI liaison deals with his old love interest an Interpol agent who decides to take out the would be Franco herself which complicates things with Striker and McCaskey personally.

Released in 1998, Balance of Power uses the tensions in Spain which resonates today given the situation in Catalonia and effectively conveys the tensions in the country. Unlike the previous book in which a character’s stupidity—General Mike Rodgers—basically drove the plot, it was conspiracies against conspiracies with independent human actors fighting for their country, honor, and more driving the plot which was a vast improvement. Maria Corneja, McCaskey’s ex and Interpol agent, is the most prominent secondary character and while she was fine overall, yet if you had changed her name to Mario (Italian I know) and “she” to “he” nothing would have changed—save the romantic angle—but to say Corneja was a man with tits would be going too far. While there were little things here and there that seem like tiny plot holes, nothing really stood out as completely awful but if I were to choose the worst part of the book, it’s once again Paul and Sharon Hood’s marriage which has been choreographed to be doomed since the first book.

Like several books before it, Balance of Power is another Op-Center book with an intriguing plot idea but for once Jeff Rovin writes the characters and narrative to carry it instead of undermining it like the three previous installments. While it’s not the greatest action thriller, it’s a solid story with interesting characters which is considerably better than all the other books in the series maybe even including the original Op-Center.

Op-Center

Acts of War (Op-Center #4)

41qiry45kxl-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Acts of War by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Decades of repression by several nations has led to a unprecedented unification of militants looking to create a nation for the Kurds and their plan is so audacious that it could result in a war ranging from the Arabian Sea into Eastern Europe and possibly the fracturing of NATO, Op-Center must manage to contain this crisis even as members of their own team are held hostage. Written by Jeff Rovin, but named for Tom Clancy, Acts of War is the fourth book of the Op-Center series which sees a well-planned attack by Kurdish militants send Turkey and Syria on the verge of war as the action spans from Eastern Turkey to the streets of Damascus and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

A four-man team of Syrian Kurds cross into Turkey, attack the Turkish guards then are able to commander a military helicopter that they use to destroy the Ataturk Dam. Nearby General Mike Rodgers heads a small team testing the first Regional Op-Center—ROC—that will allow for better crisis management, deciding to scout the attack on the Dam with a Turkish liaison officer, they are captured by three of the Kurds which leads to the capture of the ROC when they attempt to rescue the duo. Meanwhile the strike of the Dam has cause Turkey to mobilize it’s forces south to the Syrian border, the Syrian mobilize theirs to the north, Iraq begins making moves towards Kuwait, and other nations begin stepping up their military including Greece which might ally itself with Syria. With a possible general war in the Middle East about to break out the President sends Op-Center head Paul Hood to Damascus to negotiate with Syrian President. Hood sends Op-Center’s military team, Striker, to Israel so as to set up a rescue of the capture ROC before the President decides to destroy it and the hostages in a missile strike before the Kurds can use US intelligence for the rest of their plan, including a coordinated attack in the heat of Damascus which puts Hood in the crossfire. Through both luck and the calling in of various favors around the region, Op-Center is able to resolve the crisis before it escalates into general war but not without a price.

Released in 1997, Acts of War used the volatile political landscape of that time—and save the good relationship between Israel and Turkey of now—as the setting for this action thriller. Unfortunately a lot of the book comes down to the stupidity of General Mike Rodgers’ essentially boyish need to be a cowboy instead of an actual military officer and then his actions against the Kurds while being a hostage the endangered all the other hostages before murdering a Kurd who tortured him after he had been captured by Striker. The positives of the book such as the well thought out plan of the Kurdish militants to create a general war, the Israeli spy of Druze descent who scouts the Bekaa Valley and helping the now Brett August lead Striker team’s action in combat, and the analysis the various nightmare scenarios of a general war in the Middle East are all outweighed by everything dealing with Rodgers, including a Presidential pardon for killing said Kurd with no ramifications like say retiring, negates everything.

Acts of War, like several previous Op-Center books, has an intriguing plot idea that is undermined by poor writing though amazingly for different reasons than previous book. Yet this book is a rather frustrating and somewhat disappointing read, more so than Mirror Image, because it shows Jeff Rovin is knowingly doing bad writing on an element in one book when he’s showed before or shows later that he knows how to write good on that same element.

Op-Center

The Lost Realms (The Earth Chronicles #4)

The Lost RealmsThe Lost Realms by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Any contact between the “old world” and the “new world” before Columbus—besides the Norse—has been font of speculation writers for decades if not centuries, but what if contact was orchestrated by an otherworldly source? The Lost Realms is the fourth book by Zecharia Sitchin in his The Earth Chronicles as he explores Mesoamerican and South American structures, hieroglyphics, and oral histories in conjunction with the same from Sumer to reveal their connection.

Beginning with the Spanish arrival in the Americas, Sitchin recounts their wonder at the structures and the treasures of the cultures they encountered, plundered, and destroyed in their conquests. He then transitions to determining “who the Amerindians were” and then analyzing their architectural achievements as well as the cultural histories that were displayed on their walls, comparing them to sites in Sumer and Egypt as well as noting their many similarities especially in astronomical alignments. Sitchin begins relating the mineral wealth that was not only historically located in both regions but are also currently still being mined even today. Finally Sitchin wrapped up his book by connecting events in Sumer, especially relating to tin shortage then sudden abundance, to those in the Americas as brought about by the “gods”.

As with previous books, this one began academically but unlike previous ones this one remained so for the vast majority as Sitchin thoroughly detailed the cultures and sites so as to give evidence for his closing arguments. Yet at times this academic approach became tedious with minute detailing that seemed more to be more word padding than anything else. However, this book was still the shortest of the series with less than 280 pages of text and with a bigger font than previous volumes as well. The final chapter of the book was the payoff as Sitchin used the evidenced he had brought—without repeating it which overwhelmingly helped—to argue for the Annunaki intervention in the Americas led by Adad (Viracocha) and Thoth (Quetzalcoatl).

My remembrance of The Lost Realm was completely different upon my rereading, but despite that the book’s detail is its strength while its minuteness is a liability. Sitchin’s argument for his theory is better presented with less redundancy that has plagued others. Overall this is a good book written by Sitchin to advance his theory.

The Earth Chronicles

Games of State (Op-Center #3)

Games of StateGames of State by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The demons of hate are reemerging in the newly united Germany and finding root in various countries around the world linked through the shadowy recesses of the Internet and fueled by a businessman looking both for profit and triumph of bigotry, yet Op-Center must find a way to prevent chaos from exploding around the world. Games of State is the third installment of Op-Center that bears the name of its creator Tom Clancy, yet is written by Jeff Rovin. From Germany to the streets of the U.S. to southern France, the action and thrill are palpable as the race to prevent the rise of a new wave of hate.

Gerard Dominique, a French billionaire financier and computer game mogul, is uniting hate groups throughout Europe and the United States to destabilize numerous countries and allow France to once again lead Europe. Part of his plan is to use hate filled video games downloaded onto the Internet and well time hate crimes in various locations to bring about political and societal chaos. Yet the unplanned actions of other hate leaders resulting in a kidnapped young American woman needing to be rescued, the hate-filled enticement towards the son of Op-Center’s Striker team leader over the Internet, the unexpected meeting of Op-Center head Paul Hood with his former fiancée now a Dominique employee, and Dominique’s own hubris results in his plans failing to materialize.

Released in 1996, Games of State brought together many political and cultural threads to create the backdrop of very riveting political thriller with action-packed sequences as well. However well the set up and the ideas were, the use of formulaic tropes that are standard in one-hour TV dramas and paperbacks undermined the potential of a book. What was most disheartening was the ease in which I was able to see which newly introduced characters would result in instantly being important in a 100 or 200 pages just when they were needed, these and other plot twists decreases the enjoyment of the book. Though one can argue that my complaints are to be expected in this type of book, I would argue that one doesn’t mind if the tropes are written well.

Games of State had an intriguing plot idea, but was undermined by poor writing decisions that turned what could have been a good page-turner into an okay read. Though the book’s execution was poor, it was a better read than the previous Op-Center installment, Mirror Image, even with my rating being the same for the both of them.

Op-Center Series

The Wars of Gods and Men (The Earth Chronicles #3)

The Wars of Gods and MenThe Wars of Gods and Men by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It seems that Earth has always been a battlefield, from today all the way back to the beginning of history humans have been fighting one another, or maybe we learned from others in prehistory? In the third book of his series The Earth Chronicles, Zecharia Sitchin examines ancient texts from cuneiform tables of Sumeria to Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Bible itself to reveal long memory and devastating results of The Wars of Gods and Men.

Sitchin begins the book going over the wars of the ancient world and how the chroniclers of those wars described that the gods intervened in those wars and determined the outcome, following this he went over the wars of the gods for supremacy of Earth from Horus against Set in Egypt, the generational wars of the Greek pantheon, and battles of the Indian gods. Sitchin then set about showing that all these tales of battles reflect events in prehistory of members of the ruling house of the extraterrestrial Anunnaki, fighting for supremacy of “heaven” (Nibiru their homeworld) and Earth, with the rivalry between royal brothers Enlil and Enki extending into their children and grandchildren. Soon these wars began to include the “gods” human followers joining them in battle after the beginnings of civilization in Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus valley. Sitchin details that some of the Anunnaki put their personal interests above their own families resulting in various alliances with cousins against their own siblings, and parents in some cases, which began a chain of events that led Abraham out of Sumer to Canaan and how Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated by nuclear weapons.

This book began as a more academic read like its predecessor, The Stairway to Heaven, but Sitchin quickly switched gears to more engaging prose as he brought forth his evidence for and the explanations of this theories. Sitchin did not rehash his evidence and arguments from the previous two books, only alluded to his findings so as to allow the flow of the book to progress along the line of thought he had focused on. Yet even though Sitchin did not rehash his arguments, he did contradict some of his findings in The 12th Planet in this book—namely with the identity of “ZU”—but did not state that further research had changed his conclusions which would have made a better book. However, the most intriguing part of the book was Sitchin’s discussion about Abraham, his family history, and his journey to Canaan especially in light of his theory that extraterrestrials were the “gods” of the ancient world (though he does not specifically name which Anunnaki sent Abraham on his journey).

The Wars of Gods and Men is a very intriguing, well written book with a theory and evidence that Sitchin lays out in an engaging matter. Even with the academic beginning and with some unacknowledged reversals in some Sitchin’s findings, this book gives the reader a worthy follow up to The 12th Planet that The Stairway to Heaven was not.

The Earth Chronicles

Mirror Image (Op-Center #2)

Mirror ImageMirror Image by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Old guard elements in Russia look to reconstitute the old Soviet Empire, however their plans run into a stumbling block in the form of Op-Center and their Russian counterpart. Mirror Image is the second book in the Op-Center series bearing that bears the name of Tom Clancy, but was actually ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin. From the historic Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg to the streets of New York to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, the action spans across the world as forces and individuals battle to reignite or prevent a new Soviet era.

Nikolai Dogin, Russian Minister of the Interior and loser of the Presidential election, convinces his old guard coalition members to go along with “Plan B” which amounts to a military revolution to reignite the old Soviet Empire. One of his most important pieces in the newly created Operations Center (ROC), a Russian crisis management center exactly like Op-Center, but its head General Sergei Orlov might not be the figurehead Dogin hopes. The old guard’s plan begins with a bombing in New York to keep the United States out of Eastern Europe, but results in Op-Center zeroing in on its Russian counterpart that is Orlov and his second-in-command (a Dogin flunky) battling for control. Yet Dogin’s dealings with the Russian mafia prove his undoing as a shipment of drug money to pay off Polish, Belarussian, and Ukrainian officials becomes the focus of the ROC and Op-Center on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Written in the mid-90s when post-Soviet era Russia provided a lot of potential to the political thriller genre, Mirror Image took an interesting tack that could have provided an very good book however there was many unfortunate mistakes that made this seem a “set up” book for later events in the Op-Center series. The first was the blurb on the back cover of the book itself which stated the hardliners wanted to return Russia to the days of the Czar, within the first 15 pages of the book this statement is proven false and things are just starting. There are father-son issues dominating the Russian side of the book as Orlov and his son’s past that would play a major role at the book’s climax, which was very much telegraphed from the onset. An important character dies at the climax, which is pretty much telegraphed throughout his point-of-views. However, the most irritating thing with the book was that characters “magically” got information or knew things that the story didn’t support them knowing or characters didn’t act like they should of (Orlov not getting into contact with the new President seems to be the most glaring). Although most of the book seemed paint-by-the-numbers, the British spy network subplot was the best of the book.

Mirror Image seemed to be a book meant to add elements to the overall “world” of Op-Center to set up future stories as Rovin relied on telegraphing the story’s direction and creating in-story plot holes. While Sergei Orlov and British spy Peggy James are the two stand out characters, it’s not saying much because previously establish characters were in a holding pattern and other new characters were two-dimensional. This book could have been very good, it just average and almost subpar.

Op-Center Series