Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: Op-Center by Jeff Rovin

Op-Center (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #1)Op-Center by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A terrorist attack in Seoul raises tensions on Korean peninsula with war looking likely, but a new federal crisis management team is task to figure out who and why before things escalate too far. Op-Center through bearing the name of Tom Clancy, who along with Steve Pieczenik created the story, was ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin about a government agency tasked with handling both domestic and international crisis.

Renegade South Korean soldiers attack an official celebration of the founding of the country implicating the North Koreans. Op-Center director Paul Hood suddenly finds himself appointed head of Task Force by a President looking for a big foreign affairs accomplishment; however evidence and a cyberattack complicate Hood giving the President a clear go ahead to launch a war. On the peninsula, a former Ambassador to the country and his friend in the KCIA take their own individual routes to lessen the growing tensions between the two sides. But the renegade squad is racing towards their next attacks—the North Korean barracks at the DMZ and Tokyo—and the only thing that can stop them is Op-Center’s paramilitary response team, Striker with Hood’s deputy General Mike Rodger along for the action.

Set roughly around the time of book’s publication a little over 20 years ago, the plot reads almost like alternate history today but still holds up fairly well. While the primary plot is very good, the subplots connected with different characters were more of a problem. Hood is torn between crisis in Korea and with this son’s health that makes him look sympathetic while his wife appears too needy given that she knew something like this could happen, Rodgers appears to be in a mid-life crisis wanting to get back to his glory days instead of being at his post, and many of the female Op-Center personal are painted broadly with a brush in various stereotypes that back when I first read the book as a teenager didn’t pop out at me but certainly did now.

While the characterization of many of the principal characters is bland, the plot and the action are very well written making this a quick and fun read for the most part. While at the time Rovin wasn’t given his due as the book’s author, he did a good job in setting up a series that would eventually reach 12. While Op-Center is not the greatest book within the action and thriller genres but those that like those genres will find it a good read.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The young witch of the Chalk downlands goes begins her apprenticeship not knowing that she’s being stalked by a long-lived lifeform that likes taking over “hosts”. A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the second following Tiffany Aching and her friends the Wee Free Men.

A year and a half after Tiffany Aching took on the Fairie Queen with only an iron skillet; she’s finally going to learn proper witchcraft as an apprentice to Mistress Level, who apparently has two bodies. However that is the only thing extraordinary about Tiffany’s experience with Miss Level because instead of magic, she’s just doing chores and learning practical knowledge. Yet unknowingly Tiffany is doing magic as she has immense power in “borrowing” just like Granny Weatherwax, but unlike the area’s most renowned witch Tiffany doesn’t know how to defend herself from those wanting to borrow her. While Tiffany doesn’t realize the danger she’s in, the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles keep an eye on their “wee big hag” and know what’s stalking her and go racing to the rescue with hilarious results. But in the end it’ll have to be Tiffany who gets her body back from this immortal foe.

The second book of featuring Tiffany and Feegles goes right into the story quickly while also giving information about both early on without taking away from the narrative or unnecessary exposition. One doesn’t need to have read The Wee Free Men to learn information about the Feegle’s culture as Pratchett also included a nice little “article” about them before the story begins, mainly to allay fears from parents that the Feegles are cussing in a children’s book. Frankly the only negative from the point of view of an adult is that one could see the major plot points coming, it was just how Pratchett would make them entertaining—which he certainly did.

While A Hat Full of Sky is a young adult book, Terry Pratchett’s satirical and narrative writing makes it a great addition to the overall Discworld series. Both new readers and longtime fans will have a good time reading Tiffany learning about being a witch.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela

The UnderdogsThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book Review: Christianity by Roland H. Bainton

Christianity (American Heritage Library)Christianity by Roland H. Bainton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The history of Christianity spans over 2000 years, across three then five continents, and numerous individuals doing their best to follow the example of Jesus. Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a survey of the history, theology developments, and impact of the faith has had on society over the length of its existence since the ministry of Christ on earth.

Beginning with the various cultural backgrounds that influenced the life of Jesus and the society he lived and teach in, Bainton writes an easily read survey of Christianity. Everything from the Apostolic Age through the persecution by the Roman Empire then its long progression of conversation through the Western Empire’s fall is covered very well. However with Rome’s fall, the book’s focus begins to be firmly placed in Western Europe—later to expand to the Americas—with all the culture, historical, political, and theological developments that are well-known to anyone with a general knowledge of the history of Western civilization. Given the book is less than 400 pages in length, Bainton’s having to choose the best way to get through the history of Christianity meant having to neglect the developments of East Orthodox, Oriental, and Coptic Christianity in favor to everything connected to Western Christianity.

Though not all facets are covered, Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a well-written survey that covers the basics of everything related to Western Christianity. For anyone looking for general information of Christianity, I recommend this book to you.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book Review: Daniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith

Daniel and the RevelationDaniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation have been a long studied by Seventh-day Adventists and their precursors for almost 200 years; one of the most prominent writers was Uriah Smith during his long tenure with the newsmagazine Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Smith’s major contribution to Adventist theology was his verse-by-verse commentary of the books of Daniel and the Revelation.

This book is the most in-depth explanation of Seventh-day Adventist thought on end-time Biblical prophecies from the turn of the 20th Century, yet even though it’s mostly over 100 years old—there are some publisher insertions here and there—it is mostly what Seventh-day Adventist still believe today. However, the biggest difference is the focus of the Islam and Ottoman Empire—referred to Turkey—as being a major prophetic “player” in the past in particular in relation to Revelation 9 though in other places as well. While today Adventists do see the rise of Islam as playing a role in the prophetic past, it is only in affecting the Church at a particular time and nothing more.

Though Daniel and the Revelation is not an up-to-date book on what Seventh-day Adventists believe about those prophetic books, the great majority of Uriah Smith’s text is still relevant today. The only significant change has been an even more focused look at the history of the Church in prophecy than on another religion.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin

The 12th Planet (Earth Chronicles, #1)The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How did civilization begin seemingly out of nowhere? And how did humanity evolve so fast in comparison to what had happened before? These are the questions that Zecharia Sitchin set to answer in his book, The 12th Planet, in which he purports that he found said answers in cuneiform text dating from time of Sumerians over 5000 years ago.

Sitchin begins by going over the spurts of cultural development that lead to the beginning of Sumerian civilization and how modern man appeared so soon in terms of evolution to even develop the civilization that we are a part of. Sitchin then describes all the firsts that Sumer did in, many of them were not continuous since then through to our day, and then asked where the Sumerians learned this knowledge to he responded that the Sumerians learned it from the gods. Using the Sumerian Creation myth, Enuma Elis, Sitchin details the beginnings of the solar system including how a rogue planetoid entered the developing solar system and began circling the sun in a 3,600 year long orbit. This planet, named Nibiru, created havoc in the early solar system resulting in the asteroid belt and Earth, seeded with the building blocks of life from this planet. Eventually humanlike beings eventually developed technology to explore the solar system and find Earth habitable and with resources they needed. These beings, the Annunaki or Nephilim, began travelling to Earth and mining for resources but bringing with them their own politics and grudges that eventually led to the “creation” of modern humans then the Deluge in an effort to destroy them. But in the aftermath were thankful that some survived so they could help them rebuild their operations.

Sitchin’s work was one of a number “ancient astronaut” books throughout 1970s and his influence within the community is immeasurable still almost a decade after his death. Yet, this book is rife with many scientific errors related to astrophysics, celestial mechanics, cosmology, and plate tectonics to name a few and is out-of-date in human evolutionary thought. While those are big drawbacks, Sitchin’s focus on Sumerian & Akkadian cuneiform on the reported Annunaki influence on early Earth and human history is very interesting and thought-provoking even if you disbelieve it. This focus on Sumerian myth, or record of history, is the most important part of the book as well as it’s relation to other mythological traditions along with the Bible.

While many might discount this book because of the incorrect scientific propositions put forward and disagree with the “ancient astronaut” theory. The best argument for reading Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet is the focus on Sumerian history and myth, which is one of the oldest and little known compared to many other cultures. Agree or disagree with Sitchin, this book is just one you have to say that you’ve read.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polly Perks cuts her hair and leaves home to join her nation’s army to find her brother and bring him home; however her act of defiance against her country’s social norms turns out to have consequences geopolitically. Monstrous Regiment, the 31st book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third of the Industrial subseries in which the vast majority of the book comes from Polly’s point-of-view in which gender, religious, and military issues play a big role in the narrative.

The nation of Borogravia is always at war in one neighbor or another, their god Nuggan is dead because they believe his Abominations more than him, and their ruler The Duchess is probably dead after not being seen for decades but is slowly becoming defied in replace of Nuggan. All of these things conspire to make Polly go to find her brother Paul in the Kneck valley and bring him home so that she doesn’t lose the family inn. After signing up, she and the rest of the new recruits become the new “lads” of legendary soldier Sergeant Jackrum but on the way to the front Polly finds that all the other recruits are also women having joined for their own reasons. Throughout the book, the regiment starts impacting the war on an international scale as the Anhk-Morpork Times details the adventures of the troop making them underdogs back home even as they oppose the alliance that Anhk-Morpork is a part of.

Although the geopolitical aspects of her regiments actions comes as a surprise to Polly, most of her concerns throughout the entire book is understanding a “woman’s role in a man’s world”, the insane religion they’re dealing with, and finally military culture between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Pratchett’s use of real world issues into his fantasy world might annoy some readers but I thought it was handled well especially in his dry satirical style. The only really big irritation was that after a while the surprise of another woman-as-a-man in uniform lost its impact because you could basically guess who was going to be eventually revealed to be a woman, so it became less important and just Pratchett check off another reveal.

Monstrous Regiment deals with a lot of real world issues in a dry satirical style that Pratchett is famous for. Although the book’s long running gag of revealing women-as-men in uniform gets old and easy to predict as the book goes along, it doesn’t take away from the overall good quality of the book. If you’re a Discworld fan you’ll like this book but if you’re new to the series try another book first.

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