Showing posts with label terrorism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label terrorism. Show all posts

Saturday, January 25, 2020

All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton, Nicole Xu

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had never heard of the survivor elm until I read this book. For all I'd read and seen about the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Building in April of 1995 in Oklahoma city, no one ever mentioned this. That bombing seems so long ago now, and has been so overshadowed by so many things since, that it's easy to forget what far too many people cannot: that 168 people died and left behind them loved ones whose pain didn't end that day with the loss of a life, but began instead.

The elm was almost cut down because it was damaged so badly, and embedded in its branches and trunk was forensic evidence: shrapnel from the blast. But it survived and later, people noticed it blooming. When it fruited, the seeds were collected and cultivated and passed out to those who needed them. Those seedlings grew and sprouted their own harvest, and so the progeny of this tree have spread everywhere now.

The tree itself has become a memorial, and this book is a memorial to that tragedy and the tree that survived it and gave hope and solace to others. This book is tastefully and respectfully written, tells a great true story, and is beautifully illustrated by new artist Nicole Xu who is very talented. Her work can be found online and is a treat to see. I commend this book fully.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

No Easy Day by Mark Owen, Matt Bisonette, Kevin Maurer

Rating: WORTHY!

This book proved to be so much better than the previous one I read about SEAL life. This guy, who I shall refer to as Owen (because it's easier to type than Bisonette!) seems far less of a puffed-up, self-aggrandizing boor than the other guy. He's a lot more modest, authentic, and straight-forward in how he tells his story, although it occurs to me, since both of these SEALs had co-writers, that maybe the influence of the co-writer might have something to do with the tone of the book. Who knows? I guess writing is one of the very few things SEALs are not professionally trained for huh? LOL!

It also occurs to me that if more SEALs are going to write books about their life, they're going to have to work on a new opening sequence, because all of the ones I've read so far start out with their stringent training, which is seriously strenuous and very tough, make no mistake, but after reading at least three of these now, the routine is starting to be a bit tedious.

Having said that, I have to grant that this one was different enough though that it wasn't too bad as it happens, because this guy was already a SEAL before he started in on the advanced training to join the Green Team. No book had made that clear to me before. When they want to get into the Green Team, which is the anti-terrorism and hostage rescue unit, they have to step-up to a whole new level of training, and no one cuts them any slack. So even though they're already a SEAL before they start, they can and do wash out of this particular training. That was an eye-opener.

Note that there really is no SEAL Team Six. There was, when there were only two other SEAL teams! They called it Six to mislead the Soviets as to how many teams there were. Team Six actually got sucked into DEVGRU decades ago, although it's still called six for shorthand, but even that's misleading because there isn't one team (and it doesn't have six members!). Teams vary and fluctuate, and are put together in groups suitable for the mission at hand. Thus the last one mentioned in the book, the infiltration of the compound in Pakistan, comprised of 22 SEALs handpicked as the most experienced from several teams, along with an EOD tech (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), a CIA operative, and a dog! And they still had things go wrong.

I liked the author's informative and reserved (and modest!) style, and I enjoyed the descriptive writing, although I did not appreciate the alt-right take on President Obama, which was entirely uncalled-for. The author talked about his SEAL training in only the first two chapters and by the third, he was in the Middle-East on a mission to secure a dam from being blown-up after the invasion of Iraq. This led into, one after another, other stories of missions, from participating in the rescue of Captain Phillips from Somali pirates, to clearing insurgent-held houses in the Middle East and hunting terrorists in Afghanistan. It culminates in the stealth assault on the bin laden compound in Abbottabad, and the entire book is filled with enough detail to satisfy, without Tom Clancy-fying the fuck out of it, about these these Green Teams do their work, what the equipment they use consists of, what the dangers are, and how things pan out. In short it was perfect for my purposes and I highly commend this book as the best I have so far read on special forces.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Holy War by Mike Bond

Title: Holy War
Author: Mike Bond
Publisher: Mandevilla Press
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Frankly, this novel is a mess. It begins not on page one, but on page nineteen, the first eighteen pages being filled mostly with advertising. The actual novel itself is 365 pages long, one for every day of the year and judged by how much it's padded with extraneous detail, aimless rambling and flashbacks, it could probably be at least a hundred pages lighter and healthier for it.

It never hurts to lose some excess weight! Whether this is how the print book will look or whether this padded bra of commercial material up front is confined to the ARC version, I don't know. I wish that publishers and writers would have more respect for trees though.

The author has actually been a journalist in Beirut, so he knows the deal there, but that doesn't mean he can write an engrossing fictional story about it. This one was too splintered and fractured to be coherent. The book was really hard to get going on, because it was bouncing around all over the place, jumping from one set of characters to another, from one scenario to the next so quickly that I couldn't get comfortable with the characters, nor was I left with a feeling that I was going anywhere.

The author gets the lyrics wrong to the Chicago song If You leave me Now. It's not "If you leave me now, you'll take away the very best part of me", it's "If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me" which, when you think about it, sounds like impotence, doesn't it? I don't know if that's the way Peter Cetera intended it when he wrote it, but it is a beautifully embedded double meaning - if you get the lyric right! I guess the dope-smoking sabotaged Neill's brain cells and prevented them from nailing down the lyrics....

So Neill is the main character. He's an American journalist, but he's been recruited by MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA) to go (as a journalist) to Beirut, his mission is to try to contact a terrorist named (highly originally) Mohammed, who is linked to Hezbollah. Mohammed can apparently stop the slaughter, although how that works is anyone's guess. Mohammed is also evidently married to an ex of Neill's, named Layla (another original name).

To try and add a little zest to the recipe, the author has also thrown in André, who is a commando in the French armed forces, and who wants to murder Mohammed to avenge the death of his brother, who died in the Beirut Marine barracks bombing in 1983. Additionally, there's a female terrorist named Rosa (the choice of names in this novel frankly sucks) who is as deadly as she's dedicated. No doubt both of these characters will conspire to thwart Neill's aim.

While the timing is obviously 1983 or later, the actual dating of the events in the novel isn't clear - at least not in the portion I read. I noted that one reviewer considered it contemporary, but I don't see how it can be given that it appears to follow hot on the tail of events which took place a generation ago.

The pacing is excruciatingly slow and constantly - I mean constantly - interrupted with flashbacks which completely destroyed the story, the atmosphere and any sense of immediacy for me. It takes forever to actually get to any real and current events (current within the story's framework, that is), and those are irritatingly fragmented.

Instead of getting to the action, the story wallows endlessly (and mindlessly) in flashbacks, dalliances and memories, multiplied by two (one set for Neill, the other for André). Rosa seems to be the only one who is actually getting anything done! No wonder terrorist keep on blind-siding us! For example, Neill spends an inordinate amount of time in Holland doing nothing more than sitting around and smoking dope. André appears to be wandering aimlessly around Paris.

If you like gory detail, there's plenty to be had here. For me, describing how a bullet goes through a supine victim's head and then bounces back off the cement floor and returns through that same head is, if you'll forgive the pun, overkill. I already got that Rosa was coldly obsessed. I don't need to have her putting one bullet after another into her victim from several different angles and read about how he's still spastically moving even then. This added nothing to the story or to her character portrait, so I don't see the value other than gratuitous violence for the sake of it.

In the end I could not get past the first third of this novel. It really was not for me. It was far too jumbled and disjointed, which spoiled the story and made me quickly lose interest. I can't recommend this. This is the second Mike Bond novel I've reviewed. The first was Tibetan Cross and I didn't like that one either, so I guess I'm done with this author, too.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Title: The Chase
Author: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Publisher: Bantam Dell
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is less detailed so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more in-depth than you'll typically find elsewhere!

I am not a fan of Evanovich's or Goldberg's, having read nothing by either of them before, and now I know why. This novel took me less than two chapters to decide it was awful, amateurish, condescending, and clichéd. And did I mention how amateurish it was? In the extreme? You know, I don't blame authors for writing lousy novels. I blame readers for buying them, but if there's a market to exploit, hey, go for it. I'm sure that the reading public deserve what they get. As for me, I'll go with something that reads like it was written for those who still maintain a certain level of intelligence and literary discrimination and for novels which, far from insulting women and turning them into caricatures, actually give us a smart, interesting, fun, and strong female characters, not simply men in heels.

So we begin with a bomb explosion Sunday morning in the LA financial district large enough to set off car alarms a mile away. The female protagonist, FBI agent Kate O'Hare is no more than a dozen miles away getting breakfast at MacDonald's, yet she hears nothing strange. Hmm! Maybe that's reasonable. Maybe. We're treated to a description of O'Hare's breakfast. I really needed to read that because it's so utterly crucial to the plot. This is the second in a series where the female main character, who has to be the most moronic FBI agent ever (more anon), hooks up with con man Nicholas Fox (Fox and O'Hare, get it? Ha ha! How hilarious!). From this it's painfully obvious exactly what kind of relationship they will have, exactly how this novel will go, and exactly how it will end, and that this mystery has no mystery to it whatsoever.

O'Hare's and her partner are called in to tackle the case, so she drives over to pick him up, and we're treated to a description of what he's wearing. Seriously? Who honestly gives a damn that he's wearing a dress shirt? Really? What Evanovich and Goldberg are doing here (and getting away with it) is exactly what we're warned never to do as writers, but no one cares if she does it or if he does, because they're part of the establishment now! They don't have to play by the absurd rules forced upon the rest of us. They can actually can get away with writing the very novels which would be turned down flat by Big Publishing if any of us tried to submit this same thing!

Kate drives to the site of the blast like a maniac, no lights flashing, driving on the sidewalk, swerving crazily around other vehicles, risking causing accidents. There's no emergency here, yet she drives dangerously for no reason whatsoever. If this were a first-time novel written by a sixteen-year-old I could understand the poor writing. It would never get published, but I could understand the quality of it. There is no excuse whatsoever for professional writers to not only write this detestable trash, but be allowed to get away with it by their editor and publisher.

As if that isn't bad enough, it gets worse! Here's where it really started down the toilet and into the sewerage system for me. Oh, did I mention that Evanovich (or Goldberg) claim that Kate was US special forces - which is patent nonsense? As much as I would love to see women given exactly the same opportunities as men, they do not have this yet. Women have played supporting roles in special forces, which is a good start, but to simply put this into your novel as though it's not only happening, but happened long-enough ago (well over five years ago!) that she could have served and been honorably discharged is some serious horseshit! A new writer would be pilloried for an absurd gaff like that, but this actually isn't the problem I had with chapter two. It's O'Hare's abysmal incompetence.

Once she arrives at the site of the bomb blast, she starts figuring out that the blast wasn't aimed at the building in which it was set, but at the alarms in the bank buildings all around. In short, there's a robbery going on somewhere nearby; so far so good, but it's all downhill from there. Yes, of course the robbery is being conducted by Fox, who strolls out of a bank dressed as a cop, and carrying a large bag full of loot. O'Hare challenges him - and then lets him go! Despite having her gun trained on him she fires no shots, warning or otherwise, neither to disable the car nor to make the perp think twice about fleeing. Not a single cop there draws a gun on him, because Kate fails to alert the police force to what's going down. No one but Kate gives chase, and she gives not one heads-up to any cops! She does not relay any information about the car, the license plate, or the the vehicle ID number painted on it. She simply lets him drive away!

In short, she's not only thoroughly incompetent, she's also a frigging moron. The last thing I need on my reading list is yet another story that insults women by turning them into super-heroes who are simultaneously brain-dead Mary Sues. If I want to read about a strong female character, then I'd like it to be about a female, not a guy with tits. This means you make her tough without throwing yourself on the sadly geriatric trope of claiming she was special forces. You make her smart-tough, and you do not make toughness be her defining characteristic, especially if you're going to pair it up with abysmal incompetence in that she lets this thief whom she's apparently been failing to catch for five years, get away when she has him quite literally in her gun sight. The fact that she admits that she can't decide whether to shoot Fox or to kiss him was the last straw for me. Can we pile any more clichés and tropes onto Mary Sue O'Hare's shoulders? Can we? I don't think so!

Seriously, get a clue. Get an original idea for goodness sakes, and ditch the tropes. This novel is warty in the extreme, and I'm done here.