Books Read in 2012

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1. Iceberg - Clive Cussler - Seems appropriate my first book of the year would be another Dirk Pitt novel since that's about all I have been reading recently. I guess I'm going to have to read them all this year so I can move on and read something else. What can I say, they're just fun to read. Anyway, I digress. This book was a fast read with a hard to describe plot that must have been one of the earlier Dirk Pitt novels as Dirk is still smoking cigarettes and Al Giordino doesn't appear. Anyway, a group of aging, ultra rich industrialists devise a plan to use their money and resources to take over Central and South America and convert it into a utopia for the people of those countries. It's a great idea but the problem is they will kill anyone who stands in their way. Dirk gets caught up in their plot quite by accident and is almost killed numerous times. The arch villain in this story is Oskar Rondheim an Islandic poet and industrialist who becomes part of the plan but now intends to kill all of the other partners and take over as supreme leader of the conquered countries. Rondheim is working with Kristjan Fyrie a brilliant scientist who builds a device which can scan the ocean bottom and find valuable mineral deposits. Pitt, Admiral Sandecker and NUMA get involved as they want access to this device. Turns out Kristjan Fyrie has a sex change operation to become the beautiful Kristi Fyrie who continues to help in the evil plan. In the end Dirk triumphs and the plot is foiled.
2. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - This is an amazing book that was recommended by our friends Chris and Judith and now I understand why. This book is filled with interesting sections on mathematics, geology, physics, astronomy, paleontology, archeology, physiology and many other sciences. The author consulted many of the experts in these fields then presents what he learned in an easy to read and sometimes comical format. The author pointed out that he knew next to nothing about these topics before he started his research (and was somewhat embarrassed about that) but you wouldn't know it from his writing. He presents a lot of science history in this book that shows how our understanding of things have changed over time. What really impressed me was how the author points out how little we really know about how life and our home planet works. We as a civilization think we are so smart but we still have a lot (of even basic stuff) to learn. He provides some really great (verbal) illustrations as to the scale of things that really makes one think. For example if one were to string all of the DNA molecules in our body together it would stretch to the moon and back multiple times. In his discussion of the atom and how much empty space it contains he pointed out that the only reason we can sit in a chair (and not fall through to the ground) is because of the repulsion of the electrons in our body to those in the chair. Many times while reading this book the author threw out some minor fact that clarified some topic that I thought I knew a lot about. All in all a good book for science buffs like myself. I will definitely seek out other books by this author.
3. Enchantment - Orson Scott Card - I don't usually read fantasy novels but I did enjoy this one. This story takes place both in 900AD and the present day. It is a story about a young Jewish fellow named Ivan who is born in the Ukraine but migrates to the US with his parents as a boy. Little does he know he is destined for great things or that his Mother is  a powerful (good) witch. As the young Ivan is visiting his Uncle (who happens to be a deity as well) in the Ukraine he goes exploring in the primitive forest and discovers a princess (of the Sleeping Beauty legend) asleep in the forest on a pedestal surrounded by a mote and guarded by a huge bear. He runs away and is haunted by what he saw until his late college years when he returns to visit his uncle. He again goes into the forest and the sleeping princess is still there as is the bear but this time he uses his athletic skills to jump across the chasm and subsequently kisses the princess to break the spell keeping her asleep. In the process he puts out one eye of the bear with a rock and to prevent himself and the princess from being killed by the bear he must quickly propose to the princess and she must accept to break the spell holding her so they can get away. In the process of escape they end up in her land around 900AD. Though Ivan is a triathlete in his time he is considered a wimp in her world but is never the less bound to the princess and destined to be King for saving her. Unfortunately there is a bad/evil witch named Baba Yaga who is intent on taking over the kingdom of Taina and will stop at nothing to do so. To protect Taina, Ivan and the Princess return across the chasm to the present day and travel to the US to his parents house where they find out Ivan's Mom is a witch and can communicate with the Princess in her protoSlavic language. Convincing his parents of the ordeal they just lived through they begin plotting their return to Taina to confront Baba Yaga and save the kingdom. To make a long story shorter, they do return to Taina bringing the technology of gun powder, Molotov cocktails and hang gliding with them to fight the witch. In the end they triumph of course and Ivan and the Princess have many children who they raise who are equally comfortable on both sides of the chasm. This was a good story that wove real history and fantasy together.
4. Polar Shift - Clive Cussler (with Paul Kemprecos) - This is my first Kurt Austin adventure as I'm used to reading Dirk Pitt novels. It is kind of amazing that this is really a Dirk Pitt novel with a search and replace done to replace Dirk Pitts name with Kurt Austin and to replace Al Giordino with Joe Zavala. Otherwise the story is about the same: combining NUMA, oceanography, some light weight science with a bunch of bad guys. In this story, the bad guys are trying to use magnetic pulse technology (invented by a Hungarian scientist at the end of WWII) to cause a magnetic polar reversal in the hope that with the massive disruption this would cause they could take over all earthly communication because all communication satellites (except theirs) would be put out of commission. As a side effect of their experimentation they are causing huge 100+ foot waves and whirlpools which engulf unsuspecting ships. With Kurt and Joe on the scene, the bad guys are found out and meet their ultimate demise. Would one expect anything different? I may read more of the Kurt Austin novels after I finish reading all of the Dirt Pitt novels because like I said they are the same stories.
5. Crescent Dawn - Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler - This time Dirk Pitt and his two kids, Dirk and Summer, along with Al Giordino route out an evil brother and sister who are trying to regain their family's ancestoral hold on the government of Turkey. To do this they support a fundamentalist Muslim running for president while at the same time stealing Islamic treasures and bombing Islamic mosques and blaming it on the Israel in an attempt to get the people of Turkey to throw off secular rule in favor of sacred rule. The bad guys steal an Israeli water tanker, fill it with explosives and attempt to crash it into the coast of Turkey near an important mosque and would have pulled it off except for our hero. This book follows the same format as most of Cussler's books and at the start the writing was a bit different which must be the influence of Dirk Cussler.
6. Flood Tide - Clive Cussler - This time Dirk, Al and the Admiral are battling an ultra rich Chinese businessman Qin Shang who is illegally importing Chinese into the US in astonishing numbers in a long term plot to take over the United States. Qin Shang is also up to no good in Louisiana where he has built a shipping port (for legal and illegal cargoes) out in the middle of nowhere. The locals cannot understand why he would do such a thing because the port was cut off from the main  Mississippi River channel. Qin Shangs plot was to blow a big hole in one of the levees on the Mississippi thereby diverting its flow to his new port facility and cutting off all of the major towns and shipping port in the area. Of course Qin Shang make an enemy of Dirk Pitt and that becomes his downfall. The bomb does go off and the levee is breached but as the water is pouring through the levee Dirk parks an ocean liner in the mud against the levee bring the water flow to a trickle so the levee can be repaired. With Qin Shangs plot thwarted he flees the US to avoid prosecution. Using Qin Shangs weakness for ancient Chinese artifacts as bate, NUMA and Dirk lure him back into the US where a ship wreck full of Chinese artifacts is found in Lake Michigan. Here he faces off under water with Dirk Pitt which is never a good idea and is killed. So the good guys win again, yeah.
7. Hotel California - Barney Hoskyns - The author is a British rock critic obsessed with the American rock and roll scene from the 60's through the 90's. His book focuses on Laural Canyon outside of LA where the folk rockers came to live and create music. A lot of the book is about David Geffen as he was fundamental in bringing these musicians together and making them famous. Included in the pack were Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Linda Ronstadt, Joni "I slepted with every rock star possible" Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, the Eagles and many others. It tells of how the Troubadour was the place to be where these people gathered every night to party, play music and swap songs. How the singer/songwriter became the thing and how these people were originally all in it for just the music. The book also talks in depth about the downsides of becoming famous to quickly and to young. Many of the original players from Laural Canyon ended up dead as a result of drug use. Most all of the musicians compromised their ideals and money and drugs became the reason for the music. I lived 20 miles from where the action was during the period of time covered by this book. I wish I had known about the goings on as it would have been an amazing thing to observe. This was a good book that covered an interesting period of time in American rock and roll history.
8. The Mask of Troy - David Gibbins - This was a rather convoluted story about Troy, Nazis, Heinrich Schliemann and Jack Howard (head of the International Maritime University, IMU) and Costas his sidekick. This story was really similar to the Clive Cussler books I have been reading. To similar in fact to be coincidence. This book took me a while to get through because I had a hard time getting into the story. Part of the problem was that the story was simultaneously taking place in ancient Troy, at the end of WWII and in the present. The continual switching of characters made me loose track of who was who. Anyway this was not my favorite Gibbins book. In brief, Schliemann discovered a way to rid the world of war but died before he could announce it to the world. Exploration my IMU led to what Schliemann had discovered and to a bunker in Germany where the Nazis hid their ultimate weapon which was supposed to be unleashed on the world if the Nazis lost the war but wasn't. In the meantime Jacks daughter Rebecca is kidnapped in an attempt to get Jack and Costas to dive in a Polish salt mine in the hopes of finding treasure the Nazis had hidden and to find the key to Schliemann's secret. A convoluted plot to be sure.
9. Trojan Odyssey - Clive Cussler - Another Dirk Pitt novel. This was a exciting book from page one and I read this book in half the time it took me to read the previous book. This story has the same cast of characters including Dirks son Dirk and daughter Summer. In this story Dirk and Al get involved in saving a floating hotel owned by the mysterious Specter, an over weight man never seen in public who is always wrapped in scarfs and sunglasses to protect his identity. A giant hurricane barrels down on the hotel and it tears loose from its moorings and almost breaks up as it approaches land. Dirk and Al helicopter onto the hotel and rig a towing harness so a NUMA research vessel can tow the hotel to safety. Dirk takes an instant dislike to Specter when he finds out he left his staff and guests on the hotel to die and flew away before the hurricane struck.

On returning from saving the hotel Dirk and Al are immediately sent by the admiral to Nicaragua to find out the source of a brown toxic slime that is found in the ocean that is killing all sea life. Come to find out Specter's company Odyssey is clandestinely building a huge tunnel with the Chinese across Nicaragua and hiding the dug out material by crushing it and pumping it out to sea. Dirk and Al penetrate the tunnel to see what is being built but have no clue as to why. Later it is learned that the Chinese are planning on connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans together to cause the ocean currents to shift resulting in a freeze off of the north eastern US and Europe so they can sell everyone a new fuel cell they have developed so people can withstand the cold. Making the Chinese and Specter rich beyond imagination.

Of course once NUMA figures out the evil plan they come up with their own plan to destroy the tunnels and associated  research facility by causing a massive landslide from a volcano under which the tunnels pass. Of course Dirks plan succeeds and the bad guys are destroyed. At the end of this story Dirk is promoted to head of NUMA as the adminal becomes vice president. Also Dirk and Loren get married.

An interesting subplot pervades this story and that is that Troy was not a Greek city but a Celtic one on the coast of Spain. I don't know if this was made up by Cussler or is actually a real theory. This I will have to research. Anyway this was a great book that kept me riveted from start to finish.
10. Atlantis Found - Clive Cussler - Another Dirk Pitt novel in which Dirk and Al save the world by defeating the plans of the genetically engineered Wolf family (with genes from Hitler) from causing a huge chunk of the Antarctica ice sheet from breaking off thereby causing the Earths orbit to change resulting in a polar shift and ensuing catastrophe where they could take over and rule. The Nazis discovered an ancient race of people Amenees who lived around 7000BC but were effectively wiped out by a comet hitting the Earth. The few of these ancient people that did survive built cities in rock which foretold of a second comet hitting the Earth in 2001 in the hopes that modern man would find these warnings and prepare accordingly. After WWII Nazis escaping Germany escaped with lots of loot to Argentina and set up the genetic research facilities that resulted in the Wolf family and their followers.  Dirk and Al battle members of the Wolf family in a mine in Colorado, on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, and in Antarctica before finally defeating their devious plot. This was another good Cussler book with a continuously exciting plot.
11. Time To Start Thinking - America in the Age of Descent - Edward Luce - Luce is a British journalist for the Financial Times living in Washington D.C. He has watched in fascination and horror as America's standing in the world has changed and not for the better. His book describes many of the areas America has lost leadership in and how the rise of China will end Americas dominance. This is a sobering book and unfortunately I agree with most things he points out including the inability of Washington politicians to solve meaningful problems. He does not paint a very pleasant picture of America's future.
12. Valhalla Rising - Clive Cussler - Dirk Pitt has to stop an evil CEO of an oil and natural gas company in the US from establishing absolute monopoly over oil resources and supplies. It is a typical Dirk Pitt novel dealing with a countdown, bribed officials, and ruthless evil leaders. Pitt also unravels the work of a brilliant, reclusive scientist who had made great advances in oil technology, traced the history and found the remains of a Viking settlement on the Hudson River, and discovered the remains of Captain Nemo's Nautilus and figured out and improved its power system (a magnetohydrodynamic engine).
13. Treasure of Khan - Clive Cussler/Dirk Cussler - In this novel, a crazy Mongol is trying to take over the worlds oil industry after finding incredible oil  reserves in Outer Mongolia and sabotaging the worlds oil shipping and importing facilities. Borjin, the Mongol, uses high tech geological imaging equipment to first find the oil and later to find slip faults and by turning up the machines intensity to cause earthquakes at those faults where ever he wants to reek havoc and destruction. He also uses the equipment to find the tomb of Genghis Khan and with the sale of the artifacts makes himself rich and finances his evil plan. He goes on to blackmail China with the promise of the massive quantities of oil it needs to keep its economy going after he destroys their largest oil import facility. Borjin crosses Dirk Pitts path when he kidnaps a group of scientists doing research in Lake Baikal in Siberia. Meanwhile Dirk Jr. and Summer find an ancient Chinese junk off the coast of Hawaii and are preparing to excavate it when Borjin's brother barges in and kidnaps Summer and leaves Dirk and the other divers to die. Due to the ingenuity of Dirk Jr. and Summer, they take the situation back under control and sink the pirate ship and kill Borjin's brother. In the end Dirk and Al return to Borjin compound in the mountains of Mongolia and rescue the scientists while completely destroying the facility and, of course, killing the evil one.
14. The Brethren - John Grisham - This book is about three judges who were sent to prison for various reason who get together to black mail gay, rich men who are still in the closet. They advertised in a "mens magazine" to hook their victims and send letter back and forth through a crooked lawyer who visits them in prison. One of their victims turns out to be a candidate for President of the United States and members of the CIA have to work clandestinely to protect him. This candidate is being financed by the CIA and the military industrial complex as he advocates for increasing the military budget. Of course no one knows how he gets the massive amounts of money his campaign spends to get him elected. In the end the CIA buys off the judges and gets them out of prison with the promise they will leave the new President alone (weak). The judges retire to Europe and live the good life.

This book could have been half as long and still tell the same story. The author also introduces characters that are meaningless to the plot. Grisham is not my favorite author by any mean. We found this book in our new Manitou Condo when we moved in. I guess I'll send it off to the friends of the library since I'll never read it again.
15. Black Wind - Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler - This time a South Korean business man (the bad guy, who is really a North Korean plant) is trying to force the reunification of the Korea's under North Korean rule. In order to do this in a clandestine way he hatches a plot to spray the west coast of the US with small pox/aids virus (from a rocket) with the idea that if the US is in turmoil the world wouldn't notice what he is trying to accomplish. He also tries to pin this on the Japanese Red Army a low level terrorist group to keep attention from himself and his plot. The majority of this book centers around Dirk Jr. and Summer with Dirk Sr. and Al only showing up in the end to save the day.

This book didn't grab my attention like many of the other Cussler books. It could be I'm starting to tire of Cussler's formula. I also find it somewhat odd that Cussler makes Dirk Jr's and Summer's persona's exactly just like that of their father. They can do everything exceptionally well and they all look death in the face and joke and laugh about it. Highly unlikely. Oh well I only have a few more Cussler books to read as this is my 20th.
16. A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson - This is my second Bill Bryson book and I'm again impressed with his word smithing and story telling abilities. This book is about his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail (or AT) with his friend Stephen Katz and document it. Both Bryson and Katz started out with no backpacking/camping experience and were both over weight and out of shape. The first hurdle is to figure out what kind of equipment they need and to purchase it. They both suffer sticker shock at the cost of good backpacking equipment. They begin their journey with the best of intentions at the southern end of the trail and start hiking northward. They soon realize the scope of the task they have set before themselves and their resolution to walk the complete trail fades over time. Bryson talks about the people they meet along the way and the conditions they had to endure including solitude, heat, snow and rain. He also talks about how this journey changed them and their relationship to the civilized world. There are funny and sad parts to the story but it was all entertaining. Heather and I read this book out loud to each other on our east coast RV/weaving conference trip. I think I will look for other Bryson books to read at the library.
17. Spartan Gold - Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood - This is the first Fargo adventure from Cussler that I have read. The Fargos, Sam and Remi, are the main characters in this book who are husband and wife scientists and professional treasure hunters. In this story they find a sunken WWII German submarine in a swamp in Maryland in which they find a bottle of wine taken from Napolean's "Lost Cellar". Of course they run into bad guys who really want the wine and will stop at nothing to get it because the wine's label contains clues to an even larger treasure of Spartan gold. Sam and Remi traverse Europe looking for other bottles of this rare wine while being persued and almost killed several times. Each bottle they find brings them closer to the treasure which is finally found in a cavern under Saint Bernard's Lake on the Swiss-Italian border. This was a good read and I'll probably seek out other Fargo adventures in the future. These characters seem more real than Dirk Pitt.
18. The Kingdom - Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood - Another Fargo adventure this time with Sam and Remi in Nepal where they are trying to find a friend who has disappeared. They are hired by a rich Texas oil baron bad guy (Charles King) to allegedly hunt for his father when in reality he is searching for a priceless relic (the Theurang) and the location of Shangra La which he knows the Fargo's will search for and find. King, his wife and two children are all in the plot together trying to get the Fargo's to lead them to the relic. Almost killed numerous times, the Fargo's outwit King and his family to find the relic and Shangra La. This book was fun because the Fargo's go into a lot of caves and the story talks alot about Nepal and its interaction with China. I think I like the Fargo stories.
19. Sacred Stone - Clive Cussler with Craig Dirgo - This is another book from the Oregon Files where the Corporation is hired to stop two different terrorist plots involving a radioactive meteorite found in a cave in Greenland. The first is a plot to couple the meteor with a stolen atomic weapon to lay waste to London and the second is to replace the sacred stone of Islam in Mecca with the meteor to poison the pilgrims coming to the hajj. The two different terrorist groups steal and kill each other for the possession of the meteor as it is central to their plans. This was an OK book but I'm coming to the conclusion that these books not written entirely by Clive Cussler aren't as good as those that are. This book had way to many characters that were almost impossible to keep straight. Oh well I probably won't be reading any more books in this series.
20. Amped - Daniel H. Wilson - This is my first book by this New York Times bestselling author who has a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. His credentials make this story more interesting as it is a book about conflict between normal humans and amps (which are humans who have embedded implants either to make them function normally because of a physical/mental condition or to make them into military weapons). I believe the author sees what the future holds for enhanced humans and this is kind of a warning. The plot is that the 100% or pure humans are being stirred into a frenzy against the amps for political reasons. The pure humans are led to believe that the amp are smarter and more able and are therefore taking away their jobs, promotions and their very futures. The lives of the amps keeps getting worse as the US government led by a Senator Vaughn keeps taking away their rights and in the end forces them into relocation camps supposedly for their own protection. The Senator as it turns out is being manipulated by an amp, Lyle, who wants a war between pure and the enhanced humans so he can take over as he has a very powerful implant thanks to the US military. In the end Lyle's plan is uncovered and he is killed by another amp (the main character in the book Owen Gray) and the US regains its sanity and the amps merge back into society. This was an interesting book so I might read another of Wilson's books called Robopocalypse.

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