Books Read in 2019

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1. Moon Shot - Alan Shepard, Deke Slaton with Jay Barbree - This book was about the American space race from the very beginning to the last Apollo missions. It covers much the same ground as the movie "The Right Stuff" but it was an exciting read anyway. It pointed out just how close of friends Shepard and Slaton and how each over came their medical problems to fly into space. I did learn much about failed Russian space missions that I hadn't known about that allowed the US to leap frog the Russians race to the moon. In general it was a good story/history of the brave men who pioneered space travel for the US. The only negative aspect of the book occurred at the very end when the author's blamed Obama for almost closing NASA down. While this might in fact be true, it wasn't noted that Obama had inherited the worst financial situation since the Great Depression and had to cut programs everywhere to bring the problems under control. Other than that, it is a great story for anyone who might not remember these epic moments of American history.
2. The Valhalla Prophecy - Andy McDermott - I just checked this out and found out that I had read it before but had not written it down. I don't think I will reread this right now even though the plot is fuzzy in my head.
3. Ice War - Brian Falkner - Another Falkner book with young adults being the heroes again. I'm starting to believe all of Falkner books are this way. In this story, the Earth has been invaded by Bzadians who are hell bent on taking over the Earth and making Earthlings slaves. The definitive battle for Earth is about to take place in the arctic in the Bering Straits where Bzandian forces are amassing for an invasion of North America. Two teams of Navy Seals had been dispatched to do reconnaissance but were never heard from again. It was decided that a group of young humans (referred to as the Angels) who had been altered to look like Bzandians be sent in as they may succeed where as the Navy Seals could not. The leaders in the Pentagon directing the battle preparation were unaware of the Angels being called in as they were supposed to have been disbanded after some prior issue which was not described in this book. (I believe there must be previous books in this series that would fill in some blanks in this story.) Anyway, the Angels are captured but escape by using their brains and lead the charge to defeat the Bzadians.  The battle takes place around Little Diomede island which really exists. This was a decent story but my least favorite of the Falkner books I have read so far because it focuses on battle and I am not a huge fan of military battle stories.
4. The Lost Order  - Steve Berry - I hadn't read a Berry novel in a long time so I thought I would read this one. It was a good story that, as usual, has basis in historical fact. Here is the description from Amazon: "The Knights of the Golden Circle was the largest and most dangerous clandestine organization in American history. It amassed billions in stolen gold and silver, all buried in hidden caches across the United States. Since 1865 treasure hunters have searched, but little of that immense wealth has ever been found. Now, one hundred and sixty years later, two factions of what remains of the Knights of the Golden Circle want that lost treasure―one to spend it for their own ends, the other to preserve it. Thrust into this battle is former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone, whose connection to the knights is far deeper than he ever imagined. At the center is the Smithsonian Institution―linked to the knights, its treasure, and Malone himself through an ancestor, a Confederate spy named Angus “Cotton” Adams, whose story holds the key to everything. Complicating matters are the political ambitions of a reckless Speaker of the House and the bitter widow of a United States Senator, who together are planning radical changes to the country. And while Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt face the past, ex-president Danny Daniels and Stephanie Nelle confront a new and unexpected challenge, a threat that may cost one of them their life. From the backrooms of the Smithsonian to the deepest woods in rural Arkansas, and finally up into the rugged mountains of northern New Mexico, The Lost Order by Steve Berry is a perilous adventure into our country’s dark past, and a potentially even darker future." Interestingly, the plot describes the dysfunction of government that everyone sees but no one seems to be able to do anything about. A way around this impasse is presented in this book that would be perfectly legal today but no one has the guts to try it.
5. The Bishop's Pawn - Steve Berry - This is a story about a possible explanation of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Even though his death was been investigated over and over questions remain about whether the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was behind King's assassination.  In this story the answer is yes but what made this story interesting was the twist that King himself purposely set himself up to be killed with the hopes that that would  cement his legacy and his teachings more soundly than if he had stayed alive. The story, most of which is based on facts, tells how James Earl Ray was recruited in Canada because of his deep seated hate for black people and was then send around to various training venues around the US and Mexico to hone his killing skills. Cotton Malone get drafted from JAG into the Magellan Billet for this his first mission and is sent to Florida by Stephanie Nelle the head of Magellan Billet.  Malone get tangled up between bad apples in the FBI who want to silence him and  people  who want any new investigation of King's death to end. Malone keeps getting caught by the bad guys and escaping while trying to understand King's death and the people who played a part in it. In the end Malone has all of the evidence of what happened but decides to destroy it because publishing it would only reopen wounds that have somewhat healed.

This was an interesting read because I never had studied King or his death and this story enlightened me a bit about what happened. I guess we will never know for sure whether Hoover ordered King's death or not. My guess he did.
6. Inquisition - David Gibbins - Haven't read a Gibbins book for a while so I thought it was time to check in with Jack Howard and Costas to see what they have been up to. In this story they start out by finding a ship wreck and some old coins in the waters off of England's south western coast. In trying to trace the history of the wreck they did a lot of research on where the ship came from, who the captain was and what the purpose of the final voyage was. They discovered the ship was used to move people and goods from Tangier's when the English surrendered the town to the Moor's. The history was traced back to various pirates who captured and then lost the ship during subsequent battles. Most interestingly, they found out that a sister ship, the "Black Swan" was dispatched from Tangier's at the same time carrying the Holy Grail to attempt to keep it safe from the Altamanus (a secret society of religious zealots and sadists that were spawned from the Spanish Inquisition). The grail was sent to a priest who secreted it away from Port Royal to Brazil in the hopes of keeping it safe. Unfortunately the Altamanus tracked the shipment and killed and burned the village of the priest in their attempt to secure the grail. Luckily the priest and a few followers again escaped with the grail and hid it in a mine in a cavern that could only be accessed by diving. Of course Jack and Costas find the grail in the end after defeating the Altamanus and take it again to a high mountain sanctuary in the hopes that it would remain safe until such time as the world was ready for it.

I found the long history described in the book to be a bit much but what fascinated me was that the author explained at the end of the story that his main character Jack is actually a reflection of himself and that he in fact is an archaeologist and expert diver and did find a ship wreck off the coast of England with the spoils he described in the book. This makes the story more real to me as it is based mostly in fact. The grail portion of the story, however, is pure fiction. I almost sent this book back to the library because I was bored with the story but the end of the story proved quiet exciting.
7. Pharaoh - David Gibbins - Another Gibbins historical novel about the British in Egypt and Sudan in the middle to late 1800's. The book really is about that history and the presence of Jack, Costas and company are really a sideline. The history was mildly interesting proven by the fact that I read the book all of the way through. I think this is my last Gibbins novel for a while.
8. Pyramid of Doom - Andy McDermott - Another story featuring Eddie and Nina and a lot of killing,  explosions and close calls. In this story Nina is depressed because she lost her position at IHC and because of recent scandals her career as well. The couple are living month to month in a run down place because that is all they can afford. Eddie is working as a body guard for Grant, the famous Hollywood action film actor, to make ends meet. A graduate student Macy who is working on a dig in Egypt finds out that the bad guys (associated with an Osiris cult) have been digging illegally near the pyramids in Gaza in an attempt to find the Pyramid Of Osiris before the officially sanctioned archaeologists do. Macy finds out that only three of the four scrolls describing the directions to the Pyramid of Osiris were turned over to the authorities and the bad guys have the fourth and final scroll. The cult believes that Osiris baked bread containing a very special yeast that would guarantee eternal life so they wanted to find the pyramid and hopefully spores of the yeast (along with all of the treasure) so they could again bake the life giving bread and charge people a lot of money to keep the bread flowing their way. Macy contacts Nina because she knows of her reputation and the couple quickly gets drawn into the fray where seemingly everyone is out to get them. They travel all over Egypt to find the temple of Osiris with the bad guys on their tail and travel to other European cities as their quest dictates.           

Needless to say Eddie, Nina and Macy are successful in finding the temple first and defeating the cults of Osiris and Set to turn the temple complex over to the Egyptian authorities. In the process they torch the Osiris cult's headquarters thereby killing any spores from the temple. As a result of this find, Eddie and Nina are given a prestigious award from the Egyptian government and Nina is offered her old position back at IHC. Hence, depression gone. This was a good fast paced story that I really enjoyed.                                                                                    
9. Empire of Gold - Andy McDermott - Nina, Eddie and Macy are called in when another Earth energy statue was found in a secret room under Glastonbury Tor. Nina is the only one who can activate these statues to emit a blue glow when she and the statues are at an Earth energy location. When the previously found statue is brought together with the newly found one they emit a pattern that points to another status from the same set so the crew sets off for South America to find the other statue. In the process they find a unknown Inca temple and the other statue that was cut in half vertically. More importantly they find paintings that describe where the legendary city of El Dorado, the city of gold, is located and this is the location of the second half of the status they found. So off they go again after narrowly escaping a military coup leader and his drug dealing friends who are only in it for the riches. After deciphering the information of the cave drawings they find El Dorado and as soon as they start to investigate the bad guys show up again and try to kill them all and to steal the treasures. Eddie's long time friend and mentor Mac is killed by an associate of the drug lord, Kit, so after defeating the bad guys at El Dorado, Eddie takes out after the escaping solders and kills them all. After things calm down Eddie realizes that Mac was killed by Kit, so Eddie takes off to bring him to justice. In the process a natural gas pipeline is blown up and Kit is killed. Eddie's involvement is caught on video and even Nina sees him do it. What nobody saw was that Kit had a gun and was about to kill Eddie before he saved himself. The authorities come and arrest Eddie for murder and Nina even turns her back on him. Eddie knew he could never prove his innocence from prison so he escapes leaving the Police and Nina to wonder where he went. The book mysteriously ends at this point with the story continuing in another McDermott book called "Temple of the Gods" which unfortunately our library does not have. I am sure I will come across this book at some point so I can find out how Eddie clears himself and gets back with Nina.
10. Lewis & Clark for DUMMIES - Sammye J. Meadows and Jana Sawyer Prewitt - When I saw this DUMMIES book about Lewis & Clark I was intrigued and in actuality it turned out to be a good format for describing the people and places that the Corp of Discovery came upon. I have read of their travels in the past but I needed a refresher. The authors are two women which also changed the perspective of the material. I liked the way they described all of the major players up front so you had some idea as to their histories and their talents that allowed them to join the corp. The authors describe the travels as the worlds longest camping trip. The authors also dove into the personalities of Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson to give readers a glimpse into their thinking about the necessity for the adventure that followed. The coverage of the trip was well  described and in many sections the story was told in the actual words of the explorers.  The first person descriptions pointed out that Clark was not a very educated man but was an excellent mountain man and that Lewis was not a good business man (who failed in all of his post journey endeavors) and had terrible bouts of depression which lead to his eventual suicide. After describing the journey the authors had interesting observations about places that have and have not changed since Lewis & Clark's times, about places to visit that Lewis and Clerk visited tht still exist, about the environmental impacts since the journey, about the impacts white men had on the Indian tribes, about how the US government reneged on all of the treaties they entered into with the native American and how the animal life has been decimated since then. It was somehow refreshing to read about their journey again and to virtually revisit the west before the arrival of the white man.
11. The Revelation Code - Andy McDermott - A CIA covert operation in the desert discovers ancient ruins concealing a humanoid statue, with six wings and the face of a lion. When the CIA agents are attacked by Iraqi forces the angel is  destroyed but in the process gives off a deadly gas which kills everyone except team member Ezekiel Cross. Cross is then  convinced that the statue represents one of four angels prophesied in the Book of Revelation setting him off on his own mission (he thinks) from God.

Depressed following the death of her friend Macy, Nina has been focusing her energies on her pregnancy, rather than the archaeological discoveries for which she is famous. But adventure still finds her when she's kidnapped by religious cultists lead by Cross intending to force her to locate the remaining angels with the idea that if all of the statues are destroyed it will begin the apocalypse and he will be given access to all of God's secrets.

Nina engages in a battle of wits against her captors, knowing her only hope of rescue is for Eddie to find the other statues first. But with a ruthless maniac determined to fulfill Revelation's prophecy, time is running out. Only by keeping the angels out of the cultists' hands can Nina and Eddie prevent the coming apocalypse.

Nina and Eddie figure out that Cross intends to break the other Angels he has found and therefore release their deadly poison in Mecca and in the Vatican to kill as many believers as possible as he believes the religions these places represent are blasphemous to Gods true will. In the end of course Eddie and Nina are successful in thwarting Cross' plans and eventually kill him and all of his supporters/believers one way or another.

This was a fun read in typical McDermott format.
12. The Wheel of Time - Carlos Castaneda - I hadn't read any Castaneda books since college so I thought I would try this one since I was fascinated with his books I did read. This book was different in that he took quotes from Don Juan and other naguals/shamans from each of his previous books and then tried to summarized what he learned from them. I was amazed that I still remembered many of the terms used to described warriors and their view of the universe. I didn't learn anything new from this book but it was a nice trip down memory lane.
13. Pyramid - David Gibbins - This is a continuation of his book Pharaoh that I read previously. In this story Jack and Costas almost die many times but somewhere always survive. The descendants of the Mahdi (out for revenge for a slight 100 years old, committed by Kitchener after the death of Gordon of Khartoum ), the Jihadists, infiltrating all levels of government until Egypt is ready to fall, and with it the western worlds cradle of archaeology. The country that captures the imagination with its immense age and towering monuments, all at risk, and Jack and Costas searching for the last clues to 10 years of searching to find Akhenaten, his links to Moses and what drove these men, one to destroy his own army and turn against his gods and another to found a people. Jack has connected a mystery hidden inside a great pyramid to a fossilized discovery in the Red Sea and a 110-year-old handwritten report of a man who claims to have escaped a labyrinth beneath Cairo. For that his team is stalked by a brutal extremist organization that will destroy any treasure they find. In the end Jack and Costas find Akhenaten's City Of Lights which is a library under the great pyramid by swimming into a tunnel off of the Nile that has been hidden for thousands of years. Unfortunately they cannot yet tell the world about this discovery because the Jihadists would surely destroy everything as non Muslim. This was not a bad read and was very suspenseful especially at the end. Also, Gibbins does an amazing job of combining historical facts with his fiction in the creation of this story. It's hard to tell when facts end and fiction begins.
14. When Einstein Walked with Godel - Jim Holt - A somewhat interesting book about the leaders/thinkers in science from ancient times to more recently. Does time exist? What is infinity? Why do mirrors reverse left and right but not up and down? In this collection of essays, Holt explores the human mind, the cosmos, and the thinkers who’ve tried to encompass the latter with the former. Holt probes the mysteries of quantum mechanics, the quest for the foundations of mathematics, and the nature of logic and truth. Along the way, he offers intimate biographical sketches of celebrated and neglected thinkers, from the physicist Emmy Noether to the computing pioneer Alan Turing and the discoverer of fractals, Benoit Mandelbrot. He offers an introduction to many of our most beautiful but least understood ideas, from Einsteinian relativity to string theory, and also invites us to consider why the greatest logician of the twentieth century believed the U.S. Constitution contained a terrible contradiction―and whether the universe truly has a future.

I will admit I didn't read this book from cover to cover as I usually do as some of the more psychological portions of the book didn't interest me.
15. Crucible - James Rollins - Another Sigma Force story. This time it is all about AI and the threat it posses to society. In this story Mara, a young woman genus, invents an AI "being" that lives in a laser contained sphere. She is just about to give a demo of Eve (her AI), when a group of religious fanatics storms in and kills all the people she was going to give her demo to. These people want to wipe all progress off of the face of the Earth and create a simpler time before technology where they could have complete control over everything and everybody. Eve was just starting to get sentient when the demo tragedy occurred and flashed a sigma sign to her creator. The religious order was watching the video feed before the demo and saw the sigma sign and decided that the Sigma organization was a threat to their plan so they kidnapped Monk's and Kat's two children and Seichan who was very pregnant. In the process Kat is seriously injured and was almost considered brain dead and taken off life support. They wanted to trade the Eve device for the people they kidnapped.

The zealots gained control of the Eve device and warped it to their evil needs and unleashed it on Paris France. The AI caused fires to breakout everywhere and at the same time killed all the water supply so Paris would burn to the ground. At the same time the AI broke into a nuclear power plant on the outskirts of Paris and shut down all safety systems in the hope of causing a melt down which would make northern Europe a wasteland for hundred of years to come. Luckily Mara brought back up the normal Eve and she restored the safety systems and prevented a melt down.

By this time Sigma was hot on the trail of the zealots and chases them into the hills of Portugal where the final battle is fought. Luckily the good guys won again and due to modern medical technology Kat is brought out of her coma and made a complete recovery.

It is interesting that Rollins wrote two endings to the story. The pleasant one above and an alternative in which the evil AI accomplished it goals and takes over the Earth by unleashing nano bots that consumed everything. He also wrote a short warning about AI and said according to his research the "Singularity" (when computers become as smart as or smarter than humans) will happen in the next decade and most likely in the next five years. He is truly scared of what might happen to humans then. He ends with the phrase, "be very afraid".
16. The Pharaoh Key - Preston & Child - This was a fun story from authors I haven't read in a while. Two guys, Gideon and Garza, were laid off by their company Effective Engineering Solutions in a mysterious manner in that the company just folded without warning and people's paychecks just stopped. Gideon and Garza went back to the company to collect their belongings and noticed that a computer which had been working on decrypting what was called the "Phaistos Disc" for years finally finished with its translation. They began thinking that they have this answer to what might be the location of treasure that their x-boss Eli Glinn didn't have and decided to keep the result to themselves and set out for finding the treasure somewhere deep in Africa in the vicinity of Egypt and Sudan in a no mans land.

They pooled their money and outfitted their expedition and headed out. They ran into nothing but trouble along the way because they have no facilities with the language nor local customs. They meet up with a woman, Imogen, who says she is a geologist and must share camels with her to get to where they are going. They strike out through the desert and are eventually captured by an unknown people who are living an Egyptian second century life. They are almost put to death but engineer Garza saves the kings daughter and shows them how to use a leverage to build their mini burial pyramids faster and with less effort. They become part of the community and are given more and more freedoms to leave the camp on hunting trips. All the time they are looking for the treasure of the Phaistos Disc and finally find what they believe is a tomb. They eventually break into the tomb and find substantial treasure but now mummies so they determine this is a shrine not a tomb. They eventually decide to make a run for it after bagging as much treasure as they could carry on their camels. Of course the plan goes south and they barely escape with nothing with their lives. What they did discover was a prototype of the ten commandments which was written by an Egyptian pharaoh not by Moses as believed by all major religions. Because of the disruptions this would cause they decided to keep the secret among them and to let someone else find the shrine and present it to the world.

Gideon then goes back to New Mexico to die from his terminal disease, Imogen basically disappears but did revel to them that she was actually Eli Glinn's niece and an archaeologist and was spying on them the whole time. Garza goes back to the community to become their king and live out the rest of his life with his new wife and child.

This was an entertaining story which I read in record time. Preston & Child still have it.
17. The Sacred Vault - Andy McDermott - Nina and Eddie are back in another epic thriller. As the story opens Michelangelo's David is stolen from its plinth in Florence, Italy, in the latest of a series of audacious raids of the world's greatest treasures. When another treasure, the Talonor Codex - an account of the travels of a great Atlantean explorer, which suggests a link between the ancient Hindu civilization of India and the Atlanteans is stolen from an exhibition in San Francisco, Nina and Eddie join the adventure. They must now race across the world from India to Nicaragua, the Himalayas to Greenland, to find the vault of Shiva before the man who has stolen the Codex. For the Codex says that inside the vault lies the Shiva Purana, the written words and chronicles of Shiva, the ancient Hindu god of destruction and transformation. With the Shiva Purana the villain Khoil and his evil wife Vanita hopes to end the Kali Yuga (the final stage of the cycle of Yugas in Hinduism, which is marked by violence, strife and discord) and to begin the Satya Yuga cycle with them in charge of course. There plan was to start WWIII and have all the major powers annihilate themselves while they hold up in opulence in an abandoned radar base in Greenland. Of course Nina and Eddie crash their party in Greenland, kill Khoil and Vanita and warn the world putting an end to their plans. This was a good story like the rest of McDermott's books.
18. Shivering World - Kathy Tyers - Tyers is a new author for me which I selected on a whim. It seems she has been writing sci-fi books for quiet a while and if they are like this book I may read them all. This was a good story that takes place in the future (2143) when religious colonists are trying to terraform a planet for themselves. Unfortunately they have to employee expert humans to guide them in this endeavor. The main character is a teacher/soil biologist named Graysha with a rare terminal disease that signs on to the task because of the triple pay she wants to use to pay off her divorce settlement. The colonists have manipulated their genes to cure common aliments and for longer life which makes them abominations to the EB (Eugenics Board run by Graysha's mother) because they are not pure human. Graysha has accepted this assignment in part to get away from her mother and her mother's fanatic religion. As problems develop in the cooling of the planet, Graysha investigates and finds that a fellow scientist is causing the problem by trying to develop a bacteria that removes CFCs from the atmosphere so he can win a large cash prise. When it becomes apparent that the terraforming experiment on the planet is likely to fail the organization bank rolling the project (made up of pure humans) decides to terminate the colonization of the planet against the will of the people. When the humans pull out the colonists decide to stay anyway even if it means their own deaths. Graysha having fallen in love with a colonist decides to stay as well. The story ends with Graysha marriage and the hope of a better life away from her mother and her politics.
19. How to change your mind - Michael Pollan - Overview of the research done and being done on the science of psychedelics used for both clinical and recreational purposes. There is a lot of discussion about using psychedelics to help terminal patients deal with end of life issues, using them for depression and anxiety, as a treatment for alcoholism and drug dependency and as a tool for stimulating creativity. Not only did Pollan research the science he also experimented with LSD, psilocybin many times and ayahuasca to gather first hand knowledge of their affects. There is also a lot of discussion of brain chemistry and brain imaging of people under the influence. He describes the Default Mode Network (DMN) discovered in 2001 which is a portion of the brain that acts like a hub controlling the actions of multiple parts of the brain and how during tripping the DMN basically turns off and lets these brain areas communicate directly reducing or eliminating the filtering effect that results in normal consciousness. It is speculated that the DMN is where the ego is located and when in the off state creates a dissolution of the sense of self. This book has made me consider doing mushrooms again to try and jar my mind out of its rut and open the doors for more creative thinking. I think it has helped Pollan in that regard.
20. Aerial Geology - Mary Caperton Morton - An interesting book about many of the geological features of the North American continent. Each chapter is a different area and contains a short description along with photographs taken mainly from space. There are chapters on volcanoes, canyons, glaciers, lakes, craters and lakes. There were many areas I hadn't heard of before and there were a few geologic facts that I learned from the text. I found it interesting that Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs was not covered since it is a truly amazing geologic site. This was a fairly interesting read but definitely not riveting by any mean.

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