Review: Concrete Jungle

Concrete Jungle

Getting the latest Brannigan’s Blackhearts novel was about as easy a decision for me as a panda’s decision to eat bamboo. After devouring Concrete Jungle, where the Blackhearts go to Prague, what do I think? It’s very sad for me to say this given how much I absolutely adore the series, but I did feel this was lacking compared to past installments. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a decent 51% (or more?) cheap thriller. Everything I like about them is still there. And it’s very hard for any series to remain completely electrifying for twelve installments.

But I did feel that this is the (comparative) worst of the series to date. Most of the enemy gimmicks are either reused from earlier books or mundane. For instance, in the the bulk of the novel, the Blackhearts fight-Eastern European mobsters. Mobster-slaying is as 70s as disco and bad mustaches. And I felt that the lucky breaks/narrative contrivances the protagonists got this time were a little too obvious. Yes, they were always there, but they were concealed a lot better in earlier installments.

This series has been on a great run, and nothing can take that away. But still I hope it isn’t jumping the shark completely.

Review: The Tiger Queens

The Tiger Queens: The Women Of Genghis Khan

Another walk off the beaten Fuldapocalyptic path for me is historical novel The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton. First, this is another obvious “this is something I’m not the target audience for” book. So I may be biased in that regard. Nonetheless, I found it a little disappointing.

The book is about the Mongols. Which leads to the greatest issue I found. The biggest problem isn’t the plot or characters, it’s the writing. Even taking that it’s basically historical chick lit into account, the prose is way too flowery for something about the rise of the Mongol Empire.

Still, this isn’t a bad book, it’s just not one for me. Which I kind of expected. Oh well. When you walk off the beaten path, sometimes you encounter prickly plants.

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

I have excellent news regarding my NaNoWriMo project. Writing it has been fun and progress on it has been successful and smooth. I still don’t know if I’ll be able to meet the technical deadline, but I’d rather write at a comfortable pace and miss the arbitrary endpoint than push myself too far.

I feel like I should also (further) reveal what this is: An alternate history pop epic/mystery set in a timeline where the USSR endured in a reformed form (while a lot of stories understandably have the August Coup succeeding, in this it never happened), and the hypothetical Soviet-Romanian War I’ve mused about on this blog plays a huge role in the plot.

Of course, the unfortunate tradeoff is that by writing, I’m admittedly having less energy to read and review on Fuldapocalypse. But rest assured, my creative engine is still running.

The Big Amphibs

There have been many proposals proposal to make large amphibious warships. One of the more interesting is the Project 11780 amphibious ship, proposed in the last days of the USSR. Nicknamed the “Ivan Tarava” because of its comparable performance to the American Tarawa amphib, its proper name was, in an eerie coincidence given the recent war, the Kherson class.

The Khersons would have been built in Nikolayev, not far from their namesake province. Besides the collapse of the Soviet Union, what doomed them even before that was that the yard was chosen to build the Kuznetsov carriers instead. One interesting quirk is that the Kherson designers reportedly loathed the idea of their ship being converted to a fixed-wing carrier and thus moved a gun turret in one of the drafts so it would block the flight deck and prevent a simple conversion.

The Khersons were designed to carry 1000 marine infantry and up to around 60-70 “pieces of equipment”. They could hold both helicopters and landing craft.

Review: Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL

Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger’s Pros and Cons is a 1999 book about the massive instances of NFL players who had criminal records. These players were not just chosen in the draft in spite of their criminal backgrounds, but were often shielded by their teams to great extents. So far, that does not sound surprising, being just a few years removed from the OJ Simpson trial. But they deliberately avoid talking about the obvious “superstar power” and instead focus near-entirely on how the teams twist to protect criminal players who are not stars by any definition of the term.

It’s well-researched and has many harrowing examples. But it comes across as flawed for two big reasons. The first is that it ultimately feels sensationalist for the sake of sensationalism. This is of course a massive inherent issue for true crime books like it. But it seems to go further in that it assumes its readers are holding to a hopelessly outdated “Gee whiz, look at that Mickey Mantle, so nice and clean” mindset that I can assure you was not present even in children at the time of the book’s release (I know this because I was one at the time. I can tell you that I knew more about Dennis Rodman’s off-court antics than about what made him good on it).

Which leads to the second not-its-fault problem. This is like a book on unrestrained warfare-released in 1913. The internet was a paradigm shift in how these inevitable incidents were processed and viewed, and arriving just before it really broke out massively makes it horrendously dated.

I can’t really recommend this book. It’s a dated true crime book that’s basically redundant by this point.

Review: Advance To Contact 1980 (Ronsone/Aaronson)

Advance To Contact 1980

The time has come to finally return to the starting theme of this blog. A 1980s World War III book is being reviewed here, Advance to Contact by James Ronsone and Alex Aaronson. This is a very Larry Bond-esque book taking place at an unusual time (beginning of the decade, or as I like to call it NATO Hard Mode) and in unusual places like Iran and Central America. Operation Eagle Claw succeeds-and things spiral from there.

Of course, I have an obligatory rivet-counting nitpick. Eagle Claw was more or less completely unworkable and it was probably for the best that it failed as early as it did. Reaching the city itself would just lead to massive collateral damage and the deaths of the hostages. Eagle Claw succeeding is like Operation Sea Lion succeeding in terms of plausibility.

But for the sake of the story, I’ll gladly it slide. Different theaters certainly beats Germany and the North Atlantic. Especially when the geography leads to different types of battles than giant mechanized blasts in the Fulda Gap.

As far as literary quality, this is a little rough but very forgivable. While at times it gets clunky, this is an extremely hard genre to write well. It certainly did not stop me from enjoying this book, and I look forward to the next installment.

Review: The Wandering Warriors

The Wandering Warriors

Rick Wilder and Alan Smale’s The Wandering Warriors is a very goofy novel. In it, a 1940s baseball team finds itself isekaied to Ancient Rome. Hijinks ensue. Lots of hijinks. Ok, lots and lots of hijinks.

This silly book has a silly premise and a silly conclusion. But it’s a lot of fun. Don’t read it expecting any kind of historical accuracy, serious study or culture clash. Read it for the ridiculous fun of a baseball team teaching Romans to play baseball in the Colosseum.

If you like out-there time travel fantasy, this is the book for you.