Cover Image: Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement

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(See all of my Book Reviews) - "Rules of Engagement" eBook was published in 2019 and was written by David Bruns ( and J. R. Olson. Together they have published more than 15 novels. 

I categorize this novel as ‘R’ because it contains scenes of Violence and Mature Language. The story is set in contemporary times. While the main character is Don Riley who is head of the US Cyber Command, there are many characters in the story. 

Wanted terrorist Rafiq Roshed has fled to North Korea. From there he has unleashed an attack against the US power grid. Not long after that, he puts in motion events to raise would tension to prompt the sales of Russian arms. But he has his own agenda and he not only wants to raise tension in the Pacific, but he was the world on fire.  

Riley leads the effort to find Roshed and stop him before he causes World War III. This is made more difficult by Roshed hiding in North Korea. Roshed has schemed to infiltrate the military communications networks of China, Japan, and the US, Using that access he is causing one incident after another. Making the wrong decision will move the enflamed situation into a shooting war. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the 6+ hours I spent reading this 329-page thriller. There were many characters to keep up with in the novel. I did find the depiction of cyber warfare more accurate than most novels. I lick forward to the next novel in this series. I like the selected cover art. I give this novel a 5 out of 5.

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This was my first David Bruns book, and I found it fascinating and timely. The plot was modern and in step with today’s political currants. Rafiq Roshed is American’s number one enemy, intelligent and lethal. Roshed vanishes behind the North Korean borders from where he begins to operate his evil cyber offense against the U.S. The elusive computer whiz has developed a computer virus, a masterpiece which if not stopped on time will throw the world in a new World War III, with an end of the world scenario.

Testing his virus capabilities, Roshed deploys it against the Chinese military that loses control of their war machine by launching remotely a number of offenses against the U.S. The Head of the U.S. Cyber Command, Don Riley, discovers that the virus had infected the U.S. military system. 

Time is of the essence to neutralize the virus and stop Roshed from advancing further with his plan. Rules of Engagement came on June 25 and is an extraordinary journey of what present-day military faces in combat. It's petrifying to think a computer malfunction can be to blame for destroying the world. Bruns has done a fine job of balancing fiction and reality, and I find his work to be phenomenal.
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Captain Brendan McHugh is overseeing the rapid expansion of CIA’s Trident Program into a formidable network of signals intelligence monitoring around the world using civilian vessels to hide their capabilities in plain sight. One of his best friends, Don Riley, is working for the United States Cyber Command. He’s trying to recruit the best and the brightest midshipmen right out of the Naval Academy for his program. Finding three extremely talented men and women, he incorporates them into his team for training.

Rafiq Roshed, one of the worlds most wanted terrorists, has evaded escape from the authorities over the course of the two previous novels. He’s been lying low for years while being sheltered by North Korea. After hunting Roshed for years, Liz Soroush from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Brendan’s wife, finally unearths a clue to Roshed’s whereabouts, causing the U.S. government to go on the offensive.

Meanwhile, Roshed now has an opportunity to strike back and he becomes involved in a nefarious scheme to pit two world nations against one another for profiteering purposes. But, Rafiq has other plans to use his resources and his cyberwarfare team to wreak havoc not just on two nations but on the world! With Roshed bringing the planet to the brink of World War III, Brendan, Don and his team of midshipman must marshal all of the government’s resources to bear on the problem before the world burns in flames.

As the line of dominoes begins to fall, each one collapsing faster than the last, Roshed’s machinations threaten to blossom into full-blown warfare! China, Japan, and the United States are drawn into a situation which teeters out of control and into a conflict in which no one will win and the entire world will lose! There is only one way for this to end and it’s all up to a dedicated team of specialists to stop the apocalypse. It also has a spine-tingling finale that makes your adrenaline pump non-stop as you wonder who will live and who will die. And there is plenty of death, so you never know what’s going to happen next and who might not survive to the next chapter.

The novel efficiently follows the plot one scene at a time and the reader follows the action, zooming from one destination to another. Each scene is built on the one before it, the ramifications of each one slowly building intrigue and increasing the tension bit by bit. The scenes don’t linger in one place for very long as Roshed’s plan unfolds in front of the readers with each terrifying moment.

This story moves at a very fast pace, utilizing short chapters with many different characters and features numerous locales. From the Navy’s Seventh Fleet of aircraft carriers and other craft patrolling off the coast of China to Chinese J-11 fighters in the sky to submarines maneuvering deep under the ocean, the action is swift, tactical and brutal. Moving from the halls of power in North Korea to the hidden power brokers of the Russian Bratva, we see the actions of world leaders and the impact of their actions on ordinary citizens.

We also explore the deepest recesses of the U.S. government and its armed forces struggling to get ahead of circumstances that are difficult to comprehend. Making the right decision when you must pick the best of the worst options available to you, it puts lives at risk no matter what choice is made. The story focuses on each crucial development, wherever it may lead, riveting me with its details the whole time.

Utilizing all of these elements and more, the storyline of this novel is intelligent, intricate and meticulously well thought out, filled with plenty of clever twists, strategic moves, and high stakes. I also appreciated the realism of this book. As both authors are retired Navy officers, they bring a wealth of experience and accurate military details to this tale that heighten its authenticity and make it that much more electrifying.

The chapters and scenes are noted with a location change, so the reader knows where the story is moving next, following one character or another. Since the action moves fast, this is a necessary and welcomed feature. The cast of characters is five pages long and you might think this feels overpowering. However, each scene seamlessly moved from one to the next and I never got lost or forgot what was happening and whom it was happening to.

Each chapter is so clearly delineated from the others by its scenery and its distinctiveness, it was very easy for me to keep up. Each character is also imbued with personality, motivations and different responsibilities. Each one is also quite memorable. It feels refreshing to jump from one to the other without it ever feeling stale and it always stoked the fires of excitement.

Some characters get more development than others. Don’s team of midshipmen particularly comes to mind here. Michael Goodwin, Janet Everett, and Andrea Ramirez are the three plebes who are thrown into the deep end of this international crisis. Michael is a real standout among the three, as his backstory as a teen in Los Angeles is very notable, as are his unusual computer skills.

Their abilities provide a complementarity with one another that make them mesh as a team, even when faced with overwhelming odds and the fate of the world hanging on their every move. Their meshing on a personal and professional level earn them the nickname of “The Triad” and their skills prove to be invaluable to solving this catastrophe.

This is just one excellent example of how teamwork plays a critical role in how the U.S. government tries to problem solve each of these growing crises. It’s rarely never just one man who saves the day like you might see in the movies. It’s how soldiers, government officials and everyone else in-between is collectively working together towards the common goal of trying to capture a heinous terrorist and saving the day. It’s this exemplary service, determination, and bravery of the United States Armed Forces in the face of overwhelming odds that is one of the most admirable traits of this novel.

For those of you who have never read these authors before, welcome! There’s plenty of reading material by these two authors that take place prior to this novel. “Rules of Engagement” is the third novel in “The WMD Files” series. The first novel in the series is “Weapons of Mass Deception” and the second is “Jihadi Apprentice.” There are also two short stories that fit into the timeline of the first two novels called “Death of a Pawn” and “Battle Djinni”.

Previous events from these stories are alluded to and deftly integrated into this current narrative. While it is not necessary to do so, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out these two prior novels and the two short stories. They enhance this story here as well as flesh out these characters and their history that much more, deepening my emotional investment in these tales as a result. They also happen to be thrilling roller-coaster rides from beginning to end, just like this novel.

It’s been over six years since the events of “Jihadi Apprentice” and the main characters in each novel have shifted with each one. As such, Don has moved into the spotlight with his team of talented midshipman and their importance in the novel grows to be one of the focal points of this story. I would’ve liked to see Brendan and Elizabeth in action more in this novel since they were the main characters in the previous two novels. However, they are relegated to more supporting roles here. Consequently, there is also a sense that the baton is being passed from one generation to the next.

I’ve read the previous two novels in this series by these two authors, as well as other stories that were written by David Bruns and his other collaborators. All of the traits I enjoy from those stories are all present here: individually distinguished characters, a mesmerizing concept, a brisk pace, an enveloping story, well-written prose, and a highly entertaining storytelling experience. In comparing this novel to the others in this series, I think this novel is a clear evolution of their style and they really stepped up to the plate when they wrote this book. It’s their best collaboration yet.

I’ve read many military thrillers like this over the years and this one ranks up there with my favorites, especially books like “Red Phoenix” by Larry Bond and “Team Yankee” by Harold Coyle. In case you didn’t know, Bond also co-wrote “Red Storm Rising” with Tom Clancy. Both Bond, Coyle and other authors like W.E.B. Griffin and Tom Clancy have written many military novels I’ve enjoyed and I hold this novel in the same high esteem as those and more.

In this day and age where everything is wirelessly connected through the internet and through satellites, this is a taut and terrifying cautionary tale that is all too real. Cyberwarfare is the next battleground that continues to play out on the world stage, being fought every day without much of the general population being aware of it. This novel explores that idea in vivid detail, educating as it goes from one scenario to the next without slowing down the narrative in the slightest. Military thrillers like this can sometimes go into too much detail that bogs down the story but this novel strikes the perfect balance between information, plot development, personal characterization, and action.

Overall, I found this to be a frighteningly plausible novel about cyberwarfare and an unputdownable geo-political technothriller of the highest order. I greatly look forward to the next novel in this series!

Please note I received an advance copy of this ebook through NetGalley.
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The authors acknowledge that their work  has often been compared to early Tom Clancy. Certainly the emphasis on technology for the purpose of national defense makes this an easy comparison, however the focus on network hacking made this book especially timely and takes it out of the realm of “early” anything. My knowledge of cyber security is just beyond beginner so there were some elements that I skimmed, but in general the possibility of a rogue terrorist taking over the defense systems of multiple targets for the purpose of creating worldwide chaos seems frighteningly real. The scenes in which the hacker launched weapons  of one nation against another to heighten world tensions was heart stopping in their detail and implications.
Making the heroes a team of undergraduate Naval Academy computer savants was a stroke of genius. The reader is rooting for them from the very beginning and the fact that their commanding officers quickly recognize their talents meant we didn’t have to waste much time fuming at the idiocy of those in charge. 
Alternating chapters enable the reader to switch from first viewing the drama from the perspective of the Arab  terrorist and the North Korean government agents bankrolling him and then to the team of midshipmen. The motivations of the players on both sides are gradually revealed and adds to the buy-in of the reader. 
I may not have understood every step of the process in which the global security systems were attacked and defended, but the writing was clear enough to make the whole exercise exciting and ultimately satisfying.
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The scenarios laid out by David Bruns and J. R. Olson hit a little too close to home! This thrill a minute action suspense novel has the North Koreans hacking the computer systems of the US, Chinese, and Japanese armed services.  The Russians rear their ugly heads as well.  That was enough to start me reading and the non-stop action kept me entertained. Are some of the scenarios far fetched? Well, as fast as technology changes, you never know! I am willing to suspend my beliefs and enjoy.  If I have on criticism, it's the amount of jargon and acronyms used,  which confused me at times.  The characters are three dimensional, the dialogue is crisp and the pacing is fast. Very entertaining.I received my copy through NetGalley under no obligation.
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Rules of Engagement
by David Bruns and J. R. Olson

5 stars

A thrilling read from the first page to the last. 

A Well-crafted story, that builds characters and plot.  It is an easy read that flows well.

China and Japan have lost control of their military and the U.S. is in danger of doing the same. It is reliant on the U.S. Cyber Command, discovers to fight back and stop an elusive terrorist.

This title has been reviewed by This title was provided by Netgalley and the publisher in return for an open and honest review.
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The world is a cauldron, ready to boil over at any moment. North Korea is testing missiles that could possibly reach the continental U.S., Putin wants to rebuild the USSR and China wants to expand its territory in the South China Sea. To fight all this, the American military has developed a communications network that can operate independently of the orbiting satellite network. There’s just one problem: unknown to them, the network has been hacked by a long-sought terrorist working for Kim Jong-un. Tensions between China and America rise when China appears to launch an unprovoked attack on U.S. Naval ships and faces an in-kind response. The only hope to stop a full-fledged war is with three Naval Academy Midshipmen. The question is, can they act in time?

Rules of Engagement by David Bruns and J. R. Olson is a well-written, ripped-from-the-headlines novel. While some of the technology in the novel is still in the future, much of what the author refers to  is quite real. Bruns and Olson both have a wealth of real-world naval experience from which to draw inspiration, having both been officers for a number of years. Their writing style will appeal to fans of Clancy and Bond. I absolutely loved this novel and give it 4/5 stars.

*A copy of the ebook was the only compensation received in exchange for this review. *
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It may be a sign of the times that an older reader like me will find the topics in this novel hard to follow. But I hazard a guess that many more than senior citizens will find their eyes glazing over when faced with constant explanations of computer and coding details. For me, that made the novel hard to get into, but I did finish it. I was not sure if there is a character in the novel for whom I could root and care about. Naturally, there's the good ol' USA but individuals were not detailed enough to get too excited about them. I might as well say it- the whole thing seemed awfully far fetched. Another way of saying it- this novel just wasn't for me.
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The most wanted man in the world isn’t a religious zealot or a some 3rd world megalomaniac. He’s a man driven by revenge. To avenge the loss of his wife that forced him underground and his children to live in exile. Rafiq Roshed.

He has trained himself to see and execute small and extensive cyber-attacks on the people responsible. That would be the west in general and the USA in particular. But he can’t do this on his own. He needs a sponsor. Pak Myung-rok is Kim Jong-un’s go-to guy when the Supreme Leader wants something done that can’t be traced back.

Roshed’s latest attack was directed at the power hubs up and down the East Coast. 36 million people were affected. Effective, but it wasn’t crippling. The leash on Pak has some flexibility and some representatives of the various Russian mobs have asked Pak to help them with some business. A lack of sustained hostilities in the far east means that the sale of weapons has dropped off considerably. In their infinite wisdom, the mob figures that a little nudge might touch off a raised level of suspicion between China and Japan.

The plan developed by Roshed involves a deep hack into the Chinese and Japanese military networks. A hack so deep that Roshed can in near complete charge of the command and control for each country. And the hack is a learning system. Touch one part of the code and another activates that tells other routines to turn on or shut off.

A higher up in US cyber security is Don Riley. When times are quasi-quiet, he teaches a seminar at Annapolis. Mostly for upper classmen, he has managed to get permission for a talented plebe (freshman) to enroll. Three students have demonstrated exceptional skills. Midshipman 2nd class (college Jr.) Andrea Ramirez is about the fastest coder he’s ever seen. Don Goodwin, the plebe, has an extraordinary ability to see patterns in code. Sort of like seeing a couple jigsaw puzzles mixed and spread out and be able to assemble both in seconds. And Midshipman 1st class (college Sr.) Janet Everett takes what Goodwin sees and Ramirez codes and from her 10,000 ft view, sees what, when, and where outcomes should happen. The leader of the pack of students.

Riley’s no fool. He persuades his bosses to get this trio read in on progressively higher and higher levels of security that goes along with increasingly intensive levels of responsibility and danger.

Roshed tunnels his way into the Chinese and Japanese networks. His own team rivals Riley’s team. But Roshed has gone one step further. A step expressly forbidden by the Supreme Leader. He’s also hacked into the increasingly complex US system. And it’s here that Roshed’s plans could potentially lead to WWIII.

Flyovers that skirt sovereign airspace. Ships that may or may not be in territorial waters. Responses that used to be just a supersonic fly-by are now ordered to fire. Planes are downed. Ships get sunk. Submarines are being ordered to attack a US carrier. Crap is getting out of hand.

To stay out of WWIII, the hack of the US system has to be halted, be it killed or just distracted. Not to mention that the source of these actions have to be tracked down. Coders and hackers on both sides become unwilling participants in a shooting war.

Early reviews of this book say it pays homage to early Tom Clancy techno-thrillers. Hard to argue with that. Clancy’s early books jumped up and down the chain of command on both sides of any conflict in glamorous and shithole locations around the world. That formula worked for Clancy and boy does it works for Bruns/Olson.

It's a bit of serendipity that I read this right after reading Sting of the Wasp. Both have the same theme: a chase to find a most wanted terrorist with one main difference. Wasp followed a small team with a mostly silent back-up team and this book involves an all hands on deck hunt by the US military cyber force.

The authors are USNA grads and the requisite post-Annapolis naval careers. Always great when insider experiences are the foundation of a book’s details. They always say, ‘write about what you know’ and that is on full display. Now I’ve never been a fan of co-authored novels because the final product almost seems like a watered down compromise of writing styles. Not here. This collaboration is seamless. Bruns and Olson have done a few self-financed and self-published books so they’ve cut their teeth admirably in this co-author business. This is the first of a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. If you’ve missed the authenticity of Clancy’s techno-thriller genre and continue to look for similar books, look no more. You won’t be disappointed.

Available June 25, 2019
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The Chinese and Norks are misbehaving in the South China Sea.
North Korean  hackers target U.S. , Chinese, and Japanese military computers.
And, of course, the Russians are lurking in the background.
3 midshipmen from the naval academy are tasked to thr U S Cyber command to find and track hackers and prevent WW III.
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This is excellent -- Fast paced, interesting and creative plot, plus well written characters (including important female characters, which is still pretty unusual in this kind of novel). This is a very talented writing duo, and I look forward to more! Recommended.

I really appreciate the ARC for review!
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This book certanly drew me and kept me turning the pages. However, there were a ton of characters and locations and that was hard to follow. There was also a part where NCIS is involved and it felt like there was not enough context for that. Those things took away from the story for me. I did love the 3 midshipman and their involvement. I sense they may return in another book.
3.5 stars rounded up for goodreads.
I was given a Netgalley copy of the book in return for a unbiased review.
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The authors have presented a modern story of war.  This is opposed to descriptions of battle in past centuries such as "War and Peace" "All Quiet On the Western Front" and "Battle Cry".  Those presented descriptions of men and women fighting other humans face to face. " Rules of Engagement" deals with computers against computers guided by men and women working behind the lines. 
      Rafid Roshed is one of the most wanted men in the world with years of violent crimes against the west.  He has developed an arrangement with North Korea and helps them launch Cyber attacks against their enemies which are the U.S., China and Japan. His latest development is a computer virus that once inserted into a country's command system can gain control and begin to learn how to carry on on it's own.  As the story opens Roshed's virus has already gained control of China's system and has guided the Chinese Air force and navy into attacking both the United States and Japan.  This occurs without the permission and against the will of the Chinese government.
     Don Riley, the head of U.S. Cyber command with the help of three brilliant midshipmen loaned by the naval academy at Annapolis take on the task of finding and destroying the deadly virus.  At the same time their mission would be to kill or capture Roshed.  As in any good war story the action is swift and constant.  The book describes the systems utilized in the war and does not utilize an idiom outside of the normal reader's complete understanding in doing so.  Very engrossing and very well done and an excellent reason to keep an eye out for more from the authors.
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This book reminded me of a classic Tom Clancy thriller.  I could not put the book down.  It is a mesmerizing tale.  Looking for more from Bruns and Olson.
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The authors themselves acknowledge that thier writing style is reminiscent of early Tom Clancy work, and I couldn't agree more. The action flows smoothly and the characters are believable. The villain is very dangerous but is human enough to make mistakes. The midshipmen are probably being groomed for follow on stories which is perfectly fine. They deserve more time in print. The techno jargon is explained just enough to be believable but to so to lose the reader. Well worth the read!
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If you like Tom Clancy, grab this book. A good read about a North Korean hacker set on unleashing World War 3. Only the US is able to stop him and his master plan. It comes down to some young navy midshipmen who are masters at unraveling the hackers plans. I look forward to reading more from these authors. This feels like something that could happen as we rely of technology for all aspects of life. 
Thank you Netgalley, David Bruns; J. R. Olson and St. Martin's Press for the ARC for my honest review.
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