"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Thirteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Friday, September 12, 2014

TUNNEL VISIONS by Kurt Kamm

  Gritty Realism and Eco-Terrorists in This Firefighter Adventure

Published in August of 2014 by MCM Publishing

Over the years I have read a ton of books about police officers of all sorts: cops on the beat, homicide detectives, FBI agents, Secret Service and more. But, Kurt Kamm specializes in writing very detailed, authentic feeling books (as far as this high school teacher can tell, anyway) about an equally visible group of first responders that I have rarely read any books about: firefighters. 

In Tunnel Visions fire captain Nick Carter, an expert in underground search and rescue missions, is called in to a task force that is investigating a possible terror attack on a gigantic underground tunnel that helps supply the water for Los Angeles. His fiancee, an ATF Special Agent, is on the ground looking for the same eco-terrorists.

The book uses a series of flashbacks to go back and forth from the current day story of the terrorists to Nick's childhood and early career. He was inspired by the story of his father, a man who died in a horrible accidental explosion while digging the very same tunnel that the terrorists want to destroy. But, as the story progresses we learn that Nick has been hiding multiple secrets about his father and those secrets could destroy his career and even his relationship with his fiancee. The Sylmar Tunnel explosion was an actual event. It happened in 1971 and killed 17 miners. Click here for more information.

This is a very readable book with lots of danger and suspense (and really bad traffic). The flashbacks sometimes feel like they are getting in the way of the real story but, in the end, the flashbacks pull the whole thing together in an ending that may be a little too nice (but a happy ending is okay every now and then!)

 Note: I was sent a review copy of this book at no charge in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this novel 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on September 12, 2014.

LION of BABYLON (Marc Royce #1) (audiobook) by Davis Bunn

  

Published in August of 2011 by Christian Audio
Read by Paul Boehmer
Duration: 10 hours, 40 minutes
Unabridged

Veteran writer Davis Bunn (also known as T. Davis Bunn) is known for writing Christian historical fiction and Christian thrillers. Lion of Babylon is a Christian thriller centered on an intelligence operative named Marc Royce. 

Royce is one of the best of the best but he has recently been forced to retire due to the petty whims of his boss, a well-connected adviser to presidents of both parties. But, one Sunday after church Royce is picked up and offered the chance to return to his job in order to investigate the disappearance of one of his closest friends who was on assignment in Iraq. Even though Royce knows almost nothing about the Middle East he is sent to Iraq to solve this mystery.

Once there, Royce is immersed into a world of intrigue and double-dealing. Royce discovers that his friend is involved in a lot more than anyone ever suspected and all sorts of people do not want him to be found including staff members the American embassy and the ruling elite of Iraq. 

As Royce begins to investigate he quickly develops a reputation as a straight-talking man who tells the truth, has no hidden agendas and is simply too tough to be killed. Once he finds an Iraqi Christian man named Sameh el-Jacobi with a similar reputation for telling the truth and searching for truth and justice they begin to find out what was really going on and discover a religious and political movement that no one could have predicted...

I have to rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It takes far too long to get up and running, the "precocious" and perceptive niece of el-Jacobi was far more irritating that she was endearing. The religious movement that begins to make over Iraq in this novel sounded like an incredible fairy tale when contrasted with the real-life religious atrocities (beheadings, crucifixions, mass murders to name a few) that were occurring under the banner of ISIS as I was listening to this audiobook. While I would hope that this book could be a signpost to a possible future of Iraq, realistically,I have to doubt that any of it could ever happen. Sadly, I think the way of ISIS is a much more likely future.

Paul Boehmer's reading of the book, including a good grasp of accents and the ability to differentiate a great number of characters, was solid but did little to assuage the underlying weaknesses of the book.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on September 12, 2014


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

MILDRED (short story) (kindle) by Sean Ryan O'Reilly

   

Creepy short story with a Stephen King vibe without all of the filler.

Published in 2014

The short story Mildred has a tone and plot that is reminiscent of a Stephen King story. Certainly, O'Reilly could have stretched this 42 page short story (novelette) out a bit more like Stephen King would have, adding much more detail but not have really adding much to the story itself. 

Instead, O'Reilly goes for a much quicker, more minimalist approach, letting the reader try to figure out what is going on while a creepy vibe and sense of dread build.




The story begins with a family fight between an aunt who is a realtor (Denise) and her niece (Josephine). It turns out that the aunt has convinced her niece to invest in a shady business deal and Josephine has decided to cash out by just taking one of her aunt's homes. This home is crammed full of consumer products. Josephine clears out a space and sets up housekeeping.

When she discovers the diary of the former owner of the house she learns that her aunt was much more depraved than she had ever suspected. Plus, there's the odd noises and other strange things that keep on happening...

I rate this short story 4 stars out of 5
Reviewed on September 3, 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

FORCE of NATURE (Joe Pickett #12) by C.J. Box

    The Series Continues in Its Winning Ways

Originally published in March of 2011

I am a giant fan of C.J. Box and have been ever since a fan of Robert Crais left a comment on one of my reviews of an Elvis Cole book that told me to check out C.J. Box's Joe Pickett series. I am now happily, but haphazardly, working my way through the series. 

Because I am bouncing around, I already knew a lot about Nate Romanowski before I read this book. I don't know if my approach to the series has caused this, but I am not a fan of the Romanowski character. I suppose it's a staple of the genre - the principled good guy has a rougher, tougher guy who has his back. Elvis Cole has Joe Pike. Spenser has Hawk. Heck, I guess you could even note that Han Solo has Chewbacca. Despite the long history of this type of character, I would just as soon read more about good but not overly tough guy Pickett than his nearly unstoppable buddy.

That being said, this is still a really good book.

The attacks on Nate Romanowski that began in Cold Wind (Joe Pickett #11) continue and ultimately come to a head in Force of Nature. Those unrelenting attacks are the focus of the book and I would consider this book to be much more of a Nate Romanowski book than a Joe Pickett book. 


Romanowski is forced to confront the man who is sending professional hit teams after him and the reader is introduced to Romanowski's childhood, some of his training and his deepest secret - the secret that threatens to consume his soul. Meanwhile, Romanowski's enemy is looking for any weaknesses, including his attachment to the family of a certain Wyoming Game Warden...

Box is able to tell this story with all of its emphasis on weapons and techniques without making it go over the reader's head. He makes the world of the special operator seem both arcane and approachable. 

Here is Romanowski talking to Joe Pickett in a nice line from the book: "You've got a beautiful wife, great daughters, and a house with a picket fence. I know it sounds trite, but there are assholes out there who think my life is hard, but it isn't. Anybody can keep to themselves and be selfish. What you do every day is hard, Joe. Staying true and loyal, man, that's not the easy path. I admire what you've got..." (p. 93)

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on August 31, 2014.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

AN EMPIRE on the EDGE: HOW BRITAIN CAME to FIGHT AMERICA by Nick Bunker

To be published by Alfred A. Knopf in September of 2014

I have read many histories of the Revolutionary War and most only tell the story of the build-up to the war from the American side and only describe Britain's political scene as it was interpreted by the colonists. To be fair, it was often misinterpreted by the colonists.

But, in reality, there were two sides to this fight and it was not just the colonists that were misinterpreting the political signals of their brethren across the Atlantic. The British government had no idea how far their colonial governments had evolved along democratic lines (compared to a modern democracy they were all quite restrictive but when compared to Britain they were quite open). 

The Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773. Nick Bunker picks this
moment to be the point of no return between Britain and the colonists.
In fact, it seemed that often Britain was barely aware of the colonies because it had too many other crises to deal with, including a  severe drought, a crisis in India brought on by the East India Company, a disastrous drop in the price of tea and a run on several British banks. On top of all of this, Britain's social order was changing in response to its infant Industrial Revolution.

Each of these was a major crisis that consumed the time of Lord North, the Prime Minister. North and his cabinet careened from one crisis to another and were still able to maintain their majorities and the control of the government - so in that respect they were very successive. But, as author Nick Bunker notes: "As they tried to govern their own complicated country, Lord North and his friends allowed America to slip away." (p. 71)

Bunker's text is well-written and his points are clear and often quite sympathetic to America's pre-war complaints. He clearly demonstrates that Lord North was a masterful politician that failed to deal with Britain's larger, more long-term issues. Clearly, the colonists were not in a mood to compromise, but a bold stroke (such as the briefly considered idea of turning the Continental Congress into a some sort of colonial parliament led by a governor appointed by the British) was never taken.

I was struck by the absolute lack of information Lord North and his cabinet had. The 4-8 week time span that it took to send correspondence across the Atlantic did not help with this failure of proper intelligence,  but even worse were the governors who filed reports that completely misinterpreted the mood of the colonies. Some never filed reports at all. This was no way to run an empire.

Bunker's text inspires the reader to make comparisons with modern politics - the bank failures, the investment bubbles, the foreign policy surprises, the constant political posturing and an embarrassing lack of actual intelligence about the intentions of two potential enemies (the colonies and France) and an unwillingness to look at the big picture until it was too late.

Note: I received a pre-publication galley of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed on August 16, 2014.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

PEACER: UNMASKED (audiobook) by Dave Swavely

Published in 2013 by GraphicAudio
Multi-cast performance
Duration: about 1 hour

GraphicAudio continues to crank out high-quality audiobooks with their own twist. Typically, GraphicAudio adapts a book to become more like an old-fashioned radio play with its own theme music, special effects and lots of different actors playing all of the characters.

Peacer: Unmasked is a prequel to the other books in this growing series. They are set in a future San Francisco - a San Francisco that was heavily damaged in a massive earthquake. Democracy was tossed out in favor of a dictatorship that keeps things under control.

The main character is Michael Aeres, a former soldier turned Peacher, or a policeman with B.A.S.S. (Bay Area Security Service), the company that serves as San Francisco's government. B.A.S.S. officers have almost unlimited authority to act in the name of keeping the public peace, including murder.

When multiple members of a protest group turn up dead, Aeres stakes out the area and makes a disturbing discovery...

As always is the case with GraphicAudio, the production is well done and enhances the story, which runs hot and cold. In this short production a lot of the groundwork is laid down for the rest of the series, including an explanation of the technology, the dictatorship and those that protest against it. Sometimes the explanations overwhelm this little story.

This audiobook is available for free at GraphicAudio's site. Go here to learn more.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on August 9, 2014