"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
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

TETTERBAUM'S TRUTH (Just Call Me Angel #1) by S.R. Claridge

Published in 2010 by Global Publishing Group.
298 pages.

Chicago. Photo by Allen McGregor.
This book was introduced to me as being similar to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. For those not familiar with this ever-growing series, Stephanie is the classic "fish out of water" - she is a gorgeous, unemployed single woman who takes a job as a bounty hunter for a bail bondsman. If she brings them in, she gets paid. But, she's never used a gun. She has no skills to do this job but, in the end, she does so in her own hilarious way.

On the surface, this book does indeed have some similarities with the Stephanie Plum series. Angel Martin is a single woman who owns a bar in Chicago called Tetterbaum's Pub. She's invested her life savings in it and it's working. Her love life is a mess since her fiance dumped her and disappeared but she does have a good time with the mysterious Grayson. It's not serious but it is seriously physical. Her only living family is her Great Aunt Olga who fusses over her constantly, cooks amazing Italian food and sets her up on blind dates with "nice" but boring men.

But, one horrible evening everything changes. She runs down her boyfriend Grayson in a freak traffic accident that leaves her hospitalized for several days. While she is desperately trying to unravel the mystery that resulted in his death, she also starts to uncover information about her past that was hidden from her and this information changes everything...

I only rate this book 3 stars out of 5. The reasons for it come from plot details that I cannot reveal without spoiling the story and I hate it when book reviews are more of a book report and less of a teaser. In just a few words, I think that the Angel and Olga act way out of their original characters in the end of the movie. Sure, lots of things happen to them but the reasons for this change are not fleshed out enough to justify them. Especially Olga who has a lifetime of issues to work through but just drops them at the end.

Nice line from the book: "Over linguini and wine, the black and white lines of right and wrong began to blur into a gray shade of loyalty, where labels became eerily synonymous." (p. 186)

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Tetterbaum's Truth.

Note: I was sent a review paperback copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DECEPTIVE CADENCE (audiobook) by Kathryn Guare

Audio edition published in March of 2016.
Originally published in January of 2014.
Read by Wayne Farrell.
Duration: 11 hours, 19 minutes

I have reviewed a lot of indie and small publishing house audiobooks lately and have been mildly disappointed with almost all of them. I don't want to be cruel, but there's a reason why some of these books are languishing in the publishing wasteland.

But, sometimes you find a true gem out among the 2 and 3 star books. A gem just sitting there waiting to be noticed.

This book is such a gem and it is worthy of your notice.

It is an international thriller with a giant soul and a great deal of introspection. If you are looking for a "shoot 'em up" this is not your book, even though there is plenty of shooting. It is the story of two brothers, and like all families, this family is complicated.

The McBride family consists of Conor, a talented musician who plays violin at the international level and Thomas, the brother who stayed behind in northern Ireland to care for the family farm and their ill mother. But, one day, Conor's world comes crashing down when he learns that his brother has been scamming the European Union with falsified applications for farming grants. The money was sent to Thomas and Thomas left with all of it.

A slum in Mumbai. Photo by A.Savin
Conor loses his position in an orchestra due to government pressure and returns home to manage the family farm in disgrace. He has done nothing but he bears the family shame.

Conor is approached by a government operative who says that he knows where Thomas is. He is laundering money for a terrorist ring in India and that Conor could be just the man to lead them to him. Conor is intrigued - not because he wants to punish his brother so much as he wants to try to figure out why he did what he did.

So, Conor receives intensive training in how to be a spy and he is off to India. He hoped for a quick "in and out" meeting with his brother. Instead, he has a life-changing adventure full of action, danger, deep introspection, thoughtless violence, sorrow, pain, joy and humor.  Conor travels from the filthiest slums to the highest mountains for his brother. In the end, the reader is left to wonder if all of it was worth it.

The answer - yes, the journey is the point of it all and this is a journey worth hearing.

Clearly, the weakness of the book is the idea that a violin player can be turned into a spy. At one point it is noted that Conor is one of those people that just seems to be good at everything. You know the type of person - you admire them and envy them at the same time. In the real world, Indianapolis native David Wolfe is one of those guys. He is a aerobatics pilot/award-winning medical doctor/electrical engineer/astronaut with 15 patents. So, these guys do exist.

The audiobook was read by Wayne Ferrell and he was amazing. His voice drew me right in and brought this excellent text to life. He demonstrated a mastery of multiple accents and, more importantly, carried the mood of the story in his tone and pacing as he read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Deceptive Cadence.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

THE PROMISE (An Elvis Cole Novel / A Scott James and Maggie Novel) by Robert Crais

Originally published in 2015

Elvis Cole is on the case. It's an odd one. He has been hired by a Meryl Lawrence to find her friend and person she works with. But, Meryl has all sorts of weird ground rules about when she will meet Elvis and how he may contact her. She also calls at weird hours and times and demands that he work faster.

Robert Crais. Photo by Mark Coggins
While follows a lead to a home just before the police raid it and discover a murdered arms dealer. Elvis gives chase to the suspect but is detained by police K9 officer Scott James.

Elvis knows that this case is definitely part of something much larger and brings in his partner Joe Pike who brings in a friend who is a free-lance anti-terrorist agent. Scott James also starts his own investigation, despite being warned off of the case. Can this offbeat detective and this by-the-books cop find out what was going on before it is too late?

I was looking forward to this book because it brought together most of Robert Crais' current characters. But, it ended up being kind of a disappointing. The book would start to build momentum and then it would switch back and forth between characters and feel like it had to start building momentum again. I was glad to re-visit characters that I enjoy but it was not the best novel Crais has produced in either series.

I rate this novel 3 stars out of 5.

This novel can be found on Amazon.com here: The Promise.

Monday, June 27, 2016

NOT JUST ANOTHER WAR STORY (audiobook) by Wayne G. MacDowell

Originally published in October of 2014.
Audiobook published in February of 2016
Read by Tom Lennon
Duration: 18 hours, 24 minutes

I have read or listened to a few books about the experiences of fighter and bomber pilots in World War II and those books drew me to this one.

The book's main character is Steve Carmichael. Steve grew up on a ranch near Orlando, Florida and was a baseball player at the University of Florida.  The Detroit Tigers are interested in him but, a
s a kid he learned how to fly a rattletrap biplane that his father purchased for a song and refurbished and Steve decides to join the Army Air Corps as a pilot.

He becomes a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot and is shipped off to England in 1943. The story follows his original crew that all trained together as they try to work their way through their required 30 missions. The descriptions of everything to do with the airplanes and the combat missions in this book are absolutely excellent. I felt like I was riding along with the crew and I was invested in those characters.

But, this book is bogged down by so much pointless detail when they are not in the airplanes that it became a chore to listen to. In a print book you can easily skim over excessive description of breakfast after breakfast after breakfast (the level of detail gets down to the jelly that everyone had on their toast at the table) but you can't skim in an audiobook.

 Uneventful trips are described in detail. Rather than saying something like "and they made it back to the hotel, had a nightcap and went to bed" you get 5 minutes of description of the car, the hotel lobby, the alcohol and a discussion of why everyone is tired. The reader knows why they are tired - we just read about it (or heard about it, in my case).
Rick Steves

It is clear that MacDowell did an extraordinary amount of research for this book and that is nothing but commedable. However, the non-combat scenes tried my patience because it felt like MacDowell was trying to incorporate EVERYTHING he learned about the various locales into the book. Every time a character encounters a new town, a new building or, sometimes, even a new room the reader gets an extensive history lesson (this church/town/castle was built in....burned down in...and re-built in...). It was like Rick Steves from the PBS travel show was trying to tell me a war story and give me a tour of London at the same time.

A decent editor could knock 3 or 4 hours from this story and made it nothing but better. As philosopher Blaise Pascal stated in a 1657 letter, "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter." 

Tom Lennon read this audiobook. There were a wide variety of accents to be mastered for this book and his Belgian, French, German, southern and Maine accents were excellent. Any complaints I have about the audiobook are not the fault of the reader.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Not Just Another War Story.

Note: I was provided a copy of this audiobook so that I could provide an honest review.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

BY FREEDOM'S LIGHT by Elizabeth O'Maley

Set in Eastern Indiana in 1842, this short novel does a great job of talking about slavery for a grades 4-6 audience.

The Caldwell family has recently moved to Indiana from North Carolina. They are Quakers. Nowadays, Quakers are famous for their anti-slavery stand and participation in the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. But, in reality, the Quakers are split in two groups. All are anti-slavery but some believe that you should not break the law by helping runaway slaves. Others believe that helping people in need trumps the law.

The Caldwell family embodies this split. Sarah, age 13, is anti-abolitionist and is quite sure her father is as well. However, her new young stepmother is certainly an abolitionist. She is close with Levi and Catharine Coffin, two of the most famous members of the Underground Railroad network who live in Newport, Indiana (now called Fountain City) and Sarah witnesses her helping a runaway slave. Sarah is sure that her father is anti-abolitionist and throughout the book seeks an opportunity to discuss her stepmothers abolitionist ways with him.

In the middle of this family dynamic comes Sarah's sister, Rachel, with her husband and newborn baby. They bring along the baby's nursemaid, a teenage slave named Polly.

The Levi Coffin House. Nowadays it is a museum and
a historic site.
As Sarah and Polly come to know one another they also become friends. Sarah's theoretical views on slavery crash into the reality that her friend is a slave and does not control her own life. Her mother-in-law's comment strikes home when she notes, "I don't doubt Rachel and George treat her kindly...but kindness is no substitute for freedom." (p. 70)

What I like about this book is that teaches without being preachy. My daughter's fourth grade teacher used this book in her Indiana history class this year and I can certainly see why. You can move into the topic of slavery from a non-traditional starting point (which you would have to do in Indiana since it was a free state) and easily talk about larger issues like what do you do if doing the right thing is illegal?

The text of the book is 172 pages, including pictures and maps. In addition, the book also has a glossary and a bibliography.

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: By Freedom's Light.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ODD THOMAS by Dean Koontz

Originally published in 2003

Coke vs. Pepsi. Kleenex vs. Puffs. McDonald's vs. Burger King.

Stephen King vs. Dean Koontz. 

There is a "name brand" that defines almost every field. Let's face it, in the literary world, Stephen King is the master of the horror field. Dean Koontz is clearly the second place guy, but he is second place. I have followed that pattern in my own reading. I have easily read two dozen Stephen King books and perhaps ten Dean Koontz books. Nothing wrong with Dean Koontz, just like there's nothing wrong with Pepsi, Puffs or Burger King.

I was aware of the Odd Thomas series - they're in all of the book stores and the name certainly gets your attention. But, I never was tempted to pick the first one up and get started until last week.

Odd Thomas is a twenty year old resident of Pico Mundo, a suburban town in the Southern California desert. Odd (yes, that's his real name) certainly lives up to his name. He is a gentle soul that has a few very, very close friends of all ages. He works as a fry cook, aspires to sell tires and lives for his girlfriend who works at the ice cream stand in the mall. Oh, he also talks to Elvis Presley's ghost on a regular basis.

You see, Odd Thomas sees spirits. He sees ghosts that refuse to move onto to whatever comes after this life. He sees evil spirits. He can find people with a skill he calls "psychic magnetism". He can speak with the ghosts but he can't hear them - it would be crazy to think that you can hear ghosts.

Odd is a gentle soul and takes great care to never use his powers for gain. He was raised by selfish adults but, luckily, he learned from them that the world needs more people that give. Only a few people really understand what he can do and those people watch out for him and worry over him because Odd's unique set of skills often lead him to very dangerous places...

Clearly, with this first book Dean Koontz was building a world for Odd Thomas to inhabit. There is plenty of room for stories about Odd's family, his relationship with the local author, with the police chief that he thinks of as a father figure and even Elvis Presley.

Will I go on and explore Odd's world even more? I am not sure. Odd is likable and sympathetic, especially with the end that surprised me. Who knows, maybe it's time to do a little Dean Koontz binge reading because sometimes the second banana can come up with something unique and clever and steal some thunder from the "name brand" and make them worth another look.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Odd Thomas.