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

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

UNSAVORY DELICACIES (Ridley Fox/Nita Parris Spy Series Book 2) and THE DEMETER CODE (Ridley Fox/Nita Parris Spy Series Book 3) by Russell Brooks

  If you like the Mission Impossible movies, you'll like The Demeter Code

Normally, I don't review two books at the same time. But, the author of this series sent me both books together, explaining that they are closely tied. From what I have read in other reviews, Unsavory Delicacies (really, it is a 30 page collection of short stories) served as sort of a bridge between books 1 and 3.Personally, I think you should just jump into book three, The Demeter Code. I felt no better informed about what was going on at the beginning of Book 3 than I would have if hadn't read 2.

So, if you just jump into book three be prepared for a little confusion, much like at the beginning of the first Mission Impossible movie. In fact, this book reminded me quite a bit of that series due its fast-pace, dramatic action scenes and the emphasis on working as a team and trusting the team over everything else.

The real action starts out with an American operation in Europe going bad, resulting in the death of a contact and a big-time international arms dealer. Once the team sorts through everything they decide that they have to investigate further, even if their bosses are telling them to pull back. From that point on the book is an almost non-stop thrill ride to all sorts of exotic locales like Russia, Afghanistan, D.C., East Asia and Bloomington, Indiana.


Yes, the whole story comes together in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University where the author went to college. I also attended Indiana University long before this author did and have lived within an a two hour drive of it almost all of my life.  I was pleased to note that not only does the story gel in Indiana, his use of Indiana geography made sense (there are two big story lines that take place there) and he gives a solid description of area around Bloomington. 

The evil plan hatched by our bad guys is a good one. It takes a lot of digging to come up with the answer. This could have been a boring story but it is not. It is a complicated story, but I found that if I was confused it was best just to plow on ahead and, sure enough, the confusion was resolved a few pages later. 

The action sequences are top-notch and there are plenty of them.

Bottom line: If you like Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible movies, you'll like this book.

Note: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: The Demeter Code (An International Spy Thriller) (Ridley Fox/Nita Parris Spy Series Book 3)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

FAMILYHOOD by Paul Reiser

   If you are not a parent, you will probably not get much out of this book

Published in 2011.

Familyhood is Paul Reiser's follow-up to 1994's Couplehood, and 1997's Babyhood. Reiser is best-known for his television show Mad About You.

If you have children you will certainly understand the big gap between the publication of Babyhood and Familyhood - life with children consumes your time. And, Paul is more than just happy about that fact, he is thrilled with it. 


Paul Reiser. Photo by Thomas Atilla Lewis
When he wrote this book he his two sons were ten and fifteen years old. I just read it and my two duaghters are nine and fifteen years old. So much of this book rang true to me, especially his discussion on page 24 about how hard it is to just sit down and have time to talk with his wife. He writes, "This may seem to be a might meager aspiration - to simply talk to the person with whom you have committed to share your life - but I assure you it is not. It is, in fact, almost impossible."

How true that is.

Reiser talks about his own family as a kid and what he tries to do differently (he is very kind to his parents, he just would do some things differently) but most of the book is about how happy he is to have had his life overturned by becoming a dad and how much he loves his kids. Yes, it is kind of sappy, but Reiser celebrates that in this book and I can truly appreciate a man who just loves being a dad. 

If you are not a parent, you will probably not get much out of this book, if you are you will recognize so many of your experiences in this quick, light read.

I look forward to his book about being a grandparent which I am sure he will write about 15 years from now.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found here on Amazon: Familyhood

Also mentioned in this review:


Friday, July 24, 2015

A VISION of FIRE: A NOVEL (Earthend Saga #1) (audiobook) by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin



Published in October of 2014 by Simon and Schuster
Read by the author, Gillian Anderson
Duration: 9 hours, 34 minutes
Unabridged

A Vision of Fire is a mix of political thriller with sci-fi and a heavy dose of the occult thrown in as well. The book starts out with top-level negotiations taking place at the United Nations between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir. Both countries are nuclear powers and both countries are sending troops to the border. An Indian ambassador is trusted by both sides and he is trying to broker a peace between them before a nuclear war starts.

But, after dropping off his daughter Maanik at her school mysterious assassins make an unsuccessful attempt on his life. He reassures his daughter that he is fine and proceeds to the negotiating table. But, his daughter starts to have some sort of break down and starts clawing at her arms.  She is rushed home and heavily sedated because she is hurting herself.

The translator for the ambassador has a close friend who is a child psychologist named Caitlin O'Hara who also works at the United Nations. He calls O'Hara in because he knows that she is discrete. She immediately drops the medication and tries to calm the girl with hypnosis. It seems successful at first but the symptoms start coming back with more and more intensity. To make matters worse, other cases that are similar start to pop up in young people around the world...

Meanwhile, a secret group of explorers based in New York City is assembling an exotic collection of treasures from antiquities - and this latest piece is doing some very strange things...

Okay - this sounds like it could be a very good book, doesn't it? 

Sadly, I was very disappointed on multiple levels. 

This book just drags and drags as the child psychologist struggles with Maanik and her symptoms. Even worse, as O'Hara starts to grasp that there is a paranormal side to this case the paranormal stuff is so loosely connected and presented in such a sporadic manner that it was just boring. I grew tired of trying to make a connection as I listened and I felt like it was something to be endured rather than something to be enjoyed. 

When I finally get to the end I realize that most of this book was not needed to prepare the reader for part two of the series. In movie terms, it was like watching Star Wars Episode 1 - only about five minutes of the movie is really needed to prepare you for Episode 2. The rest is just extra stuff and you had to watch Jar Jar Binks for most of the movie!

The book was read by Gillian Anderson. I really like her in the X-Files - she is my favorite character on the show. But, this is the second time I have heard her read an audiobook and I can honestly attest to this - I am not a fan. It took me a while to figure out who she was reminding me of as I listened and then it hit me - she sound like Madeline Kahn singing "I'm Tired" in Blazing Saddles . Anderson is so weary-sounding, her voice is so flat that it sounds like she was going to fall asleep as she was reading her own book!



So, I cannot recommend this book. It is not entirely without merits. The premise is interesting, the interaction between O'Hara and the translator was rewarding. But, I will not be moving on to part two.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: A Vision of Fire

Also mentioned in this review:


THE PRICE THEY PAID: ENDURING WOUNDS of WAR by Michael Putzel



Published in 2015

Michael Putzel has written a sort of unit history of C Troop 2/17th Cavalry 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, also known as the Condors. The tales of combat in Vietnam and Laos are exceedingly well-told, riveting and harrowing. They tell of bravery, loyalty and loss and gave me a picture of a part of the war that I really knew very little about before.


But, as good as those stories are, the real strength of the story is the story about what comes after the war. The title, The Price They Paid, is more than just story of who was injured and who died in the war. Certainly, they paid the highest price. But, the men who were injured, the men who lost their friends, even the men who went through unscathed - those men who survived to go home also paid a price and that is what I found most compelling.

The book focuses on Jim Newman, a  man who started as a private in the army, worked his way to becoming an officer. In Vietnam he led his men in the Air Cavalry (helicopters, if you are not familiar with it) with daring skill. He was an officer who knew what it was like to be an enlisted man. He loved to fly helicopters and he was good at it. He didn't waste his men's lives but he knew when to take risks and his men admired him. He was on a career path to become a general before he self-destructed after the war. From a distance, he seemed successful, but he was deeply troubled in his personal life with multiple divorces, estranged children and even a charge of bigamy - none of it is explained.

Putzel writes about others who served with Newman. Some have lingering physical ailments. Some have new ailments such as cancer, thought to be from exposure to Agent Orange. Many of them have PTSD to some extent - some have paranoia, some anger at a government that would not live up to its promises and some just never really got their lives on any sort of track after the war. It was all part of The Price They Paid.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from a publicist so that I could write an honest review. 

This book can be found here on Amazon: The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds Of War.

Friday, July 17, 2015

NPR DRIVEWAY MOMENTS: MORE about ANIMALS: RADIO STORIES that WON'T LET YOU GO



Published in 2015 by HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books in May of 2015.
Multicast performance
Duration: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Unabridged

In a lot of ways the first story in this 30 story collection typifies the entire collection. It is called "Grizzly Encounters" and is an almost 6 minute long recounting of three different encounters with Grizzly Bears. We were on a long family trip and you could almost sense the family settling in for what was sure to be an interesting story. But, after we had listened to each of them sort of peter out to a "that's it?" moment I stopped the CD and asked if I was the only one that was disappointed in that story. Everyone, even the nine year old, thought the story was a disappointment.

So, on to the next story - a story about bats in a mine that I remember most for telling me this was the sound of the bats that they had been hunting (and me thinking that this would sound great in the awesome speakers of the rental SUV) only to have it last for about 5 seconds. 0 for 2 so far.


The next four stories were better, the best being a story about tool-using animals, although the story of dolphins recognizing the calls of other dolphins that they hadn't seen for years was certainly heart-warming.

The rest of the collection is mostly like that. A lot of ho-hum stories with the theme of animals with the occasional good story. The story of a Florida sea turtle who was accidentally carried across the Atlantic by a ship was cute and ended well but hardly memorable. A song written for Lonesome George, a last-of-his-kind tortoise was cute at first but I was so glad when it ended.


Really, we got an F?
I have listened to at least seven of the audiobooks in this series and they all suffer from the up-and-down quality but these just seemed to be almost universally so-so. Perhaps the best story was an interview with one of the creators of the humor blog "Animal Review" in which the authors grade animal species from F- to A+. They give Pandas an F for a variety of reasons that make sense once you read them and the octopus gets an A because it's like a "superhero". Unfortunately, the interviewer doesn't go along with the joke very well and drags it down. I felt like she was just getting in the way of a good joke. Surely, NPR must have someone with a sense of humor, right?

So, for a variety of reasons I just have to give this collection 3 stars out of 5.

This collection can be found on Amazon here: 
NPR Driveway Moments: More about Animals: Radio Stories That Won't Let You Go

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

BRIMSTONE(Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch #3) (audiobook) by Robert B. Parker



Published by Random House in 2009
Read by Titus Welliver
Duration: 5 hours, 7 minutes
Unabridged

In the third book in this series, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch do a lot, but at the same time I felt like this book went nowhere and made a lot of noise doing it.

In short, Cole and Hitch begin the story looking for Cole's ex-girlfriend Allie French. You have to have read the first two books to even begin to wonder why Cole wants to find this woman again. They find her in the worst brothel in the worst part of town and rescue her and a fight ensues.

They all leave town and eventually find a town that needs two deputies and they take the jobs. In the town there are multiple saloons, including one led by a former army officer who was cashiered from the service because he led his men on an attack on an Indian village and killed old people, women and children but no warriors. 

There is also a church in town with a curious brand of Christianity led by a megalomaniac who believes he is communing with God and arms his deacons and practices a "muscular Christianity". Allie is drawn to the church, the church sets out to close the saloons and there are multiple murders by a rogue Indian on the fringes of town.

Virgil and Everett have their work cut out for them.


I have listened to the first three books in this series in the last month and perhaps I have listened to too many to fast. This book just did not have the punch of the last two. In fact, this book just seemed like a lot of half-developed themes thrown into a big pot and stirred around. The first book, Appaloosa, was a tight drama that built along two themes - the friendship of Cole and Hitch and Allie's need to be with the biggest dog in the pack. The second book was all about Cole working out how he can be an enforcer of the law even though he has broken the law.

The only consistent theme in this book was the redemption of Allie, and that was not done particularly well. There was an undeveloped anti-religious message (actually two themes - is religion real and are religious leaders to be trusted), there was a look at the raw deal that a lot of Indians got and then there was just your typical western shoot 'em up stuff. Plus, even though there was a lot of shooting, kidnapping and general mayhem, it seemed like there was an incessant amount of talking in this book. The same conversations that were held in the last three books in this series plus in most of the Spenser books. Maybe if I had spaced out my listening a little bit it wouldn't have been so obvious.

Once again, Hollywood actor Titus Welliver read this book, as he did for the other two. Once again, he did a good, solid job. I think he voices Everett Hitch especially well.

This audiobook can be found here on Amazon: Brimstone

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.