"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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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

THE INNOCENT (Will Robie #1) by David Baldacci



Originally published in 2012.

This book introduces Will Robie, a professional hit man who works for the United States government. His hits are usually drug cartel leaders, leaders of terrorist organizations and the like.

The White House. Photo by Zach Rudisin
Robie gets an assignment close to home, which is a weird thing in and of itself. The first two hits described in the book are out of country hits. The fact that they are out of country hits gives the U.S. government a bit of plausible deniability. This new assignment is in Washington, D.C. and, as far as Robie can ascertain, the target is a fellow member of the intelligence community - but not an important one.

He's willing to follow through with it until he sees that the target is actually a mom with a young son and a baby. He hesitates, tries to figure out what is going on and that's when everything goes topsy-turvy in Robie's already convoluted world...


This book was not a particularly great book for a couple of reasons. But, I will start with the good parts. The characters are great. Robie is likable character (for a stone-cold assassin) and his character does grow throughout the book. Also, the two supporting characters are interesting and the interaction between all three of them is well done.

But, the plot holes are not just large, they are magnificent. Robie stumbles into a plot, but you find out that he didn't really stumble into it - it was enlarged to include him as well in a giant cat-and-mouse game that makes no sense when you consider how it puts the original conspiracy at so much risk. Also, I knew who it was from the beginning because of a clue that was dropped that I cannot believe Robie did not pick up on and include in a mission debriefing. If he had, the entire plot of the book could have been avoided.

Also, on a pet peeve note there is this:

I am a Spanish teacher. I notice the Spanish in books and Baldacci includes a mis-translated gem on page 182 that tells me that he can't bother to actually check his dictionary translation with any of the millions upon millions of native speakers of Spanish that live in the United States. It's not that hard. It is a symptom of the lack of follow-through that pervades the book and makes for an iffy plot.


I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Innocent by David Baldacci.

Friday, September 2, 2016

THE FLASH: STOP MOTION (Justice League of America) by Mark Schulz



Published November 1, 2008 by GraphicAudio.
From an original novel first published in 2004.

Graphic Audio has a long tradition of creating excellent audiobooks by going back and telling stories they used to tell them in the old days on the radio - with actors and sound effects. Rather than reading the story to the listener as the author wrote it, they act it out like an old-fashioned radio play.

In The Flash: Stop Motion the story focuses on Wally West, the young protege of the previous Flash, Barry Allen. Barry Allen is gone now and Wally is taking the responsibilities associated with wearing the red tights seriously. But, he is so much younger than most of the rest of the Justice League and he feels a little outclassed by the others. How can he hope to contribute as much as Superman who can practically do anything? Or the Martian Manhunter who can almost keep up with Superman and has telepathic powers? The Green Lantern is young but everyone knows that his ring gives him almost unlimited power. And Wonder Woman? She is grace, power and wisdom personified. Compared to her he is just a goofy kid. And who can hope to compare himself to the likes of Batman, even if he isn't a "super"?

In the midst of this self-doubt, the Earth comes under attack in a series of asteroids. But, these asteroids are odd in that no one can scan them properly and what readings they can make don't make sense - they seem to be from another universe. The Flash can get some sense from them due to his ability to vibrate at different oscillations, but he keeps getting pulled away to deal with a series of bizarre murders in Keystone City in which the victims heads are literally blown up while they are sitting peacefully. And, once Wally West starts to realize what is really going on he knows that this is not something that the other members of the Justice League can deal with - it is up to The Flash to step up and save everyone and everything he has ever loved...


Normally, I am a big fan of Graphic Audio's productions, as I mentioned in the first paragraph. In this case, however, there were times when the music and action was so loud that I could not hear the voices of the characters or the narrator. This was not the case consistently, but there were times when the audio mix was just a mess. Even worse, I found it extremely hard to understand the voice of Flash's opponent. Most of the time I just guessed what he said based on the reactions of the other characters or further elaboration by the narrator.

But, if those were the only problems in this story I would have been pleased. This audiobook suffers from a near fatal case of TOO MUCH TALKING. Like in a bad play, most of the characters get their chance to step up and deliver a soliloquy. Superman gives a small one, Wally West gives a few, the Martian Manhunter gives several small ones but the worst is an incredibly long speech by a pivotal character towards the end of the book. I am not going to create spoilers but the long build up to the meeting of this character was tedious to listen to and this character's droning speech and contrary logic (that leaves a massive plot hole) just goes on and on and on. Ironically, the character just impressed on The Flash that time was of the essence because his opponent was destroying entire universes every second (or worlds, the character uses both terms interchangeably) and billions of lives were being lost every second and then the character just stands there and talks and talks and talks and tells Wally its entire history. Why? Because you should tell stories why people are annihilated, I guess.

So, way too much backstory told in long speeches, bad work on the mixing board from time to time and not enough action compared to the talking.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Flash: Stop Motion

Sunday, August 21, 2016

MY BROTHER'S FACE: PORTRAITS of the CIVIL WAR in PHOTOGRAPHS, DIARIES, and LETTERS by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelord



Published in 1993 by Chronicle Books

Designed to be a "coffee table book" rather than a thorough re-telling of the war, this history of the American Civil War is quite enjoyable. The strength of the book is immediately obvious - the gorgeous, large photographs of soldiers, sailors, spies and other participants in the events of the Civil War.

I find that as I get older I catch myself looking at the faces of these people and wondering what life was like for them. Some of them look stiff and fake, but some, including a lot in this collection, imbue a sense of vitality, a sense that these were living, breathing people. Sometimes it is a smirk, or perhaps a look of unease.

I simply love a picture that is used in this book of the 4th U.S. Colored Troops on p. 121. This is a close-up of the picture from the book. These men all have a look of confidence, determination and even distrust that speaks to us even more than 150 years later and exemplifies what a well-chosen picture can tell the reader that even a well-written text cannot.



4th U.S. Colored Troops stationed at Fort Lincoln in
Washington, D.C.
The history part of the book is told simply and sometimes in an abrupt manner, such as on page 49 in the one page description of the Battle of Antietam. It concludes with this paragraph:

"McClellan had won a costly, if strategically vital victory, but he now seemed reluctant even to give chase to Lee. A much-frustrated Abraham Lincoln sacked his general and freed the slaves."

While all of that is true, it completely skips over the slavery debate within Lincoln's cabinet and the strategy involved - especially the need to pacify foreign governments that were contemplating intervening on behalf of the Confederacy.


Clearly, if this were the reader's only exposure to Civil War history, this book would come up short. But, if you are a student of the Civil War, this book offers something different with these portraits and photographs of camp life. Many books include pictures, including many of the pictures in this book, but few offer them in such a large format which can make all of the difference.

Despite its flaws, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: My Brother's Face.

Monday, August 8, 2016

THE EAGLE CATCHER (Wind River Reservation Mystery #1) by Margaret Coel



Originally published in 1995.

Set on the Wind River Arapaho reservation in Central Wyoming, this murder mystery features a likable cast of characters and great descriptions of cultural aspects of the Arapaho. Comparisons will inevitably be made to Tony Hillerman's series set amongst the Navajo and this book fares quite well in the comparison.

The mystery involves the murder of Harvey Castle, the tribal chairman in the middle of the Ethete powwow. The custom is that everyone camps out in tipis for the event and Harvey Castle is found stabbed to death in his tipi - murdered in his sleep.

The local police and the FBI quickly find a suspect but Father John O'Malley of the reservation's Jesuit mission doesn't buy it. He starts his own investigation and soon ruffles a lot of feathers as he starts to figure out who really killed Harvey Castle...

I really like the John O'Malley character. He was a once proud priest who was humbled by alcoholism and sent out in the middle of nowhere to get his life together. He has made a real connection with his parishioners and O'Malley's past grand failure makes him a very approachable character (and a much better priest).

The mystery was not particularly hard to solve (I nailed it early on) but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.


I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Eagle Catcher.


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
Unabridged

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.