"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, 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.

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
Unabridged

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.