"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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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

BLOOD TRAIL (Joe Pickett #8) by C. J. Box


Published in 2008

Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett is still on special assignment from the Governor. What this means is he has no home territory and is always on the edge of being fired But, he is kept around because he has a knack for solving big problems involving dangerous people.

Joe's strength does not come from his tracking ability (he's good but not great), or his ability as a crack shot (he's horrible with a pistol) or his abilities as an outdoorsman (he is very good but he is not a survivalist). No - his strength comes from his own family and from a sense that the rules are important. Joe is a straight arrow who and if he breaks those rules he does not rest easily.


Joe is called away from a long-needed session of household chores to a crime scene in a hunting camp, only being told that it is gruesome. The sheriff and the Warden that now covers his old territory race to the scene. When they arrive they find a hunter field dressed, having been dropped by a single shot from a rifle. Clearly, someone is trying to send an anti-hunting message.

At the same time, an anti-hunting activist shows up in town and calls attention to the murder. Soon, Joe's research uncovers earlier murders of hunters that were not so blatant but are clearly related and now the whole country knows that in Wyoming the hunters are now the hunted...

This is a gruesome but engrossing entry in this series. I figured out the mystery before the end (I am pretty sure everyone was supposed to figure it out) but I was very surprised at the methods used to flush out the murderer. Plus, there is a true (and quite gratifying) surprise at the end, almost as an epilogue. 

I rate this story 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Blood Trail (A Joe Pickett Novel)


Friday, January 22, 2016

BUNION DERBY: THE 1928 FOOTRACE ACROSS AMERICA (audiobook) by Charles B. Kastner



A Fascinating Story.

Published by University Press Audiobooks in 2015
Read by Andrew L. Barnes
Duration: 6 hours, 36 minutes
Unabridged

In 1928 a sports promoter named Charles C. Pyle had an interesting idea: a footrace across America - from Los Angeles to New York City. This race would be run in timed stages (like the Tour de France) with pre-planned stops along the way. The winner would get $10,000 and the first two-thirds of the race would highlight Route 66.

Pyle brought in legendary football player Red Grange as a celebrity promoter and made grand plans for each stop, including a travelling carnival. 

199 men paid the $100 entrance fee and started the race. 55 made it to the end. Along the way they ran, walked and even crawled through searing heat, snow, rain, dust storms, sleet and more. They also faced dog attacks, surges of crowds and the African-American runners faced racist threats in some states. A surprising number of runners were struck by cars. 

I was contacted to review this book in exchange for a free digital copy of the audiobook. I agreed, thinking that this book could be a real snoozer but if I were lucky it could be fairly interesting. I am glad to report that this book was more than just "interesting." I found it to be an extremely well-told story and I couldn't wait to get back to the audiobook to see what would happen next. 

The audiobook was read by Andrew L. Barnes. He has a folksy way of reading that makes the story that makes it seem less of a dry history and more of just a great tale full of interesting people that sheds a unique light on who America was in 1928. He makes it fun and, at times, poignant.

I highly recommend this audiobook.

5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Bunion Derby: The 1928 Footrace Across America

Friday, January 1, 2016

THE BEST of 2015

THE BEST OF 2015


This is a list of the best of the best of the 73 books that I read or listened to in 2014. They did not have to be released in 2014.

I broke the books into several categories. The titles are hyper-linked to their reviews. 

* indicates the best book in that category.

Fiction Books

I love Havill's Bill Gastner series - it is a shame that this series has not gotten the attention they deserve. The Battle of the Crater was a great description of a tragedy in the making and a look at leadership failure at all levels in the Union Army in the Civil War.  C.J. Box's Joe Pickett character is always a joy and these two books were excellent. But, the poorly named Insurgent (who knew that there would be a popular series with a book of the same title that would all but shove this book out of the spotlight?) was a book that made me think and made me turn the pages on my Kindle as quickly as possible. It is still the only book that I have purchased with real money on my Kindle in the last 7 years (there are so many freebies and the online library).

*Insurgent: Book 2 of America's Future by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Stone Cold by C.J. Box

The Battle of the Crater - by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen

Free Fire by C.J. Box

Red, Green, or Murder by Steven F. Havill



Fiction Audiobooks

So many good choices in this category. Enemies and Allies was a fantastic audiobook by Graphic Audio. To Try Men's Souls had iconic scenes that made you appreciate the generation of the Revolution all the more. The Giver is a classic with a sucker punch scene that took the air right out of me. And...Michael Connelly. There's a reason that he is listed in this category twice.

*To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Enemies and Allies by Kevin J. Anderson

To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

The Giver by Lois Lowry


Non-Fiction Books

I read so many good non-fiction books this year. Every one of these was worthy of being labeled the best. But, I am a teacher and Danza's foray into teaching was insightful, rewarding and reassuring.

*I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High by Tony Danza

A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea by Eunsun Kim and Sebastian Fallet

Gettysburg: The Final Fury by Bruce Catton

What Caused the Civil War: Reflections on the South and Southern History by Edward L. Ayers

The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds of War by Michael Putzel


Non-Fiction Audiobooks

I also listened to a lot of excellent non-fiction audiobooks this year. The Good Shepherd pointed out exciting things that I had never read or thought about in 47 years of going to church. Food: A Love story was the more-often-than-not laugh out loud funny soundtrack to my family's summer vacation. The Aviators was an amazing triple biography. NPR's look at National Parks was fun and worthy of a listen by anyone. The Jefferson Rule was a great look at American history from a different perspective. But, in the end, I just remember the feeling I had as I was listening to MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail. Such a fantastic essay that just soars when it is read aloud.

*Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. 

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh and the Epic Age of Flight by Winston Groom

The Jefferson Rule: Why We Think the Founding Fathers Have All the Answers by David Sehat

NPR Road Trips: National Parks Adventures: Stories that Take You Away by NPR


Childrens (Books and Audiobooks)

My entire family enjoyed the Avengers audiobooks. Woof is a very fun turn at a kids book by a veteran author. The Martha Washington book was a trip down memory lane for me. But, The Witch of Blackbird Pond still has it. The 1959 Newberry Medal winner still grips you and brings you into its world.

*The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Print book)

Marvel's Avengers: Phase One: Captain America, the First Avenger by Marvel Press (audiobook)

Marvel's Avengers: Phase One: The Incredible Hulk by Marvel Press (audiobook)

Woof by Spencer Quinn (print book)

Martha Washington: Girl of Old Virginia (Childhood of Famous Americans Series) by Jean Brown Wagoner (print book)






Saturday, December 26, 2015

THE HIGHWAY (Cody Hoyt #2, Cassie Dewell #1) (audiobook) by C.J. Box



Published by Macmillan Audio in 2013
Read by Holter Graham
Duration: 9 hours, 53 minutes
Unabridged

If you are a big fan of the TV show Criminal Minds or the movie The Silence of the Lambs you will probably enjoy this book quite a bit. For me, the fascination of getting into the head of a serial killer has long since passed and I end up feeling soiled and abused after every excursion into this area. But, I read the book because I do enjoy C.J. Box's work quite a bit and I grudgingly like his Cody Hoyt character - he is exasperating and full of gigantic character flaws but just when you have had enough of him he pulls himself together and he gets the job done.

In a bit of a reach (actually, in a real big reach) the young female characters from his book Back of Beyond  are caught up in another dangerous situation and Cody Hoyt is called out to rescue them once again. This time they have a run-in with a long haul trucker that kills himself the Lizard King. This name is a reference to the disparaging nickname for truck stop prostitutes, Lot Lizards. He traps, abuses and then kills these women. No one suspects him because most of the women live life off of the grid and he is often in a completely different state before they are even missed.

Cody Hoyt has been suspended and soon-to-be-fired because his new partner, Cassie Dewel, has caught him planting evidence in a crime scene to frame a guilty man. The evidence he planted is not even used to prove the guilt of the suspect - it just caused further investigation that led to the actual evidence. Nonetheless, he is on his way out and he falls off of the wagon and starts and epic drinking binge. That is, until his son interrupts him and tells him about the two missing girls. Hoyt sobers up and heads out to find them with the off-the-books logistical support of his ex-partner.

But, things take a surprising turn...

So, this book was way too creepy for my tastes and makes me want to question my penchant for stopping at truck stops on vacations. But, I was truly surprised at the mid-point of the book by a bold direction taken by C.J. Box and I do like newcomer Cassie Dewel a lot.

The audiobook was read by Holter Graham who did an excellent job of portraying the voices of a wide variety of characters, male and female, of different ages and emotional states (from horror to nearly drunken stupor). 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Highway

Link to my review of Back of Beyond

Thursday, December 24, 2015

THE WITCH of BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare



First published in 1958
Winner of the 1959 Newberry Medal

When I was a kid I read this book twice, which for me was rare. I have always been one to prefer reading a new book than re-reading an old one. I had an emotional connection to the book dating back to fifth grade. But, I hadn't read it since fifth grade. For me, it was a book that I fondly pulled off of bookshelves as an adult but I never had the courage to re-read it out of fear of spoiling the memory of the book. What if it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered?

Finally, I decided to take the plunge and see if my memory was justified.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond is set in colonial Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1687. 16 year old Kit Tyler is coming from Barbados to live with her aunt who lives in Wethersfield because she is her last surviving relative. Her arrival adds strain to a family that was barely eking out a living.

More importantly, her upbringing in Barbados has not prepared her for life among the Puritans. Her clothes are seen as too frilly (and in reality, they are not suited for the work that everyone has to do just to make it through the day) and her willingness to talk to the elderly Quaker woman who lives on the edge of town makes everyone suspicious of her.

As a deadly illness spreads through town, Kit hears complaints about the Quaker woman and Kit must decide if she will risk herself to save her friend...

So, did it hold up after all of these years?

Yes, I found myself drawn into the book again. Speare does a masterful job of making the reader identify with Kit, the outsider who is learning about Puritan society along with the reader. Puritan society is portrayed is being much richer, much more nuanced than it usually is. The religion is practiced and debated by men of all social classes. Local politics comes into play as well.

I am pleased that I can still rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Monday, December 21, 2015

MORTAL STAKES (Spenser #3) by Robert B. Parker



Originally Published in 1975

If you have not read a Spenser detective novel and you love the detective genre, pick one up and start reading. I would start with #1 but there are 40 original novels and they all follow a basic premise. Spenser gets a case. Spenser noses around, makes a lot of wisecracks, irritates people who certainly deserve to be irritated and then he sees if there is a reaction to his nosing around. Usually, that is someone trying to warn him off or, perhaps, trying to kill him outright. From there, Spenser knows who is after him and can figure out why and he knows where to proceed and solve the case.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Of course, it is. And, the finest of wines are really just grape squeezings. Simple - but yet there is something else there.

The Spenser series is one of the few series that I am willing to re-read. In this case, I undoubtedly read this book nearly 20 years ago and I barely remembered the plot. It turns out that I mis-remembered it more than I remembered it, which is fine by me. 

In Spenser's third outing he is hired by the Boston Red Sox manager to check out their star pitcher. He is the best in the league but there is some reason to believe that he may have thrown a couple of games, or at least shaved some points (made the score closer than it would have to help out gamblers who bet it would be a close game).

So, Spenser pretends he is an author of an upcoming book about baseball so he can freely nose about the ball park and talk to everyone who will talk to him. Soon enough, he roots out the truth but now he has another problem - does he really want the truth to come out?


I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Mortal Stakes