"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
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Thursday, September 12, 2019

MARVEL'S AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: THANOS: TITAN CONSUMED (audiobook) by Barry Lyga



Published by Disney in 2018.
Read by Tom Taylorson.
Duration: 10 hours, 4 minutes.

Unabridged.

This book is a prequel to the record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe's Infinity War movies, telling the early life story of the villain - Thanos.

The story starts with the birth of Thanos on the planet Titan. Thanos is born deformed. His face is deformed, he is freakishly large and he is purple on a planet where people are born all sorts of colors, but not purple. Purple is the color of death.

And so starts the tragic story of Thanos...

Well, it's sort of tragic.

Thanos has a horrible early life but he is pretty horrible in his own ways, even without external prompting. The author, Barry Lyga does a commendable job of breathing life into this story and making Thanos a character that the reader alternately hates and pities. The journey from Thanos: the scorned child to Thanos: the Mad Titan and Destroyer of Worlds makes sense in this telling. I found myself wishing that Lyga had had a hand in the writing of the Star Wars prequels and had told the story of the conversion of Annakin Skywalker (Jedi Hero) of Darth Vader, the evil Sith Lord. George Lucas' story is most unsatisfying on that point.

This is an excellent sci-fi novel. It was made all the more enjoyable by the reader, Tom Taylorson. He created a whole universe of voices and characters with his voice. A first-rate talent.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here:   MARVEL'S AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: THANOS: TITAN CONSUMED.

Friday, September 6, 2019

BUZZ, STING, BITE: WHY WE NEED INSECTS (audiobook) by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson



Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in July of 2019.
Read by Kristin Millward.
Duration: 7 hours, 15 minutes.
Unabridged.


Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, a Norwegian ecologist, specializing in insects, has written an interesting, often funny and thought-provoking introduction to the world of insects.

She gives the reader lots of interesting trivia, such as the story of male bugs that die at the climactic moment of mating due to their genitals exploding. She also tells of plants that trick dung beetles into planting their stinky seeds for them, the importance of wood beetles to keeping soil nitrogen-rich and the super-long (and boring) lives of the 17-year cicada. None of these insects gets an in-depth look because this book is an introduction because you can't seriously expect any book to cover the hundreds of thousands of species of insects in any sort of depth

She looks at how insects could be helpful in the fight against pollution and could be managed to help limit the use of pesticides, but that is not the real value of the book.


Most importantly, she demonstrates the value of insects to the ecosystem. Or, as she puts it, insects could live without people, but people couldn't live without insects. She shows how the entire world ecosystem depends on millions of different species of insects pollinating plants, breaking down the dead plants and loosening up the soil for the new plants. Basically, no bugs = no plants. No plants = no people.

My favorite fact in the book: Every year spiders eat so many insects that their combined body weight is greater than the combined body weight of every human being on the planet. So...leave the spiders alone if you can.

The audiobook was read by Kristin Millward. Her VERY British accent was an interesting change of pace. She helped make the already lively text even more interesting.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars our of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: 
BUZZ, STING, BITE: WHY WE NEED INSECTS.

Monday, September 2, 2019

HEAD ON: A NOVEL of the NEAR FUTURE (Lock In #2) by John Scalzi



Published in 2018 by Tor.


In this near-future sci-fi novel, a horrible disease called Haden's Syndrome has struck, leaving many people stuck in bodies that simply won't obey the commands of their brains. The response was a technological blitz that created an online world for these people (called Hedens) accessed by a technological interface. Later, these interfaces were used to control androids called "threeps" to walk around in the real world. They can actually feel what the android feels.

And, someone figured out how to turn this into a sporting event. Two teams of threeps carrying medieval weapons line up on a football field. On each team one person is "it". The other team is supposed to go after the threep who is it, bash or cut his/her head off, pick it up and get it to the end zone for a score. It has all of the violence with none of the real world consequences because the threep pilot cannot be hurt by this.

Until one of the threep pilots dies, that is.

Chris Shane is an FBI agent who uses a threep. He and his partner, the immensely crusty Leslie Vann, are on the case to figure out how the player died when there's another death. And, that's just the beginning...

This is my first John Scalzi novel and I am a bit irritated. The book I read (the UK edition) didn't even tell me that this book was the second book in a three book series - a fact that I didn't even know until I looked at this book on Amazon before writing this review.

The mystery is pretty good. A mystery in the middle of a science fiction novel is pretty unique. The threep aspect of the story was interesting but ended up making Chris Shane a lot like a small-time superhero. Threeps can't be hurt, they are strong, they can't be killed and they have instant online access. On top of that, Hadens have the power to travel very quickly by simply logging out of a threep in one location and logging into one in another location. Yes, he has his version of kryptonite (his real-life body is pretty defenseless), but it takes some of the suspense of it.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: HEAD ON: A NOVEL of the NEAR FUTURE (Lock In #2) by John Scalzi.

THE DEATH of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR AFTERMATH (audiobook) by Larry Hama



Performed by a multicast.
Duration: 5 hours, 35 minutes.
Unabridged.


Set in the days after the conclusion of the superhero Civil War, this book deals with the aftermath of the assassination of Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) on his way to a courthouse to face a judge for not complying with a superhero registration policy. If you are only familiar with the Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War, this movie will be confusing. The movie is inspired by this comic book series, but does not follow it.

The superhero world (and the regular people, too) is mourning the murder of Captain America. In particular, Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier) is on the hunt for the killer. He is not alone. Falcon, Black Widow, Nick Fury and Sharon Carter are also looking. Turns out that even though Captain America is gone, many of his oldest enemies are still on the prowl...

I really enjoyed Civil War, but the follow up was just so-so. The big plot from the bad guys was unnecessarily complicated and was not made entirely clear in this adaptation (perhaps it was more clear in the book that this adaptation came from). To me, it seemed like the villains could have achieved one of there minor goals (influencing the American Presidential election) for less money by cutting back on minions and secret bases and just throwing a crapload of money  at politicians, like the Koch brothers and George Soros do.

The production was excellent. GraphicAudio always produces stories like old-fashioned radio plays. This one has more than 20 voice actors and lots of special effects but that wasn't enough to completely redeem this disappointing story.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE DEATH of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR AFTERMATH.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

LEADERSHIP: IN TURBULENT TIMES (audiobook) by Doris Kearns Goodwin



Published in 2018 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by Beau Bridges. David Morse, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders and the author.
Duration: 18 hours, 5 minutes.
The author, Doris Kearns Goodwin
Unabridged.

Doris Kearns Goodwin often is labeled with the title "presidential historian" and, really, that is a pretty accurate term for her. As a young historian, she worked personally with Lyndon Johnson on his presidential memoirs. She has written about both Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her book Team of Rivals is a modern classic and has redefined the popular image of the Lincoln administration.

In this book, she looks at various qualities of leadership that each of these very different men exhibited. She begins with interesting pre-presidential biographies of each of these men. She focuses on Lincoln's expressed desire to become a person that was worthy of the esteem of his community. Theodore Roosevelt's ceaseless energy and desire to experience new things led him to meet all sorts of people and learn about their concerns. FDR's efforts to recover from polio were above and beyond. Also, she focuses on his habit of hiding his own problems from the people around him. LBJ's relentless push to put connect himself to people in power is interesting - a road map to power, if you will. But, it is not particularly inspiring (that comes later on for LBJ).

If the book were just those early biographies, it would be an impressive book. But, it goes on to look at an individual theme (in the case of Theodore Roosevelt, a single crisis) that developed in each man's presidency.

With Lincoln, the theme is the end of slavery. With Theodore Roosevelt, the crisis is a national coal strike (May - October 1902) that threatened to literally freeze millions of people. With FDR, the crisis is the Great Depression and his willingness to try and discard and try again in order to alleviate the suffering. For LBJ, the focus is on his push to pass Civil Rights legislation in wake of President Kennedy's assassination and the political cost he suffered in doing so. She also comments on the Vietnam War being the tragic result of his singular focus on domestic policy.

She identifies individual leadership lessons as she goes along. I have no idea how many there are because I listened to it as an audiobook and was not able to write them down as I went along.

Speaking of the audiobook version, this audiobook is read by five different readers. The author reads the opening and closing. The sections on the Presidents are each read by a different award-winning actor. Beau Bridges was absolutely excellent as the reader for the LBJ section. I wish he'd read more audiobooks.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: LEADERSHIP: IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A GREAT CIVIL WAR: A MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY, 1861-1865 by Russell F. Weigley



Published by Indiana University Press in 2000.

Russell F. Weigley (1930-2004) was a professor of military history at Temple University at Temple University for 36 years. He wrote a whole bookshelf full of military histories, but only one book that focused exclusively on the Civil War (however, he was working on a multi-volume study of Gettysburg when he passed away). 

This is an excellent single volume history of the Civil War saddled with an unfortunate piece of art done in American primitive style that makes it look like it was illustrated by the author's elementary school-aged great-grandchild. I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover makes the book look like a children's book.

This is far from a children's book. 
No more than a page or two is spent on the issues that brought on the war and no more than a page is spent of Reconstruction, but this is a Civil War history for people who have read a lot of Civil War histories. It tells the same story as many histories (this will be the 112th history that I have reviewed on this blog, so I am pretty familiar with the genre), but it takes a much more comprehensive look at the war than most histories.
Engineers of the 8th New York State Militia  
from the National Archives.

Weigley doesn't spend a lot of time on individual battles (usually, just a page or two per battle) and certainly doesn't cover all of them. But, he does a good job of highlighting the main generals, the bigger battles and the political problems faced by both the Union and Confederate governments. He also explores important but usually overlooked areas like how the war was financed on both sides. Yeah, that can be boring, but someone had to buy the bullets, the uniforms and feed the soldiers and, in the end, the Confederacy ran out of that capacity.

I am rating this history 5 stars out of 5 despite its writing style. For example, here is a particularly egregious sentence on page 209 as part of a discussion of how the Union financed the war and reformed the banking system: "A system of national banks under Federal supervision, issuing bank notes secured by U.S. bonds and guaranteed by the Federal government, might strike down at last the state bank notes of bewildering variety and uncertain security that had plagued the Jacksonian conscience ever since Andrew Jackson himself had destroyed the Bank of the United States only to spawn an inadequately regulated congeries of state banks in its place." Nearly 70 words that should have been split into two or maybe three sentences.

But, it is an excellent history if you are willing to wade through the writing every once in a while.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: A GREAT CIVIL WAR: A MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY, 1861-1865.