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

NEW! Visit DWD's Reviews of Books, Audiobooks, Music and Video new sister blog: DWD's Reviews of Tech, Gadgets and Gizmos!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TRIDENT'S FIRST GLEAMING: A SPECIAL OPERATIONS GROUP THRILLER (audiobook) by Stephen Templin



Published by ListenUp Audiobooks in September of 2014.
Read by Brian Troxell.
Duration: 9 hours, 14 minutes.
Unabridged

In many ways Trident's First Gleaming is a pretty typical special forces book. You've got a terrorist threat from somewhere in the Middle East, you have an elite group of American operatives who are scrambled to eliminate it, they discover it is worse than anyone has imagined and only they can somehow overcome these newer incredibly long odds and save America and the world.

But, in other ways it is different. The main character, Chris Paladin, is more than just a really talented (but retired) operative - he is also an associate pastor of a church in Dallas, Texas. But, when a former colleague reaches out to him and requests his help. She has been assigned to recover a downed Switchblade Whisper, a new type of military drone that can be launched from a submarine. Its wings swing out and lock open when fired out of the submarine, like a switchblade's blade locks open.

Unfortunately, it has crashed in Syria and by all indications it was taken down by a genius with an astounding grasp of technology. Also, he is a madman with real issues about his sister and a taste for eating people.


Photo by Niels Nordhoek
Stephen Templin has a talent for writing military thrillers. This book could have been over-the-top in so many ways. The pastor angle could have been overdone with preachy sermons and the like, but it was not. The weapons angle could have been overdone with discussions of guns to the level of a fetish. The bad guy was certainly creepy but he was not the focus because this is not a Hannibal Lechter novel. 

Instead, once this book gets going it becomes part thriller, part "buddy" book, part romance and injected with a real sense of humanity and, from time-to-time, a great gag to relieve the tension.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a "change-your-life" novel and it's not perfect, but for a military thriller this is about as good as it gets.

Narrator Brian Troxell has a great voice for reading these types of books. He makes everything he reads seem very dramatic, very edgy and very macho. I look forward to hearing more of his work.

Note: I received a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 25, 2014.


LITTLE BROTHER (audiobook) by Cory Doctorow

   A Must Read for Early 21st Century America?

Published by Listening Library in 2010
Performed by Kirby Heyborne
Duration: Approximately 12 hours

I've had Little Brother on my to-be-read list for while. But, it shot to the top of my list when it was pulled as the book in a "one book/one school" project at a Florida high school. I picked up the audiobook and my daughter and I listened as we commuted to school every day (she is a freshman at the school where I teach.

The story is about Marcus, a teenager in San Francisco who is a hacker, skips school and is, generally speaking, a pretty with-it kid. I imagined him as a Ferris Bueller-type kid with a lot more tech at his disposal and in a much more serious situation. Marcus and three of his friends are skipping the end of school when the Bay Bridge and the tunnel underneath it are blown up by terrorists in an event that is even larger than 9/11.
File:Oakland Bay Bridge from Yerba Buena Island.jpg
The Bay Bridge. Photo by Centpacrr.

Marcus and his three friends try to hide in the BART (subway) tunnels but they are in danger of being crushed by the panicking people so they head back up to the surface after one of their group is injured. A passing police van picks them up and they are turned over to the Department of Homeland Security. It is never clear what they did wrong except being out of school on a day when thousands died due to a terrorist attack. The mere fact makes them suspect and they are interrogated thoroughly, including being denied the right to contact a lawyer, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. 

Marcus knows his rights and insists on a phone call, an attorney, knowing what he is being charged with and more. The DHS insists that it just wants his phone passwords, his passwords to his computer and his online accounts. They inform him that his friends are being similarly punished because he will not cooperate.

After a few days, he breaks and gives DHS his passwords to his computer and his phone. 

He is crushed.

But, when he is released (with just two of his friends - the injured one is not released and is presumed dead) he cannot believe how quickly DHS has swarmed throughout San Francisco,  setting up security checkpoints, monitoring the traffic patterns of cars using toll roads and the traffic patterns of BART riders. His own hand-built laptop has even been physically hacked and tracking machinery has been installed without his parents' knowledge while he was locked up.
Cory Doctorow. Photo by Jonathan Worth. http://JonathanWorth.com

At this point, Marcus regains some of his former swagger and decides to act, even if it is in a small way. As he puts it, Never underestimate the determination of a kid who is time-rich and cash-poor.” Marcus puts his hacker skills to use and decides to fight his own little guerrilla war against the heavy-handed and illegal techniques that DHS is employing. The title Little Brother comes from this - he is not "Big Brother" like the government in the novel 1984. Instead, he is one little person watching the government and documenting what he sees and letting other know what's going on. And, in the process, he becomes one of many people who decide that rights are more important than the illusion of safety and start to take back San Francisco...

One of the beautiful thing about fiction books is that you can discuss important topics in a non-threatening way. In this case, the events in this book are clearly a stand-in for 9/11 and the DHS's reaction is a stand-in for the Patriot Act and some of the heavy-handed tactics used against Muslim communities immediately after 9/11.

I listened to the book with my daughter and we often stopped the audio playback to talk about what was going on in the book (although the 4 or 5 scenes involving sexual activity, even if it wasn't graphicly described, made for uncomfortable father-daughter listening so we usually skipped ahead until it was over). We talked about what your rights were if you were arrested, why your rights are so important and have to be defended in an absolutist manner, why "I don't have anything to hide so I don't care if my rights are violated" is just a cop out and more. We drug this audiobook out so long that took about a month to listen to it. 

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 despite the fact that at some points the techno-speak overwhelms the book and it becomes about as interesting as reading a router installation manual. But, the positives of the the book overcome these dry areas and make this book just about must-read material for early 21st century America.

Here's a quote I really liked from the book: “I can't go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.” 

Reviewed on November 25, 2014.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

BELOW ZERO (Joe Pickett #9) by C.J. Box



Published in 2009 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Years ago, person who left a comment on one of my Amazon reviews told me about C.J. Box and gave me the title to his first book featuring Joe Pickett. I found it at the library and I was hooked. If you like Michael Connelly or Robert Crais, you will love C.J. Box. If you like Tony Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police books than I am sure that you will enjoy Box's descriptions of the local landscape and the people of Wyoming.


In Below Zero Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett is working on two cases. The first case (and the minor one in the story) concern's Joe's pursuit of the Mad Archer, a poacher that likes to shoot his arrows at just about anything. Besides out of season game, the Mad Archer has shot a bald eagle and Tube, the ultra-friendly Corgi-Labrador mix that Pickett has adopted. Joe arrests him and he promptly skips town while out on bail and Joe goes back on the hunt for him.

The main story concerns a dying Chicago mobster enforcer named Stenko and his ultra-environmentalist son who wants Stenko to make amends for the gigantic carbon footprint that he has accrued over a lifetime of high roller living. Stenko and his son are roaming through South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado looking for opportunities to stop people from contributing to America's overall carbon footprint. Typically, this involves Stenko using skills with a pistol to kill heavy polluters or try to shake them down to pay for carbon offsets.

At first I was thrown off by the heavy-handed tactics of Stenko and son, thinking that it was over-the-top nonsense. But, I started doing some more thinking and I remembered some quotes from ultra-environmentalists like these:

"I suspect that eradicating small pox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems." -- John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal

"Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental." -- Dave Forman, Founder of Earth First!

and

"To feed a starving child is to exacerbate the world population problem" -- Lamont Cole

So, take these comments and add action to them and Stenko and son don't seem quite so unrealistic. 

Normally, Joe Pickett wouldn't be too worried about this mobster since it is not really a game warden issue. But, when Joe's daughter gets a phone call from April Keeley (their foster daughter that was presumed to be dead from a federal raid in an earlier book) he cannot help but be curious - even more so when it looks like April is being forced to ride along with Stenko and son...

Nate Romanowski plays a large role in this store. Normally, I am not a fan of Nate, but I liked him quite a bit in this one. In fact, I liked this book quite a bit. I tore right through it.

Great quote from the book: "...there is no sound in nature that makes men move along faster than the pumping of a shotgun." (p. 39)

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 22, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE: THE RISE and DECLINE of WESTERN THOUGHT and CULTURE (audiobook) by Francis A. Schaeffer

Originally published in 1976
Published by Christianaudio.com
Read by Kate Reading
Duration: 7 hours, 51 minutes

Presbyterian minister and philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live is a history of the West and a fairly sophisticated bit of Christian apologetics wrapped up in a fairly small package. At times this book rolls along at an enjoyable pace and is quite the listen, other times it is much more difficult. 

Here is a listing of the chapters:

File:Francis Schaeffer.jpg
Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984)
  • Chapter 1: Ancient Rome - Schaeffer compares Roman pagan beliefs with Christian beliefs and blames the pagan beliefs for the collapse of the Empire - they were not inclusive enough and the Greco-Roman gods were little more than bigger people with the same issues that all people have.
  • Chapter 2: The Middle Ages - Despite its reputation, the Middle Ages had positive points. Threads of Classical thought were re-discovered and fused to Christian beliefs.
  • Chapter 3: The Renaissance - Schaeffer offers up the Renaissance and the Reformation as competing thought processes about man and his relationship to God. The Renaissance is essentially the re-birth of Greco-Roman humanist thought with a Christian veneer.
  • Chapter 4: The Reformation - Explores the art and culture of The Reformation and compares them favorably to that of the Renaissance.
  • Chapter 5: The Reformation – Continued - Looks at the philosophy of the Reformation and how even non-Christian thinkers of the time were influenced by Christian thought.
  • Chapter 6: The Enlightenment - Human-centered thought leads directly to the excesses of the French Revolution.
  • Chapter 7: The Rise of Modern Science - Science's foundation came from confidence that God had created an orderly world that we could understand.
  • Chapter 8: The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science - Philosophy and art are symptoms of the thought processes that are now permeating science.
  • Chapter 9: Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology - Humanism creeps into theology.
  • Chapter 10: Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films - Schaeffer offers commentary on several "modern" works.
  • Chapter 11: Our Society - How the values of personal peace and affluence have worked their way into our society.
  • Chapter 12: Manipulation and the New Elite - Is an authoritarian state ruled by elites coming as a natural result of Humanist values.
  • Chapter 13: The Alternatives - Schaeffer makes the argument for a return to Christian values.

The audiobook is quite enjoyable until Chapter 8. I was not a fan of the discussion of all of the different philosophers. The commentary on current movies, art, music and literature are stilted seeing as how the book was originally published in 1976. There is no discussion of Heavy Metal, rap, hip-hop, Star Wars, the current trend towards super hero movies or celebrity pop culture authors like Stephen King. His discussion of modern science is similarly stilted. It's not his fault, it's just the reality of listening to a re-released book.

So, do I buy into what Schaeffer is arguing?

Yeah, mostly. Once you get past the fact that he is still talking about hippies it's still pretty solid.

Kate Reading's narration was neither good nor bad. She did not hurt the interesting parts and did not make the slower parts better. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 17, 2014.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

GOING SHOGUN (audiobook) by Ernie Lindsey



Audiobook version published in 2014
Performed by DJ Holte
Duration: 6 hours, 19 minutes.

Set in a future America with strict caste system, Going Shogun is a buddy story and a heist story with a bit of romance thrown in. 

Chris and Forklift are waiters at Wishful Thinking, a trendy restaurant that mixes odd combinations of flavors like gravy-flavored ice cubes, banana mustard and wintergreen tomato popsicles. The customers can't seem to stop coming in and business booms every night. But, Chris and Forklift (especially Chris) want to move up in in this strict caste system and they think they have developed the perfect plan - steal the recipes from their boss, sell them online and use their new found wealth to "ascend" and maybe take the hot waitress with them on the way up the social ladder.

But, this is more complicated than you might think. Everything, including the internet is tightly regulated so Chris and Forklift have to find a hacker to get them online before they steal the recipes and that is where the trouble starts. Unexpected trips, the surprise return of an old flame and a dead body make this a night that changes everything...

The world imagined by Ernie Lindsey is certainly an interesting twist on a science fiction staple - the ultra-stratified future society (imagine Brave New World but much sloppier, much less regimented). 

At first this story is confusing. Forklift has an odd style of speaking with a series of unique slang words and phrases and it took me the first two hours of a six hour audiobook experience just to get the hang of his personal way of communicating. It took me almost as long to get a strong feel for the structure of this future society. Because it took so long for me to get "up and running" I nearly didn't finish this story.
Audiobook narrator DJ Holte

But, I continued on because of the voice work of the reader, DJ Holte. I listen to a lot of audiobooks (this is my 274th audiobook review) and I don't remember every hearing Holte before. If he is new, I can only assume I will be hearing a lot more from him. If he has done a lot of voice work, it is a pity that I have missed him until now because he is gifted. The voices he created made vivid images of the characters in my mind - much more than any of the descriptions from the text.

The story got better once I started figuring everything out. It was worth the initial slog. I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a free download of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed on November 1, 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

CRAZY IS NORMAL: A CLASSROOM EXPOSE (A MEMOIR) by Lloyd Lofthouse

  An Honest Look at Urban Schools

Published in 2014

Throughout the 1994-95 school year Lloyd Lofthouse, a veteran high school English and Journalism teacher teaching in a rough "inner city" type of environment in California, kept a daily journal of his experiences. Finally, he worked them up into this book.

First, I think that I need to tell you that I am a 25 year teacher and I have spent 15 of those 25 years teaching in what some would euphemistically call "urban" schools. I also agree with Lofthouse's comments about so-called education reform and fads in education like the self-esteem movement.  For those reasons I found this book to be compelling - I simply flew right through it.


The book is mostly a set of journal entries with the occasional expanded commentary and, rarely, a reference to an article or a study about education. The way the book is set up is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The book rolls along day after day just like a real school year does - unrelenting,  seemingly unending yet with never enough time. Each class has its own distinct personality, some kids improve but most bad students just remain, sadly, bad students. Quite simply, he nails the day-to-day grind of teaching. 

But, the lack of elaboration on the school, its students, its staff hurts the book. Lofthouse leaves out almost all details about his family. When he mentions he has a wife I was shocked. When he mentions his son at the end of the book I was even more shocked. The home vs. work balancing act is a tough one for most teachers and deserves a lot of exploration. 

Lofthouse's commentary on district-level administration and the way they forget what it is like in the classroom is dead-on correct. I would have loved to have read what Lofthouse thought about some of the new trends in education like Common Core.

Lofthouse's confession that he found himself attracted to one of his students makes for uncomfortable reading. Thankfully, he never acted on those feelings but it leaves an taint on the book. 

Despite that, this book is one of the very few serious descriptions that I have read about education in the real world by a real teacher with real students over the long haul. That makes it worth reading.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 28, 2014