"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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Friday, February 17, 2017

GO SET a WATCHMAN (audiobook) by Harper Lee



Published in 2015 by HarperAudio in 2015
Read by Reese Witherspoon.
Duration: 6 hours, 57 minutes
Unabridged

I waited for a while to take a chance with Go Set a Watchman. The blowback when it was released was formidable, so I decided to let it sit for a while and in the meantime stop reading the reviews.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

This book is set about 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, in the 1950s. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) has come home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for a long visit. 

When she first arrives she falls into the familiar rhythms of a small town where she seems to know most everyone. She rekindles a romance with her father's young protege and soon enough returns to scandalizing her aunt with her forward ways. Atticus Finch has become a physically frailer man, but his mind is still spry.


Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Everything about the trip seems to be going well until Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet among some papers of Atticus. She decides that she simply must sneak into a meeting of the Citizens' Council - a group of white men who are concerned about the NAACP and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

The meeting is in the same courtroom where Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson and Jean Louise sneaks into the balcony to watch her father, just like she did in To Kill a Mockingbird. In that novel she saw her father do his best to defend a black man in a town that already knew his client was guilty.

In Go Set a Watchman, she sees her father and her serious boyfriend colluding with men who spout racist nonsense. She sees the hero fall - and fall hard.

Jean Louise's reaction was amazingly similar to my own as I listened to an icon of American literature debase himself - shock and disbelief. In my case, I knew it was coming, but I still hoped that maybe it had been exaggerated.

Everything seems to be falling apart around Jean Louise. She flees to her childhood home only to find it has been torn down and replaced by an ice cream stand. Calpurnia, the only mother figure she has ever known, rejects her. Her childhood is gone, her hero is gone and she is totally alone.

Clearly, there is a large bit of autobiography in this book - every bit as much as there was in To Kill a Mockingbird. One can easily imagine a young Harper Lee taking a similar trip back to Alabama and struggling with two versions of her hometown - the idealized version that she remembered from her childhood and the reality that falls short once she looks upon it with the eyes of an outsider.

Despite it all, I found myself enjoying this book. It is, in many ways, a more mature book than To Kill a Mockingbird. That being said, it is certainly not a stand-alone novel. You must read To Kill a Mockingbird before you read this book.


Reese Witherspoon read this audiobook and her lovely voice was an excellent choice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

See my review of To Kill a Mockingbird here.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

ONE YEAR AFTER (John Matherson #2) (audiobook) by William Forstchen



The Story Continues...

Published in Blackstone Audio in 2015
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Duration: 9 hours, 51 minutes
Unabridged

In this sequel to the bestseller One Second After, Forstchen continues to tell the story of what happens to a North Carolina community called Black Mountain after the United States is attacked by multiple EMP attacks from nuclear weapons. All of the modern technology is fried (computers, modern cars, the electrical grid, anything with a circuit board) and America reverts back to a pre-industrial technology level.

*********SPOILER ALERT*************



An Apache helicopter
This book starts one year after the ending of the first book which ended one year after the attack. The main thrust of the story is that the federal government has returned in the guise of an appointed administrator working out of Asheville, NC. It is unclear exactly who is in control of the federal government, but they are drafting most of the able-bodied soldiers of the communities that survived the chaos after the EMP attack. The largest cities, like Chicago and New York City, are in complete chaos. A leader of a cult has taken over giant areas of Chicago and has successfully resisted a federal invasion led by largely untrained troops. So, the idea is to recruit local militias into a million man army to re-take America - an army led, in part, by John Matherson, who would be promoted to General.

The main thrust of the book is a burgeoning federal vs. local conflict symbolized by this demand for most of Black Mountain's local militia. If the militia joins the national army the town of Black Mountain is left defenseless The federal administrator is a cardboard cut-out of a toady bureaucrat who does not really know how to lead people but uses his connections to bully them instead. He has the superior military hardware in the form of Apache helicopters, but no particular skill in using his advantage. In opposition we have John Matherson who has become his town's patriarch and is willing to have his town destroyed rather than submit.


The series of fights throughout the second half of the book were interesting but rather pointless. Why would this federal administrator want to destroy one of the few places that can actually feed and defend itself? His style is all wrong for a brown-nosing toady - those guys know how to manipulate people and this guy does not. Most of the conflict in this book could have been solved with two or three short-wave radio conversations that included John Matherson from Asheville to the new federal government location outside of Washington, D.C.

***********End Spoilers************

Bronson Pinchot read the book and, for the most part, he did a good job. However, the accent he created for the bad guy federal administrator kept going in and out and sounded at various times like he was from the midwest or the south. But, the character said he was from Boston. I don't know if it was a really clever intentional thing - something to emphasize the guy was a liar about everything, including his accent, or if it was just a series of mistakes.

In short, there is a large drop-off in quality from book #1 in this series to book #2. I will finish the series but I am expecting a lot less of the third installment. 


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Year After

Sunday, January 29, 2017

ONE SECOND AFTER (John Matherson #1) (audiobook) by William R. Forstchen



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in 2009 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Joe Barrett
Duration: 13 hours, 21 minutes
Unabridged

When this book was first published, it made a sensation of sorts, which is pretty tough to do if you are a science fiction book. As the book's promoters are proud to point out, excerpts from this book were even read into the Congressional Record from the floor of the House of Representatives as a warning about the dangers of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to the United States.

An EMP happens as a by-product of the explosion of a nuclear weapon. In short, a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere can generate this pulse and fry almost all modern electronic circuits by overwhelming them much like a lightning strike will due when it hits someone's home. The pulse can be generated from high enough in the atmosphere that the bomb itself does not cause an explosion on the planet's surface or even cause a radiation danger. In this book, no characters saw the nuclear weapons explode, all they certainly felt the effects of the EMP.


In this book, three weapons disable almost every piece of electronics in the United States. The book demonstrates that America is remarkably vulnerable to such an attack. Almost none of our facilities are "hardened" to survive such an attack. In fact, almost none of our military facilities and vehicles are hardened to survive EMP attacks - the exception being the few bits of machinery that were survivors from the Reagan Administration. Sadly, the Reagan Administration was the last administration to take EMP seriously enough to take steps to survive it.

So, all vehicles from the mid-1970s forward are rendered inoperable due to their electronic controls. Power plants are wiped out. The phone companies are gone. Cell towers, television, computers, printers - all gone. Everything stops in its tracks right where it was all over the country. Planes crash. Trains stop. Cars stop all over the country right where they are.

America reverts back to its pre-electricity days and America is totally unprepared.


The strength of this book is the detailing of how America would fall apart after such attack but not its actual prose. There are lots of repetitive phrases and way too much detail about the nearby college (which also happens to be the where the author teaches). Lots of the story is told by way of discussion in the town council. The local doctor tells the council how horrible things will be once modern medicines are used up, etc. and then the narration goes on to say that it happened just like the doctor had predicted. It gets the story moving forward but it is not particularly compelling. Sometimes the book is just hamfisted and clunky in its approach.

But, I found myself intrigued by the story and I totally bought into the premise. I found myself listening whenever I could because I simply had to know what happened next. And, that is the mark of a good book, despite its faults. I was so intrigued that I immediately picked up its sequel.


The book was read by veteran reader Joe Barrett who does a solid job with a variety of accents. He did an especially good job with retired Army sergeant Washington Parker.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: One Second After by William R. Forstchen.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

THE PRINCESS DIARIST (audiobook) by Carrie Fisher



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in November of 2016 by Penguin Audio
Read by Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd
Duration: 5 hours, 10 minutes
Unabridged

Published just a few weeks before her death, Carrie Fisher's The Princess Diarist continues in her well-known tradition of tell-all books. This is my first Carrie Fisher book. If you have not read a book of hers before, be prepared for a frank and open discussion of just about anything that pops into her head. Every family has that older relative who means well but makes comments in front of the children that you just know will necessitate a subsequent discussion ("Why did Uncle Bob say...?). Carrie Fisher served that role in the world of Hollywood for many years.

The first half of the book is mostly devoted to the making of the original Star Wars movie, now known as Episode IV. There were a lot of factoids I had already heard or read before, but it was enjoyable listening to Carrie Fisher literally tell them again as she read her audiobook. She is frank about her family's struggles as she grew up and as I listened I was amazed.

A large part of the book is devoted to her on-set romance with the then-married Harrison Ford. She is kind to him and puts a lot of blame on herself being "the other woman" when her own childhood home was torn apart by a similar "other woman" scenario. 



She describes how this was her first real physical relationship and she took it much more seriously than Ford. Then, for reasons that I do not understand, she re-tells this story with an extensive series of poetry readings from her diaries that she wrote while onset 40 years ago. The poems aren't bad and you can easily follow along with her allusions because she had already so clearly described the relationship in prose just a few minutes earlier. But, I quickly lost interest in the poems because I had just listened to Fisher herself explain everything without all of the rhymes. In the audiobook version these poems are read by Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd.

The last section of the book is the most touching, especially considering Fisher's recent death. It is a tribute to all of the fans that come to see her at all of the conventions. She discusses how she really didn't want to do the conventions at first and then she moves on to talk about the fans. It starts out as commentary about some of the rather unique people you meet at conventions and moves on to becomes a long tribute to the importance of this film series to its fans. It is sad, warm and often very funny with lots of great accents. It is Carrie Fisher at her very best.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

DRIVERLESS: INTELLIGENT CARS and the ROAD AHEAD (audiobook) by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman



Published in 2016 by Blackstone Audio
Read by George Newbern
Duration: 9 hours, 57 minutes
Unabridged

Driverless cars have been the goal of engineers for decades, but the technology has simply not been there. Lipson and Kurman take the reader (or listener, in my case) through a history of driverless cars, artificial intelligence and make the case that driverless cars will be a common thing much sooner than most of us think.

Positives: 


The book is written in mostly non-technical terms and simply explains the technical terms that it does use before using them.

The writers are very enthusiastic about their topic.

Negatives:

The writers are very enthusiastic about their topic - and sometimes they go into waaay too much detail. For example, they go into a long discussion of a intelligent road scheme that General Motors worked on for years that was a dead end. It could have been edited down by half. 


But, on the whole this was a very informative book that gives the layman a solid handle on why driverless cars will come and how our society is likely to adapt to them.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

ONE PERFECT SHOT: A Bill Gastner Mystery (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



When Bill met Estelle...

Published in 2012 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Ray Porter
Duration: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Unabridged

In this prequel to the series, Bill Gastner is investigating the death of a road grader operator. He is found dead in the cab of the grader with a bullet in his brain, having been shot by a single shot straight through the front windshield. There are no witnesses so Bill starts to dig through the victim's past to find out if there are any potential enemies that might have wanted to hurt him.

As he starts to investigate the sheriff department's new hire, Estelle Reyes, a rookie straight out of college, goes along for the ride while Gastner tries to familiarize her with the department's procedures. And, of course, the more they dig the more they find secrets that most people would just prefer stay buried...

This is a solid mystery - I sort of had it figured out about 2/3 of the way through but for all of the wrong reasons. But, the most interesting thing is the fact that we get to meet Estelle Reyes for the first time. The rich detail of the local community of Posadas County, New Mexico is explored in detail and I think that this only makes the story better.

I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Perfect Shot by Steven F. Havill.