"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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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

JACK IRISH (Set #1) DVD



This will be of interest to fans of brooding mysteries

Guy Pearce (the villain in Iron Man 3) plays Jack Irish in this Australian mystery show. Jack Irish is a former prosperous defense lawyer who lost his wife when a past client came to his office to argue about how his case was defended in court. Jack Irish tells his wife to leave the office and head for the car and he will meet her after he and his client talk a bit. Instead, the client follows his wife out to the car, shoots and kills her and then kills himself right in front of Irish.

Irish's life goes into a tailspin. Now,he spends his time woodworking, drinking,doing a bit of bill collecting and gambling. But, sometimes the right case comes along and he gets motivated to really care about something that matters again...

I was honestly not impressed by Guy Pearce in Iron Man 3, but I thought he hit all of the right notes in his portrayal of Jack Irish. His new (and seedy) friends are there to help as well and there is the alluring promise of new romance for Irish.

This DVD contains two 90 minute full-length episodes plus a 17 minute behind-the-scenes bonus feature.This show would be rated R in the United States due to language and nudity.

I rate this DVD 4 stars out of 5.

This DVD can be purchased on Amazon.com here: Jack Irish (Set #1).

Reviewed on November 26, 2013.

STAR WARS: JEDI ACADEMY by Jeffrey Brown

  A Unique Entry Into an Crowded Field


Published by Scholastic in August of 2013.

If you have read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the James Patterson Middle School series you get how this book is designed. The twist is that Roan Novachez is a middle school student from Tatooine who really wants to get into Pilot Academy Middle School (much like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode IV). If you were trying to place this book in the timeline of the Star Wars movies it would be about 200 years before the events of Return of the Jedi based on Yoda's stated age.

Anyway, Roan does not get into the Pilot Academy but Yoda extends a special invitation for him to come to the Coruscant Jedi Academy. He is the newest student and has the traditional new student problems at a middle school (finding friends, figuring out your teachers, finding your classrooms and so on) plus he has additional problems such as trying to understand what his Wookie gym teacher is saying and figure out how to actually move things using the Force.

My kids (ages 8 and 13) loved this book (my 8 year old just took it from me and started reading it for the second time), I liked it quite a bit but did not love it. It has some funny bits and is a quick, light read. Of course, things work out well for Roan but it's fun to read how he does it.

I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Star Wars: Jedi Academy

Reviewed on November 26, 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

RUSH REVERE and the BRAVE PILGRIMS: TIME-TRAVEL ADVENTURES with EXCEPTIONAL AMERICANS (audiobook) by Rush Limbaugh



Published by Simon and Schuster in 2013.
Read by the author, Rush Limbaugh.
Duration: 4 hours, 31 minutes

This is bound to irritate some listeners of Rush who may not read any more than the simple fact that I was not impressed by this book. Let my establish my bona fides right off. I have been a semi-regular listener to Rush since 1991 when I heard his parody song about Ted Kennedy called "I'm a philanderer" to the tune of Dion's "I'm a Wanderer." I have read Rush's books. I remember his TV show, if you look at my reviews you will see that I'm fairly well-read in Conservative literature and I even have a subscription to National Review.

That being said, I cannot say that I was a fan of this book. I am a history teacher and I really have no problem with the history Rush presented. The book is about the Puritans, the Mayflower, their trip across the ocean and their first year in the New World. It was a bit simplistic and did not go into much detail except about Puritan beliefs and how they differed from the official Church of England line. Also, Rush ends the story before he gets to the utter deterioration of Puritan-Indian relations and the awful wars that ensued. But, his real point is to detail the personal bravery of the Pilgrims in the face of long odds and terrific adversity and he does that, even if he leaves other parts of the complete history out.

What he does go into is an excessive amount of detail explaining how Rush Revere and his horse Liberty are
The Mayflower Compact, 1620 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 
able to travel back and forth in time to interact with historical figures. The book is sort of a mix between the Magic Tree House series (traveled back in forth in time) and the Magic School Bus series (crazy field trips with the teacher) except the horse is the magical thing. He can talk, travel back and forth in time by creating a time portal, turn invisible and even stop time. But, Limbaugh spends so much time explaining the premise behind this book while setting down the ground rules for what he hopes will be a series of books focusing on American history that it just gets boring.

Even worse, Rush does just a so-so job of reading the book. If you are a frequent listener to Rush you know that he has a rule against listeners reading from prepared remarks when they call in. Reading does not sound as good as just talking with the host or even telling a story. You may have heard someone reading an article from the paper or instructions for a piece of do-it-yourself furniture out loud and they rush it. Well, ironic as it is considering his name, Rush rushes this reading and gets the pacing all wrong. On top of that, he does almost nothing to create voices or anything else to individualize the characters so it just sounds like a non-stop near-monotone of Rush rushing through his story. It is very odd that a man who spends 3 hours a day using his voice just missed the mark here. Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's not understandable, it's just not a high-quality audiobook performance.

So, in short, I am going to take what would have been a 4 star book and take off a star for the poor reading and another star for the slow pace of the book.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 25, 2013.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 22, 2013

THE LIBERTY AMENDMENTS: RESTORING the AMERICAN REPUBLIC (audiobook) by Mark R. Levin


Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in August of 2013.
Narrated by Jason Culp. Opening and closing chapters read by Mark R. Levin.
Duration: 6 hours, 54 minutes.

For the past several years Conservative commentator Mark R. Levin has been laying out his arguments that demonstrate the government is over-reaching its Constitutional limitations in a series of books. He has discussed the Supreme Court in Men in Black, the roots of statist politics in Liberty and Tyranny and pointed out the ongoing actions of statists in Ameritopia.

Now, in The Liberty Amendments, Levin details how he would address the problem using a series of Constitutional amendments.

Since it is unlikely that the current crop of Senators and Representatives would vote to amend the Constitution and limit their power, Levin urges the states to initiate the process by calling for a national convention.

Mark R. Levin
His proposed amendments include:

-Term limits for Congress (12 years);

-Repeal the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators) and let states legislatures choose them (the way most states did it before the 17th Amendement);

-12 year term limits for members of the Supreme Court;

-An amendment to limit the amount the government can borrow;

-An amendment limiting the percentage of GNP the government can spend;

-An amendment to limit the rule-making ability of the federal bureaucracy;

-An amendment to let the state governments overrule a Supreme Court decision if enough of them vote to do it.

I found Levin's suggested amendments to be well-explained as was the rationale behind them. But, sometimes Levin gets a little too dedicated in making his arguments and he quotes multiple lengthy passages from the Founding Fathers that make for tedious listening. There was nothing that veteran reader Jason Culp could have done to make those passages more interesting and since I am reviewing both the content of the book and its experience as an audiobook I have to deduct a star for those tedious passages.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 22, 2013.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

OVERTIME in the WOODS (short story) (kindle) by Ryan Sean O'Reilly


Published in 2013 as an e-short story in kindle format.
Estimated length: 29 pages.

This short story follows Rich Lacey, a private investigator who often works for insurance companies and investigates people who claim to have been physically disabled at work  but who are actually just fine. He is tracking a man named Rufus Stumford in the back woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula who is suspected of faking a back injury claim. Usually, Lacey works in the city, but Stumford case looks so obvious. The problem? He lives out in the real wild country - well out of cell phone range and out of Lacey's comfort zone.

But, Lacey has a case to prove, even if has illegally placed a homing device on Stumford's truck and has illegally trespassed to get good pictures of Stumford at work at his cabin - splitting and hauling wood.
But, what happens when Lacey actually meets Stumford makes him question the justice of what he does for a living...

This short story was well done - it had a good amount of tension and an interesting bit of mind games between Stumford and Lacey. 

I rate this short story 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 12, 2013.

AMERICA'S PROPHET: MOSES and the AMERICAN STORY by Bruce Feiler

 

Published in 2009 by William Morrow (HarperCollins)

I love the premise of America's Prophet - that America has a special connection with the story of Moses beginning with the Puritans and going right up through Martin Luther King, Jr. He lays out the correlations with some skill but, in the end it just started to drag.

This review (and the book, to a lesser extent) is helped by a basic knowledge of the story of Moses. Feiler provides the necessary background on Moses and then proceeds to make comparisons. For example, the Puritans saw themselves as fleeing a domineering power (England) and taking refuge in the wilderness (New England) like the Children of Israel fled the Pharaoh and went into the Sinai. The Puritans took comfort in the story of Moses because they believed that they would also be led by God.

Martin Luther King, Jr. during the
"March on Washington"
A slight change in interpretation and Moses becomes an inspiring symbol for the Americans in the Revolutionary War, the Abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad, both sides in the Civil War, immigrants, the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement (with the oddly prophetic "mountaintop" speech given by King right before he was murdered). Of course, there is a long discussion about Charlton Heston's portrayal of Moses in the movie The Ten Commandments. Oddly, there is only a very brief mention of Brigham Young leading the Mormons to Salt Lake City, fleeing from the United States in search of religious freedom. I am not a Mormon, but that story has every bit as much correlation to the original story as any of the others do.

Sadly, the story drags in in the later parts of the book with the discussions of post-Civil War immigrants and Charlton Heston. Feiler's attempt to wrap it all up with a discussion of his family's Passover celebrations is well-intentioned but really slow, capping off a solid book with an ending that never seems to end.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 12, 2013.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

WHO OWNS THE FUTURE (audiobook) by Jaron Lanier



Published by Simon and Schuster in 2013.
Read by Pete Simonelli
Duration: 12 hours, 2 minutes

Computer expert (to say the least, the man was a pioneer in the field of virtual reality and was at the ground floor in multiple Silicon Valley projects and companies) Jaron Lanier discusses possible futures of the economy and the online community in this rambling, interesting audiobook.

Lanier spends quite a bit of time discussing what he calls Siren Servers. Siren Servers are massive collectors of data such as search engine sites, credit bureaus, the NSA, and some very large retail sites. These servers collect "free" data from you that is provided by tracking your searches, purchases, phone calls or GPS location on your cell phones and sell it to advertisers. Facebook is a sterling example.

Lanier believes that you should be reimbursed for this information through a series of hundreds or even thousands of micropayments which would be used to support a middle class that will be increasingly squeezed by technological improvements that will destroy traditional middle class jobs. He calls this an Advanced Humanistic Information Economy.

Lanier's rambling style eventually gets to the details of this point about 10 hours or so into a 12 hour audiobook. It's not that he wasn't interesting as he was building up to his point, it's just that he has a hard time getting to the point. Along the way he tells about his favorite musician as a child and how he got to visit him, why the Laffer curve in economics is wrong (but why it is hopeful that so many people have a grasp of the concepts behind it), how Steve Jobs used guru techniques to motivate his people, including outright bullying some of his employees. He also talks about e-books vs. paper books and Singularity University and motivational speakers and why he is not on Facebook and on and on and on. He even truly off topic chapters called "interludes."

Note: this meandering conversation was usually interesting but was also a serious case of thesis drift. I listened in the car over the week and decided to listen as if the experience as a giant one-sided conversation with an especially talkative and intelligent companion. This impression was helped by the style of the reader, Pete Simonelli, who kept everything very approachable and friendly - like a conversation between friends.

Did I agree with everything presented? No. Did I find it interesting? Absolutely.

Note: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Review program in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 9, 2013.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A FATE WORSE THAN DRAGONS by John Moore



Fair to Middling 

Published by Ace Fantasy in 2007

There is a market out there for parodies of the traditional King Arthur/Lord of the Rings fantasy stories. Some are quite excellent, such as the The Princess Bride and the Xanth novels. Some are just so-so, like this one.

The book is about Terry, a knight trying to win the hand of Princess Gloria. He actually kills a dragon, but it took place in the wrong kingdom. When he returns home he discovers Gloria is now engaged to the son of one of richest men in the kingdom (his family invented sliced bread). Terry and Gloria decide to fake the kidnapping of Princess Gloria so that Terry can "rescue" her. Of course, none of it works out the way that it is supposed to...

The problem with this book is that it is just so-so funny. Not that it doesn't have its moments. The running joke about people being afraid of sliced bread (because it is unnatural, etc.) was cute, but the long discussions about the rules concerning marrying a princess by winning her hand (and the precedents and how they became precedents) were repetitive and just too long. The scene where the virgin-eating gryphon is coming through town has one very funny, very original scene, but for the most part this book just kept telling the same jokes over and over and they weren't all that funny the first time.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 4, 2013.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

DOCTOR SLEEP: A NOVEL (Sequel to The Shining) (audiobook) by Stephen King

      A Tour De Force

Published in 2013 by Simon and Schuster
Read by Will Patton 
Duration: 18 hours, 35 minutes

I am an occasional reader of Stephen King. When I was younger I used to be an enthusiastic fan of all things Stephen King, but I took a break (about 15 years) and have slowly come back to the Stephen King fold, picking through some of what I missed, listening to his short stories as audiobooks and sometimes reading a book as it comes out. In this case, I am very glad that I did not hem and haw over this one. It is a tour de force of how to write horror, human frailty, human resilience and the power of friendship and love. Throw in the amazing performance by reader (and veteran actor - he is the coach in high school football movie Remember the Titans) Will Patton and this audiobook is an experience that must not be missed.


Stephen King
As already noted in the title of this review, Doctor Sleep is the sequel to the classic novel The Shining. I read it many, many years ago and decided NOT to re-read it before I listened to the audiobook. If you have not read the book in a while or even just saw the movie,  King provides enough background material for the reader to piece it together.

The child protagonist of The Shining, Danny Torrance, returns in Doctor Sleep. In his author's notes after the book King notes that he is often asked what he thinks happened to the kid from The Shining and he found himself wondering how he character would react to the horrific events that happened in the book.  He has .psychic powers that his mentor called "the shining." Danny can see certain spirits, he can tell when someone is going to die and he can communicate with only his mind if the other person also has "the shining."


Having this talent takes a tremendous toll on Torrance and, like his father before him, he turns to alcohol to quiet the voices and dull its abilities so that he can sleep. Soon enough, like his father before him, he becomes a violent alcoholic who cannot keep a job and he just rolls from town to town, getting work when he can and moving on when the alcohol gets in the way. He hits a low point when he wakes up in a stranger's apartment after a one night stand and he steals all of the cash from her purse even though he knows she has a little boy in diapers. At least he moves the cocaine out of his reach before he runs off with the rent money!

Dan ends up in New Hampshire and meets a couple of older gentlemen. One offers him a job, the other introduces him to Alcoholics Anonymous and helps Dan get sober. Dan eventually gets a different job at the local hospice and he uses his special talents to help dying guests pass over easier. He earns the nickname Doctor Sleep because word of his talent spreads among the residents and nurses of the hospice. The three scenes in which King describes what Torrance does with these patients as they pass away are quite beautiful.


What Stephen King does best is create characters. Dan Torrance is described in such approachable detail that the reader (listener, in my case) feels like he is real. At his lowest, the reader feels a level of both pity and disgust for Torrance. But, as he begins to pull his life together the reader feels like Danny is redeemed in some sort of way. I felt like I had been to the bottom with Torrance and had now come through the worst of it. This would have been a great story if this is all there were.


But, Stephen King does not leave it there. He makes you love a character (or a bunch of them) and then he makes you worry over them as horrific things come at them from all over the place and try to kill them. 


In Doctor Sleep the monsters are a group of psychic vampires called the True Knot. They travel the highways of America looking for children with "the shining." They capture them and slowly kill them and absorb their life essence as it slowly ebbs from their damaged bodies. They can live for hundreds of years and they look the same as everyone else. They have also targeted a twelve year old girl who lives in a town near Dan Torrance's and when she contacts him he knows that he must confront an evil that he has never imagined.



Will Patton
Will Patton read this book. Saying he read this book is really an insult to what he did with the material. A great audiobook reader can turn so-so material into a good story. A good story can make a so-so reader sound good. In this case, Patton is an amazing reader with an excellent story. Patton performs almost every sentence of an eighteen hour plus audiobook with such skill, such a solid feel for the story that I can honestly say that I have not heard anything better in ten years of listening to audiobooks. I have reviewed almost 250 audiobooks and I can unequivocally say that this was the best performance I have ever heard on an audiobook. The accents, the pacing, the nuances were all perfect. Whether he is voicing an elderly black man from Florida or a crusty old New Englander or an evil woman who likes to torture young people for their souls or a middle school girl or an old Italian grandmother or a panicked small town mom - he nailed it. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Doctor Sleep

Reviewed on November 3, 2013.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program.