"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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Sunday, June 29, 2014

THE PROFESSIONAL FREELANCER (kindle e-book) by Rory Scherer





The un-named protagonist of the short (114 pages) e-book The Professional Freelancer has worked in a variety of entry-level jobs (fast-food, telemarketing, door-to-door selling, painting houses, lifeguard and more) and has not had any success at any of them (fires, accidents and government raids have all ended his employment). 

Now, the computer genius friend or the un-named protagonist has used his connections to get the un-named protagonist a job at a software firm. But, three weeks into this job, he loses it thanks to yet another government raid. The government is looking for something and the un-named protagonist has no idea what it is (but...he does have a USB flash drive with some strange code that he has brought home and left in his car - the car that won't start and has been left to sit in the driveway for a while, now).

So, the un-named protagonist goes out, gets dumped by his girlfriend, loses his apartment due to a failure to pay his rent (and two months back rent) because he has no job and moves in with his sister and her bully husband and their child. But, Will comes up with a new career for him - a freelancer, which is a fancy way of saying that he'll do all sorts of odd jobs. He visits someone's grandmother in a nursing home while that person is away on a trip, mows lawns, tutors kids and walks dogs.
Photo by DWD

Eventually, his "cases" lead him to a run-in with a Korean mafia boss. And, eventually, he re-discovers the long-lost USB flash drive and that leads to a run-in with another crime boss, which is where our story starts. The book actually begins with the un-named protagonist is being beaten for the information on the USB flash drive and information about his now-defunct employer. The entire story is a flashback interspersed with the action with the mafia boss.

While the story moves along briskly, I found the main character (the un-named protagonist) to be a difficult character to like and to root for. I found myself agreeing with his bully brother-in-law more and more as the story. His comments about wanting put his nephew on Ritalin and the way he treats him pretty much sealed the deal for me. What is supposed to be a story of a lovable loser making good (which is exactly where the story is when the main character helps with the euchre tournament in the nursing home in the middle of the story) just fell short.

Disclosure: A review copy of this e-book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this e-book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 29, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

THE CAMEL CLUB (audiobook) (abridged) by David Baldacci



Published by Time Warner AudioBooks in 2005.
Read by James Naughton
Abridged
Duration: 5 hours, 39 minutes

Four outcasts form The Camel Club, a team that keeps an eye on the government so that it can discover the "truth". The club is led by Oliver Stone - not the director but a former CIA assassin who has taken the movie director's name. Stone literally stakes out the White House and watches who comes and goes. Reuben Rhodes is a former soldier and DIA member who works in a warehouse. Caleb Shaw works for the Library of Congress and often dresses like he was in the 19th century. The last member is Milton Farb, a computer genius with obsessive compulsive disorder.


The White House
These four witness a murder of a government agent on Theodore Roosevelt Island, D.C. area national park. When it looks like the murder is going to be treated as a suicide, the club swings into action with the support of a friendly Secret Service agent and discovers a conspiracy that was even larger than they could have imagined that extends all of the way into the White House itself.

I listened to this book as an abridged audiobook. The unabridged audiobook (read by a different reader) lasted 16 hours and 10 minutes. My abridged version, read by two-time Tony Award-winning actor James Naughton lasted a mere 5 hours and 39 minutes, making it almost exactly one-third the length of the unabridged version. Taking into account that different readers can read at different paces, this abridged version is still missing about two-thirds of the book - and it shows.

The abridged version introduces characters with little or no explanation (the Reuben Rhodes character gets the short shrift, for sure) and the plot sometimes jumps forward in a herky-jerky fashion. At first, I thought it was because the book was poorly written but then I finally realized that it was abridged after I read the fine print on the back of the box (it is not disclosed anywhere else). Naughton did a solid job as the reader, but I cannot recommend his abridged version. I have not listened to the unabridged version, but it has to be better than the abridged version. 

I rate this abridged audiobook 2 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 27, 2014.

Monday, June 23, 2014

THE BIG TRIP UP YONDER by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.



Originally published in 1954 by the magazine Galaxy Science Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut's short story The Big Trip Up Yonder is set in the year 2185 in a time in which old age has been defeated. The main character is Gramps Ford, a man that was 70 when anti-gerasone, the cure to aging was created. He has been 70 years old for 102 years. He is grumpy, vindictive and generally unpleasant - much like you would expect for a man that has has been 70 years old for 102 years.


Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007
Galaxy Science Fiction was designed to be thoughtful science fiction rather than laser guns and explosions driven science fiction and Vonnegut's style fits the bill perfectly. He looks at what would happen in a world with no death. It becomes crowded - so crowded that privacy is a rarity and people are forced to live cheek-by-jowl with their families in hallways, living rooms and the like.

If you have ever seen a movie or a TV show in which greedy family members are waiting around the family manor for the eldest family member (who changes the will frequently) to die you will immediately understand the premise of this short story. But, Gramps can't die because he never ages. Until, that is, when he disappears one day...


This is early Vonnegut but his angry whit and sarcastic view of human nature shine through. While mostly filled with a bitter tone, the last two pages save the story and make it end with a funny, almost upbeat tone. Also, like Vonnegut, I am a native Hoosier and I always note his references to his home state of Indiana. In this case, the Indy 500 is referred to twice, although it has now become the Indy 5,000.

This short story was re-printed as a single short story paperback by Aegypan Press. 

I rate this short story 4 stars out of 5.

This short short can be found on Amazon.com here: The Big Trip Up Yonder.

Reviewed on June 23, 2014.

Monday, June 9, 2014

THE THIRD RULE of TEN (Tenzing Norbu #4) by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay




This series returns to its winning ways.

Published in 2014 by Hay House Visions

Former Buddhist monk and ex-LAPD officer Tenzing "Ten" Norbu returns in the what could be entry #3, #3.5 or #4 following the prequel The Broken Rules of Ten.

Ten continues his search for the perfect girl but his professional life has taken off in a big way thanks to the celebrity connections he made in The Second Rule of Ten. Mac Gannon, an aging action hero star who is an ultra-Catholic with a propensity to cheat on his wife and drink too much and the spout racist venom (clearly inspired by Mel Gibson) hires Ten to find a missing illegal alien housekeeper. That's tricky enough with the hazy documentation comes with being an illegal alien, but Ten has to keep it as quiet as possible since Mac is really hiring Ten so that Bets McMurtry, California's answer to Sarah Palin, does not get tied to her (even though she desperately wants her friend found, she is always aware of the political implications).
Photo by Niels Noordhoek

As Ten starts to search he comes across other seemingly unrelated cases as he digs and discovers it's not just people that are coming across the border and discovers that plenty of people are willing to kill to keep that a secret. 

Despite the overt attacks on anyone on the political right throughout the book (and some might say the Catholic faith as well), I find myself reading the book because I just like the character Ten.  The mystery was good, there is plenty of action and humor as well.  I have read 3 of the 4 books in the series and I am pleased to say that this series is back on its winning ways with The Third Rule of Ten.

Note: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

See all of my reviews of book in this series by clicking here.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on June 9, 2014.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

STONEWALL JACKSON (Landmark Books #86) by Jonathan Daniels



Published in 1959 by Random House
Illustrated by William Moyers

In the 1950's and 1960's Random House created an extraordinary history series for children called Landmark Books. There were 122 books in the American history series and 63 in the World Landmark series. A very solid description of the series can be found here: link. When I was a kid my little hometown library had what seemed like an endless shelf of these books (I even remember where it was in the library nearly 40 years later). Undoubtedly, these books are part of the reason I am a history teacher.
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863)

So, when I found one of these volumes, Stonewall Jackson, sitting all by itself at a book sale my heart leapt like I was seeing an old friend that I have not spoken to for years. It had been purged from a school library, which is very sad in my mind because this entire series is excellent.

This short history (184 pages of text and illustrations, including a six page index) is short on Jackson's youth and long on his experiences in the Civil War. It also includes his service in the Mexican War and his famed appointed to the Virginia Military Institute as an instructor. To put it mildly, he was as poor a teacher as he was an excellent officer during the Civil War.

The description of Jackson's famed Valley Campaign is explained in this book as well as I have ever read and better than in most of the books I have read (I have read well more than 100 books on the topic). I found the illustrations to be solid and nothing more, but I remember staring at similar illustrations when I was a kid, coming back to them again and again, trying to absorb what people wore and carried back in those days.

This book is short on causes of the war. Slavery is barely mentioned. States' Rights gets one mention (p. 44) and Virginia seceding because of Lincoln's intent to use the military to keep the Union intact is given a brief mention (p.45). This oversight points to the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the series. It is long on action and short on analysis. If you are looking for an well-rounded biography of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, this book will disappoint (thus, the reason for the 4 star rating). However, if you are looking for a solid introduction that kids will want to read and will give a solid foundation for future learning, this book and this series fits the bill, for kids and adults.

Bottom line: I will keep this book in my personal collection and if one of my kids wanted to learn about the war or about Jackson in particular, I would gladly put this book in their little hands as a place to start.

The Landmark series is being re-printed. I do not know if this book is among those that are being re-printed.

Reviewed on June 3, 2014.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

THE HISTORY of the ANCIENT WORLD: FROM the EARLIEST ACCOUNTS to the FALL of ROME by Susan Wise Bauer



Published by W. W. Norton in 2007

Susan Wise Bauer is well-known in the home school community for her well-written histories. I am not a home school parent but I do recommend this book for history buffs who would like a long-term general overview of history.

Bauer mines lots of types of sources to build a view of the earliest cities and their beliefs. Bauer's history focuses on political leaders and religious/philosophical beliefs of different civilizations. One thing that I really like was her ability to take myths and legends (like Gilgamesh) and tie them into actual history and demonstrate why those myths and legends mattered to those ancient peoples and give the modern reader a way to have a better understanding of these ancient peoples. 


The book starts with a focus on four major civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus River Valley (India) and the Yellow River Valley (China). As these groups grow, other areas are added (such as Ancient Greece and Rome).  

The text of this book is 777 pages long and it has almost 90 pages of works cited, notes and an index. One of the real strengths of this book is the inclusion of nearly 100 relevant maps. I was also pleased with the timeline included at the end of every chapter was helpful as well. Each timeline included the civilization just discussed and another of the groups as well so they can be compared.

For all of the strengths, the book does have weaknesses. It rarely discusses technological changes or different agricultural techniques. The book focuses on leaders, wars and battles, the common man of the past is rarely spoken of. To be fair, this book is a chunk as it is - if more detail were included it would be an unwieldy tome. 
Constantine the Great (272-337).
Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST

Bauer does delve into philosophical movements, as I mentioned earlier, but, surprisingly, leaves out the entirety of the philosophical movement of Ancient Greece except to quote them when talking about other cultures. Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle, the Stoics - their ideas are not discussed at all. I found that to be so odd that I literally searched the book's index to see if I had just skipped the chapter they are in. Along with Judeo-Christian beliefs, Greek thought was (and is) one of the pillars of Western thought. 

The book does not actually go to the Fall of Rome, which has been traditionally dated at 476 AD. Instead, it ends at 312 AD when Constantine the Great became the sole Roman Emperor (prior to that he was a co-ruler). That is an interesting date to choose because that is the moment when Christianity stopped being a persecuted religion in the Roman Empire. 

NOTE: This book is the first in a multi-part series that is still being published.