"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, July 26, 2015

FAMILYHOOD by Paul Reiser

   If you are not a parent, you will probably not get much out of this book

Published in 2011.

Familyhood is Paul Reiser's follow-up to 1994's Couplehood, and 1997's Babyhood. Reiser is best-known for his television show Mad About You.

If you have children you will certainly understand the big gap between the publication of Babyhood and Familyhood - life with children consumes your time. And, Paul is more than just happy about that fact, he is thrilled with it. 


Paul Reiser. Photo by Thomas Atilla Lewis
When he wrote this book he his two sons were ten and fifteen years old. I just read it and my two duaghters are nine and fifteen years old. So much of this book rang true to me, especially his discussion on page 24 about how hard it is to just sit down and have time to talk with his wife. He writes, "This may seem to be a might meager aspiration - to simply talk to the person with whom you have committed to share your life - but I assure you it is not. It is, in fact, almost impossible."

How true that is.

Reiser talks about his own family as a kid and what he tries to do differently (he is very kind to his parents, he just would do some things differently) but most of the book is about how happy he is to have had his life overturned by becoming a dad and how much he loves his kids. Yes, it is kind of sappy, but Reiser celebrates that in this book and I can truly appreciate a man who just loves being a dad. 

If you are not a parent, you will probably not get much out of this book, if you are you will recognize so many of your experiences in this quick, light read.

I look forward to his book about being a grandparent which I am sure he will write about 15 years from now.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found here on Amazon: Familyhood

Also mentioned in this review:


Friday, July 24, 2015

A VISION of FIRE: A NOVEL (Earthend Saga #1) (audiobook) by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin



Published in October of 2014 by Simon and Schuster
Read by the author, Gillian Anderson
Duration: 9 hours, 34 minutes
Unabridged

A Vision of Fire is a mix of political thriller with sci-fi and a heavy dose of the occult thrown in as well. The book starts out with top-level negotiations taking place at the United Nations between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir. Both countries are nuclear powers and both countries are sending troops to the border. An Indian ambassador is trusted by both sides and he is trying to broker a peace between them before a nuclear war starts.

But, after dropping off his daughter Maanik at her school mysterious assassins make an unsuccessful attempt on his life. He reassures his daughter that he is fine and proceeds to the negotiating table. But, his daughter starts to have some sort of break down and starts clawing at her arms.  She is rushed home and heavily sedated because she is hurting herself.

The translator for the ambassador has a close friend who is a child psychologist named Caitlin O'Hara who also works at the United Nations. He calls O'Hara in because he knows that she is discrete. She immediately drops the medication and tries to calm the girl with hypnosis. It seems successful at first but the symptoms start coming back with more and more intensity. To make matters worse, other cases that are similar start to pop up in young people around the world...

Meanwhile, a secret group of explorers based in New York City is assembling an exotic collection of treasures from antiquities - and this latest piece is doing some very strange things...

Okay - this sounds like it could be a very good book, doesn't it? 

Sadly, I was very disappointed on multiple levels. 

This book just drags and drags as the child psychologist struggles with Maanik and her symptoms. Even worse, as O'Hara starts to grasp that there is a paranormal side to this case the paranormal stuff is so loosely connected and presented in such a sporadic manner that it was just boring. I grew tired of trying to make a connection as I listened and I felt like it was something to be endured rather than something to be enjoyed. 

When I finally get to the end I realize that most of this book was not needed to prepare the reader for part two of the series. In movie terms, it was like watching Star Wars Episode 1 - only about five minutes of the movie is really needed to prepare you for Episode 2. The rest is just extra stuff and you had to watch Jar Jar Binks for most of the movie!

The book was read by Gillian Anderson. I really like her in the X-Files - she is my favorite character on the show. But, this is the second time I have heard her read an audiobook and I can honestly attest to this - I am not a fan. It took me a while to figure out who she was reminding me of as I listened and then it hit me - she sound like Madeline Kahn singing "I'm Tired" in Blazing Saddles . Anderson is so weary-sounding, her voice is so flat that it sounds like she was going to fall asleep as she was reading her own book!



So, I cannot recommend this book. It is not entirely without merits. The premise is interesting, the interaction between O'Hara and the translator was rewarding. But, I will not be moving on to part two.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: A Vision of Fire

Also mentioned in this review:


THE PRICE THEY PAID: ENDURING WOUNDS of WAR by Michael Putzel



Published in 2015

Michael Putzel has written a sort of unit history of C Troop 2/17th Cavalry 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, also known as the Condors. The tales of combat in Vietnam and Laos are exceedingly well-told, riveting and harrowing. They tell of bravery, loyalty and loss and gave me a picture of a part of the war that I really knew very little about before.


But, as good as those stories are, the real strength of the story is the story about what comes after the war. The title, The Price They Paid, is more than just story of who was injured and who died in the war. Certainly, they paid the highest price. But, the men who were injured, the men who lost their friends, even the men who went through unscathed - those men who survived to go home also paid a price and that is what I found most compelling.

The book focuses on Jim Newman, a  man who started as a private in the army, worked his way to becoming an officer. In Vietnam he led his men in the Air Cavalry (helicopters, if you are not familiar with it) with daring skill. He was an officer who knew what it was like to be an enlisted man. He loved to fly helicopters and he was good at it. He didn't waste his men's lives but he knew when to take risks and his men admired him. He was on a career path to become a general before he self-destructed after the war. From a distance, he seemed successful, but he was deeply troubled in his personal life with multiple divorces, estranged children and even a charge of bigamy - none of it is explained.

Putzel writes about others who served with Newman. Some have lingering physical ailments. Some have new ailments such as cancer, thought to be from exposure to Agent Orange. Many of them have PTSD to some extent - some have paranoia, some anger at a government that would not live up to its promises and some just never really got their lives on any sort of track after the war. It was all part of The Price They Paid.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from a publicist so that I could write an honest review. 

This book can be found here on Amazon: The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds Of War.

Friday, July 17, 2015

NPR DRIVEWAY MOMENTS: MORE about ANIMALS: RADIO STORIES that WON'T LET YOU GO



Published in 2015 by HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books in May of 2015.
Multicast performance
Duration: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Unabridged

In a lot of ways the first story in this 30 story collection typifies the entire collection. It is called "Grizzly Encounters" and is an almost 6 minute long recounting of three different encounters with Grizzly Bears. We were on a long family trip and you could almost sense the family settling in for what was sure to be an interesting story. But, after we had listened to each of them sort of peter out to a "that's it?" moment I stopped the CD and asked if I was the only one that was disappointed in that story. Everyone, even the nine year old, thought the story was a disappointment.

So, on to the next story - a story about bats in a mine that I remember most for telling me this was the sound of the bats that they had been hunting (and me thinking that this would sound great in the awesome speakers of the rental SUV) only to have it last for about 5 seconds. 0 for 2 so far.


The next four stories were better, the best being a story about tool-using animals, although the story of dolphins recognizing the calls of other dolphins that they hadn't seen for years was certainly heart-warming.

The rest of the collection is mostly like that. A lot of ho-hum stories with the theme of animals with the occasional good story. The story of a Florida sea turtle who was accidentally carried across the Atlantic by a ship was cute and ended well but hardly memorable. A song written for Lonesome George, a last-of-his-kind tortoise was cute at first but I was so glad when it ended.


Really, we got an F?
I have listened to at least seven of the audiobooks in this series and they all suffer from the up-and-down quality but these just seemed to be almost universally so-so. Perhaps the best story was an interview with one of the creators of the humor blog "Animal Review" in which the authors grade animal species from F- to A+. They give Pandas an F for a variety of reasons that make sense once you read them and the octopus gets an A because it's like a "superhero". Unfortunately, the interviewer doesn't go along with the joke very well and drags it down. I felt like she was just getting in the way of a good joke. Surely, NPR must have someone with a sense of humor, right?

So, for a variety of reasons I just have to give this collection 3 stars out of 5.

This collection can be found on Amazon here: 
NPR Driveway Moments: More about Animals: Radio Stories That Won't Let You Go

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

BRIMSTONE(Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch #3) (audiobook) by Robert B. Parker



Published by Random House in 2009
Read by Titus Welliver
Duration: 5 hours, 7 minutes
Unabridged

In the third book in this series, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch do a lot, but at the same time I felt like this book went nowhere and made a lot of noise doing it.

In short, Cole and Hitch begin the story looking for Cole's ex-girlfriend Allie French. You have to have read the first two books to even begin to wonder why Cole wants to find this woman again. They find her in the worst brothel in the worst part of town and rescue her and a fight ensues.

They all leave town and eventually find a town that needs two deputies and they take the jobs. In the town there are multiple saloons, including one led by a former army officer who was cashiered from the service because he led his men on an attack on an Indian village and killed old people, women and children but no warriors. 

There is also a church in town with a curious brand of Christianity led by a megalomaniac who believes he is communing with God and arms his deacons and practices a "muscular Christianity". Allie is drawn to the church, the church sets out to close the saloons and there are multiple murders by a rogue Indian on the fringes of town.

Virgil and Everett have their work cut out for them.


I have listened to the first three books in this series in the last month and perhaps I have listened to too many to fast. This book just did not have the punch of the last two. In fact, this book just seemed like a lot of half-developed themes thrown into a big pot and stirred around. The first book, Appaloosa, was a tight drama that built along two themes - the friendship of Cole and Hitch and Allie's need to be with the biggest dog in the pack. The second book was all about Cole working out how he can be an enforcer of the law even though he has broken the law.

The only consistent theme in this book was the redemption of Allie, and that was not done particularly well. There was an undeveloped anti-religious message (actually two themes - is religion real and are religious leaders to be trusted), there was a look at the raw deal that a lot of Indians got and then there was just your typical western shoot 'em up stuff. Plus, even though there was a lot of shooting, kidnapping and general mayhem, it seemed like there was an incessant amount of talking in this book. The same conversations that were held in the last three books in this series plus in most of the Spenser books. Maybe if I had spaced out my listening a little bit it wouldn't have been so obvious.

Once again, Hollywood actor Titus Welliver read this book, as he did for the other two. Once again, he did a good, solid job. I think he voices Everett Hitch especially well.

This audiobook can be found here on Amazon: Brimstone

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

FOOD: A LOVE STORY (audiobook) by Jim Gaffigan



Published in October of 2014 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Jim Gaffigan
Duration: 7 hours, 17 minutes
Unabridged

My wife and two kids and I listened to Food: A Love Story as we drove on our family trip this summer. We are fans of Jim Gaffigan (I really appreciate the fact that our children can listen and he rarely uses an inappropriate word, let alone vulgar commentary or topics.

If you are not familiar with Jim Gaffigan than stop reading this and follow this link to the Amazon page and read the lengthy excerpts that are provided. They give you a real sense of the book. If you are familiar with Gaffigan, he does go over a lot of stuff that he already covers in his stand up routines. But, he expands on them quite a bit and covers things that I never heard him mention in one of his specials.

The book is obviously about food and Jim rarely deviates from it. He is not a "foodie". He is not driving out of his way to get something new. He is not traveling with the intent to try exotic twists on old flavors. Nope, he is an every man talking about regular every day food - burgers, fries, hot dogs, ice cream, cupcakes, pancakes, etc. He gets his tips on where to go by tweeting to his followers that he is in a certain city and where should he go. He rarely gets a bad recommendation.

He includes an overview of the country with regional specialties, including a long and hilarious explanation of why he hates seafood of all sorts (me too, Jim!). He also talks about his all-time favorites, where to get some of those. My wife and I were delighted to hear him rave about Schoop's in northern Indiana and the Coney Island Weiner Stand in Fort Wayne. 


He also talks about why steak is amazing, vegetables are not and the country's obsession with certain foods as a health craze (right now it is kale). I especially enjoyed his review of famous food chains by genre (burger places, taco places, breakfast places) even if I disagreed with him on a lot of them. It seemed appropriate as we were ticking off the miles and driving past all of the exits with the omni-present McDonald's, Subways and Waffle Houses.

This is not an audiobook that I could just sit and listen to at long stretches. I could only take about 1 CD at a time (about an hour and 10 minutes) and then I just got tired of hearing Jim talk about food. But, at lunchtime stop at the McDonald's we'd talk about what he said about this place and that place as we passed their billboards and my youngest daughter would proudly proclaim that she had found the "bonus fry" in the bottom of the bag. Then, I'd pop him back in again and we would laugh some more at his observations about bacon or Dunkin Donuts or Hot Pockets.

He brings it all together with a fairly profound commentary on food and family and our short time on this world. Here's an excerpt: "My advice to you, dear reader, is to eat well and frequently. Our time here is pretty short. It's filled with disappointments and drama, and food can make it better." He recommends more cheeseburgers and you certainly can't disagree with an expert who has written a book on the topic, can you? 

I definitely recommend this for a family trip.

The book is read by Jim Gaffigan and here's all I can say about it - it couldn't have been read better if it were wrapped in bacon. Well, that make's no sense if you haven't read the book, but if you have you know exactly what I mean.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


Monday, July 13, 2015

MARVEL'S AVENGERS: THE AGE of ULTRON: THE JUNIOR NOVELIZATION (audiobook) by Chris "Doc" Wyatt



Published by Marvel Press and Blackstone Audio on April 10 of 2015.
Read by Tom Taylorson
Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
Unabridged.

This is my third audiobook of a junior novelization of a movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They adhere closely to the movies, have all been well-read, easy to listen to and, on the whole, quite enjoyable. 

But, this one is troubling because it only covers half of the movie. Literally, this audiobook is about half of the length of the other audiobooks as well. If you have seen the movie, it only goes to the fight scene in the ship that is being harvested for scrap metal and it alludes to the Iron Man/Hulk fight scene. That's it. 
Ultron

Up to that point, it's an enjoyable audiobook. Reader Tom Taylorson does a very good job with the different voices of the Avengers, especially Thor. He also does an especially good job with the voice of Ultron - sometimes he sounds exactly like James Spader who voices him in the movie.

The problem is that this is only half of the movie is in this audiobook.


It probably stems from the fact that this book was published a week before the movie was premiered in Los Angeles and about 3 weeks before it was released across the United States on May 1, 2015. To me, this seems like a promotional gimmick - a way to gin up interest before the movie came out. The problem is, we are stuck with just having half of a story long after the movie has been released.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. What is there is excellent - but it's only half of the story.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon here: Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron: The Junior Novel  

Note: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, July 10, 2015

MARVEL'S AVENGERS PHASE ONE: THE INCREDIBLE HULK (Marvel Cinematic Universe) (audiobook) by Marvel Press



Published in 2015 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Jim Meskimen
Duration: 2 hours, 52 minutes
Unabridged

Marvel Press has released a series of junior novelizations of their Avenger and Avenger-related movies. The term "Phase One" in the title means that this is a pre-Avengers book that serves to introduce an Avenger. The publisher recommends them for ages 8-12 but my wife and I listened along with the kids in the car and we enjoyed it as well - my wife was really getting into it. I was the only one in the car that had actually seen the The Incredible Hulk  movie.

This is a faithful re-telling of the movie. Unlike some novelizations, this one does not really expand past what the movie reviewer would have seen in the movie. No new secrets revealed or anything.

The book starts with Bruce Banner already having been exposed to gamma radiation and having already changed into the Incredible Hulk. In fact, the real plot gets going five years after his exposure.

Banner is on the run, the target of a secret military program that is trying to re-create the Super Soldier program that produced Captain America. He is hiding out in Brazil while trying to find a cure and working at a soda pop factory. But, he makes one tiny mistake - just one little mistake and soon special forces units are flying to Brazil to try to round up Banner without making him angry...

As I said before, my family and I listened in the car and I polled them afterwards about how they would rate the audiobook and they all said they would give it an A or A-. I liked it as well (I would give it 4 stars) so I am going with the group average and giving it 5 stars out of 5.


Jim Meskimen did a good job of reading this story. With the exception of the English accent of one of the bad guys, he covered a variety of accents well. More importantly, he covered the angst of Banner perfectly.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon here: Marvel's Avengers Phase One: The Incredible Hulk: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Note: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 6, 2015

MARVEL'S AVENGERS PHASE ONE: CAPTAIN AMERICA, the FIRST AVENGER (Marvel Cinematic Universe) (audiobook) by Marvel Press



Published in 2015 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Tom Taylorson
Duration: 2 hours, 47 minutes
Unabridged

Marvel Press has released a series of junior novelizations of their Avenger and Avenger-related movies. The term "Phase One" in the title means that this is a pre-Avengers book that serves to introduce an Avenger. The publisher recommends them for ages 8-12 but my wife and I listened along with the kids in the car and we enjoyed it as well.

The book follows the movie very closely, detailing how Steve Rogers tried to join the army multiple times during World War II but was always refused because he was too small and too sickly. Finally, he is noticed by a team of scientists and given the opportunity he has always wanted - he can join the army. 

But, there's a catch. 


He will have to be part of a group of men who are competing to see who can qualify to be part of an experiment to create a "Super Soldier" based on research already being done by a secret group in Nazi Germany called Hydra...

This is the place to start this series. In this book, the groundwork for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is laid out. If you are an avid comics reader, then you probably already know that the movies and the TV shows deviate from some of the established comic book story lines. We meet the Stark family, Agent Carter (the namesake of an ABC television series), learn a little about the Infinity Stones and quite a bit about Hydra. 

Tom Taylorson's narration is quite good. He makes the story seem dramatic without being overly dramatic. My family enjoyed it as we drove along on a family vacation which is quite the compliment since I am the only one of the four of us that has actually seen the movie that this audiobook is based on,  Captain America: The First Avenger

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5 with the understanding that this is a 5 star rating for an audiobook that is kid friendly. 

This audiobook can be found on Amazon here: Marvel's Avengers Phase One: Captain America, the First Avenger (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

Note: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review.