"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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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

HARRY STARKE (Harry Starke #1) (audiobook) by Blair Howard



Audiobook edition published in November of 2015

Harry Starke is a former cop turned private detective in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has a successful agency with several associates with different skill sets. Harry is also connected to the Chattanooga political scene through his father, a federal judge.

Most importantly, Harry is connected through his connections as a former police officer. He knows a lot of cops, knows the department's habits and has a romantic relationship with an important detective. 

Most important, Harry is a smart, tough detective who can put two and two together, get four and figure out why that answer is important to the rest of the problem. Plus, he can shoot and fight well.
The Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga.

Harry is out for a late night drink and he notices a beautiful young lady. Later, while strolling across the Walnut Street Bridge he sees her running seemingly running away from someone and running towards him. She stops when she sees him and she jumps off of the bridge to her death. Harry wants to know what would make her do that for two reasons. He is simply curious and he feels guilty that she may have mistaken him for someone else and killed herself in a vain effort to escape.



The positives of the book:

-The setting. I love mysteries but way too many are set in New York or Los Angeles. Do they have crime in Chattanooga? Certainly. Let's explore some new territory. I spent some time in Chattanooga last summer and I enjoyed the fact that I was able to recognize some of the areas that the book mentioned.

-The audiobook narrator. Tom Lennon did a good job of giving his characters a soft Southern accent. He did a good job of creating multiple voices for these characters.

The negatives of this book:

-In some ways this book was a throwback to an earlier time when private detectives encountered one beautiful woman after another in the course of their investigations and slept with them all. I know that all fiction is fantasy, but this was more than a little ridiculous. The woman practically fell over themselves in an effort to take this man to bed.

-The mystery, once it was uncovered, was certainly a throwback idea. Almost something that you might find on an old episode of Columbo.

-Harry Starke talks too much. He talks in his head. He talks out loud. He just goes on and on and on. If you are reading a book you can skim but there is no such option when you are listening.

While not bad, I just did not enjoy this book. My 3 out of 5 star rating means that it was good, not great. If I were to grade it, I would give it a C+.

Note: I was provided with an audiobook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Harry Starke #1.

YOU'VE GONE TOO FAR THIS TIME, SIR! (kindle) by Danny Bent



Published in August of 2014 by Danny bent, Ltd.

It took me a long time to read this book. I read it over the course of several months on my Kindle and on my phone's Kindle app. 

The book details the trip of a teacher from the UK who rides his bike from the UK to India in an effort to raise money for charity and to teach his kids something.

I really struggled with the first part of the book because the author seemed so self-absorbed and I never really understood how he was going to raise money for a charity by riding and as a fellow teacher I seriously did not get how this trip was going to do anything for his students besides do show everyone that he could do this outrageous thing. 


So, I struggled through the first half of the book because I kept on coming back to the premise behind his trip and wondering about it (how is he raising this money? Is it by the kilometer? Is it a lump sum and will be donated so long as he makes a solid effort? These are the types of questions my overly-practical mind had).

But, after a couple of months of on and off again halfhearted efforts I basically forgot the school-related aspect of the book and read it as simply the adventures of a skinny Brit riding his bicycle to India because that's the kind of crazy thing that some Brits do from time to time. 

Basically, once Danny Bent enters Russia I thought the book became much more interesting and became more fascinating the further he went. It became a travelogue and a grand adventure and I was glad to go along because I know there is literally almost no chance that I will ever travel to these places and I will certainly not be staying in the places he stayed in. Heck, I have a hard time trying new things on the menu at McDonald's, let alone eating strange, steaming bowls of mystery stew handed to me by toothless old ladies in a hut on the side of a mountain in Pakistan.

But, thank goodness I can get a glimpse of that from adventurers like Danny Bent. The second half of the book is certainly worth your time to read.


Here is a link to the author's website: http://dannybent.com/portfolio/cycle-to-india/

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: You've Gone Too Far This Time, Sir!



Monday, March 28, 2016

Bill O'Reilly's Legends and Lies: The Real West (audiobook) by David Fisher and Bill O'Reilly



Published in 2015 by Macmillan Audio
Read by Tom Wopat
Duration: 8 hours, 49 minutes
Unabridged

As of late, Bill O'Reilly has become quite the writer of history books. His "Killing..." series has garnered quite a bit of attention but this book is different than those. For one thing, it is not focused on the death of an historical figure. Also, this book was actually not written by O'Reilly. O'Reilly writes the introduction of the book and mentions that he used to talk about all of these historical figures and tell their true stories when he taught history in a classroom long ago. I can only assume that David Fisher and Bill O'Reilly sat down and discussed who to include in the book and the general tone of each entry.

The topics are as follows:


Billy the Kid (1859-1881)
-Daniel Boone;
-Davey Crocket;
-Kit Carson;
-Black Bart (Charles E. Bowles);
-Dime Novels and their influence on our perception of the Old West;
-Wild Bill Hickock;
-Boom Towns;
-Bass Reeves (an inspiration for the Lone Ranger story?);
-Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn;
-Indian Summer;
-Buffalo Bill;
-Annie Oakley;
-The American Indian/Reservations;
-Jesse James;
-Doc Holiday / Wyatt Earp;
-The myth of the gunfight at high noon;
-Billy the Kid;
-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid;
-Westerns on TV and movies.

Of course, as I listened I found some were more interesting than others. I enjoyed learning about Black Bart and I thought the Buffalo Bill entry was particularly interesting. My teenage daughter was particularly struck the by the nebulous nature of Billy the Kid. Was he a bad guy in a bad situation or was he a basically good kid forced into a bad situation? 

The Bass Reeves story was interesting but I do not believe that this African-American marshal was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger because the facts just do not line up. However, I would love to see Bass Reeves explored further on his own just because he is interesting all by himself.

There are some facts that just do not fit together well. It is bound to happen. This is a written by a generalist writer who specializes in ghost-writing, not in history and a former history teacher turned journalist. But, almost all of it is accurate and this book certainly does well as an introduction to the fascinating time period known as the Old West.

Tom Wopat reads the audiobook. I had no idea that the actor most famous for portraying Luke Duke on the Dukes of Hazzard read audiobooks. He was not bad. He had a nice way of giving a voice to each person when he read a direct quote. Unfortunately, they all sounded like a grizzled growl. He must not have been too bad - I blew right through this audiobook.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Legends and Lies: The Real West.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

THE ASSAULT (RECON TEAM ANGEL #1) by Brian Falkner



Published in September of 2013

This is the first in a series of books about teenage human soldiers used to infiltrate the ranks of alien invaders of Earth through secret missions.

The premise is that a group of aliens called Bzadians arrived at Earth and settled in the Australian Outback because it was most like their home. Their ships had no propulsion systems to let them take back off of Earth and humanity was persuaded to let them settle in Australia.

But, it turns out that these original ships were the advance force for a full-fledged invasion. Australia became their stronghold and the from their the Bzadians invaded Asia, Africa and Europe. Now, only the Americas hold them off. 


Because of the slight, short stature of the Bzadians, human teenagers have been recruited to undergo plastic surgery and go behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and, if possible, actually do some damage.

In this book, the target is the massive rock formation known as Uluru or Ayers Rock. The aliens have been building around it and through it the entire time and clearly have a lot invested there. Recon Team Angel is supposed to secretly "parachute" into the Outback, hike to Uluru, blend in with the aliens,  check out what is going on and, if possible, deal with it.

But, immediately there is a problem when the team leader barely survives his insertion into the Outback thanks to someone tampering with his equipment. Which means that one of his team must be a traitor...


This is a solid action-based science fiction story. It is long on adventure but it does manage to work in some character development as well. It even goes so far as to give the point of view of some of the alien soldiers to add a little complexity and depth to the story. The strength of the story is action and there certainly was plenty of that and it was well done.

I rate this YA novel 4 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Assault (Recon Team Angel #1)

OUR SERVICE, OUR STORIES: INDIANA VETERANS RECALL THEIR WORLD WAR II EXPERIENCES by Ronald P. May



Published in July of 2015 by Fideli Publishing Inc.

The World War II generation is rapidly passing away and with them go their individual stories. 

Ronald May has collected a number of these stories and had them published in the Martinsville, Indiana newspaper as a regular feature. This book is a collection of these stories with a lot of full color pictures. Some of the stories have been expanded.

A photograph from the book of a B-26 Marauder being shot down

Typically, each story tells a little about each man's life before his military service, focuses on his time in service and then tells about life after the war (some went on to serve in Korea as well but those efforts are not highlighted in this book). For me, the most interesting part of the book is reading about the wide variety of jobs that these men held during the war. When you read the history books or watch the movies you tend to think that everyone carried a gun, flew a plane, maintained the planes or worked in a hospital. 


To be sure, those stories are in this book but there are other jobs that I never even think about like the soldier who maintained the fires for a field kitchen, a pilot who searched for downed military airmen (ironically, he washed out of pilot school but he was deemed good enough to land those rescue planes on back roads or any open spot in the China-Burma-India Theater), men who manned the ships that escorted troops and supplies across the Atlantic, a carpenter who designed a unique communication tower that could be easily assembled and torn down and a man who led the crew of a mobile radar station. For me, it was reminder that World War II was an amazingly complicated endeavor and a true group effort. Without all of these men the effort would have faltered.

I feel that I need to disclose that the author was formerly the pastor at my church. I decided before I read the book that I would not review it unless I could not write a good review of it (it is what I do with all books where I know the author). This is a very good local history of our World War II generation. 

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Our Service, Our Stories.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

BATMAN: THE LAZARUS SYNDROME (audiobook) by Dirk Maggs



Published by BBC Worldwide Unlimited in 2010.
Multicast Performance
Duration: 44 minutes

Even though I enjoy the comic book movies and I listen to a few comic book-based audiobooks, I am not a serious comics fan. I dabble. I haven't even been into a real comic book store. I know the big names and their back stories and that's about it.

But, the title of this story ruined the story for me. If you know about the Lazarus Pits then there was no mystery at all. This was just one more problem in a problem-filled audiobook.

First things first, let me be clear that none of the problems in this audiobook come from the actual performance of the book. It is performed like an old-fashioned radio play and the BBC performers did a great job. Sadly, the story itself does not live up to the performances of the actors.

In this story, Batman is supposed to be dead. He hasn't been seen in a while and Commissioner Gordon receives a tape from Batman that was to be delivered when he died. In the tape he confesses his true identity. 

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is selling off Batman properties at fire sale prices. Want an old Batmobile? Bruce Wayne will sell it to you.

So, Commissioner Gordon knows there is a problem, Alfred knows there is a problem and any listener familiar with most of Batman's enemies figured it out once they put together these three facts: 


1) Batman is gone and declared dead,
2) Bruce Wayne is alive but acting weird,
3) The title of the book has the word "Lazarus" in it.

Sadly, this book's plot had real potential. But, the title gives it away and it is way too short. This book could have stretched out for several hours and the listeners could have followed Commissioner Gordon around as he and Dick Grayson try to figure out what is going on. But, instead we got a 44 minute mini-story that tried to do too much in too short of a time and ended up doing not much at all for this listener.


I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome

Friday, March 18, 2016

SUPERMAN on TRIAL (audiobook) by Dirk Maggs





Too Short. A Lost Opportunity to Create Something Truly Amazing.

Published in 2010 by BBC Audio
Multicast Performance
Duration: 1 hour

Superman is captured and on trial. Lex Luthor is the prosecutor, Lois Lane is Superman's sole defender. A Guardian of the Universe is the judge and if Superman is found guilty, he is to be sentenced to the Phantom Zone.  The charge? Superman is not the defender of humanity - he is actually committing crimes against humanity.

Luthor's arguments go along this line - Superman is an alien and he is interfering with life on Earth. As Lois Lane makes her arguments that Superman is actually helping, Luthor blunts them with his own arguments. For example, Luthor calls Batman to the stand to testify that Batman feels the need to monitor Superman to make sure that he does not abuse his powers to enslave humanity.


The audiobook ventures into some fairly unique territory. Not only are Superman's peers questioned but the assumption is that a real-life Superman literally inspired the creators of Superman's comic books (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) to create his comic book. There is a discussion of comic book censorship controversies in the 1950s and Luthor asserts that comic books are bad for the morality of the America's youth. 

My favorite part of the book is the surreal moment when Adam West appears as himself and testifies as to the influence of TV and movies on young people. Meanwhile, the real Batman the he portrayed on TV is also waiting to testify. 

As you could probably guess, Superman is not found guilty. The credits are read in a unique manner - Luthor is screaming as he reads the names off the closing credits and tells how he is going to sue them all.

The audiobook is performed like an old-fashioned radio play with different actors playing different characters and the real-world people playing themselves. 

My problem with the audiobook is it's abrupt start (how was Superman captured? Who set up this court? Why did the judge agree to be the judge?) and its abrupt ending. In reality, the one hour length is just too short. I really enjoyed the surreal mixing of our reality and Superman's Metropolis. A world where Adam West and Batman can exchange a few words with one another and D.C. Comics writers and artists. I would have loved to have had it explored further. The possibilities are so intriguing and this short format just left me feeling intrigued and disappointed. For example, imagine Adam West and Batman going out together to look for clues to help Superman and Batman bristling every time Adam West calls him "old chum".

Truly, a lost opportunity.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Superman On Trial (Special Extended Edition) (BBC Audio)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

THE SMOKE at DAWN: A NOVEL of the CIVIL WAR (Civil War in the West #3) (audiobook) by Jeff Shaara



Published by Random House Audio in June of 2014
Read by Paul Michael
Duration: 19 hours, 42 minutes
Unabridged

Confederate General Braxton Bragg (1817-1876)
 Jeff Shaara is well-known by fans of military historical fiction. This is his fifth book about the Civil War, the third about the campaign in The Western Theater. This book picks up a few months after Grant's victory at Vicksburg and focuses on Chattanooga.

The crushing Union defeat at Chickamauga suffered by General Rosecrans was a terrible blow after the twin early July Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Confederate General Braxton Bragg swept Rosecrans army from the Chickamauga battlefield and they have retreated to Chattanooga. Bragg's forces occupy the mountains"that surround Chattanooga and have effectively laid siege to the city. Already, the Union forces are suffering and Rosecrans seems confused about what to do next. Luckily, Bragg is worried about dissension among his own junior officers more than the Union forces so an extremely tough situation has not been turned into an impossible one.

Grant is called to Indianapolis for a meeting and is told that he has been promoted to the command of the entire Union army on the condition the he resolve the situation in Chattanooga. Rosecrans is removed, General George Thomas is placed in charge and Grant is smuggled into the city so that he can break the siege.

I was critical of the second book in this series (A Chain of Thunder) and I was more than a little reluctant to listen to this one. I am glad to report that this was a much better book.

The brooding, repetitive nature of the second book was replaced with a more balanced approach. There was plenty of brooding but most of it was Braxton Bragg verbally accosting everyone in his army that he could reach - privates, captains, generals and even getting a little dicey with Confederate President Jefferson Davis who personally came the outskirts of Chattanooga to help his old friend Bragg sort out his army's personality conflicts, not that it did much good.


 The book was not entirely about generals and politicians. It also followed Wisconsin-born "Dutchie" Bauer and his friend Captain Willis to give a view from the common man's perspective. 

The reader was Paul Michael and he did an excellent job with the wide array of voices and accents. Pretty much everyone had their own voices and there were multiple Southern accents (they vary by region, of course) and even an excellent Irish accent.

This series continues on with a fourth installment.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Smoke at Dawn: A Novel of the Civil War (the Civil War in the West)

Monday, March 7, 2016

LINES of CONTENTION: POLITICAL CARTOONS of the CIVIL WAR by J.G. Lewin and P.J. Huff



Published in 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers

The Civil War was, in many ways, the world's first modern war. The submarine was invented, the machine gun was introduced, aerial reconnaissance was used and metal warships ruled the seas. It was also a war that featured all aspects of the media of the day. Propaganda songs like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were written, speeches were given all over the country, those same speeches were re-read in newspapers. Those newspapers were openly partisan on every issue of the day. And, one of the best ways to express these partisan opinions was political cartoons.

This book is filled with political cartoons describing the issues that brought on the war, cartoons inspired by the people and fighting in the war and a light discussion of the end of the war. Almost all of the cartoons are excellent and they provide a jumping off point for discussion of the events as they are portrayed in chronological order. 

Below is a cartoon from the book (p. 140):




The cartoon shows the dangers of the "Copperheads" - Northerners who actively opposed the war. Some just spoke against it, some politically worked against it and a very few acted as home grown terrorists.


I am a Civil War buff and I have seen many of these cartoons in other books, but that did not stop me from from enjoying this focused look at them.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Lines of Contention.