"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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Monday, November 28, 2016

1944: FDR and the YEAR THAT CHANGED HISTORY (audiobook) by Jay Winik




A Review of the Audiobook

Published in 2015 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by Arthur Morey
Duration: 21 Hours, 10 minutes
Unabridged

Josef Stalin (1878-1953), FDR (1882-1945) and Winston
Churchill (1874-1965) at the Tehran Conference in 1943.
The premise of 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History is that 1944 is the most important year of World War II - the year that the Allies grew certain that they were going to win the war, the year that post-War plans were laid out, the year of the D-Day invasion and more.

This effort by Jay Winik is very readable and was an informative and entertaining listen. There are times when he creates fabulous images in the listener's mind that are worthy of any novelist. His description of the extent of anti-Jewish operations throughout Europe and particularly in Auschwitz and other death camps are so vivid and so striking that I can readily recommend this book as a good place to start for anyone who wants a serious look.

The book focuses on FDR, his personality and how he shaped the war effort and post-War institutions like the United Nations. Winik details Roosevelt's health problems and points out how Roosevelt's health affected his efforts and possibly affected his judgment.

However, there is a problem with the book and that is the title - what he wrote about does not match the title.

He has written an excellent book, but I don't think that he proved his assertion of the title that 1944 was THE YEAR. The book covers all of FDR's life and spends a lot of time in every year of the war but 1944. The topics he covered were important and he covers them well. A great deal of the book covers the holocaust and FDR's response to the proof that the "final solution" was underway. I have no problem with this as a topic (I already noted this above) but I do have a problem with a book that purports to talk about the importance of 1944 to world history and goes on to literally spend more time talking about Anne Frank than the entire Pacific Theater of World War II. I am not kidding. Don't get me wrong - Anne Frank's story is compelling, but it is not, in and of itself, worthy of more mention than all of the fighting in Korea, China, the Philippines, the attempted invasion of Australia, the use of the atomic bombs, the war atrocities throughout the theater and the millions of soldiers and sailors involved in fighting throughout the theater.

The reader, Arthur Morey, did an excellent job, even going so far as to mimic the voice of FDR when he read quotes from him.

This is a well-written and immensely informative book that is simply mis-titled. 


I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 because of the misleading title.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: 
1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

THE DUCK COMMANDER FAMILY: HOW FAITH, FAMILY and DUCKS BUILT a DYNASTY by Willie and Korie Robertson with Mark Schlabach



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in 2013 by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by the authors, Willie and Korie Robertson.
Duration: 5 hours, 50 minutes
Unabridged

Part of a flock of books from the Robertson family (excuse the pun), this book by the CEO of the family businesses (Duck Commander and Buck Commander), Willie Robertson, and his wife, Korie, looks at how they both got to where they are now and what life is like among the Robertsons.

The book focuses on the much more interesting story of Willie's family, which is appropriate considering their prominence in the hit reality TV show Duck Dynasty. If you have never seen the show, this book will be of little interest to you. I have seen a few episodes, but my carpool partner, my high school-aged daughter, is a fan of the show and has watched multiple seasons. She picked this audiobook for us to hear in the car during our morning commute.



Willie Robertson in 2015. Photo by
Gage Skidmore.
Willie Robertson relates his family's story, starting with his parents and his father's early financial and personal struggles. This is quite interesting and inspiring and takes up approximately the first one-third of the book. Willie and Korie alternate in telling about how they met and their family life. Of course, their religious faith features prominently throughout, including Bible verses that match the theme of the chapter.

The fourth disc of this 5 CD set basically talks about the Duck Commander business and how a series of low-budget duck hunting shows sold on VHS evolved into the Duck Dynasty TV show. He also talks about how their family business really is a family business - many family members and family friends work there.

The last disc tells about how he broadened Duck Commander into the deer hunting business with Buck Commander. Willie tells about baseball players that have appeared in his hunting videos and how he has appeared with various country music stars on stage. The last disc was a difficult listen because I am not a baseball fan or much of a country music fan and, despite Willie's protestations to the contrary as he read, it really was a whole lot of pretty boring name dropping.

At the end of every chapter is a recipe that Willie and his family love. Listening to people read recipes is tedious, at best. If I were the publisher, I would have considered leaving out that part of the text and including the recipes in an insert inside of the box with the CDs. After a while we just skipped over the recipes.

Willie and Korie Robertson read the audiobook. Willie was pretty good, Korie was adequate. It made sense for them to read it, though, since it is told in a first-person voice.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family and Ducks Built a Dynasty.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NPR AMERICAN CHRONICLES: THE CIVIL WAR (audiobook) by NPR



Published in 2011 by HighBridge Audio
Multicast performance
Duration: 2 hours, 59 minutes

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
NPR has searched through its archives and found 29 stories that make for a very interesting listen if you are a student of the Civil War.

There are interviews with historians, including James McPherson and Shelby Foote and authors like Tony Horwitz, Jay Winik and E.L. Doctorow. Sam Waterston reads the Gettysburg Address (so good!) and Hal Holbrook talks about a project of his about the impact of the Civil War on Iowa.

There are also interviews with regular people, like the African American family that comes to see the original Emancipation Proclamation and turns it into a profound and moving educational event.

None of it is very deep, but all of it is deeply interesting. This is a must-listen for all amateur historians of the Civil War.


I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found here: NPR American Chronicles: The Civil War.

THE BETTER PART of the ROAD (audiobook) by Tom Bodett



Re-published in 2009 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Tom Bodett

Duration: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Alternate title: The Better Part of the End of the Road

Tom Bodett's "End of the Road" series continues in this edition with Ed Flanigan learning how to get along with just one arm thanks to a horrible accident with heavy equipment. His struggles seem real and Bodett manages to convey them without being patronizing or voyeuristic.

City Manager Emmitt Frank is convinced to move out into a cabin on the edge of town. Emmitt is a former resident of Chicago who came to the End of the Road a city slicker through and through, but is slowly becoming an Alaskan. Calling this cabin rustic would be kind. No running water, no electricity and all of the heating comes from a homemade wood stove and the bathroom is an outhouse. And, sometimes bears show up outside.


Two of the towns older residents find love. This is the best part of the story, by far. Norman Tuttle, the adolescent featured in every episode, has love troubles of his own. Pairing these stories together shows that love is confusing and exciting and potentially embarrassing no matter the age of the participants.

Once again, this is the best series that I have heard all year and I am glad I discovered that they had been re-released in digital format.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Better Part of the Road.

Monday, November 21, 2016

NPR LAUGHTER THERAPY: A COMEDY COLLECTION for the CHRONICALLY SERIOUS (audiobook) by NPR



Published in 2013 by HighBridge
Multicast performance

Duration: 2 hours, 19 minutes

As NPR readily acknowledges in the description of this collection, they are hardly known for their humor. NPR tends to run a bit stuffy but, from time to time, they do some funny stuff. Or, to be more accurate, NPR is at its funniest when they interview some funny people and let them be themselves.

This is hardly a CD full of comedy routines. In fact, there are a few tracks that are re-plays of a series of April Fools Day fake news bits that NPR has run over the years and they are mostly cute at best and definitely go on for way too long.

But, the interviews with Drew Carey, Paula Poundstone, Fred Willard with Martin Mull, Eugene Levy and Mel Brooks are simply great. The interviews with Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers are a cut above. Very good stuff from two ground-breaking comic masters.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found here: NPR Laughter Therapy.

A LITTLE HISTORY of the WORLD (audiobook) by E.H. Gombrich



Published by Blackstone Audio in 2006
Translated by Caroline Mustill and E.H. Gombrich
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Duration: 9 hours, 14 minutes
Unabridged

E.H. Gombrich (1909-2001)
As the title states A Little History of the World is a small history of, well, everything. Sort of.

This history was originally written in 1935. The author was an unemployed art historian and was asked to write a history of the world for children for an Austrian publisher. The first edition was written in six weeks and it sold well and has sold consistently ever since. Gombrich retained the rights and after World War II set out to keep it updated and translated it into multiple languages. He was working on translating it into English when he died in 2001 at the age of 92. The work was finished by others and no one is quite sure how exactly he was planning on ending it.

The chapter on early man is quite memorable in that it gives early men and women a lot of credit for figuring out a lot of important things like agriculture, cooking with fire, stone tools and so on. Think about it - it really is quite remarkable.

The history is told in a kid-friendly, patronizing, but not annoyingly so way. It is definitely a Eurocentric history, especially after the Mesopotamian Empires (Sumeria, Babylon, etc.) are discussed.
India is mentioned, but mostly as an introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism. China gets a lot more attention, but not much more. The Americas, including the United States are barely mentioned. The Native American civilizations (Mayas, Aztecs, Incas) are only mentioned in the context of being conquered by the Spanish and being brutalized. Africa may not have been mentioned again after Ancient Egypt.

However, keeping in mind this bias, this is a pretty solid history of Europe. The reader, Ralph Cosham, sounds like a welcoming old grandfather who is telling the story of the world as he knows it to the little ones. It is easy to imagine him in a chair on a cold winter's night with the little ones gathered around and the fireplace ablaze. And, in a way, this translation was exactly that - a 92 year old man telling the story of the world the best he could.

I  rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It is a limited history and I would never make this the only history book that I handed to my child (it has some popularity among home-school parents), but it is readable and interesting. A good place to start.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A Little History of the World.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

THE LAST DECENT PARKING SPOT in NORTH AMERICA (audiobook) by Tom Bodett



Re-published in 2009 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Tom Bodett
Duration: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tom Bodett's "End of the Road" series is my absolute favorite audiobook collection. It dates from the 1990's and features an eclectic cast of characters from a fishing port town in Alaska named End of the Road because you literally can't drive any farther once you've gotten there. The series is simply the telling of life in this small Alaska town - the kind of drama that one gets in everyday life. Kind of like a more realistic Andy Griffith's Mayberry set in Alaska. This series speaks to everyone's life experiences in one way or another.

This is probably the weakest of the series that I have heard so far, which means it is merely really, really, really good and one of the most enjoyable audiobook experiences that I have had this year.

In this edition, we learn about Clara, who is also the mayor's older sister and her coffee shop and how the regulars buy her a new coffee maker and fix up her shop a bit to celebrate her 20th anniversary in business. Also, they want to get a decent cup of coffee since her old coffee maker was making some pretty nasty coffee. The problem is she is cranky, cantankerous and just plain difficult so no one knows if she'll take it like it was meant, or if she'll be upset.

The story continues as the town of End of the Road searches for and hires a new City Manager.  Also, we are introduced to Doug McDoogan, a ne'er-do-well liar and get-rich-quick artist who never succeeds and can't seem to figure out why he is always down and out. But, it turns out that actually does have a skill. The story moves on to dolescent Norman Tuttle, who has a near-death experience on his dad's fishing boat and finds his place in this world again.

The last big story is the story of the destruction of the sauna featuring and best friends, the Storbocks and Flanigans, and how they ended up skiing down the road naked in the snow in the middle of the night. It all makes sense once you hear it, I promise.


I rate this story 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Last Decent Parking Spot in North America.

THE BIG GARAGE on CLEAR SHOT: GROWING UP, GROWING OLD , and GOING FISHING at the END of the ROAD (audiobook) by Tom Bodett



Book version originally published in 1992
Read by the author, Tom Bodett
Duration: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Published by Random House Audio

I am an unabashed fan of Tom Bodett's cast of characters in the fictional town of End of the Road, Alaska. I first found these stories more than twenty years ago on cassette and was pleased to re-discover them because they had been re-released in digital format.

To be honest, most of the time in these stories not much actually happens except for life just going on as normal. There is no big plot to rob the bathat gets foiled, no crime to be solved. Nothing like that. It is regular life stuff being experienced by some eccentric folks in an Alaskan fishing town - literally the end of the road, thus the name of the town is End of the Road.

But, when Bodett relates the story of middle school student Norman Tuttle being bullied and his first time going hunting and his experience at the big dance - well, we've all been there. Maybe not exactly, but close enough. And, Bodett relates it so lovingly - it is like this really is a town and these really are real people and we can see into their lives and find common ground with them.


In this episode we also meet the town's new city manager as he discovers the joys of fishing and we get to go along with dedicated vegan and animal rights activist Tamera Dupree as she heads off to Hawaii. Why is she going to Hawaii? She won a free trip to a hunting and fishing convention in a drawing and she plans to disrupt the whole thing as a protest.

I enthusiastically recommend this entire series. Among the best audiobook experiences I have had.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Big Garage on Clear Shot.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NPR DRIVEWAY MOMENTS for DADS (audiobook) by NPR



Published in 2012 by HighBridge Audio
Multicast Performance

Duration: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Billed as "Radio Stories that Won't Let You Go", the premise of this audio series is that each of these stories is so compelling that when they were broadcast over the radio you would have waited in your car in the driveway to hear the end of the story rather than going on in to your house.

There are 21 tracks in this collection and, as in all collections, they are of varying quality. Some seem to have been included only because they fit the theme but not because they are particularly riveting. However, most are really good and a couple are very touching. The story of the dad and son who go with the Boy Scouts precisely because the dad has no real outdoor skills was quite funny. 


The "Driveway Moments" series is pretty strong and this is a solid entry. I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: NPR Driveway Moments for Dads.

SELECTED SHORTS: EVEN MORE LAUGHS (audiobook) by Symphony Space



Humor, Like Food, Is Highly Subjective

Published by Symphony Space in October of 2010

Multi-cast performance
Duration: 3 hours, 6 minutes

Here is the premise behind Selected Shorts: Even More Laughs - get a collection of funny short stories and have them be read by great performers such as Stephen Colbert and Alec Baldwin.

There are eight stories of varying quality. As I noted in the title of this review, humor is very subjective. What I can really tell you is that this set is designed to appeal to a wide variety of tastes - not by being middle of the road but by bringing a true eclectic mix to the production. That is certain to guarantee that the listener will not enjoy everything.

Stephen Colbert begins the collection with "The Lie",  the story
Jerry Zaks (b. 1946), one of the
performers in this collection.
of a man who is just overwhelmed with being the father of a new baby. In fact, he is overwhelmed with everything - his dead end job, his wife's new confidence and his lack of free time. In his desperation, he lies. And, he builds upon that lie until he goes way too far...

Alec Baldwin delivers a great performance in a story that I found mostly sad rather than funny. There is a story about an obscure recipe from central France that is funny but it extends the joke for so long that I tired of it and skipped to the end.

For me, the two best stories were "The Swim Team" written by Miranda July and performed by Parker Posey and the last story of the collection: "The Conversion of the Jews", performed by Jerry Zaks. Both were laugh out loud funny.


I rate this collection 3 stars out of 5. This collection is certainly a mixed bag.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Selected Shorts: Even More Laughs.

Friday, November 11, 2016

GATEWAY to FREEDOM: THE HIDDEN HISTORY of the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (audiobook) by Eric Foner



Published in January of 2015 by HighBridge
Read by J. D. Jackson
Duration: 9 hours, 3 minutes
Unabridged

I am torn by this audiobook. On the one hand, I am absolutely fascinated by Civil War, including all of the controversies leading up to it. On the other hand, this audiobook has real issues, including some stretches of tedious writing and stumbles from the reader.


Eric Foner. Photo by Luath.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about this book is the way that the title of the book does not really describe the book. The title, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, implies it is about the Underground Railroad across the country. Instead, this book is exclusively about the Underground Railroad's activity in New York City. Other locations are mentioned only in relation to how they tie in to the story of the Underground Railroad in New York City.

His decision to make the title so inclusive while making the actual book so exclusive is either a clever ruse by the marketing team of his publisher or, F
oner,  a lifelong resident of New York City, having lived outside of the city for only small stretches of his life, has forgotten that there is a massive country attached to his beloved city that is a part of America as well. The world does not stop at the Hudson River.

New York City was a tepid supporter of the Underground Railroad, at best. Its ties to the South were quite strong since so much Southern shipping went through New York City's ports and so many of its bankers financed Southern plantations and factories. While the country was slowly sliding towards Civil War, slavery did not seem so outrageous to many New Yorkers because they could remember when slavery was legal in New York state. Despite those ties and the legacy of slavery, it was also where two of the country's leading anti-slavery organizations put their home offices.

Foner does an excellent job of providing lots of facts about New York City's Underground Railroad infrastructure. His research is impressive. Along the way, especially in the first one-third of the audiobook, this powerful story often gets bogged down with long lists of names and groups, most of which are not particularly meaningful to understanding the story. I would have skimmed over those passages if I had been reading the book, but as a listener of the audiobook version I was just stuck listening. Plus, as a listener I kept noticing how many times that Foner overused the word "absconded" when describing a slave's attempt to run for his or her freedom - I almost started a tally sheet. 

Once we get into the meat of the book, the story gets more interesting because Foner (finally) starts to let the amazing stories of escape take center stage. Everybody who was anybody in the movement on the East Coast went through New York City at some point and these tales are an amazing testament to human courage in the face of evil.

The narration was also a weakness. It shouldn't have been because J. D. Jackson is an award winning audiobook reader many times over. His voice is a velvet smooth bass but he has multiple mispronounced words and odd pauses at unnatural places in sentences - so many that I found him to be distracting and he detracted from the overall experience rather than enhancing it. I have reviewed over 340 audiobooks and this one was one of my few bad experiences with a reader.

In the end, the solid information is hurt by a combination of a misleading title, tedious story-telling and a poor listening experience. 

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Gateway to Freedom.