"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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Friday, April 21, 2017

THE BODY BUILDERS: INSIDE the SCIENCE of the ENGINEERED HUMAN (audiobook) by Adam Piore



Published in March of 2017 by HarperAudio
Read by Fred Sanders
Duration: 12 hours, 56 minutes
Unabridged

Adam Piore describes the advances in medicine in a number of areas, especially (but not limited to) recovering from injuries, illness or dealing with genetic disorders.

He starts out with a profile of a leader in the field of prosthetic limbs who has reverse-engineered the human leg and, for the first time, makes the idea of TV's "Six Million Dollar Man" seem like a real possibility. There is the amazing story of the engineer who created a device that allows a blind woman to "see" with her ears.

Piore describes advances in experimental genetic engineering and muscle therapies that promise not only to help with genetic disorders but also may ultimately end aging as we know it.

But, it's not just about the body, it is also about the mind. There are advances in figuring out what causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Parkinson's and those advances are leading to new discoveries - like the ability to give a person a photographic memory. 

The audiobook was read by Fred Sanders. His reading style is solid, but not exciting. Very much like listening to almost 13 hours of an NPR broadcast.

This book is very informative with only a few minutes scattered throughout that are really too detailed and too technical to keep up my interest. But, those are more than made up for with the amazing human interest stories and the news (at least it was for me) about the newest advances and where they might lead.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Body Builders.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

1453: THE HOLY WAR for CONSTANTINOPLE and the CLASH of ISLAM and the WEST (audiobook) by Roger Crowley



EXCELLENT!

Unabridged Audio Edition Published in 2016 by Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio
Read by Simon Prebble
Duration: 10 Hours, 56 Minutes

When Rome was at its height it split itself in half and created a second capital for the eastern half in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The eastern half survived the official "Fall of Rome" in 476 AD and continued on for nearly 1,000 more years until it succumbed to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It was the seat of the Orthodox Christian Church and oftentimes stood as the bulwark against Muslim military advances into Eastern Europe.

From the time of the first formal attack against Constantinople in 674 AD until it finally fell in 1453, the capture of this city was, at the least, on every Muslim leader in this region's "to do" list, if not an active goal.


Once the Ottoman Turks arrive on the scene the Byzantine Empire is clearly on its last legs. The city is still defended by one of the most elaborate set of walls ever built and its history and architecture are truly amazing. But, its glory days are long gone. The city has sold a lot of its treasures to defend itself. Its territorial holdings, at one point, included a majority of the territory of the Roman Empire. By 14523 it only held a part of modern Greece and the territory immediately around the walled city.

The Ottomans, in contrast, were an Empire on the rise and they understood that the capture of Constantinople offered great strategic, economic and symbolic value. 


This is a book that could have truly been horrible. We've all had that professor or teacher or book that takes the most exciting parts of history and drains all of the joy from the learning experience and leaves behind a dry, lifeless exercise in tedium. 

This book had all of the hallmarks of that experience. 

1. Medieval battle? Check.

2. The Byzantine Empire, whose very name is literally synonymous in English with being unnecessarily complicated? Check.

3. Multiple religious traditions that most American readers know little about? Check (Islam) and check (Orthodox Christianity).

Constantine XI (1405-1453)
However, Roger Crowley's history is almost always highly entertaining and informative. He paints vivid word pictures of the battles and they come off much more like the epic struggles depicted in a Tolkien novel than the a dry recitation of facts. He introduces new historical figures and makes them feel like real people.

Constantine XI, the Byzantine Emperor comes to life as an honorable and brave warrior who refused to escape and leave his city even when there was no hope. He was an experienced soldier who actively led his men throughout the siege. Legend has it that he dressed as a regular soldier in his last moments and led his men in a hopeless last-ditch defense of the city. His body was never definitively identified.

Mehmed II was the hard-headed and often difficult young Ottoman emperor. He spoke multiple languages, survived the brutal family dynamics of the Ottoman leadership and embraced new technologies, like cannon. He was rewarded for this flexibility when he took the city that many considered impossible to take.


Simon Prebble's reading of this book was excellent. It was like listening to an amazing English history professor give one of the most interesting history lectures you have ever heard. Perfect combination of voice and text.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5,

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 1453: THE HOLY WAR for CONSTANTINOPLE and the CLASH of ISLAM and the WEST by Roger Crowley.



Friday, April 14, 2017

BEFORE SHE DIES (Bill Gastner #4) (Posadas County Mysteries) (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



Originally Published in 1996.

Audio edition published by Books in Motion in 2002.
Read by Rusty Nelson
Duration: 9 hours, 17 minutes
Unabridged

Posadas County New Mexico Undersheriff Bill Gastner is having a bad night. He almost gets shot substituting as the policeman on duty at the local high school basketball game, the suspect dies in custody and then someone shoots and kills a deputy sheriff and nearly kills a reporter on the side of the road with a shotgun.

The investigation begins in earnest following the slimmest of leads with Gastner and company looking for a killer before the only known witnesses dies and looking for another missing witness before the killer strikes again...

This audiobook starts out like a rocket but the second act gets bogged down in the procedural minutiae of this police procedural. The third act picks up though and the book ends on a strong note.

The reading by Rusty Nelson was solid except when he tries to read in Spanish. The author's Spanish was passable - if I were the sheriff of Posadas County and my anglo detectives were this fluent I would be pleased. It was good enough. But....these were supposed to be conversations between native speakers of Spanish, one of whom grew up in Mexico. There's no way that these conversations would be confused for authentic Spanish speaker conversations and Rusty Nelson's brave attempt to speak Spanish was...well, it was interesting. But, most people won't know the difference either way, so don't let this dissuade you from listening.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Before She Dies by Steven F. Havill.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WHERE IT HURTS (Gus Murphy #1) (audiobook) by Reed Farrel Coleman



Published in 2016 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Chris Andrew Ciulla
Duration: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Unabridged

Gus Murphy is a retired cop whose life has completely fallen apart after the sudden death of his son due to an undiagnosed heart problem. His marriage fell apart, he quit the force and now works in a hotel as security and a shuttle van driver in exchange for a room.

A low-level mobster-type seeks him out to hire him as a private detective to look into the brutal death of his son by torture. Murphy is not particularly thrilled to look into it and emphasizes that he is not a private detective. But, his emotions get the best of him because this mobster is also a dad who has lost his son so he agrees to look into it, figuring that he would uncover nothing.

But, it starts to look like the police just gave a cursory investigation and missed some serious clues. When his "client" shows up dead, Gus Murphy knows that he has stumbled into something that he has to see through to the bitter end...

While this book is full of all sorts of cliche set pieces from detective stories over the years, this is an extraordinarily well-written novel and it works. It was engrossing and the narration by Chris Andrew Ciulla only made it better. He nails the accents, the pacing - he nails the whole thing.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

Sunday, April 9, 2017

WINTERKILL(Joe Pickett #3) by C.J. Box



When Joe Met Nate...   

Originally Published in 2003


Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett is making his rounds when he sees a hunter open fire on a herd of Elk, killing many more than a hunting license would allow. It turns out he is the local administrator of federal lands, the man who approves permits, makes rental agreements for grazing or logging and the like. He escapes Joe's custody for a few minutes, only to be found pinned to a tree - the victim of an attack with a hunting bow.

The local sheriff has a suspect in mind - a local anti-government type that Joe has heard of but has not met - Nate Romanowski (for those who have not read the series, Joe and Nate become de facto partners in many of the books in this series). Joe suspects that Nate is not the real killer and goes off on his own to do a little detective work on the side. He has his eyes on a wandering group of anti-government activists who have set up camp in a federal forest. And, they include the biological mother of the foster child Joe's family has been trying to adopt for the last several months. Throw in a nutty federal bureaucrat and a wild winter storm and you can see how things will get tough for Joe Pickett this winter...

I read the Joe Pickett books as I naturally find them. I could order them all and read them in order but, what's the fun in that?  This book is the beginning of four different multi-book plot lines and it would actually be a good place to start the series if you can't find book #1 or #2 in the series. The action is great, the tension over the proper use of federal lands is real, even if it is overdone by some of the characters in this book. 


I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Winterkill by C.J. Box.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SHOWDOWN at YELLOW BUTTE by Louis L'Amour



Originally Published in 1953.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988)
Tom Kedrick is a professional soldier who doesn't have a war to fight in right now. But, he has been hired by an acquaintance to lead a crew of hired guns to clear out a group of horse thieves and ne'er do wells from a big parcel of land that is opening up for settlement.

But, when Kedrick arrives the whole thing just doesn't feel right so he starts to nose around some on his own. W
hen Kedrick checks out his opponents, he discovers that they are settlers with families, not thieves and Kedrick is sure that things are not the way that he was told when he was hired on...

This is, by far, the worst Louis L'Amour book that I have read and it is my understanding that it was one of his first. The beginning of the book is dreadfully slow and L'Amour adds characters at a furious rate throughout the book. There must be at least 40 named characters in this 188 page book and most of them deliver only a line or two and then just disappear from the story or are killed off.

My 1953 edition had 188 pages and I quit after 120 pages. I just couldn't stand it any longer.

I rate this book 1 star out of 5.

If you must have this book to complete your Louis L'Amour collection, you can find it here on Amazon.com: Showdown at Yellow Butte.

Monday, April 3, 2017

ECHO BURNING (Jack Reacher #5) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Originally published in book form in 2001.
Unabridged audio edition published in 2008 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by Dick Hill.
Duration: 14 hours, 21 minutes.

Jack Reacher starts out the story as a wanted man in Texas after he defends himself in a bar fight with a bully who turned out to be a police officer. He flees his hotel right before the police arrive and hitches a ride in record time. Even better - the driver is an extremely attractive woman who is heading far out of town towards the desert border with Mexico in Echo County, Texas.

But, as Reacher and the driver talk it turns out that Reacher's good luck in hitching a ride was helped because the driver is looking for someone to deal with her rich, abusive husband who is being released from prison soon and Reacher looks like the tough sort of man who can deal with him. She lists all of the reasons why she can't involve the police, lawyers or simply flee.

As she explains her situation, and after he meets her young daughter, Reacher reluctantly agrees to come along with them to see if there is something that he can do.

But, soon enough, he finds that things are way more complicated than he was led to believe and he's not sure who he is telling the truth...

This was an excellent Jack Reacher book - one of the best that I have read. The story was complicated, the action was very good and not too over-the-top. There are a lot of complicated plot lines going throughout the book and Lee Child does a good job of bringing them all together.

Dick Hill is excellent with his narration of the Jack Reacher series. He perfectly captures Reacher's sarcastic comments and observations. He is a pro and it shows.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Echo Burning by Lee Child.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

B IS for BURGLAR (Kinsey Millhone #2) (audiobook) by Sue Grafton



Published in 1993 by Books on Tape.
Read by Mary Peiffer
Duration: 7 hours, 42 minutes
Unabridged

I've been reading this series on and off again for the better part of 30 years. At one point I was trying to read them all in order but then it just got to be random books when I came across one. Lately, I'd forgotten all about them.

But, I saw some sort of article about how the end of the series was imminent and I thought I would start the series all over again (I certainly didn't remember much of this one - just the fact that the burglar mentioned in the title growled as she ransacked the place). 


Kinsey Millhone has been hired to find the sister of a woman who needs to have her sister sign a legal document so that a will can be settled. Kinsey starts her search and finds that the sister has disappeared. She traveled to Florida but didn't make it to her condo and no one has any idea where she really is.

Kinsey digs further and finds that death and mayhem seems to follow the people that she questions in this case and she is certain that something is very wrong - even if she can't quite figure out what is going on yet...

My plan was to listen to all 24 of the existing Kinsey Millhone mysteries in anticipation of the release of what I presume to be the final 2 installments (Y and Z). But, this book was not all that enjoyable of a listen for me. It wasn't the fault of the reader, Mary Peiffer. She did a great job. The book had all of the action of an extended "Murder, She Wrote" except for one extended fight scene. It just had no pizzazz for me and I think I will go back to to becoming an occasional visitor to the world of Kinsey Millhone rather than a regular one.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here:   B IS for BURGLAR (Kinsey Millhone #2) by Sue Grafton.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A WANTED MAN (Jack Reacher #17) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Random House Audio in 2012
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 14 hours, 11 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher is stuck in Nebraska. He is hitchhiking his way across the country to Virginia to physically meet the woman he met over the phone in 61 Hours. He has having a hard time getting a ride, though, because his nose is broken and it is taped over with a shiny piece of silver duct tape and it makes his already-menacing look even more menacing. He finally gets picked up by two men and a woman in a sedan and they are off to Chicago on the lonely interstate in the middle of the night.

But, things don't seem right to Reacher. The woman is uncomfortable, he has caught the most talkative man in two obvious lies and they get stopped by two different roadblocks. Something is up.

Meanwhile, the action flashes back to a old small town Sheriff and a young female FBI agent who are trying to coordinate a search for two men who are suspected of killing a person with ties to the State Department and a missing cocktail waitress. So far, the suspects have slipped through two different sets of roadblocks...

I was torn by this book. The opening drama of Reacher being trapped in the car with the bad guys was actually quite interesting. The interplay between the FBI agent and the sheriff was excellent. But, the way Reacher figures it out the exact situation (or, at least close enough for the early part of the book) is stunningly unbelievable. The locale of the climactic scene, when it come to pass (no spoiler, I promise) is a play off of the situation in another book that it makes me wonder if Lee Child had come up with two possibilities for the other book and decided to recycle his previously discarded choice in this book.

On the other hand, Reacher's funny comments are plentiful and spot-on. 


Dick Hill does a great job reading Jack Reacher. He gets the pacing of Lee Child's writing style and does a great job with accents and even gives Reacher a stuffed up nose sound the entire book because of his broken nose.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5 for too many giant leaps of logic for Reacher and the "recycled" location from an earlier book.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A Wanted Man by Lee Child.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CAIN at GETTYSBURG (audiobook) by Ralph Peters



There is a problem with a book about Gettysburg in which George Meade is the most likable character...

Published by Blackstone Audio in 2012
Narrated by Peter Berkrot
Duration: 15 hours, 20 minutes
Unabridged

It is easy to give a simple shorthand review of Cain at Gettysburg as an attempt to re-make the magic of Michael Shaara's classic Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels from the Union point of view. To be fair, I will give more than a simple shorthand review, but I will be comparing the two books quite often.

The title Cain at Gettysburg is a biblical reference to the story of Cain and Abel - the story of when one brother killed another. It is the first of many religious references throughout the book.

Like the Shaara book, Cain at Gettysburg goes back and forth between the two armies as they draw together for the fateful Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. While The Killer Angels focuses on the senior Confederate officers, this novel focuses on the senior Union officers. The Confederate officers are probably the more interesting characters but Ralph Peters' strongest points in Cain at Gettysburg are when he focuses on the never-ending political rivalries at the top of the Union command. The constant strivings and squabbles of both sets of officers are readily apparent. 
 

Cain at Gettysburg comes up short in two key areas when compared to The Killer Angels


1) It fails to convey the larger overview of the battle to the reader. However, its battle details are much more gritty and it does include street fighting in Gettysburg itself, something that is often overlooked. 


Union General George Meade (1815-1872)
2) It fails to create a character that the reader can really root for, with the exception of Meade. Peters manages to do something just short of miraculous in this book. He makes Union General George Meade the single most likable and sympathetic character in a book filled with characters of all backgrounds and ranks. Meade was, by all accounts, one of the most gruff and difficult officers in the Union army. He was nicknamed "Old Snapping Turtle", but in this book he comes off as a likable curmudgeon (Meade always gets the short shrift, so this was an interesting change of pace.) In contrast, Lee comes off as an uncaring megalomaniac. 

But, there is a problem with a book about Gettysburg in which George Meade is the most likable character - it means that there is really no one to root for as you read (or listen, in my case). There were a whole slew of regular Confederate soldiers as characters with complex back stories that all led to the same conclusion - religious faith is a fool's game at best. There were a similar number of Union soldiers from a German unit based out of Wisconsin. They were often funny and interesting but I found myself not really caring about them so much as wishing they would finally get the recognition that they deserved.


A rather long section of the book is all about the political stratagems of Union General Daniel Sickles. It is wearisome, at best.

A very big positive to the audiobook is the performance of the narrator Peter Berkrot. He is brilliant. He creates a number of accents (his German accent is fantastic!) and literally yells, whispers and growls his way through the book.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SILENCE by Shusaku Endo



Originally published in 1966.
Translated by William Johnston.

Rodrigues is a Jesuit missionary from Portugal who has volunteered to travel to Japan. The leaders of Japan have recently turned against almost all foreign contact and have cracked down on Christianity. Stories have come back to the Vatican of Japanese Christians being brutally tortured and priests renouncing their faith. 

Rodrigues is determined to face this challenge. He is genuinely concerned about the believers who are left without a priest and he is also sure that he will not fail if his own faith is challenged. He and a partner make their way into Japan and set up in a small fishing village. The local Christians are thrilled but, soon enough, the priests are discovered and Rodrigues finds out that his presence threatens the lives of his new flock and that his own compassion can be used as a tool against his own faith and that even the strongest believer can be pushed too far...

Shusaku Endo (1923-1996)
This is an absorbing work of historical fiction. The reader sees most of the action from the perspective of Rodrigues, so there is not a lot of historical background about Japan and its internal politics. Mostly, this is a look at one man's struggle with his view of God and why God allows the persecution of the people that profess to believe in Him. This is the "silence" referred to in the title. Some readers have struggled with the Rodrigues' conclusions (in truth, Rodrigues does, as well) but I found his internal debate to be a strong one. 

I am giving this book a rating of 4 out of 5 stars only because of the ending. It was not that I did not disapproved of Rodrigues and how he finally resolved his problem, it's that it was done so quickly and I felt suddenly cut off from the ebb and flow of his thoughts. 

William Johnston translated this novel. As a Spanish teacher, I recognize how hard translation can be and Johnston deserves to be recognized for maintaining a consistent feel and flow to this book. His notes at the beginning of the book are also excellent.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Silence by Shusaku Endo.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

ECHOES of WAR DRUMS: THE CIVIL WAR in MOUNTAIN MARYLAND by James Rada, Jr.



Published in November of 2013 Legacy Publishing

Union General Benjamin F. Kelley (1807-1891).
He features prominently in many of the stories in 

this collection, including the story of how he was
kidnapped by Confederate rangers in a daring raid.
Echoes of War Drums: The Civil War in Mountain Maryland is a collection of newspaper and magazine articles written by the author. This sort of collection is, like most things, a good thing and a bad thing. What's good about it is the short format makes it an easy to book to pick up and read for a few minutes with the knowledge that you can walk away for a while and not have to remember any important people or plot points. But, there is a lot of overlap among the articles so the book can be repetitive if you are reading it straight through.

I am not a native of Maryland. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've never been to the region of Maryland that is featured in this book. But, I am an avid student of the Civil War so I read it to find out about an area of the country that had a front-row seat to many of the major battles of the Eastern Theater.

It turns out this area had more value than just proximity. It was also a major source of coal and contained vital railroad and canal routes that were a constant target of Confederate raiders.

My favorite story by far was "A Pair of Generals Give the Confederates an Ace in the Hole". This tells the story of how two Union generals were kidnapped by Confederate rangers. I have read this story in just about every history of the Eastern Theater but never in this detail. I had no idea how audacious this plan was until you see it spelled out step-by-step.

"Teenage Rebellion, Civil War Style" the story of a female teenage spy who was caught delivering messages to Confederate forces gives the reader the feel for how fluid the border between the North and the South really was and how family connections often crisscrossed that border.


"Who is 'Genl. Scofield'?" is the touching story of a family that has adopted the grave marker of this unknown soldier. I say that he is unknown because there were only two generals named Scofield in the war and neither died anywhere near western Maryland and they have no connection to the area so this grave is unlikely to be theirs.

Collections like this one fill local book shops across the country and are a great source of additional information that remind the reader that the Civil War is more than the Emancipation Proclamation, Pickett's Charge and memorable lines like, "Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!" It is also about an almost infinite number of smaller events like nuns traveling across Ohio to tend to the wounded for weeks and months in a strange town and families being forced out of their homes for failing to sign a loyalty oath and soldiers guarding a railroad track in a small fort they helped build a long way from home.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Echoes of War Drums by James Rada, Jr.

Note: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the author. I have not met the author and received nothing except for a copy of the book, which I was not obligated to review.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

THE FINAL DAY (audiobook) by William R. Forstchen



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in January of 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Duration: 12 hours, 11 minutes
Unabridged

The conclusion of the John Matherson trilogy does not bring a fairy tale ending to his story of post-EMP America, but it does answer an important question from both of the previous novels - just who has taken over the reins of what remains of the Federal Government?

For those who don't know, an EMP is short for Electro-Magnetic Pulse. Nuclear weapons generate this pulse when they explode and these weapons can be fine-tuned to generate an pulse that will cover a large part of North America. The pulse completely fries modern electronics and in this book series the United States is thrown 100 years back into the past in terms of technology.

John Matherson continues to lead his North Carolina community and they are having some success in re-establishing some of the technology that existed before the attack. They are slowly adding new communities into the fold and are now calling themselves the State of Carolina.

But, this is interrupted by the arrival of a message from Matherson's old commanding officer from his Army days. The Federal government has not forgiven Matherson's community for their attack on a poorly-trained Federal army made up of draftees last year and they are demanding that his community submit to their authority or be invaded by regular Army troops with tons of air support. Matherson is torn - he wants to trust his old friend and mentor but he knows he cannot trust this group that claims to be the reconstituted Federal government...

Unfortunately, this book continues in the trend of the second book in this series instead of the first.  There are plot holes, forgotten characters and lots and lots of repetitive long lectures from characters. So many characters don't have conversations - they deliver speeches. And, some don't just deliver them once, they deliver them again and again. This audiobook could have been edited down by 2 or 3 hours and it would have been a much better experience.

Forstchen has a lot of cursing which does not bother me - soldiers curse, people curse when they get shot at. I grew up in a family that brought cursing up to the level of art. The cursing in this book oftentimes sounds so inauthentic that it was like it was inserted to butch up the story some. Bronson Pinchot's attempt to read the curses and the random yelling like the book described just served to reinforce how clunky so much of this dialogue really is (how many times can you look out the window and curse the people that attacked America in just one book? How many characters can make the same curse in the same book?)  I was reminded of Harrison Ford's comment about George Lucas's dialogue in Star Wars: "George, you can type this $%@&@, but you sure can't say it!"

Also, while I was glad to finally see who was behind this re-constituted Federal government, I did not buy the backstory. It was a let-down.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Final Day by William R. Forstchen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DEAD LIKE ME (Detective Kate Springer #1) (audiobook) by Kelly Miller



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in February of 2017 by Kelly Miller.
Originally published as a book in 2013.
Read by Angel Clark.
Duration: 7 hours, 34 minutes
Unabridged

Detective Kate Springer is not a perfect cop - and she's not the movie stereotype "rogue cop who doesn't play by the rules." She's a solid detective in Tampa, Florida with her own personal struggles.

She and her partner are assigned a murder case in which a young lady is found strangled to death in the back yard of an abandoned house. Springer is struck by how much this young victim looks like she did at her age. The case triggers a flood of memories of her own difficult childhood in which she was sexually abused for years by an older neighbor who was her babysitter.

As the case unfolds her the similarities between this case and her own experiences seem to get stronger and stronger, but is increasingly unsure if this is because they really are that similar or if she has just lost the proper perspective.

And then she gets the shock of her life...

Too many detective novels end up having the detective taking on a massive conspiracy such as an entire drug cartel, a terrorist organization or a plot to take down the government. This novel does the opposite - the detective takes on a case and ends up confronting the demons within. In the end, I found this to be a much more interesting take.

The audiobook was read by Angel Clark. Clark's choice to read her internal monologue with a much different voice than her speaking voice was jarring. I especially did not care for her internal voice - it sounded like a parody of the stereotypical NPR reading voice. This back and forth between the two voices made up the greater part of the story and I never got used to it.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5,

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Dead Like Me by Kelly Miller. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

WITHOUT FAIL (Jack Reacher #6) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Originally released in 2007 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 16 hours, 34 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher is back. He is tracked down by his deceased brother's former colleague in the Secret Service (and ex-girlfriend) because she wants him to take a run at the security around the Vice President-elect in order to test it.

It turns out there is a serious plot to kill the Vice President-elect and Reacher and a partner he has brought in to help join in to hunt for the plotters.

This is a typical Reacher book - lots of snide comments, fistfights and even gunplay. The part where he is brought in by the Secret Service is a stretch, but Lee Child makes it palatable.

The audiobook is read by veteran reader Dick Hill. He gives Reacher a strong voice and I think he really gets the character.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Without Fail by Lee Child.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE FORT: A NOVEL by Bernard Cornwell



Not Cornwell's Best Effort.

Published in 2010 by HarperCollins

Set in 1779 Massachusetts, Bernard Cornwell tells the story of the Penobscot Expedition - a small scale invasion by British forces of a bay in what is now Maine.

The government of Massachusetts is determined to repel this invasion without help from the Continental Army. It calls up its militia and its fledgling navy. It does accept help from the American national Navy and its contingent of Marines. By far, the most famous American in this campaign is the commander of the Massachusetts' artillery unit, Lt. Colonel Paul Revere.

Cornwell does a decent job of developing the British officers as characters.  A young officer named John Moore gets his first taste of battle here. In the Napoleonic Wars, Moore was one of the architects of Napoleon's eventual defeat.

Cornwell's battle scenes are, as always, excellently described. He switches from naval battles to land battles with ease. I felt absolutely confident that I had a reasonable grasp of the strategy and tactics of the battle and the successes and failures of the various officers that led to the outcome of the battle.

But, this book has glaring weaknesses.



Paul Revere (1734-1818)
Cornwell never makes it clear as to why Massachusetts refuses to even ask for help from the Continental Army until it is much too late. My opinion is that Massachusetts was very interested in asserting its independence - not just from England but even from the Continental Congress. But, I am basing that on previous knowledge, not from anything that Cornwell provided.

Paul Revere is a star of the book even though he is actually a fairly minor character in the book when it comes to dialogue. He is not even in most of the scenes that refer to him - there are a lot of references to him not being present at locations where he certainly should be present because he is sleeping on a ship or he is waiting for his cook to prepare his breakfast somewhere. The reader just knows that he is a diva but there is no explanation as to why.


The reasons for the British invasion of this particular bay is also not even made clear. This is a fairly lengthy book, but if I were the editor I would have suggested the addition of a few more pages to make the historical context of the story a lot more clearer and make the importance of what is happening here give the story even more drama.

I rate this novel 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

Thursday, February 23, 2017

READY PLAYER ONE (audiobook) by Ernest Cline



Published in 2011 by Random House Audio.
Read by Wil Wheaton.
Duration: 15 hours, 46 minutes
Unabridged

Ready Player One is a dystopian novel set in 2044 America. Things are not going well - there is an energy crisis, mega-corporations run everything and most of the country lives in poverty. Cities aren't particularly safe and the countryside between the cities resembles Mad Max more than Green Acres. The only relief comes in the form of The OASIS - a free virtual world that allows its users to avoid their depressing real lives and be part of something bright, shiny and new. You can become who you want to be and people of relatively modest means in the real world can become someone quite important online.

The book revolves around Wade Watts and his online persona Parzival. He, along with millions of others, is in the midst of an online treasure hunt for clues to a fortune. He is a "gunter", which is a contraction of "egg hunter", as in the Easter Eggs -hidden references to other movies or pop culture that are sometimes hidden within a movie. 


The creator of The OASIS was a Howard Hughes-type billionaire - brilliant but extremely eccentric. He has promised that the person who found found three keys and successfully opened three gates will win his real-life fortune and his shares in the massive video game corporation that administers The OASIS.

He loved the 1980s and geek culture. It is widely assumed that the keys are hidden in places that combine both. So, these "gunters" study the 1980s with an all-consuming passion. They know all of the movies, the video games, the music and especially role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Wade Watts is a true "gunter" - he knows that his only real chance of making it out of the desperate poverty of his real life is to find these keys. If only he can find a clue...

...and then one day he finds a clue and everything changes, both in The OASIS and in the real world.



The reader, Wil Wheaton.
Photo by Genevieve.
Wil Wheaton read this homage to All Things Eighties and did a great job of creating different voices and pacing for characters. There is a lot of description and narration (as opposed to dialogue) in this book and he kept it lively and interesting.

At first, I loved this book as it was a trip down memory lane for me. The references to John Hughes movies, Monty Python, the music, the video game arcades and Dungeons and Dragons reminded me of my own teen years.

But, it was also depressing. It was sad seeing that the culture of the 2040s was consumed by its fascination with the 1980s and had no cultural innovations of their own - just technological innovations that enable people to experience The OASIS better. Everything was an homage to the 1980s or to The OASIS. 


Was this a great story? No, but it was fun and I was certainly entertained for nearly 16 hours listening to it so I can't complain.

This audiobook can be found on eStories.com. If you are interested, you can receive a free audiobook trial today. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

GO SET a WATCHMAN (audiobook) by Harper Lee



Published in 2015 by HarperAudio in 2015
Read by Reese Witherspoon.
Duration: 6 hours, 57 minutes
Unabridged

I waited for a while to take a chance with Go Set a Watchman. The blowback when it was released was formidable, so I decided to let it sit for a while and in the meantime stop reading the reviews.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

This book is set about 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, in the 1950s. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) has come home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for a long visit. 

When she first arrives she falls into the familiar rhythms of a small town where she seems to know most everyone. She rekindles a romance with her father's young protege and soon enough returns to scandalizing her aunt with her forward ways. Atticus Finch has become a physically frailer man, but his mind is still spry.


Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Everything about the trip seems to be going well until Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet among some papers of Atticus. She decides that she simply must sneak into a meeting of the Citizens' Council - a group of white men who are concerned about the NAACP and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

The meeting is in the same courtroom where Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson and Jean Louise sneaks into the balcony to watch her father, just like she did in To Kill a Mockingbird. In that novel she saw her father do his best to defend a black man in a town that already knew his client was guilty.

In Go Set a Watchman, she sees her father and her serious boyfriend colluding with men who spout racist nonsense. She sees the hero fall - and fall hard.

Jean Louise's reaction was amazingly similar to my own as I listened to an icon of American literature debase himself - shock and disbelief. In my case, I knew it was coming, but I still hoped that maybe it had been exaggerated.

Everything seems to be falling apart around Jean Louise. She flees to her childhood home only to find it has been torn down and replaced by an ice cream stand. Calpurnia, the only mother figure she has ever known, rejects her. Her childhood is gone, her hero is gone and she is totally alone.

Clearly, there is a large bit of autobiography in this book - every bit as much as there was in To Kill a Mockingbird. One can easily imagine a young Harper Lee taking a similar trip back to Alabama and struggling with two versions of her hometown - the idealized version that she remembered from her childhood and the reality that falls short once she looks upon it with the eyes of an outsider.

Despite it all, I found myself enjoying this book. It is, in many ways, a more mature book than To Kill a Mockingbird. That being said, it is certainly not a stand-alone novel. You must read To Kill a Mockingbird before you read this book.


Reese Witherspoon read this audiobook and her lovely voice was an excellent choice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

See my review of To Kill a Mockingbird here.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

ONE YEAR AFTER (John Matherson #2) (audiobook) by William Forstchen



The Story Continues...

Published in Blackstone Audio in 2015
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Duration: 9 hours, 51 minutes
Unabridged

In this sequel to the bestseller One Second After, Forstchen continues to tell the story of what happens to a North Carolina community called Black Mountain after the United States is attacked by multiple EMP attacks from nuclear weapons. All of the modern technology is fried (computers, modern cars, the electrical grid, anything with a circuit board) and America reverts back to a pre-industrial technology level.

*********SPOILER ALERT*************



An Apache helicopter
This book starts one year after the ending of the first book which ended one year after the attack. The main thrust of the story is that the federal government has returned in the guise of an appointed administrator working out of Asheville, NC. It is unclear exactly who is in control of the federal government, but they are drafting most of the able-bodied soldiers of the communities that survived the chaos after the EMP attack. The largest cities, like Chicago and New York City, are in complete chaos. A leader of a cult has taken over giant areas of Chicago and has successfully resisted a federal invasion led by largely untrained troops. So, the idea is to recruit local militias into a million man army to re-take America - an army led, in part, by John Matherson, who would be promoted to General.

The main thrust of the book is a burgeoning federal vs. local conflict symbolized by this demand for most of Black Mountain's local militia. If the militia joins the national army the town of Black Mountain is left defenseless The federal administrator is a cardboard cut-out of a toady bureaucrat who does not really know how to lead people but uses his connections to bully them instead. He has the superior military hardware in the form of Apache helicopters, but no particular skill in using his advantage. In opposition we have John Matherson who has become his town's patriarch and is willing to have his town destroyed rather than submit.


The series of fights throughout the second half of the book were interesting but rather pointless. Why would this federal administrator want to destroy one of the few places that can actually feed and defend itself? His style is all wrong for a brown-nosing toady - those guys know how to manipulate people and this guy does not. Most of the conflict in this book could have been solved with two or three short-wave radio conversations that included John Matherson from Asheville to the new federal government location outside of Washington, D.C.

***********End Spoilers************

Bronson Pinchot read the book and, for the most part, he did a good job. However, the accent he created for the bad guy federal administrator kept going in and out and sounded at various times like he was from the midwest or the south. But, the character said he was from Boston. I don't know if it was a really clever intentional thing - something to emphasize the guy was a liar about everything, including his accent, or if it was just a series of mistakes.

In short, there is a large drop-off in quality from book #1 in this series to book #2. I will finish the series but I am expecting a lot less of the third installment. 


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Year After

Sunday, January 29, 2017

ONE SECOND AFTER (John Matherson #1) (audiobook) by William R. Forstchen



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in 2009 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Joe Barrett
Duration: 13 hours, 21 minutes
Unabridged

When this book was first published, it made a sensation of sorts, which is pretty tough to do if you are a science fiction book. As the book's promoters are proud to point out, excerpts from this book were even read into the Congressional Record from the floor of the House of Representatives as a warning about the dangers of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to the United States.

An EMP happens as a by-product of the explosion of a nuclear weapon. In short, a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere can generate this pulse and fry almost all modern electronic circuits by overwhelming them much like a lightning strike will due when it hits someone's home. The pulse can be generated from high enough in the atmosphere that the bomb itself does not cause an explosion on the planet's surface or even cause a radiation danger. In this book, no characters saw the nuclear weapons explode, all they certainly felt the effects of the EMP.


In this book, three weapons disable almost every piece of electronics in the United States. The book demonstrates that America is remarkably vulnerable to such an attack. Almost none of our facilities are "hardened" to survive such an attack. In fact, almost none of our military facilities and vehicles are hardened to survive EMP attacks - the exception being the few bits of machinery that were survivors from the Reagan Administration. Sadly, the Reagan Administration was the last administration to take EMP seriously enough to take steps to survive it.

So, all vehicles from the mid-1970s forward are rendered inoperable due to their electronic controls. Power plants are wiped out. The phone companies are gone. Cell towers, television, computers, printers - all gone. Everything stops in its tracks right where it was all over the country. Planes crash. Trains stop. Cars stop all over the country right where they are.

America reverts back to its pre-electricity days and America is totally unprepared.


The strength of this book is the detailing of how America would fall apart after such attack but not its actual prose. There are lots of repetitive phrases and way too much detail about the nearby college (which also happens to be the where the author teaches). Lots of the story is told by way of discussion in the town council. The local doctor tells the council how horrible things will be once modern medicines are used up, etc. and then the narration goes on to say that it happened just like the doctor had predicted. It gets the story moving forward but it is not particularly compelling. Sometimes the book is just hamfisted and clunky in its approach.

But, I found myself intrigued by the story and I totally bought into the premise. I found myself listening whenever I could because I simply had to know what happened next. And, that is the mark of a good book, despite its faults. I was so intrigued that I immediately picked up its sequel.


The book was read by veteran reader Joe Barrett who does a solid job with a variety of accents. He did an especially good job with retired Army sergeant Washington Parker.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: One Second After by William R. Forstchen.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

THE PRINCESS DIARIST (audiobook) by Carrie Fisher



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in November of 2016 by Penguin Audio
Read by Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd
Duration: 5 hours, 10 minutes
Unabridged

Published just a few weeks before her death, Carrie Fisher's The Princess Diarist continues in her well-known tradition of tell-all books. This is my first Carrie Fisher book. If you have not read a book of hers before, be prepared for a frank and open discussion of just about anything that pops into her head. Every family has that older relative who means well but makes comments in front of the children that you just know will necessitate a subsequent discussion ("Why did Uncle Bob say...?). Carrie Fisher served that role in the world of Hollywood for many years.

The first half of the book is mostly devoted to the making of the original Star Wars movie, now known as Episode IV. There were a lot of factoids I had already heard or read before, but it was enjoyable listening to Carrie Fisher literally tell them again as she read her audiobook. She is frank about her family's struggles as she grew up and as I listened I was amazed.

A large part of the book is devoted to her on-set romance with the then-married Harrison Ford. She is kind to him and puts a lot of blame on herself being "the other woman" when her own childhood home was torn apart by a similar "other woman" scenario. 



She describes how this was her first real physical relationship and she took it much more seriously than Ford. Then, for reasons that I do not understand, she re-tells this story with an extensive series of poetry readings from her diaries that she wrote while onset 40 years ago. The poems aren't bad and you can easily follow along with her allusions because she had already so clearly described the relationship in prose just a few minutes earlier. But, I quickly lost interest in the poems because I had just listened to Fisher herself explain everything without all of the rhymes. In the audiobook version these poems are read by Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd.

The last section of the book is the most touching, especially considering Fisher's recent death. It is a tribute to all of the fans that come to see her at all of the conventions. She discusses how she really didn't want to do the conventions at first and then she moves on to talk about the fans. It starts out as commentary about some of the rather unique people you meet at conventions and moves on to becomes a long tribute to the importance of this film series to its fans. It is sad, warm and often very funny with lots of great accents. It is Carrie Fisher at her very best.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Princess Diarist.

Monday, January 23, 2017

DRIVERLESS: INTELLIGENT CARS and the ROAD AHEAD (audiobook) by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman



Published in 2016 by Blackstone Audio
Read by George Newbern
Duration: 9 hours, 57 minutes
Unabridged

Driverless cars have been the goal of engineers for decades, but the technology has simply not been there. Lipson and Kurman take the reader (or listener, in my case) through a history of driverless cars, artificial intelligence and make the case that driverless cars will be a common thing much sooner than most of us think.

Positives: 


The book is written in mostly non-technical terms and simply explains the technical terms that it does use before using them.

The writers are very enthusiastic about their topic.

Negatives:

The writers are very enthusiastic about their topic - and sometimes they go into waaay too much detail. For example, they go into a long discussion of a intelligent road scheme that General Motors worked on for years that was a dead end. It could have been edited down by half. 


But, on the whole this was a very informative book that gives the layman a solid handle on why driverless cars will come and how our society is likely to adapt to them.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

ONE PERFECT SHOT: A Bill Gastner Mystery (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



When Bill met Estelle...

Published in 2012 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Ray Porter
Duration: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Unabridged

In this prequel to the series, Bill Gastner is investigating the death of a road grader operator. He is found dead in the cab of the grader with a bullet in his brain, having been shot by a single shot straight through the front windshield. There are no witnesses so Bill starts to dig through the victim's past to find out if there are any potential enemies that might have wanted to hurt him.

As he starts to investigate the sheriff department's new hire, Estelle Reyes, a rookie straight out of college, goes along for the ride while Gastner tries to familiarize her with the department's procedures. And, of course, the more they dig the more they find secrets that most people would just prefer stay buried...

This is a solid mystery - I sort of had it figured out about 2/3 of the way through but for all of the wrong reasons. But, the most interesting thing is the fact that we get to meet Estelle Reyes for the first time. The rich detail of the local community of Posadas County, New Mexico is explored in detail and I think that this only makes the story better.

I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Perfect Shot by Steven F. Havill.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

FINDING JESUS: FAITH. FACT. FORGERY: SIX HOLY OBJECTS that TELL the REMARKABLE STORY of the GOSPELS by David Gibson and Michael McKinley



Published in 2015 by MacMillan Audio.
Read by Peter Larkin.
Duration: 7 hours, 55 minutes.
Unabridged.

This is not a deep book theologically, but it does take a balanced look at 6 things that are associated with Jesus and a few related topics and is respectful of the faithful while doing its exploration. If you are expecting a book that is out to burst religious bubbles, this is not your book.

The topics are:

1) John the Baptist. Who was he? Is he in the historical record? Are the relics of John the Baptist in scattered across Europe actually him?


The James Ossuary.
2) James, the brother of Jesus. Who was he? Was he Jesus' half brother through Mary or a step-brother from a previous marriage of Joseph? Is the James Ossuary (a casket to hold bones) that was discovered a few years ago real?

3) Mary Magdalene. Who was she? Was she a disciple or simply a follower of Jesus? Why is she not mentioned after the four gospels? Was she the wife of Jesus? Was she really a reformed prostitute? Was she written out of the New Testament?


4) Judas Iscariot. Who was he? Why would an all-knowing Jesus pick a man to be one his disciples when he knew he would betray him? Was Judas actually a hero because he led Jesus to his death so that he would sacrifice himself for everyone? What about the gnostic Book of Judas? This section includes an excellent discussion of gnosticism.

5) The True Cross. There are dozens of dozens of artifacts that purport to be the true cross, but are any of them really that one cross? For me, this was the most boring of all of the topics.

6) The Shroud of Turin. This one was surprisingly interesting to me. Even if you doubt if the shroud is the actual shroud that Jesus was buried in (I know that I doubt that it is real) the discussion of crucifixion and the history of relics like the shroud were very strong.

This is a great audiobook. The reader, Peter Larkin, does a great job of keeping the text lively. A very enjoyable and informative listen.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: FINDING JESUS: FAITH. FACT. FORGERY: SIX HOLY OBJECTS that TELL the REMARKABLE STORY of the GOSPELS.