"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, July 14, 2017

PONTOON: A NOVEL of LAKE WOBEGON (audiobook) by Garrison Keillor



Published by HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books in 2007
Read by Garrison Keillor
Duration: 8 hours, 22 minutes
Unabridged

Evelyn Peterson is the town iconoclast in many ways. She is an active member of many town institutions, but she also is one of the few that questions any of the cherished beliefs of the town of Lake Wobegon. But, she is also quite elderly and she has passed away in bed.

Her daughter Barbara, a cafeteria lunch lady and often the opposite of her mother, discovered her body and a note that details how she wants her body to be disposed of. This note kicks off the a great deal of the rest of the story. Throw in a woman who made it big in California returning to Lake Wobegon for her wedding, a visiting delegation of Lutheran ministers from Denmark, the discovery of a great number of family secrets that were held by Evelyn, a really stinky stray dog, a glider, a bowling ball urn and an Elvis impersonator and you have the recipe for a day that Lake Wobegon will never forget.


This book should have been great. Instead, it was often sad, sometimes poignant and only rarely held the warmth and humor of the other Lake Wobegon books. The biggest problem was the change of Barbara. It was as if she became her mother in just a few days. It was too much, too fast.

The audiobook was read by the author, Garrison Keillor. I don't think anyone else could have read it and made it work as well it did. He has a gift for telling a story, even if his usual gift for writing a story fell short this time.


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: PONTOON: A NOVEL of LAKE WOBEGON by Garrison Keillor.

MARSBOUND (Marsbound series #1) by Joe Haldeman



Published in 2008 by Ace

Earth is just starting to colonize Mars and the Dula family was picked to go as part of a weighted lottery system. The story is told through the eyes of Carmen Dula, a 19-year old college freshman. 

The first part of the story is a technology-based sci-fi adventure. Lots of explanation of the technology to get to Mars, but at a layman's level and with an eye for the kinds of things that teenagers are concerned about - entertainment, potential romance, how annoying the slightly younger passengers are, and so on.

Carmen accidentally stumbles into one of the most remarkable events in human history - literally. A near-fatal fall while on an unapproved excursion away from the colony buildings initiates first contact with an alien species (this is not a spoiler, it is in the inside cover of the hardback).

At this point, the book changes focus into a clumsy first contact book. The motivations of some of the characters get more unclear and erratic. The plotting gets a lot more loose as well. Things happens in a more herky-jerky fashion and everything gets sped up. It feels like Haldeman got bored with the story and just had to finish it up. So much could have been done with this book if the detailed writing from the first half of the book had been brought to the second half of the book. 


Disappointing.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Marsbound by Joe Haldeman.

WORK DONE for HIRE by Joe Haldeman



Published in 2014 by Ace

Jack Daley is a former sniper turned down and out author in this near future sci-fi tale. But, he gets an odd offer to write the book adaptation of a movie before the movie script has even been written. Basically, the offer is to write the book and they'll adapt it a little or a lot to make the movie. And, he doesn't have to turn it in now, he can turn it in as first draft chapters as he goes along.

One of the more interesting features of the first part of the book is that it goes back and forth between Jack's story and the story he is writing - mostly in alternating chapters.

He also gets a second offer - from an unknown person that obviously knows his schedule and can track his movements. He has to kill someone with a sniper rifle (Daley was a sniper in a war, but not the Iraq War or the Afghanistan War) or his girlfriend will die. 


So, he goes on the run with his girlfriend. He uses a laptop to write his book and e-mail in chapters as they try to drop off of the grid. But, soon enough, they realize that no matter how far they go to get off the grid, it will never be far enough...

This was an interesting premise for a book but the final result is disappointing. The story he is writing comes to an unsatisfying ending because Jack Daley is in a hurry to finish it. I wonder if Joe Haldeman was trying to tell his readers the same thing about the main plot line because the ending was definitely an "Are You Kidding Me!" type of ending. It was ridiculous and was certainly not worthy of the first half of the book. I wonder if Haldeman had two partially completed books laying around and he decided to weave them together with the story about the book/movie deal. If so, he ruined two potentially great stories.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5 because the first part was so strong.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Work Done for Hire by Joe Haldeman.

Friday, July 7, 2017

BITTER RECOIL (Posadas County Mysteries) (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



Published by Books in Motion
Read by Rusty Nelson
Duration: 6 hours, 55 minutes
Unabridged

Sixty-two year old Undersheriff Bill Gastner is recovering from heart surgery. He has been told to get out and exercise more and to get away from work. You see, Gastner has a lot of bad habits when he works. He doesn't sleep, he gets involved in things that get him hurt and he eats large, spicy burritos.

So, Bill decides to go on a camping trip and visit a former colleague, Estelle Reyes-Guzman, who has taken a job in the sheriff department of a different county in New Mexico - up in the mountains. But, while he is trying to sleep in a campground he hears sirens and sees lights so he decides to go check it out.


Soon enough, Bill is working with Reyes-Guzman and investigating a murder, looking into a smooth-talking hippie-type who quotes the Bible and brandishes a gun and eventually ends up questioning a priest.

Heck of a vacation, huh?

This was an interesting change of geography for the Posadas County Mystery series - away from the mostly flat deserts of the border area and into the desert mountains. Rusty Nelson's reading of the book was pretty good, except for any time he has to read Spanish. 


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Bitter Recoil by Steven F. Havill.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES of HUMAN CADAVERS by Mary Roach



Published by Tantor Audio in 2004
Read by Shelly Frasier
Duration: 8 hours, 5 minutes
Unabridged

One fact about life on this planet - we are all going to die. Mary Roach takes a look at what happens once we're dead and asks what happens next? She's not exploring the afterlife - she is looking, literally, at what happens to our bodies when we "shuffle off this mortal coil."

Roach explores what happens when you donate your body to science - everything from a medical school to a once-living crash test dummy. Or, you can donate your body to a mortuary school so prospective morticians can practice their future craft.

Maybe you don't want to donate your entire body. What happens if you just donate some of your organs?

What if you are not donating anything. What happens when you have a traditional funeral? How about if you are cremated? There are new ways to dispose of a body as well, including one that pretty much cooks the meat off of your bones and one that breaks you up and then mulches you into the earth.


This was a fascinating, entertaining, informative and often very funny book. Let's face it - being dead is sort of ridiculous. The reader, Shelly Frasier, is a natural. She read it so perfectly, with such an ironic tone, that I honestly thought that the author had read the book until I wrote this review. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES of HUMAN CADAVERS by Mary Roach.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

THREE JACK REACHER NOVELLAS: DEEP DOWN, SECOND SON, HIGH HEAT and JACK REACHER'S RULES (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Random House Audio in 2014
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 7 hours, 9 minutes
Unabridged

This collection of Jack Reacher short stories. All are prequels to the current Reacher timeline. Two are set in Reacher's childhood and one is set during his service as an officer in the Military Police.

1) Deep Down is set during the 1980s. Reacher is asked to investigate a potential leak of military secrets to the Soviet Union via fax machine from the U.S. Capitol building. The potential leakers are a set of officers working in a committee to flash out the characteristics needed in a new sniper rifle should the Congress decide to fund the creation of a new sniper rifle and buy it. Reacher is added to the committee as part of an undercover operation to figure out who the bad guy is.

This is the strongest story in the collection. 5 stars.

Lee Child

2) In Second Son, Lee Child takes us all the way back to 1974. Jack Reacher is 13 years old and his father has just been transferred to Okinawa as a part of the U.S. Marines along with his mother and his slightly older brother Joe. 

Moving to a new place is always hard and Okinawa is no exception. Reacher must prove himself to the neighborhood bully, he meets a girl and he solves two mysteries. 

The story is fun, but 13 year old Reacher is way too smart for a middle school kid, even if he is Jack Reacher. But, the mysteries were fun. In fact, the whole story was fun, kind of like looking at old yearbook photos of someone you know from way back before you ever met them. 4 stars.

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

3) In High Heat, 16-year-old Reacher is off to New York City in 1977 - all by himself. This is the most implausible of the three stories. Reacher gets involved in a blackout, breaks up a criminal ring, solves the Son of Sam murders and fools around with a college girl - All in one night!

Yeah, right! 2 stars.


**********END SPOILERS************

4) The Bonus track is Jack Reacher's Rules. I have seen this book in print and opted not to read it because it is a list of advice and comments lifted from various Reacher books and novellas. In context of the stories they came from, these lines and thoughts are interesting but they are really hard to listen to on their own. I listened for about 10 minutes and gave up on this part - I couldn't stand to listen to more than an hour more of it. 1 star.


I am a big fan of the reader, Dick Hill. But, I think he is an exceptionally good fit for this series. I don't even bother to physically read the books now - not if Dick Hill is reading them to me.

So, in the end this is 4 different stories of varying quality. The average score of this collection is 3 stars out of 5. 

This collection can be found on Amazon.com here: THREE JACK REACHER NOVELLAS: DEEP DOWN, SECOND SON, HIGH HEAT and JACK REACHER'S RULES.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

BUNKER HILL: A CITY, A SIEGE, A REVOLUTION (audiobook) by Nathaniel Philbrick



Published in 2013 by Penguin Audio
Read by Chris Sorensen
Duration: 12 hours, 58 minutes
Unabridged

Nathaniel Philbrick's Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution is mis-named. While the battle is in the book, it is only a part of the story. In reality, this book is a history of Boston from the 1750s and 1760s right up to the Declaration of Independence.

In a lot of ways this book is much more of a biography of Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty movement, along with Samuel Adams, John Adams and John Hancock. Warren is often overlooked nowadays because he died at Bunker Hill (which was really mostly fought on Breed's Hill). The excessive focus on Warren was, in my mind, one of the great weaknesses of the book. Philbrick spent too much time worrying over Warren's alleged personal failures and not enough time getting on with the story. It just bogged things down.


Philbrick does not gloss over the warts of our Founding Fathers, noting that some had mixed motives and some profited from the independence movement. There is plenty of emphasis on the British side of things, something I admire about the book.  

The arrival of Washington in Boston, sent by the Continental Congress to take command and in effect nationalize the militias that surrounded the British troops in Boston, is not explained well. Philbrick does not go much into the goings on of the Continental Congress besides noting that certain people left Boston to attend. Because of this, Washington's arrival comes with very little explanation (much like it may have seemed to some of the militiamen). As the narrative continues, Philbrick does not give Washington much credit for anything around Boston but bad ideas, impatience, a negative attitude and lucky timing.

Chris Sorenson's reading of the audiobook was excellent. 

In short, while there are things to admire about this book, there are problems as well - not problems with the research but problems with choices about what was included (excessive focus on Warren's personal life) and what was left out (the Continental Congress).

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

WHY WE CAN'T WAIT by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



Originally published in 1964.

This book is Martin Luther King's well-written defense of the Civil Rights Movement. As the title suggests, it is the argument detailing why African-Americans could no longer wait for the rights that they were guaranteed by the Constitution to be eventually given to them and the best way to do that was the application of nonviolent direct action. 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

The strongest part of the argument is the middle third - the entire text of his famed Letter from Birmingham Jail. I think Letter from Birmingham Jail is one of the most profound documents in American history. Its arguments pull from multiple points and authors in history, the very documents and history that white Americans prided themselves as the roots of their own country while King sat in a jail - and shows that those roots were being ignored in defense of the indefensible when it came to African-Americans. It is truly a brilliant piece of writing because it is shows America why it was wrong in its own words in simple, direct, respectful words, calling it to rise up to its own ideals.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Why We Can't Wait.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SOLDIER! DISCOVER 15 WARRIORS THROUGHOUT HISTORY by Paul Beck



Published in 2015 by Scholastic 

Paul Beck's SOLDIER! looks at 15 examples of soldiers throughout history, starting with Imperial Roman infantry and ending with a U.S. Navy Seal. It is composed of 48 8.5 x 11 inch pages and includes a full-color tear-out poster of every soldier. 

Most descriptions are 4 pages, including a map where the soldiers would have operated. It also includes a full page drawing of the soldier with notes about the weight and length of their weapon(s). The third and fourth pages include more information about optional weapons, training or tools. 

The only complaint I have about the book is that it could have included a little more diversity. 12 of the 15 soldiers came from Europe or America. For example, the Aztec warriors that confronted Cortes had unique weapons and armor and would have been a great addition. 

That being said, the book was well-done. The pictures were interesting as were the factoids. This would be a good book for students from 4th to 8th grade.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: SOLDIER! DISCOVER 15 WARRIORS THROUGHOUT HISTORY by Paul Beck.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

PERSONAL (Jack Reacher #19) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Random House Audio in 2014.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 12 hours, 55 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher gets brought back into military duty, but not officially this time. An extremely talented sniper has taken a shot at the President of France. The shot was taken from an extreme distance and was only stopped by a revolutionary bullet proof glass screen. The various intelligence agencies are sure that this was just a dry run for the G8 economic conference that is coming up soon in England in which several world leaders will be present.

Lee Child
There are four snipers capable of such a shot and 16 years ago Reacher put one of them in jail for murder when he was in the military police. A former boss of Reacher thinks that he has some sort of insight and he partners up with a young CIA / State Department operative and they are off to France. She is the brains, and he is the brawn, at least that's the way it is supposed to be.

But, once they start digging, Reacher starts to suspect that there is much more to this case than he has been told...


This was a middle-of-the-road story. The narration by Dick Hill was excellent, but the book had long bits of repetitive talking that just got tiresome, especially with Bennett, the British Intelligence agent. On top of that, the big bad guy made it feel like it was a video game like Double Dragon - the hero works his way up to the giant boss character. But, the plot twist in the end was just too much. This book should have been edited down to make it much better.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Personal by Lee Child.

Friday, June 23, 2017

GRAY MOUNTAIN (audiobook) by John Grisham



Published in 2014 by Random House Audio
Read by Catherine Taber
Duration: 14 hours, 46 minutes
Unabridged

John Grisham explores Appalachian coal country in this novel through the eyes of a young New York lawyer named Samantha Kofer. Kofer has just lost her job in real estate development law at literally the world's largest law firm in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. Her firm gives her the chance to work for a non-profit for a year without losing her insurance or her seniority and she ends up in the legal aid office in Brady - a tiny town in southwest Virginia in the heart of coal country.

As Kofer starts to work in the office she discovers the world of day-to-day law and how America's poor get bounced around in a legal system with all sorts of hidden rules. Turns out that she has a knack for it. She picks up a case with a coal miner suing for disability due to black lung and she discovers that Big Coal rules all in this region - and there's nothing anyone can do about it...

Like so many of John Grisham's books, the plot is merely the vehicle for Grisham to discuss an aspect of the law. The plot suffers but that's okay by me - I have learned a lot and been entertained as I went along. 

I learned a lot about modern coal mining (to be more accurate, they don't really mine so much as tear apart mountains in a process called "mountaintop removal") and my natural affinity for the union movement was strengthened. Too often, the rules are written by the companies and the government ends up enforcing things that hurt regular people. Without a union, most of these people have no one on their side.

Catherine Taber did a fantastic job of reading this book. Her accents were great and she did a great job with a variety of voices. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Gray Mountain by John Grisham.

Monday, June 19, 2017

SECOND SON: A JACK REACHER STORY (audiobook) (short story) by Lee Child



Published by Penguin Random House Audio
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Unabridged short story

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher series does not feel constrained to write his Jack Reacher books and short stories in any sort of chronological order - a fact that I find immensely interesting as a reader because it is so very unusual. 


Lee Child
In Second Son, Lee Child takes us all the way back to 1974. Jack Reacher is 13 years old and his father has just been transferred to Okinawa as a part of the U.S. Marines along with his mother and his slightly older brother Joe. 

Moving to a new place is always hard and Okinawa is no exception. Reacher must prove himself to the neighborhood bully, he meets a girl and he solves two mysteries. 

The story is fun, but 13 year old Reacher is way too smart for a middle school kid, even if he is Jack Reacher. But, the mysteries were fun. In fact, the whole story was fun, kind of like looking at old yearbook photos of someone you know from way back before you ever met them.

I am a big fan of the reader, Dick Hill. But, I think he is an exceptionally good fit for this series. I don't even bother to physically read the books now - not if Dick Hill is reading them to me.

I rate this audiobook short story 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook used to be offered as an individual short story, which is how I listened to it, but it is now part of a larger collection. Here are links to both on Amazon:

Second Son.


No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Short Stories.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

WHAT YOU BREAK (Gus Murphy #2) (audiobook) by Reed Farrel Coleman



Published in 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Keith Szarabajka
Duration: 10 hours, 34 minutes
Unabridged

The Gus Murphy series is quickly becoming a favorite. Gus is a retired Long Island police officer who provides security and drives the shuttle van back for a tired hotel that pretends to be luxury but really isn't fooling anyone.

Gus retired because his college-aged son died of a heart failure playing a pick up basketball game and it simply destroyed his marriage and his interest in being a police officer. 

In the first book in this series, Gus was a complete mess. Since then, he has gotten his life back together again, in a manner of speaking. He has friends again, especially his friend Slava, a fellow employee from Eastern Europe with a hidden background as a soldier of secret police. Gus also has a love life and he's even bought a car. And, he's got a new case - looking into the murder of a millionaire's estranged granddaughter.

But, when his friend Slava gets mixed up with a shady-looking guest at the hotel and Eastern Europeans start dying in New York City, Gus starts to investigate out of fear for his friend. Soon enough, Gus has more trouble than he bargained for...

This was an excellent audiobook experience. The accents were wonderfully done and it was very enjoyable.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: What You Break.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

WILLIWAW! (audiobook) by Tom Bodett



Published in 2000 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Tom Bodett.
Duration: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Unabridged

Thirteen year old September Crane and her 12 year old brother Ivan live on Bag Bay in Alaska, practically in the middle of nowhere - and they love it, mostly. They enjoy the interaction with nature, they know the bay and how to travel across it. They know how to get clams, how to put vegetables away for the winter and just about how to do everything else for themselves. 

They have to know because their father is a fisherman is often gone for a few weeks at a time. Their mother died on the bay, killed by a rare, powerful storm front called a williwaw, when they were much younger.

Their father trusts them to follow the rules and take care of themselves so long as they check in with him on the radio on a regular basis. But, when Ivan decides to splice into the charger for the radio to charge up his handheld video he blows up the whole rig and that's just the beginning of their troubles...

While this is certainly not the best of Tom Bodett's books, it was an enjoyable listen as an audiobook. The characters were likable and the relationship between the kids and their father felt authentic. Tom Bodett's voice is simply great for audiobooks. One of the best.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Williwaw! by Tom Bodett.

Monday, June 12, 2017

MAYFLOWER: A STORY of COURAGE, COMMUNITY and WAR (abridged audiobook) by Nathaniel Philbrick



Published in 2006 by Penguin Audio
Read by Edward Herrmann
Duration: 5 hours, 57 minutes
Abridged

Everybody knows the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. Or, they think they do, anyway.

Nathaniel Philbrick's re-telling of this oft-misunderstood story is very approachable for the average reader. He begins with an explanation of the religious differences between the Puritans and the Church of England and how the politics of the day exacerbated the situation. 

Philbrick's re-telling of how the Pilgrims moved from England to Holland and eventually to the New World was very well done, as was the story of the first few seasons of Plymouth Plantation (Plymouth colony), starting in 1620. In fact, the book flowed very well throughout, even though it was abridged. Oftentimes, abridged books are clunky, but this one was not.

The story finishes with King Philip's War (1675-1676). This was a sad war. Wars are all sad, but this one was particularly brutal, complete with decapitations, mutilations, mass murder, and forced deportations into enslavement. On a per capita basis, it was the most devastating war in American history.

Veteran actor Edward Herrmann's (1943-2014) voice is perfect for reading history. He gives it a bit of gravitas but he is not too pompous. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This abridged audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War.

Friday, June 9, 2017

DIARY of a JACKWAGON by Tim Hawkins and John Driver



Published in 2015 by Thomas Nelson.

I am a giant fan of Tim Hawkins and have been ever since he used to run an infomercial on late night TV for his 2007 DVD Full Range of Motion.  I have tickets to go see him in concert at the end of July with my family. 

But, this book was mostly a re-hash of his routines - routines that I dearly love but not nearly as funny when I am reading them as they are when he delivers them. As I was reading, I kept thinking that these would be a whole lot more funny if he was saying them. Hawkins added extra material to support the stuff from his routines but the whole package ends up being just 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Diary of a Jackwagon by Tim Hawkins.

Monday, June 5, 2017

FORT SUMTER 1861 by Albert Castel



Originally published in 1976.
Reprinted and sold by Eastern Acorn Press through the National Park Service.

Something like 24 years ago I went with to Gettysburg with a wife and a friend for a weekend trip. On that trip I bought this little book. It sat on my shelf unread for more than 2 decades. No reason for that - I am an insatiable student of the war - I have reviewed 91 books on the subject before this one. But, it sat there unread until now.

This is a readable and quite thorough history of the events leading up the famous Firing upon Fort Sumter. The best feature of the small book (fifty 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages) is that it doesn't just tell about Fort Sumter, but also about Fort Pickens. The book details how Sumter was part of a larger policy. Most histories separate the two of them and that is a mistake.


The book also describes the duplicitous actions of Secretary of State William Seward throughout the affair. Seward seriously doubted the abilities of President Lincoln and tried to conduct his own private negotiations with South Carolina to end the crisis. On top of that, he countermanded some of Lincoln's own directives when it came to relieving Fort Sumter.   

The expected stuff is included as well - who fired the first shot, when the fort was surrendered and so on. This was a $1.25 well-spent 24 years ago. 

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Fort Sumter 1861 can be found on Amazon.com here.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

KILL YUAN (audiobook) by Peter Nealen



Published in May of 2017 by Peter Nealen, LLC
Read by Cody Parcell
Duration: 12 hours, 23 minutes
Unabridged

The Yuan in the title Kill Yuan is a Chinese Navy captain who has stolen his frigate and its crew and become a pirate leader in the South China Sea. For some reason, the government of China is not acting against him and the other governments in the area are not strong enough to move against a true military ship the size of a frigate (in the pirate world a frigate is much larger than most of their re-purposed ships). The United States has ignored this new pirate leader because its forces in the area are busy playing cat-and-mouse war games with the Chinese Navy.

Cut to Dan Tackett. He is a former member of the U.S. military who has done some independent work as well. But, he has stopped all of that because his wife has died in a car crash and he has to raise their two children. But, making the money he needs while repairing motorcycles is tough and he has to make it up with lots and lots of overtime, meaning that he is not actually raising his own children - he is leaving that up to the day care providers and he hates it. In the evening he is drowning the pain of the loss of his wife in plenty of alcohol.


Out of desperation Tackett looks online for some independent military contractor work and finds an offer that looks to good to be true: $50,000 per month! He decides to go for it, leaves his children with their grandparents and goes off in search of a fortune that will pay off his house and leave him able to raise his children.

Tackett arrives at the training facility in Florida with a number of recruits and discovers that it's training pace is unbelievably grueling, even though it's purpose is hidden. His true employer is also hidden and this might just be a problem once they are deployed...


I listened to the audiobook version of this book read by Cody Parcell. Parcell did a fine job of reading the book despite his consistent mispronunciation of the word "redoubt" (it is pronounced rah-doubt, not reed-out). His pacing was good and he did a great job with the Chinese accents.

While I like a good action book, I freely admit I am not really an avid reader of pure military adventures so this one was a little out of my normal reading zone. The section on training was excellent. The middle part of the book (when they are deployed) was also excellent. The last third of the book got a little too full of jargon for my tastes.  When the author started to refer to weapons by the letter number combinations (like M16 and AK47 but different number combinations I had never heard of because I have never served in the military) I just assumed they were rifles of some sort and went on with the experience. On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable listen. I listened to it very quickly, which is a great sign.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Kill Yuan by Peter Nealen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

DIE TRYING (Jack Reacher #2) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Penguin Audio
Originally published in 1998.
Read by Jonathan McClain
Duration: 14 hours, 47 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher helps out a lady in need with her dry cleaning and ends up being kidnapped, thrown in the back of a van with her and driven across the country as part of an over-the-top plan.

Reacher tries to figure out a way to escape while simultaneously trying to figure out why the kidnappers them in the first place. Of course, once he starts to figure out things, he discovers that their near hopeless situation is actually worse than he thought...


Lee Child
This is a great Reacher novel. I am listening to them all out of order, which isn't much of a problem since Lee Child isn't really writing them in any particular order. Lots of action, plenty of plot lines and Reacher himself make this entry worth reading.

This is the first Reacher novel I have listened to that was read by Jonathan McClain. Most of them I have heard were read by Dick Hill. McClain's style grew on me as I listened and I enjoyed it. His voicing of the creepy bad buy was especially good.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. 


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Die Trying by Lee Child.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE POSTMAN by David Brin



Originally published in 1985.

This is the book that inspired the Kevin Costner movie of the same name. It has a lot of similar features but the movie changed a great deal.

Gordon Krantz is a survivor of the Doomwar, a nuclear and biological war between all of the world powers. The war was bad enough but survivalist groups called the Holnists made survival in what was left behind. The Holnists are united by a common ideology that teaches that some men are naturally superior to others and every man must grab what he can get in this world.

Krantz is slowly working his way across the country. He started out in Minnesota and 15 years later he has made it to Oregon. He has to walk because the nuclear pulse wiped out the electronics. Life is tough everywhere, but in most places it resembles the Mad Max movies more than anything else so it is slow going.

Krantz loses everything to a group of thieves and luckily stumbles upon a mummified letter carrier in a postal jeep - a man who drove off of the road and died during the later stages of the war and no one found him. Out of desperation, Krantz takes the clothes off of his mummified body and takes the letters he was carrying as well.


Krantz bluffs his way into a fortified town by insisting that he is a letter carrier for the Restored United States and he's delivering old mail and will start carrying new mail.

Turns out that people were craving news from towns just a few miles away because and were excited by the prospect of any sort of return to the old days, even if it was just a pile of old letters. 


So, Krantz promises to deliver letters as he moves along, figuring that he's got a new con he can pull on each new town sp that he can finagle a few hot meals and a decent bed to sleep in as he moves through Oregon. But, as people start to believe in him, he starts to think that maybe there's something to this postman gig after all. Things start to look better until you toss in a super-computer, a dystopian Amazon princess of sorts and the largest Holnist invasion force that anyone has seen in years - maybe the largest ever.

This book differs from the movie in a lot of key ways, as I have mentioned. There is enough of a difference that you will not feel like you have already been though this story before.

That being said, this is not a particularly great sci-fi story. I love the "big idea" part of the book (the postman inspires a renewed interest in civilization) but the book just has too many moving parts (the 3-hour long movie attempts to address this by simplifying things, believe it or not).


I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, May 29, 2017

BEHIND REBEL LINES: THE INCREDIBLE STORY of EMMA REDMONDS, CIVIL WAR SPY by Seymour Reit



This is the story of a real-life Civil War hero. Despite technically not being able to join the army at all because she was a woman, Emma Edmonds joined crossed the American-Canadian border to join the Union army for the action and adventure. She knew full well that she could keep up with the men because she grew up helping on her family farm. But, she never expected the adventures she experienced during the war.

Emma Edmonds (1841-1898)
Seymour Reit tells a fictionalized version of this true story (the events are real, the details, like conversations, are made into a story) that starts out working in an army hospital but soon ends up dressing up in different outfits and crossing the enemy lines to act as a spy and had all sorts of close calls while generating plenty of usable information.

This is an immensely readable book. My fifth grader chose it to read for a school project and her enthusiasm for the book inspired my wife and I to read it as well. 

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Redmonds, Civil War Spy.


STANDARD HERO BEHAVIOR by John David Anderson



Published in 2007 by Clarion Books

Indianapolis native John David Anderson's Standard Hero Behavior is a tongue-in-cheek look at the Lord of the Rings type fantasy world, sort of like The Princess Bride

Mason Quayle is a young, under-employed bard (he write epic songs about heroes and the like) and his best friend Cowel sells epic plumes for the hats of heroes (think Three Musketeer hats). The problem is that they live in a town that used to be full of heroes but the new duke of their city has the monsters under control. It used to take dozens of heroes, now it is handled by one man. Mason can't figure out how he does it all by himself because his father used to be the most-requested bard for all of those heroes and he's very familiar with the old songs and stories.

But, that was a long time ago. His father is gone, disappeared along with several of the most powerful heroes while off on an epic quest. 

One day Mason is summoned to the Duke's home and he finds out that everything is not as it seemed and he and his friend have to go out and find the old heroes before it is too late...

I really liked the premise of this book but as the book went along I felt like it just didn't live up to its potential. It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't as good as I felt that it could have been.


I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

THE HARD WAY (Jack Reacher #10) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Brilliance Audio in 2008.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher is just hanging out in a New York City coffee shop, drinking coffee and staring out the window when he gets caught up in a kidnapping case. Turns out he witnessed the money hand off without even realizing what he was seeing. The ransom payer tracked Reacher down, picked him up and brought him to his exclusive penthouse apartment/office. Turns out his wife and stepdaughter have been kidnapped and he has decided to leave the police out of it and just pay the ransom.

The millionaire runs a quasi-legal mercenary operation and has decided to use his best men to search out the kidnappers and eliminate them...and he wants Reacher to help due to his previous police experience and offers him a hefty cash bounty if he produces. But, as Reacher starts to dig into why someone would want to kidnap his new employer's wife and stepdaughter he starts to find a lot more nagging questions than answers...

This was an especially interesting Reacher book for me. Lots of action, about 3 surprise twists and a number of interesting locales. Dick Hill's narration is just about perfect. He totally captures Reacher's attitudes. 


I rate this audibook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Hard Way by Lee Child.

Friday, May 26, 2017

THE BATTLE of GETTYSBURG: AMERICAN HERITAGE SERIES (audiobook) by Bruce Catton



Published by Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books in January of 2017
Read by Eric Martin
Duration: 3 hours, 4 minutes
Unabridged

I love Bruce Catton's histories of the Civil War. As a rule Bruce Catton (1899-1978) wrote histories that are easy to read, thorough enough to give the reader a solid grasp of the issues and peppered with well-told human interest stories. 


Confederate Major General George Pickett (1825-1875)
This history of Gettysburg feels a bit disjointed, sort of like it was a knitted together from a series of articles that Catton wrote for American Heritage magazine. For example, it spends a lot of time looking at the events just before the battle and skips one of the more dramatic and important moments of the battle on the second day (Little Round Top).

However, the exaggerated emphasis on the first day did not bother me. Too often the first day is sort of skipped over and it's not like the second day was ignored - it just focused on Dan Sickles' horrible deployment and the danger it posed to his own army. That is also important. 


The third day, of course, focuses on the infamous Pickett's Charge. Catton's short history also includes a solid look at Lee's retreat back to Virginia, the consequences of this loss to the Confederacy and a peek at the ceremony in which Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address, including a reading of the speech itself.

Eric Martin did a nice job with the book. He has a pleasant voice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: THE BATTLE of GETTYSBURG: AMERICAN HERITAGE SERIES by Bruce Catton.

 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

VICTORY at YORKTOWN: A NOVEL (George Washington Series #3) (audiobook) by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen



Published in November of 2012 by Macmillan Audio.
Read by William Dufris
Duration: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Unabridged

Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen conclude their Revolutionary War-based trilogy with an up-and-down look at the final year of real action in the war (October of 1780 to October of 1781).

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumball
The actual battle descriptions are quite good in the book. The book is absolutely great with its explanation of the strategies employed to maneuver Cornwallis into the Yorktown fortifications, the coordination between the French and American forces and demonstrates just how narrow this victory really was. 

However, the audiobook starts out with a two hour overwrought description of the execution of Major Andre. Andre was the British officer that conspired with the infamous American traitor Benedict Arnold. While this scene was used referred back to often throughout the rest of the book, the scene itself was very repetitious and entirely too long to make it's point. I nearly quit the audiobook completely after an hour of it.

William Dufris did a great job with all of the accents the book, especially the French officers.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found at Amazon.com here: VICTORY at YORKTOWN: A NOVEL (George Washington Series #3).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE GIRL on the TRAIN (audiobook) by Paula Hawkins



Published in 2015 by Penguin Audio
Read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher
Duration: 10 hours, 59 minutes
Unabridged


Every day Rachel sees the same couple in the same house as she is commuting to London on the train. The train makes a regular stop near this house while waiting for another train to clear the track and Rachel stares out at the backyards of the neighborhood where she used to live before her husband left her for another woman. She notes the attractive new couple that has moved in a couple of houses down from her old house and makes up pretend glamorous background stories for this seemingly happy couple whose house is identical to the one she used to live in.

One day she is shocked to see the lady from her fantasy world kissing another man. Even worse - soon after, that woman disappears, is presumed dead and becomes the center of a media frenzy.

Rachel tries to get involved by telling the police about the other man but she tells her story so poorly that it makes no sense. Even worse, she is known to the police because it turns out that Rachel is a boozy stalker of her ex-husband and his new wife and child and turns up at her old house (just a couple of houses down from the victim's house) on a semi-regular basis after she has gotten drunk so she has absolutely zero credibility.


But, Rachel carries on and gets herself involved in the story in so many ways...

I am going to be brutally honest here. I know this was a runaway bestseller and everyone is talking about how amazing this book is but I found it to be irritating on so many levels (the exception being the actual reading of the book by the 3 different narrators - they were great).

All of the main female characters, except for Rachel's roommate (who gets dumped on in the narration for not wanting a roommate that vomits in the hallway and does not clean up the mess) get their validation from the approval of men (as expressed through sex) and their ability to make babies. It is a pathetic little inbred world. In a way, this an anti-feminist story (woman have no value except to make babies for their men). Or, maybe it's a too-clever feminist satire. Either way, it's very annoying.

Even worse, the whole thing could've have been a short story if the very articulate Rachel would've just explained herself a little better to the police from the beginning. An extra 3 or 4 sentences would've made a world of difference.

This is one of those books where I found myself rooting for the killer to just take out a few more of these characters before the book ended.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SMALL WARS: A JACK REACHER STORY (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published in 2015 by Random House Audio.
Narrated by Dick Hill
Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Unabridged

Lee Child. Photo by Mark Coggins
Jack Reacher is back in his Military Police days in this short story. He has been moved to a new base in Georgia and immediately has a murder to investigate - a new female intelligence officer who is beautiful, rich and is on the fast track to the top is found dead beside her Porsche on a country road near the base.

Jack Reacher starts to dig and quickly puts all of the pieces together in a satisfying, but too-short story. All of the stuff you love about a Reacher novel are here:  smart comments, a little bit of fighting, quick thinking and an ending that makes you think about the difference between what is legal and what is just. Dick Hill's narration is spot-on, like always.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.


This audiobook short story can be found on Amazon.com here: Small Wars by Lee Child.