"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!

Visit DWD's Reviews of Books, Audiobooks, Music and Video new sister blog: DWD's Reviews of Tech, Gadgets and Gizmos!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

PARADISE VALLEY: A NOVEL (Cassie Dewell #4) by C.J. Box



Published by Macmillan Audio in July of 2017
Read by Christina Delaine
Duration: 10 hours, 6 minutes
Unabridged

Cassie Dewell moved to North Dakota in her last book, one of the few experienced police officers in an oil boom town. The boom has mostly died down now, with the drop of petroleum prices but it is still a much busier place than it was before the boom. The local sheriff is pondering retirement and wants Cassie Dewell to replace her.

But, Dewell has other goals - and one of them is the pursuit of the serial killer known as the Lizard King. He is a long haul trucker who specializes in killing truck stop prostitutes (known as "lot lizards", thus the serial killer's nickname). He was also part of a conspiracy that resulted in the death of her mentor and partner, Cody Hoyt and nearly killed her.

Dewell has a plan to capture this serial killer - a plan that is not officially on the books with the department. But, when the trap is finally sprung, things go sideways in ways that no one could have imagined and a kicks of a string of events that change everything...

This book was full of surprises. Christina Delaine, the reader of the audiobook, was one of them. She had to cover a wide variety of characters, including one with a strong Minnesota accent, a young man with a profound speech impediment, a bombastic old man and more. Excellent job.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

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

IS SCIENCE RACIST? (DEBATING RACE) by Jonathan Marks



Published by Polity in March of 2017.

If you have ever had the misfortune to run across one of the alt-right's psuedo-scientific webpages that discuss the genetics of race and how science proves one race is smarter/better/nicer/whatever than other races you will see the need for this book.

Unfortunately, an author I used to Tweet back and forth with a little used to re-Tweet some posts from one of these sites and I got my fill of them during one long evening. They are the internet's version of those young men marching in Charlottesville with the white polo shirts and khaki pants. Like those men, on the surface these sites were pleasant enough until you pay attention to what was being said.

They wrap themselves in pseudoscience that, unfortunately, is twisted around to sound reasonable. It is these types of people that Jonathan Marks is talking about when he notes:

"Every science has had its own set of ethical issues - chemistry and poison gas; physical anthropology and grave-robbing - but there is one question that only scientists working in human genetics and race have to grapple with. And that is: 'What is it about me that the Nazis like so much?'" (p. 25)

Marks explores the relationship between science and politics and how scientists have to be careful to guard that their work is not perverted into something evil. Of course, some scientists don't care about where their funding comes from just so long as the checks cash. Others are duped. As noted by the author, "Scientists think like everybody else, and are beset by the same kinds of aspirations, insecurities and disappointments as everybody else." (p. 66) In some cases, scientists with latent racial biases are themselves are victims of confirmation bias - "their presuppositions adversely affect the framing of the research, the collection and analyzing of the data, and the interpretation of the results." (p. 22)

To Marks' credit, he works very hard to make this book accessible to the layman, making reference to popular works such as Frankenstein and Jurassic Park to warn of the dangers of science unfettered by morality. His discussion of genetics wandered a little deeper into the deep end than I preferred a couple of times but, on the whole, this was a surprisingly brisk and informative read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Is Science Racist by Jonathan Marks.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in order to write an honest review through the Amazon Vine Program.

JUST MOVE!: A NEW APPROACH to FITNESS after 50 by James P. Owen



Published in September of 2017 by National Geographic

The author, James P. Owen, was 70 and realized that he was horribly out of shape. By out of shape I do not mean that he was fat. I mean he was walking around like a stiff and brittle old man - more content to sit and watch the world go by rather than get up and be a part of it.

Rather than go to the gym and try to become buff, he decided that he needed to combat aging by becoming "functionally fit". Instead of bulging biceps he would pursue these 5 goals in an effort to be more mobile and become less likely to injure himself in his everyday life:


-Core stability and strength
-Flexibility
-Balance
-Muscular strength
-Cardiovascular endurance

And he succeeded. He claims that at age 75 he is the most fit shape of his life.

There is nothing really shocking in this book, but he gives tons of practical advice to make things happen more safely and more quickly, especially if you have a few extra bucks to pay for a membership to the local YMCA and have access to a personal trainer (including tips on how to pick out the right trainer for you).

But, he also includes a lot of activities for people that don't have that extra padding in their budget but still want to work on that extra padding around their middle.

I have gone through my own fitness metamorphosis in the last 18 months after having a diagnosis of being pre-diabetic. A diet change and an effort to walk a lot more and hit the gym (something I literally never did before) helped me drop more than 80 pounds and out of the pre-diabetes danger zone and, like the author, I feel better than I have in years. 


This book was an well-written affirmation of many of the principles that I have stumbled upon, such as making fitness a habit, making the goals simple and more about feeling better and being fit to make life more enjoyable rather than setting some sort of arbitrary goal of a certain weight or a certain pants size.

This book has an encouraging tone rather than a lecturing one.


I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Just Move!: A New Approach to Fitness after 50.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

RETROGRADE by Peter Cawdron



Published in September of 2017 by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A Mars colony has been established by four separate factions: China, Russia, America and Eurasia (Europe, India, Israel, Japan, and more). The groups work together, but not always smoothly but they are building a successful colony.

Suddenly, everything is thrown into a tailspin when the major world powers begin firing nuclear weapons at one another and 15 cities are obliterated - and each faction of the colony has suffered losses. And...there's little chance that there a re-supply ship coming any time soon.

The colonists have to figure out if they can trust one another despite the nuclear strikes back on Earth and they need to figure it out soon because Mars is a tough enough place to live when everything and everyone is working well, it's really tough when no one trusts one another.

And, it gets even tougher when they finally figure out what is really going on...

This is a throwback kind of sci-fi book with a lot of effort going into how a Martian colony would actually work. Sometimes that is great, sometimes it drags. On a positive note, there are lots of plot twists that move the story in unexpected ways.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: RETROGRADE by Peter Cawdron.

Note: I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

V-S DAY: A NOVEL of ALTERNATE HISTORY by Allen Steele



Published by Ace in 2014

Alternate histories always deal with a what if...? moment in history and how things might have been. In the case of V-S Day, the moment is what if Nazi Germany decided to throw the resources that it was throwing into a its buzz bomb program into an actual space program led by Wernher von Braun? The Germans are building a a primitive space shuttle like device that can take off from the Reich, circle the globe and drop bombs on New York City from a low earth orbit, far above the reach of America's anti-aircraft guns. And, it can do it again and again with no hope of a defense.

Fans of NASA know that in the real world, Wernher von Braun was brought back to America after World War II and helped develop America's space program. In this world, rocket pioneer Robert Goddard leads a team to develop an American space fighter "plane" to go up and take out the German space bomber.

Most of the book details the space race between the two powers, which was okay, but not nearly as good as the spy story of how the Allies received a set of the German plans. Sometimes the book sails along and sometimes it drags. Sadly, the climax of the book is undercut by the fact that the entire book is told as a flashback from 2013 and the final result is pretty obvious. 

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: V-S DAY: A NOVEL of ALTERNATE HISTORY.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MIKE TYSON SLEPT HERE by Chris Huntington



Published in 2011 by Boaz Publishing Company

First - a confession. I know the author of this book. However, the last time I spoke to him was most likely in December of 1989. We had one class together in high school and 3, maybe 4, classes together at the School of Education at Indiana University where we discussed movies, a mutual love of reading and Roy Orbison.

But, I've kept track of Chris as a writer in magazines and newspapers - mostly essays about his new family and his globe-trotting life teaching in all sorts of places, including ten years at a men's prison in Indiana - the subject of this book.

The book Mike Tyson Slept Here is set in and around the Plainfield Correctional Facility, where Mike Tyson served nearly three years for rape from 1992 to 1995. Tyson does not appear in the book, but he was its most famous resident, seeing as how he went in at the height of his career.

Mike Tyson Slept Here is not an autobiography, but there are semi-autobiographical elements to the book. The main character is Brant Gilmour, a new teacher who just got a job trying to help the prisoners earn their GEDs at the men's prison in Plainfield, Indiana - a suburb of Indianapolis. He meets another, older female teacher and they start dating.

Most of the book is about Brant, his girlfriend and their relationship, but not all of it. This book is really a collection of vignettes about several loosely connected characters that live in and around Indianapolis. Even though the plot was not a traditional story, the book was well-served by the dialogue. Dialogue is often difficult for writers, but it flows perfectly in this book. 


The stories flow easily as well. Even if I couldn't tell where it was going, I enjoyed the book for what it was - a series of stories well-told.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Mike Tyson Slept Here by Chris Huntington

Saturday, November 11, 2017

CAPTAIN to CAPTAIN: STAR TREK LEGACIES, BOOK 1 (audiobook) by Greg Cox



Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in 2016
Read by Robert Petkoff
Duration: 9 hours, 40 minutes
Unabridged

Number One from the original pilot of Star Trek
This book is part of a series marking the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Captain to Captain features Captain Una, better known as Number One in the original pilot episode of the Original Series ("The Cage") and the regular cast of the Original Series.

Captain Una, a legendary Starfleet officer, comes to the Enterprise on a surprise visit for vague reasons and promptly steals a secret object that captains of the Enterprise keep hidden away from even the Federation. Kirk isn't even sure what it is exactly, but he knows it can't fall into the hands of the Klingons, the Romulans and maybe not even the Federation because what he does know is that it is the key to more power than anyone should be able to control. 


Now Kirk has two questions:

Why did Captain Una steal the object?

Why is Captain Una heading to the Klingon Empire as fast as she possibly can?

A few years back I swore off of Star Trek novels. I used to read them almost obsessively and I owned an impressive collection - but that was 30 years ago. In the last few years I have tried to come back to them and re-kindle the magic but I just can't. I tried this audiobook and, once again, I found that it just didn't have to the old pizzazz. The story seemed flat. I just didn't buy into a lot of it. It was just okay, but nothing special.

I will not be moving on to the other books in the series, even though this book left off with a pretty big cliffhanger.

None of my complaints about the book can be lain at the feet of the reader, Robert Petkoff. He did a solid job with the accents of the Original Series characters, including Number One.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: CAPTAIN to CAPTAIN: STAR TREK LEGACIES, BOOK 1 by Greg Cox.

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE NOT-QUITE STATES of AMERICA: DISPATCHES from the TERRITORIES and OTHER FAR-FLUNG OUTPOSTS of the USA (audiobook) by Doug Mack



Published by HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books in February of 2017.
Read by Jonathan Yen
Duration: 10 hours, 24 minutes
Unabridged

In The Not-Quite States of America, Doug Mack takes his readers on a sometimes serious, sometimes humorous tour of America's territories: the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico (in that order).

Mack goes into a little history of each territory and sets off to experience a more in-depth tour than the typical tourist might normally take. He meets with local leaders, well-known personalities, mainland Americans who have moved to the territory and goes out of his way to meet talkative locals who are willing to discuss the relationship between that territory and the United States government (which is usually riddled with strange rules that cause all sorts of unintended consequences).

Along the way Mack visits a restaurant that allows its guests to feed beer to pigs in the U.S. Virgin Islands, goes on a deep hike in the jungles of Samoa, visits a bio-luminescent bay in Puerto Rico, solemn World War II memorials in the Northern Marianas and delves into the hyper-commercialized version of America that is hawked to foreign visitors in Guam. The discussion of Puerto Rico's future is especially well-done, but overshadowed by the tragic disaster of Hurricane Maria that occurred about 7 months after the publication of the book.


The reader, Jonathan Yen, did a solid job. There were times that the book dragged, especially at the beginning, but that was not the the narrator's fault. Most of the time he kept the reading lively and well-paced.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. 

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher in order to write an honest review through Audiobook Jukebox.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: THE NOT-QUITE STATES of AMERICA: DISPATCHES from the TERRITORIES and OTHER FAR-FLUNG OUTPOSTS of the USA by Doug Mack.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

FALLEN: CORPS JUSTICE DANIEL BRIGGS #2) (audiobook) by C.G. Cooper



Published in 2016 by Tantor Audio
Read by David Colacci
Duration: 7 hours, 17 minutes
Unabridged

Photo by Niels Noodhoek
Daniel Briggs is a retired Marine sniper who is struggling with alcohol and his own personal demons, especially an internal drive to fight and kill that he calls "The Beast".

Briggs is a drifter who stumbles into trouble as he wanders the country and often finds himself in the middle of trouble, much like Lee Childs' character Jack Reacher. If you are familiar with the Reacher series, Briggs is more morose and angry than Reacher, but I think that they would find a lot in common.

Briggs is in Maine, drinking at a touristy bar when he encounters some drunks giving the waitress a hard time. He takes them on, wins and then discovers that the police are coming for him. Briggs takes off on foot and encounters a friendly local preacher who is delivering food to members of his church - sort of a rolling food pantry.

The preacher takes in Briggs for the evening and Briggs discovers that he is a single dad caring for a remarkable 15-year-old daughter that is able to get Briggs to open up his hard outer shell for the first time in years and Briggs starts to re-think some of his hermit-like ways. But, Briggs makes a horrible discovery and starts a cascade of events that will re-shape everyone's lives before it all stops...

This is my third book by C.G. Cooper and the second book I have listened to in the Daniel Briggs series. I find Cooper to be an up and down author and this one was one of his "up" books. The plot, while full of plot twists, was pretty well-paced and much more believable than the other Daniel Briggs book I listened to (#3 called Broken). This is a pretty solid thriller.

David Colacci read this audiobook and I think he does a very good job of nailing down Briggs' crusty side - gravelly and tough.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Fallen: Corps Justice Daniel Briggs by C.G. Cooper.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NAVY SEAL DOGS: MY TALE of TRAINING CANINES for COMBAT by Mike Ritland



Published in 2013 by St. Martin's Press.

Mike Ritland served as a Navy SEAL, became a trainer of SEALs and eventually moved into training dogs that work with SEALs - the most elite of all service dogs. 

While they look a lot like German Shepherds, Ritland points out that the SEALs usually use Dutch Shepherds or Belgian Malinois - breeds that are lighter, leaner and even more trainable. He describes how they sort out only the most focused dogs and then spend months training them to do things that most dogs would never do - like ride in helicopters, jump out of planes, fight people (but stop on command) and chase down a target through and over everything and be able to sniff out specific odors, like bomb-making materials. 

Ritland's stories of training and combat are interesting and sometimes touching, especially the stories of the soldiers bonding with the dogs in their down time (the dogs are supposed to be segregated from the rest of the soldiers, but oftentimes they hang out with them and sleep in their cots - a little bit of normalcy in the middle of a war zone).

The book also includes a "Brief History of Canines in Combat" as an afterward.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: NAVY SEAL DOGS: MY TALE of TRAINING CANINES for COMBAT by Mike Ritland.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

THE EYES of the DRAGON by Stephen King



Originally published in 1984.
Published by Penguin Audio in 2010.
Read by Bronson Pinchot.
Duration: 10 hours, 18 minutes.
Unabridged

Stephen King
The ancient kingdom of Delain is ruled by a good king, but not a great king. He is a widower with two sons and an ancient, yet seemingly ageless, magician adviser named Flagg. His oldest son is Peter - a son who shows all of the signs that he will be a great and good king in the future. His youngest son is Thomas, a young man who is a lot like his father. Thomas is very jealous of the well-deserved attention lavished upon Peter and often turns to his only friend - Flagg.

Flagg is very powerful, long-lived and an omnipresent dark force in the royal palace. In reality, he is more than a mere magician, he is a malignant force that seeks to create chaos and disorder above all else. Flagg is a frequent character in Stephen King books, most notably in The Stand and The Dark Tower series. This book is his second appearance in King's work.

Flagg poisons the king and frames Prince Peter for the regicide. Peter is sentenced to live in a high tower the rest of his life and the young and woefully unprepared Prince Thomas becomes King. Flagg advises Peter and steers the kingdom on a course that will lead to chaos and civil war.

But, high up in his tower, Peter has a plan...


This book is different than the majority of King's books, being an epic fantasy rather than a horror book. It is also presented differently as well. This book has a narrator that acts as a storyteller that often speaks directly to the reader as though we were all sitting around a campfire or a hearth on a cold winter's night. 

The audiobook is read by award-winning narrator Bronson Pinchot. When I say that it is read, though, I am not doing his work justice. He doesn't just read this book. He performs it. He screams, he cries out, he laughs. His characterization of Flagg is so creepy, so scary, that it makes the character emerge fully formed in the listener's consciousness. At the end of the book, when Flagg's true nature is shown to everyone, his screams, his anger, his unhinged-ness (if that is a word) are captured by Pinchot perfectly. 

This is not a perfect audiobook - the story simply lags at too many points for that. But, it is a good story and it is well worth it just to hear Pinchot's audio performance.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: THE EYES of the DRAGON by Stephen King.

Monday, October 9, 2017

GULP: ADVENTURES on the ALIMENTARY CANAL (audiobook) by Mary Roach



Published by Tantor Audio in 2013.
Read by Emily Woo Zeller
Duration: 8 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged

Mary Roach focuses her often-humorous, always oddball approach to science on the human digestive tract in GULP, a book that always entertains, even if it doesn't always stay on topic.

To be fair, she stays in the general area of the topic. For example, when she talks about how much your sense of smell affects your sense of taste she goes into a long (and interesting and sometimes gross) look at the pet food industry and how they convince dogs and cats to eat gross food by making it smell really, really enticing. 


Topics include: saliva, how much a human stomach will actually hold, why lots of animals eat their own poop, why cows ruminate, the role of bacteria in digestion, enlarged colons, why prisoners sneak things into jail by putting them up their rectum but terrorists don't put bombs in the same place, why farts smell and, in an off-topic moment, she discusses if the Inuit actually do rub noses rather than kiss.

Emily Woo Zeller read this audiobook and did a wonderful job with it. This is a fun ride and Zeller read it with just the right amount of enthusiasm. Highly recommended (if you have a strong stomach!)

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. 


This book can be found on Amazon.com here:  GULP by Mary Roach.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A WALK in the WOODS: REDISCOVERING AMERICA on the APPALACHIAN TRAIL (audiobook) by Bill Bryson



Originally published in 1999.
Unabridged audio edition published in 2012 by Random House Audio.

Read by Rob McQuay.
Duration: 9 hours, 47 minutes.


Bill Bryson. Photo by Wes Washington.
Bill Bryson discovered that he lived near the Appalachian Trail, which is no surprise since it winds more than 2,200 miles from northern Georgia to Maine and literally runs within an hour drive for millions of people. After looking into a little, Bryson decided to walk the trail. Why not? He had no equipment, no real experience in wilderness hiking and was woefully out of shape. What could go wrong?

He is joined by his friend, Stephen Katz (not his real name), who is even more out of shape than Bryson and off they go to northern Georgia. The book is more than just a story of their hike, though. It is also a running commentary on consumer culture, the irksome (and all-too-often) ineptitude of the National Park system, the camaraderie of almost every hiker he met, friendship, compulsion, the experience of walking in a society that has forgotten how to walk and makes few accommodations for people to walk, the dangers of invasive species and both the fragility and strength of nature. 


This book is simultaneously a buddy book, a nature lecture and a comedy routine and is thoroughly enjoyable. Well worth your time - and not just if you are aspiring hiker (I am an urban walker - in short spurts of 1-3 miles, not a marathon walker, like you would have to be to "hike through" on the Appalachian Trail).

The reader, Rob McQuay perfectly nailed the tone of the book and made it all the better. Great job.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A WALK in the WOODS: REDISCOVERING AMERICA on the APPALACHIAN TRAIL by Bill Bryson.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

THE LATE SHOW (audiobook) by Michael Connelly



Published by Hachette Audio in July of 2017.
Read by Katherine Moennig
Duration: 9 hours, 22 minutes
Unabridged

Michael Connelly. Photo by Mark Coggins.
Michael Connelly moves away from the aging Harry Bosch character and starts a new character firmly in his literary universe.

Renee Ballard is a detective that works the night shift. Most of her cases aren't really her cases at all - her job mostly consists of taking names, doing preliminary interviews and then turning everything over to the day shift to finish. This job was a demotion because she filed a righteous sexual harassment claim on a boss but was not backed up by her partner who was more interested in sucking up to his boss for a promotion than doing the right thing.

So, Ballard tries her best to do more than just be the person that hands the cases off to other guys. She is a good cop with shades of Harry Bosch, meaning she can get obsessed and play with the rules if she feels like the rules get in the way. When she catches a case that no one cares about involving a transgendered streetwalker prostitute who was nearly beaten to death. Ballard thinks that there may be more to this case than meets the eye so she decides to pursue it. Besides, she loves the underdog and no one is more of an underdog than this victim...


Personally, I was disappointed by this story. There are two mysteries - the one with the prostitute is an excellent mystery, the secondary story involving multiple murders at a night club was too far-fetched for me. Also, I was not very fond of Renee Ballard's backstory. I am generally a fan of all things Michael Connelly. I have reviewed 23 Michael Connelly books and this is only the third that was not a 4 or 5 star.

The reader, Katherine Moennig is an established actress (she worked in a movie based on a book written by Connelly), but I did not enjoy her work as an audiobook reader. It never felt like she established any sort of stride or comfort level as a reader. 


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Late Show by Michael Connelly.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

THE WALK-IN by Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzulo



Published in 2008 by Crown Publishing

Matt Freed is summoned on very short notice to Bucharest to interview a member of Iran's intelligence community. He was unrecruited, meaning that he is a "walk-in" - literally someone who walked into the embassy and offered information that the American government would want.

Freed has been asked to talk to this man because he is an expert on Iranian politics and he speaks the language. He is also an extremely capable intelligence operative. The interview yields valuable and very scary information. Freed starts to act on it and soon discovers that there may be more to this situation than he has been led to believe. He starts his own investigation and becomes convinced that this may be a double cross. His superiors disagree and it becomes a race against time with Freed working against foreign governments and his own...


This is a middle-of-the-road spy novel. The action was good but sometimes the narration needed to be made more clear as the action moved from person to person. The supporting characters were never really fleshed out so they always seemed to be fairly arbitrary in their actions because they were faceless uniforms or suits, depending on the bureaucracies they served. This is a book that would have been much better if it had been expanded.

I rate this novel 3 stars out of 5.

This novel can be found on Amazon.com here: The Walk-In.

Friday, September 22, 2017

LINCOLN'S GIFT: HOW HUMOR SHAPED LINCOLN'S LIFE and LEGACY by Gordon Leidner



Published in 2015 by Cumberland House
273 pages including end notes and a bibliography

Lincoln's Gift: How Humor Shaped Lincoln's Life and Legacy is an excellent short biography of our sixteenth president with a special focus on his legendary storytelling abilities. When one considers who integral Lincoln's humorous stories were to his successes both as an attorney and as a politician, I felt that this biography is one of the few biographies or histories that gave me much of a sense of Lincoln as a man.

Leidner wisely chooses to provide a lot of detail about Lincoln's life before he became a national figure - these stories give the reader a feel for the man long before he became president and give a frame of reference for his reactions and his stories while he was in office.


Very few of his stories are truly laugh out loud funny, but he often told humorous or rustic tales to make his point or distill a complicated idea into something very simple. A classic example of this is when Grant explained how he planned to coordinate all five Union armies to press the Confederate forces at the same time. Grant knew that this would make it difficult for the Confederates to adequately confront an individual Union army because concentrating Confederate forces to defend one front meant moving troops away from an advancing Union army on some other front. Lincoln compared the plan to how hunters work together to prepare game and said, "Those not skinning can hold a leg." (p. 195)

Lincoln's Gift is an enjoyable biography. It is not too heavy into Civil War minutiae but is deep enough to give the reader a glimpse into what he may have actually been like. I rate this biography 4 stars out of 5.

You can find this book on Amazon.com here: LINCOLN'S GIFT: HOW HUMOR SHAPED LINCOLN'S LIFE and LEGACY by Gordon Leidner.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

LAST HOPE ISLAND: BRITAIN, OCCUPIED EUROPE, and the BROTHERHOOD THAT HELPED TURN the TIDE of WAR (audiobook) by Lynne Olson



An Exceedingly Well-Written History

Published in April of 2017 by Random House Audio
Read by Arthur Morey
Duration: 18 hours, 46 minutes
Unabridged

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)  and Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)
As Europe collapsed before the Nazi onslaught several governments-in-exile retreated to the United Kingdom in an effort to support their struggling underground resistance movements and to remind the world of their plight. Some brought a lot of soldiers (Poland), some brought money, some brought civilian ships and some brought not much more than a loud voice and the will to use it.

This was not an easy alliance. The UK was xenophobic and stunned at the rapid fall of France and many of the governments in exile were being ripped apart from their own internal politics. Misunderstandings, patronizing attitudes and differing agendas make everything more difficult.

When America and the Soviets joined the war the UK shifted its attention away from the governments-in-exile to its new, much more potent allies and those new allies had different agendas. Those new agendas often did not match those of the governments-in-exile. President Roosevelt was surprisingly indifferent to them and the Soviet Union was only interested in gobbling up as many of them as it could.

Olson begins her history with the stories of how each country fell to Nazi Germany and their government's reacted. Most fled, but not all did. France did both with both Vichy France and Charles de Gaulle claiming supremacy. These stories are extremely well told and quite gripping.

The middle part of the book deals with Britain's intelligence or outright military operations in the conquered countries. 
 Interestingly, the UK's intelligence service thought that it was brilliant, but the reality was far from that. If you have seen the old TV show Hogan's Heroes, the reality is that the UK was far more like Colonel Klink than like Colonel Hogan. Truly embarrassing and idiotic mistakes were made for years on end.

The end of the book is very moving as it features the return of the different governments and what happened when they returned. For some, they were hailed as heroes, some were derided and some just disappeared behind the Iron Curtain.

Lynne Olson has a real talent for writing history and the reader, Arthur Morey did an excellent job as well. This was an informative, entertaining and often very moving history.


I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: LAST HOPE ISLAND: BRITAIN, OCCUPIED EUROPE, and the BROTHERHOOD THAT HELPED TURN the TIDE of WAR (audiobook) by Lynne Olson

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

THE REMNANT (audiobook) by William Michael Davidson



Published in June of 2017 by Dancing Lemur Press LLC
Read by Michael Burnette
Duration: 9 hours, 19 minutes
Unabridged

In a future America, religion is nearly a thing of the past. A man-made super-flu not re-wrote the genetic code of its victims, nullifying the combination of genes that allow human beings to express religious belief. The government actively hunts down anyone who was immune to the changes through a combination of an elaborate spy network and implants installed in people's brains at birth that allow the government to track people.

Colton Pierce is a pompous, clueless "extractor" who works for the Center for Theological Control. He apprehends religious people and sends them to an island where they live out the rest of their lives in quarantine. That is until now - the government plans to kill them all off, a move that Colton supports until his son gets caught up in a raid and will soon be sent off to the island...

I had two serious issues with this book:

#1 Is faith really a genetic thing? 
For a book that intends to be sympathetic to religious faith, it rests on a premise that is unfriendly to religion. It claims that religion is not a matter of conscience, it is a matter of simple genetics, like having blue eyes or curly hair.

#2 If it is a genetic thing and if the government has the ability to detect and eliminate that gene, why don't they genetically test babies when they are installing the implants into their brains and just imprison them then? This would remove the need for having to hunt them down.


The reader, Michael Burnette did a stellar job of reading for the Colton Pierce character. But, the book as a whole suffered from internal logic problems that meant it just could not hold itself together, no matter how well it was read.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a promotional copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

BROKEN (Corps Justice Daniel Briggs #3) (audiobook) by C.G. Cooper



Published by Tantor Audio in February of 2017.
Read by David Colacci.
Duration: 6 hours, 23 minutes.
Unabridged.

Daniel Briggs is a former sniper, a war veteran who is struggling to incorporate himself back into society. He suffers from PTSD in the form of anger control issues. Until recently, he copes by drinking, although in this book he has put the bottle aside. He also copes by drifting from job to job and place to place, avoiding deep connections.

While in Seattle, working at a fish market, Briggs encounters an elderly woman wandering the streets with an 8x10 photo of her son, a war veteran who disappeared when he returned. Briggs decides to look into the situation and soon discovers that there are a lot of missing veterans and this is part of something much larger then he had ever imagined.

The Daniel Briggs character is reminiscent of Lee Child's Reacher character and fans of Reacher might want to check this series out. I liked the Briggs character but the actual conspiracy that he confronts was too over the top for me. Plus, the plot twists were a little too twisty for me as well.

David Colacci's voice was perfect for Briggs - gravelly, but not over the top.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Broken by C.G. Cooper.


Friday, September 1, 2017

THE AMERICAN SPIRIT: WHO WE ARE and WHAT WE STAND FOR (audiobook) by David McCullough



Published in April of 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Read by the author, David McCullough
Duration: 4 hours, 13 minutes
Unabridged

David McCullough
This is a collection of speeches delivered by the two time Pulitzer Prize winning author. The topics vary in length and topic but are all bound by two common themes: American history and the importance of knowing that history.

I listened to this collection as an audiobook over a period of about a week and found it to be quite enjoyable as I walked the dog every evening. The speeches are usually not too long and not too short, informative, interesting.

McCullough has re-recorded these speeches for this audiobook and his voice does show a little age, but it is still a wonderful voice to listen to and his delivery, combined with his words help make this an enjoyable audiobook. 


I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The American Spirit.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

WHITE WORKING CLASS: OVERCOMING CLASS CLUELESSNESS in AMERICA (audiobook) by Joan C. Williams



Published in June of 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Liisa Ivary
Duration: 3 hours, 28 minutes
Unabridged

This small book grew from an article that the author wrote after the 2016 Presidential Election. She wrote this article to explain the results to her friends in what she calls the "professional elite". The article created a lot of buzz so she expanded it into a small, accessible book that I found to be very accurate.

Williams distinguishes the working class from the poor and the professional elite. In layman's terms, the working class is the middle class. It consists of factory workers, teachers, police officers, mechanics and restaurant managers. People with training and skills that literally go to work every day. The professional elite are doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, professors at elite universities and the political class.

Williams details why the working class looks at the world differently than the professional elite and why the policies and the general image offered up by the Clinton campaign was so thoroughly rejected by the working class.


As a person who comes from a working class background (one of my grandfathers was a farmer, the other a factory worker for GM, my mother was a teacher and my father repaired appliances. I am a teacher in an urban school), I found this book to be remarkably perceptive. Williams' intent is to introduce the Democratic political elite to the working class and I think she succeeds. Not that I am a fan of the Democrat Party (up until this election, I considered myself a Republican, but now I suppose I am a Republican in exile) but it would be great for the national conversation if both of the major parties actually has an idea who they are talking to.

Tie this book in with J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy (about the poor, not the working class) to get a good look at the "deplorables" in America (to quote Hillary Clinton).


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams.

Friday, August 4, 2017

THE KILLING FLOOR (Jack Reacher #1) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Random House Audio
Originally published in 1997.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 17 hours, 47 minutes
Unabridged

Lee Child
I've been listening to the Jack Reacher series for a couple of years now, and I have been slowly working my way through the series in a random order. That's okay, though, because Lee Child doesn't write this series in any sort of chronological order. While this is book #1 in terms of when it was written, it comes as #8 in the current lists of Jack Reacher books and stories according to Jack Reacher's perspective.

For me, this book was particularly interesting because it filled me in on a frequently-mentioned event in Jack Reacher's life - the death of his brother Joe.


Jack Reacher decides to get off of a bus in Margrave, Georgia on a whim and ends up under arrest for a brutal murder in this town's small warehouse district out by the highway where Reacher got off the bus. 

Soon enough, Reacher proves it couldn't have been him and follows a pattern followed in almost all of his books - the man who is on the road and wandering in reveling in the fact that he has no attachments finds himself becoming attached to people and a cause. In this case, Reacher finds that this idyllic small town is not nearly as perfect as it looks and there is something very sinister going on...

The first Reacher book is a solid start to a spectacularly popular series. Dick Hill reads this book and does a great job with it. He seems to "get" Jack Reacher and is a frequent reader of his books.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Killing Floor by Lee Child.

Friday, July 28, 2017

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: SQUIRREL MEETS WORLD (audiobook) by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale



Published in 2017 by Listening Library
Read by Abigail Revasch and Tara Sands
Duration: 7 hours, 53 minutes
Unabridged

I am new to Squirrel Girl, sort of. Years ago, I had a middle school student on the autistic spectrum in my class with a comprehensive Marvel heroes book. He loved to look at that book rather than do his class work so I would "borrow" his book and find an interesting character and then talk to him about that character later on. Squirrel Girl caught my eye because, on the surface, she is ridiculous. All cute, fluffy and imbued with all of the powers of a squirrel. Doesn't seem like much when compared to the Incredible Hulk, does it? So, I told him my favorite all-time superhero was Squirrel Girl. And, to be honest, I liked the idea of a superhero that is not enhanced with over-the-top powers so she became my default answer to the question, "Who's your favorite superhero?" (asked by students who want to get off topic).

In reality, this was my absolute first experience with a Squirrel Girl product of any sort and I enjoyed myself immensely. We listened to this on a family vacation and everyone enjoyed it.

This book is firmly set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so if you are a fan of the movies but not real big on the comics you will do just fine with this book. 

Squirrel Girl has moved from California to New Jersey. She has a lot on her plate. She needs to make new friends, do her math homework and hide the fact that she has a long bushy tail and can talk to squirrels. But, she has a relentlessly perky personality and eventually she finds a human friend and befriends a whole lot of squirrels. And those friends will be helpful once Squirrel Girl uncovers a series of bad things going on all across her new hometown.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World is whole lot of fun as an audiobook. The readers, Abigail Revasch and Tara Sands, deliver an enthusiastic, chipper performance and Squirrel Girl's wide-eyed enthusiasm shines through. 


On a personal note, there is a character named Ana Maria in the story. She is Squirrel Girl's human sidekick, sort of like Lois Lane to Superman or Alfred to Batman. She is also hearing impaired and depends on hearing aids. My wife and my daughter depend on hearing aids, but not as much as the Ana Maria character does. They both commented that Ana Maria's comments about hearing aids and her first-person descriptions of her adaptations to deal with the problem struck both of them as very authentic and well-done. 

This was a very enjoyable audiobook experience. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: SQUIRREL MEETS WORLD.

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.