"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Friday, April 21, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

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



EXCELLENT!

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

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

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


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

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


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

This book had all of the hallmarks of that experience. 

1. Medieval battle? Check.

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

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

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

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

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


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

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5,

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



Friday, April 14, 2017

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



Originally Published in 1996.

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

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

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

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

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


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

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



When Joe Met Nate...   

Originally Published in 2003


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

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

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


I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SHOWDOWN at YELLOW BUTTE by Louis L'Amour



Originally Published in 1953.

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

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

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

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

I rate this book 1 star out of 5.

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


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