"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 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.

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.