"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
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

NATIONAL BURDEN: CORPS JUSTICE SERIES, BOOK 5 (audiobook) by C.G. Cooper



Published by Tantor Audio in 2017
Read by David Colacci
Duration: 8 hours, 17 minutes
Unabridged

The Corps Justice series continues its tales of SSI (Stokes Security International), a private security firm that sometimes doubles as the President's personal private paramilitary army that acts when he just can't do things politically.

The President is in political trouble. There is a plot to frame the President and a very connected contact of SSI is concerned about strange movements in the stock market. So, he contacts his friends at SSI to give him a hand. And, they soon discover that things are much worse than they had ever imagined...


Politics, as portrayed in this book, are just not realistic. For example, the President appoints a new Vice President (it was a vacant position) and he just goes to work as the VP. No hearings. No fuss. No muss. No Congressional approval (as required by the 25th Amendment). Imagine all of the squabbling and all of the controversy that would be generated if Donald Trump had to replace Mike Pence as Vice President. It would go on and on for weeks, if not months.

I think the idea of a private army that only answers to the President is just really a bad idea (and very illegal), but the book justifies it by making all of the characters in SSI very honorable, upright heroes who depend on their own sense of justice to guide them. That's great, but we don't depend on self-regulation because, in the long run, it's a horrible idea because people can't be trusted. But, hey, that's not just me. Read the thoughts of the guys who wrote the Constitution - it's why they didn't let the President just do whatever he wanted.


For a book series that is mostly about action (terrorists being foiled, explosions, car chases and the like) there was a surprising lack of action in this book. Lots and lots of talking in offices, hardly any action.

Anyway, if you like political fantasy, I suppose this is the book for you. I found it way too cartoonish.

David Colacci read the audiobook. He reads a lot of C.G. Cooper's books and does a stellar job with the accents and the voices but he couldn't save this book all by himself.

Note: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

THE OTHER WES MOORE: ONE NAME, TWO FATES (audiobook) by Wes Moore



I Blasted Through this Audiobook.

Published by Random House Audio in 2010.
Read by the author, Wes Moore.
Duration: 6 hours, 12 minutes
Unabridged

Wes Moore, the author of this book, is originally from a tough Baltimore neighborhood. His family struggled with loss, poverty, his neglect of his own education and rebellious flirtation with crime. But, he "made it", eventually becoming a Rhodes Scholar, have a career in international finance (which was interrupted when he volunteered to serve as a paratrooper in Afghanistan), and now heads two educational foundations, writes articles and makes political commentary.

One day, Moore was sent an article about another young man from Baltimore also named Wes Moore. The other Wes Moore is a convicted murderer and is serving time in prison. This prompted the author to reach out to the other Wes Moore and eventually write this dual biography about how they both ended up in two very different places.

It is not a judgmental book. The author is very aware that he was oftentimes on a path very similar to that of the other Wes Moore and sometimes it is hard to tell their stories apart.

It is a very absorbing story. I listened to the audiobook version of this book over the course of a weekend, going out of my way to find reasons to listen. The narrator is the author, which can sometimes be a bad idea. In this case, the author is an excellent reader.

This is simultaneously an inspiring and depressing book and well worth your time.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Other Wes Moore.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

THE STATE of JONES: THE SMALL SOUTHERN COUNTY that SECEDED from the CONFEDERACY by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer



Published by Random House Audio in 2009
Read by Don Leslie
Duration: 13 hours
Unabridged

Newton Knight (1837-1922)
I am an avid reader of Civil War era histories (I own more than 100 and who knows how many that I have read from the library) and it is rare for me to find a book that covers new territory for me.

This book did. I knew as an abstract fact that there were thousands of white Union soldiers that came from the Confederacy. They are mentioned in many histories, but they are rarely a focus.

The State of Jones focuses on the family of Newton Knight, an unwilling Confederate soldier who was forcibly drafted, fought in multiple battles and eventually went AWOL. 
Newton Knight was not afraid to fight and kill for what he believed in. When the government tried to force him back into the military he started an anti-Confederate insurgency movement centered in Jones County, Mississippi. Those renegades tied up Confederate military assets and virtually stopped in-kind tax collections that were necessary to feed the Confederate military.

Newton Knight was a larger-than-life figure. A complicated man from a complicated family. His grandfather was one of the largest slaveholders in Jones County. But, Newton Knight's parents were outspoken opponents of slavery and Newton continued that tradition. Newton was an anti-secessionist but, when drafted, he became a competent soldier who earned at least one promotion.

The book's authors do a fantastic job of describing life on the march in the Confederate Army - no luster and no sheen. Very honest.

Knight's family back home was often targeted because of his political stances and that was one of the reasons Newton Knight left the army and, in his mind, switched sides and began to fight for the Union. The book runs into some of his weakest parts (scholarship-wise) in this section. Generally speaking, insurgency movements don't keep detailed written records of the membership or their plans, so there are gaps. The authors are clear that they are filling in the gaps with extremely educated guesses - but they are still not confirmed. These educated guesses are the only reason that I am giving the audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Newton Knight's post-war life was just as complicated. He supported the Reconstruction government of Mississippi as it dealt with its own insurgency movement. Eventually, he completely broke with Southern tradition and married a former slave. They may have been the first interracial couple in the county. And, the county didn't know what to do with them. Thanks to the fearsome reputation of Newton Knight, the county mostly ignored them because they did not fit in to an easy category.

The audiobook was read by Don Leslie. His mournful, somber voice was perfect for Newton Knight and his story.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here:   THE STATE of JONES: THE SMALL SOUTHERN COUNTY that SECEDED from the CONFEDERACY.

Friday, November 24, 2017

BECAUSE I SAID SO!: THE TRUTH BEHIND the MYTHS, TALES and WARNINGS EVERY GENERATION PASSES DOWN to ITS KIDS (audiobook)by Ken Jennings


 
Published in 2012 by Tantor Audio
Duration: 5 hours, 2 minutes
Read by the author, Ken Jennings
Unabridged

Ken Jennings takes his famous encyclopedic knowledge of trivia that served him so well on Jeopardy and applies it to 125 bits of folk wisdom that we've all heard of the years that we all know but never really think about, let alone question. Do you really need to wait an hour after eating before you swim? Will your eyes really freeze that way? Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water or will you ruin your eyesight if you read in low light? Ken Jennings does the research and finds the answers in a short, succinct and sometimes snarky fashion.

I am only rating this audiobook 4 stars rather than 5 for one reason - the narrator. The author, Ken Jennings, read the book himself and there is always a danger when an author reads his or her own book rather than hiring a professional.  It must be great to keep it all "in house" but there's a reason why most authors do not read their own work. Reading an audiobook well is a real skill.

In  read way too fast - at a very quick conversational level. It was very hard to listen to and it made me tired to try to keep up. I found that I had to turn it off after ten or fifteen minutes of listening and come back to it after I listened to something else for a while.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: BECAUSE I SAID SO!: THE TRUTH BEHIND the MYTHS, TALES and WARNINGS EVERY GENERATION PASSES DOWN to ITS KIDS.

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.