"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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Sunday, January 29, 2017

ONE SECOND AFTER (John Matherson #1) (audiobook) by William R. Forstchen



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in 2009 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Joe Barrett
Duration: 13 hours, 21 minutes
Unabridged

When this book was first published, it made a sensation of sorts, which is pretty tough to do if you are a science fiction book. As the book's promoters are proud to point out, excerpts from this book were even read into the Congressional Record from the floor of the House of Representatives as a warning about the dangers of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to the United States.

An EMP happens as a by-product of the explosion of a nuclear weapon. In short, a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere can generate this pulse and fry almost all modern electronic circuits by overwhelming them much like a lightning strike will due when it hits someone's home. The pulse can be generated from high enough in the atmosphere that the bomb itself does not cause an explosion on the planet's surface or even cause a radiation danger. In this book, no characters saw the nuclear weapons explode, all they certainly felt the effects of the EMP.


In this book, three weapons disable almost every piece of electronics in the United States. The book demonstrates that America is remarkably vulnerable to such an attack. Almost none of our facilities are "hardened" to survive such an attack. In fact, almost none of our military facilities and vehicles are hardened to survive EMP attacks - the exception being the few bits of machinery that were survivors from the Reagan Administration. Sadly, the Reagan Administration was the last administration to take EMP seriously enough to take steps to survive it.

So, all vehicles from the mid-1970s forward are rendered inoperable due to their electronic controls. Power plants are wiped out. The phone companies are gone. Cell towers, television, computers, printers - all gone. Everything stops in its tracks right where it was all over the country. Planes crash. Trains stop. Cars stop all over the country right where they are.

America reverts back to its pre-electricity days and America is totally unprepared.


The strength of this book is the detailing of how America would fall apart after such attack but not its actual prose. There are lots of repetitive phrases and way too much detail about the nearby college (which also happens to be the where the author teaches). Lots of the story is told by way of discussion in the town council. The local doctor tells the council how horrible things will be once modern medicines are used up, etc. and then the narration goes on to say that it happened just like the doctor had predicted. It gets the story moving forward but it is not particularly compelling. Sometimes the book is just hamfisted and clunky in its approach.

But, I found myself intrigued by the story and I totally bought into the premise. I found myself listening whenever I could because I simply had to know what happened next. And, that is the mark of a good book, despite its faults. I was so intrigued that I immediately picked up its sequel.


The book was read by veteran reader Joe Barrett who does a solid job with a variety of accents. He did an especially good job with retired Army sergeant Washington Parker.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: One Second After by William R. Forstchen.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

THE PRINCESS DIARIST (audiobook) by Carrie Fisher



A Review of the Audiobook

Published in November of 2016 by Penguin Audio
Read by Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd
Duration: 5 hours, 10 minutes
Unabridged

Published just a few weeks before her death, Carrie Fisher's The Princess Diarist continues in her well-known tradition of tell-all books. This is my first Carrie Fisher book. If you have not read a book of hers before, be prepared for a frank and open discussion of just about anything that pops into her head. Every family has that older relative who means well but makes comments in front of the children that you just know will necessitate a subsequent discussion ("Why did Uncle Bob say...?). Carrie Fisher served that role in the world of Hollywood for many years.

The first half of the book is mostly devoted to the making of the original Star Wars movie, now known as Episode IV. There were a lot of factoids I had already heard or read before, but it was enjoyable listening to Carrie Fisher literally tell them again as she read her audiobook. She is frank about her family's struggles as she grew up and as I listened I was amazed.

A large part of the book is devoted to her on-set romance with the then-married Harrison Ford. She is kind to him and puts a lot of blame on herself being "the other woman" when her own childhood home was torn apart by a similar "other woman" scenario. 



She describes how this was her first real physical relationship and she took it much more seriously than Ford. Then, for reasons that I do not understand, she re-tells this story with an extensive series of poetry readings from her diaries that she wrote while onset 40 years ago. The poems aren't bad and you can easily follow along with her allusions because she had already so clearly described the relationship in prose just a few minutes earlier. But, I quickly lost interest in the poems because I had just listened to Fisher herself explain everything without all of the rhymes. In the audiobook version these poems are read by Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd.

The last section of the book is the most touching, especially considering Fisher's recent death. It is a tribute to all of the fans that come to see her at all of the conventions. She discusses how she really didn't want to do the conventions at first and then she moves on to talk about the fans. It starts out as commentary about some of the rather unique people you meet at conventions and moves on to becomes a long tribute to the importance of this film series to its fans. It is sad, warm and often very funny with lots of great accents. It is Carrie Fisher at her very best.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

DRIVERLESS: INTELLIGENT CARS and the ROAD AHEAD (audiobook) by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman



Published in 2016 by Blackstone Audio
Read by George Newbern
Duration: 9 hours, 57 minutes
Unabridged

Driverless cars have been the goal of engineers for decades, but the technology has simply not been there. Lipson and Kurman take the reader (or listener, in my case) through a history of driverless cars, artificial intelligence and make the case that driverless cars will be a common thing much sooner than most of us think.

Positives: 


The book is written in mostly non-technical terms and simply explains the technical terms that it does use before using them.

The writers are very enthusiastic about their topic.

Negatives:

The writers are very enthusiastic about their topic - and sometimes they go into waaay too much detail. For example, they go into a long discussion of a intelligent road scheme that General Motors worked on for years that was a dead end. It could have been edited down by half. 


But, on the whole this was a very informative book that gives the layman a solid handle on why driverless cars will come and how our society is likely to adapt to them.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

ONE PERFECT SHOT: A Bill Gastner Mystery (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



When Bill met Estelle...

Published in 2012 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Ray Porter
Duration: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Unabridged

In this prequel to the series, Bill Gastner is investigating the death of a road grader operator. He is found dead in the cab of the grader with a bullet in his brain, having been shot by a single shot straight through the front windshield. There are no witnesses so Bill starts to dig through the victim's past to find out if there are any potential enemies that might have wanted to hurt him.

As he starts to investigate the sheriff department's new hire, Estelle Reyes, a rookie straight out of college, goes along for the ride while Gastner tries to familiarize her with the department's procedures. And, of course, the more they dig the more they find secrets that most people would just prefer stay buried...

This is a solid mystery - I sort of had it figured out about 2/3 of the way through but for all of the wrong reasons. But, the most interesting thing is the fact that we get to meet Estelle Reyes for the first time. The rich detail of the local community of Posadas County, New Mexico is explored in detail and I think that this only makes the story better.

I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Perfect Shot by Steven F. Havill.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

FINDING JESUS: FAITH. FACT. FORGERY: SIX HOLY OBJECTS that TELL the REMARKABLE STORY of the GOSPELS by David Gibson and Michael McKinley



Published in 2015 by MacMillan Audio.
Read by Peter Larkin.
Duration: 7 hours, 55 minutes.
Unabridged.

This is not a deep book theologically, but it does take a balanced look at 6 things that are associated with Jesus and a few related topics and is respectful of the faithful while doing its exploration. If you are expecting a book that is out to burst religious bubbles, this is not your book.

The topics are:

1) John the Baptist. Who was he? Is he in the historical record? Are the relics of John the Baptist in scattered across Europe actually him?


The James Ossuary.
2) James, the brother of Jesus. Who was he? Was he Jesus' half brother through Mary or a step-brother from a previous marriage of Joseph? Is the James Ossuary (a casket to hold bones) that was discovered a few years ago real?

3) Mary Magdalene. Who was she? Was she a disciple or simply a follower of Jesus? Why is she not mentioned after the four gospels? Was she the wife of Jesus? Was she really a reformed prostitute? Was she written out of the New Testament?


4) Judas Iscariot. Who was he? Why would an all-knowing Jesus pick a man to be one his disciples when he knew he would betray him? Was Judas actually a hero because he led Jesus to his death so that he would sacrifice himself for everyone? What about the gnostic Book of Judas? This section includes an excellent discussion of gnosticism.

5) The True Cross. There are dozens of dozens of artifacts that purport to be the true cross, but are any of them really that one cross? For me, this was the most boring of all of the topics.

6) The Shroud of Turin. This one was surprisingly interesting to me. Even if you doubt if the shroud is the actual shroud that Jesus was buried in (I know that I doubt that it is real) the discussion of crucifixion and the history of relics like the shroud were very strong.

This is a great audiobook. The reader, Peter Larkin, does a great job of keeping the text lively. A very enjoyable and informative listen.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: FINDING JESUS: FAITH. FACT. FORGERY: SIX HOLY OBJECTS that TELL the REMARKABLE STORY of the GOSPELS.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

ALL STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Frank Quitely.



Published in 2011 by DC Comics.
320 pages.


I am a fan of Superman. Actually, he's my favorite superhero. This book started out as an intriguing take on the Man of Steel but it ended being a mish-mash of a mess.

This is a collection of multiple original comics and follows a story arc that is based on a dying Superman. In the first episode, he saves a scientific mission to the sun and ends up overloading his cells with the power of our yellow sun. There is no recovering and the overdose takes several months to kill him.

******Warning****** Spoilers*******

Superman responds by getting more serious about his relationship with Lois Lane and gives her a medication that gives her powers like his own for one day. This would have been a wonderfully interesting story line except for the arrival of two strong men from history that are now time traveling seeking adventure: Samson and Atlas. They decide they like Lois Lane, flirt with her incessantly and challenge Superman for her hand - like Lois has no say in the matter. The normally vocal and highly independent Lois just takes this. Who are these guys? Just two sexist creeps that sort of advance the plot, but mostly just make it seem like someone stole the plot of a 1930s movie.

It goes on that way throughout the book. Superman goes rogue when exposed to some bad Kryptonite, Superman travels through time to meet his father and the stories just don't seem to have enough heft to make me care too much. Too much bizarre stuff, not enough story.

Superman goes to Bizarro world and meets a sort of half-and-half Bizarro Superman who is doomed to stay on the planet - the only creature who can actually think straight. He was by far the most interesting thing in that entire story line, but only gets a few panels and, strangely, left behind by the real Superman.

I liked the Lex Luthor story line, but it makes no sense for a man of Luthor's talents to be given access to anything while waiting on death row, let alone technology to make superweapons. Nonetheless, it was the strongest part of the graphic novel.

******End Spoilers*********

Too many missed opportunities, too many convoluted story plots that don't hold up. I rate this collection 2 stars out of 5.

This graphic novel can be found on Amazon.com here: All Star Superman.

THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDING FATHER: NOAH WEBSTER'S OBSESSION and the CREATION of an AMERICAN CULTURE (audiobook) by Joshua Kendall



Published by Penguin Audio in 2011
Read by Arthur Morey
Duration: 12 hours, 45 minutes
Unabridged

Referring to Noah Webster (1753-1848), the creator of the famed Webster Dictionary, as a Founding Father is generous, to say the least. He did live serve in the Connecticut militia, even deploying at one point, but he never saw much action. He did know many of the Founding Fathers and actually stayed in the homes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, but they had frequent guests so it would not be fair to characterize those friendships as particularly close friendships. He did advocate strongly for the adoption of the Constitution and for a short time was actively involved in partisan politics as a newspaper editor in New York City. But, when people think Founding Father they are usually referring to far brighter lights than Noah Webster.

A 1958 stamp featuring Noah Webster
If I were naming this book I would have dropped the Forgotten Founding Father angle and kept the rest of the title "Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture." The impression left by this biography is that Webster was an obsessive and difficult man who often retreated to making lists when life became difficult. He had list of the numbers of homes in towns, distances between towns, how people died in cities - you name and he loved to categorize it, rank it, alphabetize it, write it down and stick it in a book, newspaper or magazine. In a way, his dictionary project became his ultimate list because it literally covered everything.

This book is frustrating for two reasons. The first is the subject himself. It is clear that Webster was a difficult man and this book reflects that. His letters, speeches and comments are often biting, even to his own friends and family. He creates detractors and even outright enemies throughout the book because of his obtuse ways. 

The second reason is the style of the book itself. It often dwell on obscure details and is written in a style designed drive people away from the book. Don't get me wrong, I had no problem following the book, but when you use to the word "impost" instead of tax, I'm not sure what your goal is, except to demonstrate the command of a large vocabulary. I hate to make this a jeremiad against the author, but then again he did use the word jeremiad many, many times throughout the book and I started to wonder if the author even had access to a thesaurus. According to the modern website of Webster's dictionary, he could have used much more common words like rant, tirade and harangue and made his point all the more clear to a greater part of the population. If a point could be made on one or two sentences, the author seemed bent to say it in 5 or 6 sentences instead. It was very easy to drift away from this audiobook for a minute or two and not worry about having missed much.

On a positive note, the book is well-researched and thorough. I don't regret having listened to it, but as I listened I was reminded of the David McCullough quote, "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read." The obtuse nature of the book was a lot like Webster himself and perhaps that is most appropriate.


I enjoyed Arthur Morey's reading of the The Forgotten Founding Father. He added a nice touch by reading quotes from Webster and other recurring people with different voices.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Forgotten Founding Father.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

PROLONGED EXPOSURE (Undersheriff Bill Gastner #6) (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



Originally published in 1998.
Published in 2008 by Books in Motion. 
Read by Rusty Nelson.
Duration: 9 hours, 46 minutes.
Unabridged.

I have been reading the Bill Gastner series off and on again for nearly 10 years. This is one of those series that never really took off but it certainly should have. If you enjoy Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee novels then you should give this series a try.

This is book #6 in a series that depends on the reader having some at least some prior knowledge of the characters. I have read some of the earlier books and some of the later books so that I wasn't lost when it came to the non-mystery part of the story.

Bill Gastner is a cranky old undersheriff, which is an office in New Mexico. Basically, the sheriff of a county is an elected position and is designed to be held by someone who is not a member of law enforcement. An undersheriff is a professional who works with the sheriff and makes sure that things operate they way they are supposed to. He works in a fictional county along the border with Mexico.


In this novel there are two main story lines. The first one involves Bill Gastner's property. While he was out of state recovering from a surgery with his daughter his elderly neighbor dug a marked grave for his wife and buried her on the edge of Gastner's land. At first, he is tolerant and looks upon it sympathetically but once he starts to look into it, it starts to look weird, even by the standards of his small town.

The second is the story of a three year old boy who goes missing during a family camping trip. A manhunt ensues and the whole department starts to become suspicious that things may not be quite what they seem.

Rusty Nelson's reading of this audiobook was excellent. He created different voices for every character and even managed a series of pretty decent Mexican accents.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Prolonged Exposure by Steven F. Havill.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

HILLBILLY ELEGY: A MEMOIR of a FAMILY and CULTURE in CRISIS (audiobook) by J.D. Vance



Published in 2016 by HarperAudio.
Read by the author, J.D. Vance.
Duration: 6 hours, 49 minutes.
Unabridged.

Sometimes, I find it hard to write a review of an audiobook, especially an audiobook like this one. I find it hard - not because it is a bad book but because it is so good and I don't know how to convey my thoughts without giving a blow-by-blow book report of the book.

So, in short, J.D. Vance tells the story of his upbringing. He calls his family hillbillies but also calls that same group rednecks or poor white trash. When I was a kid in southern Indiana, we called them poor white trash. His family came from eastern Kentucky (as did part of my own a hundred years ago) and was part of an exodus from the area in the 1950s. These hillbillies brought their culture with them and Vance spends the rest of the book telling a dual story - the story of his family and the story of how this Appalachian culture is struggling in modern America.

The title of the book tells you that this is often a somber book since an elegy is a sad poem or song to praise and express sorrow for the dead. Vance's family history is not a particularly happy one, but it is far from universally tragic. I think that Vance is expressing sorrow for working class whites as a whole. Their culture is leaving them poorly equipped for the America they are born into.

Vance touches on this at one point, but as a teacher in an urban school system, I found that a lot of what he was talking about applied to what I see every day at school. What he talks about in this book can certainly be extrapolated out to apply to other cultures. In this case, what is more important is not race but poverty. It reminded me of the little bit of training I have had with Dr. Ruby Payne and her insights into generational poverty and its own unique culture. 

What works best with this book is Vance's technique of telling his own story and using it to illustrate larger insights into his own culture of generational poverty. You learn precisely because you start to care for people like his profane and loving grandmother - a woman that should not have been the impetus for Vance's success based on her track record with family relationships but ended up being the one person that made all of the difference.

This audiobook was read by the author. That can be tricky, especially if the author is not particularly a good reader. Vance is hardly a professional reader but his accent and tone make it better than a professional reader really could have.

I rate this audiobook an enthusiastic 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

THE WRONG SIDE of GOODBYE(Harry Bosch #19) (audiobook) by Michael Connelly



Published by Little, Brown and Company in November of 2016.
Read by Titus Welliver
Duration: 10 hours, 21 minutes

Unabridged.

Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch is now completely separated from the LAPD and is keeping himself busy with a little detective work and volunteering as a reserve officer for the small city of San Fernando. San Fernando has less than 25,000 residents, covers less than 2 square miles and is completely surrounded by Los Angeles. But, they are cash-strapped and can use the help and Bosch needs to keep fighting crime - it just who he is.

Bosch has been digging around on a serial rapist case and has finally started to shake some things loose and the case is starting to break wide open. Out of the blue he gets a call from a former boss at LAPD who now works private security. A reclusive billionaire wants Harry to look for a possible heir from a former girlfriend that he was forced to break up with more than sixty years ago. He has no other heirs and the sharks from his corporation are already circling around in anticipation that he will die soon. Harry gets sucked in by this tragic story and starts to feel a real connection.

Harry tries to balance his commitment to this private investigation with his commitment to the San Fernando Police Department when things start to get very dangerous with both cases...

For fans of Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer), he makes several brief appearances.

This was an excellent audiobook. Titus Welliver reads this audiobook and he has an excellent feel for Harry Bosch. He ought to since he plays him on Amazon's television adaption of the series. He delivers the feel of urgency to catch the criminal and the patience that all hunters must display. I blew right through this audiobook, listening to it at every opportunity.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Monday, January 2, 2017

BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale



Published in 2011 by DC Comics.

This is a collection of 13 comics compiled into a single book that tells about the mystery of a serial murderer called Holiday. Holiday always strikes on a major holiday and is particularly fond of killing figures in Gotham City's network of crime families.

Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent decide to work together to solve the mystery but this triumvirate of crime-solvers has its own internal troubles as both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent become suspects.

Calendar Man is an immediate suspect since this sounds like his kind of crime spree. But, he is locked up in Arkham Asylum. But, lots of other super-criminals are sprung free and pretty soon Gotham is awash in their machinations on top of a serial killer. Plus, Catwoman is also on the prowl...

This was a great mystery - I thought I had it figured out and then I found out that I was entirely wrong - twice! Powerful story and Batman nearly gets taken out. Loeb and Sale are a powerful team.

I rate this graphic novel 5 stars out of 5.

This graphic novel can be found on Amazon.com here: Batman: The Long Halloween.