"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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Friday, October 26, 2018

CAPTAIN AMERICA: DARK DESIGNS (audiobook) by Stefan Petrucha



Published in 2016 by GraphicAudio.
Performed by a multiple performers.
Duration: approximately 6 hours.

S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors discover a dormant virus in Captain America's bloodstream while performing a newfangled ultra deep scan after an encounter with a different dangerous virus. This is not just any virus, it is an "extinction-level" virus, meaning it has the potential to wipe out the human race if it were to become an active virus.

So, Captain America is placed into a containment area so the virus won't kill off the world in case it goes active. But, giant old Nazi robots from World War II keep coming to life with Adolf Hitler's voice demanding to fight Captain America. If he doesn't show up to fight, they threaten to start killing nearby civilians. Iron Man shows up to help, but these robots are really just too much for one Avenger to handle and everyone else is busy, unreachable or just too unpredictable (you don't unleash Hulk into downtown Paris).

How can Captain America fight these robots when he is supposed to be under quarantine? What's making these robots come to life after all of these years? How long has Captain America been carrying this virus and where did he pick it up? Will S.H.I.E.L.D. be able to come up with a cure or will they have to put him into cryogenic stasis and hope for a cure in the future?

GraphicAudio's production values are always good - like an old-fashioned radio show. The actors are all good, but I especially enjoyed the performance of Richard Cutting, the actor that played Iron Man/Tony Stark. He sounds so much like Robert Downing, Jr.'s version from the Marvel movies that you would swear that Downing was performing the part himself.

The part of the story with Captain America having to be quarantined is intriguing, especially the ongoing debates with the epidemiologist that is brought in. But, the story of the Nazi "sleeper" robots is a re-hash of a previous story and, in the end, just suffers from some serious logic problems. Why would the Nazis design these robots to attack Captain America one at a time, like in a video game where the hero character fights increasingly difficult characters as he works his way up to the "big boss"? Also, the historian in me asks why Hitler wouldn't simply unleash all of these nearly unstoppable robots (I think that there are 7 of them in the two inter-related stories) onto Russian, British and American foot soldiers and take out tens of thousands of them in one fell swoop and just make Captain America a hero without an army to back him up?

Oh, well. Asking comic book stories to make sense kind of defeats the purpose of comic book stories.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: CAPTAIN AMERICA: DARK DESIGNS.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

THE SOUL of AMERICA: THE BATTLE for OUR BETTER ANGELS (audiobook) by Jon Meacham



Published in 2018 by Random House Audio.
Read by Fred Sanders and the author, Jon Meacham.

Duration: 10 hours, 55 minutes.
Unabridged.


LBJ and MLK discussing Civil Rights strategy - 
Jon Meacham takes a look at Presidential leadership from the Civil War onward, particularly the power of the President to lead the country to "do the right thing" in a time of crisis. He has a particular focus with how the President deals with people who want to abuse the rights of others. Well, to be completely honest, Meacham does not have a complete clear thesis in this book and I am not 100% sure what his overall goal was. What it turned out to be was an interesting, rambling work that looked at several crisis points in American history and how the politicians, mostly presidents, responded.

He looked at Lincoln (the source of the title), Grant during Reconstruction and the rise of the KKK, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ. There is a little discussion of George W. Bush and there is an implied criticism of Donald Trump at times, especially when he discusses demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy. 

Meacham is much kinder towards Woodrow Wilson than most historians, when one considers how much he abused his authority during World War I (he acknowledges it and moves on). His look at LBJ was similarly friendly, but was much more interesting and inspiring because it focused on his work to get the Civil Rights legislation passed (and virtually ignored the Vietnam War).

The audiobook was read by Fred Sanders. He did a fine job, but I actually enjoyed the reading of the opening and closing thoughts by the author more.

So, to sum up, this was an enjoyable, if muddled book. Worthy of your time.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE SOUL of AMERICA: THE BATTLE for OUR BETTER ANGELS.

COSTLY GRACE: AN EVANGELICAL MINISTER'S REDISCOVERY of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE (audiobook) by Rob Schenk



Published in 2018 by HarperAudio.
Read by the author, Rob Schenck.
Duration: 11 hours, 26 minutes.

Unabridged.


Rob Schenck tells the story of his life as a story of three conversions. His first conversion was a conversion from Judaism to Christianity as a teenager. Soon after graduating high school he married and began to work to his certification to join the ministry. He first worked in a shelter for junkies but he found that to be a little too dangerous for his wife. Plus, he longed for something with a larger impact.

He became a pastor with a church but still felt that wasn't enough. He participated in joint missions in Mexico to help those that live in the garbage dumps and scrounge them for food and recyclables. After one of his trips he found that his twin brother (also a pastor) had become involved in Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion movement that encouraged protesters to block the entrances to abortion clinics and use non-violent resistance to stop women from getting an abortion. Eventually, the police would show up and start arresting people and it would become a big spectacle that would make the news.

Schenck was persuaded to attend a protest. This was his second conversion. He promised his wife that he wouldn't get arrested - he was just going to observe. But, the lure of the action was too much and he ended up getting arrested. He was hooked. He loved the idea of taking direct action in the name of the Lord.

He became a top figure in the anti-abortion movement. He confronted public figures for their support (twice he ended up being held for questioning for confronting Bill Clinton). He carried actual aborted fetuses to rallies to show people what they were really talking about when they discussed abortions. He became very familiar with the process of being arrested for the cause.

And the cause was also becoming an influential force in Republican politics.  Schenk worked with all the major players. At this time, he began to seriously study the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister who was placed in a concentration camp for his constant questioning of Nazi authorities. Eventually, he was executed by  the Nazis just days before the end of World War II. His studies of Bonhoeffer made him question what he was doing as a Christian.  He began to question the cozy relationship he had with the powers that be in Washington. His questions led him to conclude that his fellow evangelicals were wrong in their unlimited support of the NRA and gun rights, especially after two abortion providers were assassinated.

But, he was most moved by the reaction of several Amish families after a school shooting in an Amish school by a non-Amish man. This is a very powerful section of the book. He begins to openly question how one can be pro-life and pro-gun. Should Christians trust a pistol at their side more than the God who says they should "fear not" and trust only Him? How many other things had he not considered? This is his third conversion.

This third conversion made him look at the close relationship between church and the GOP that he had been advocating since Ronald Reagan first ran for President in 1980. Was the church selling its soul for access to political power? Were basic Christian tenets being forgotten for the opportunity to use the government's power rather than depend on God and his people? Was the price of access to the pinnacle of power too high, especially in the Age of Trump?

Costly Grace is an interesting trip down memory lane for me in a lot of ways. I very much remember Operation Rescue and the mass abortion clinic protests. I also happened to stumble upon a documentary made about him ("The Armor of Light") that struck me and made me do some thinking. Ironically, I didn't remember that he was the subject of this documentary until he described one of the scenes in this book.

Rob Schenck reads his own audiobook and does a good job with it. The book is a little slow at times, but I found the discussion of his third conversion to be well worth the wait. Easily the best part of the book. I know that Rob Schenck and I would not agree on everything, but I also know that it would be a respectful and meaningful discussion. Very thought-provoking book.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: COSTLY GRACE: AN EVANGELICAL MINISTER'S REDISCOVERY of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION in AMERICAN HISTORY by Robert Somerlott



Published in 1998 by Enslow Publishers, Inc.

How many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln? NPR claims more than 15,000 - more than anyone except Jesus Christ. This book enters an already crowded field with only one distinct thing going for it - it is aimed at middle school students. That means, I need to review this book with that fact in mind.

To Somerlott's credit, he generally hits the reading level of middle school students and he does keep his focus on the threats to Lincoln and Lincoln's lackadaisical attitude towards his own personal security. It's not always gripping reading, but it is generally accurate and includes a lot of illustrations and some primary sources in special pull-out sections.

The only quibble I have with the book is the rather simplistic way it deals with Lincoln's attitude toward slavery and African American civil rights. Lincoln was politically liberal on this topic for his day, but the cherrypicked quote provided on page 18 makes Lincoln sound more like Martin Luther King than the man who had an ever-evolving opinion (more liberal) on racial matters.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION in AMERICAN HISTORY by Robert Somerlott.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

BRETT ENTERS the SQUARE CIRCLE by David D'Aguanno



Published by David D. D'Aguanno in 2018.
Read by Travis Henry Carter.
Duration: 8 hours, 32 minutes.
Unabridged.

Brett Cornell is a private detective in Rhode Island. He's big, he's fearless and he knows how to fight. He is full of smart comments, opinions about orange juice and is quite sure that he is the most amazing lover of all time. He is cunning. He is unscrupulous and will certainly pad his bill to eke out as much money as he possibly can from his clients. And, he's not much for education. 


Brett begins by running into a series of rough cops at a bar. These are violent officers who throw their weight around with everyone - especially with know-it-all loudmouths like Brett. Soon enough, Brett ends up being challenged to participate in a charity fight with the biggest bruiser cop of the bunch - except that everyone knows that this fight will be for real.

In the meantime, Brett has been hired to find a missing woman who is suspected of having run off to Florida with his client's husband. It's the middle of winter in Rhode Island - who wouldn't want to take a working vacation to Florida? But, things get more and more complicated the more Brett investigates...

The audiobook was read by Travis Henry Carter who delivered a fantastic performance. He performed lots of accents and male and female characters with a lot of skill.

However, I found Brett's long-winded expositions to be wearisome. He is a memorable character, but not one that I would ever choose to spend any time with. The book is told in first person and Brett takes a long time to tell any story. He can be amusing, especially in his profound ignorance (he thinks Tampa is in Arizona, for example), but he just plain old wore me out.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher so that I could write an honest review.

SUGAR MONEY: A NOVEL by Jane Harris



Published by Arcade Publishing in 2018.

Set on the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Grenada in 1765, Sugar Money is the story of two brothers. Lucien is thirteen years old and his older brother Emile is in his twenties and they are both slaves on Martinique. They are owned by a group of French monks who were forced off of Granada during the world-wide war commonly known as the French and Indian War in the United States. When the monks escaped Granada they left more than 40 slaves behind. Lucien and Emile are sent to Granada to organize an escape to Martinique - not an escape to freedom, just an escape to better working conditions and continued slavery.

The strength of this book is in it's descriptions. The descriptions of slave life on Granada and of the environs are top notch. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really pan out to be anything more than a "non-event" in my mind. There's a lot of build up for an underwhelming finish. Because of this, I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Sugar Money by Jane Harris.


Note: I was sent a free Advance Reading Copy of this book as a part of the Amazon Vine Program so that I could write an honest review.

Friday, October 12, 2018

SUICIDE of THE WEST: HOW the REBIRTH of POPULISM, NATIONALISM, and IDENTITY POLITICS IS DESTROYING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY (audiobook) by Jonah Goldberg



Published by Random House Audio in 2018.
Read by the author, Jonah Goldberg.

Duration: 16 hours, 1 minute.
Unabridged.

Jonah Goldberg, noted political commentator and an editor at the conservative political magazine National Review, takes a long time to set up his argument that modern West culture and its economic system, as it developed under the Enlightenment, is unique and worthy of preservation. He goes on an in-depth look at the conditions that brought about the Enlightenment and makes some reasonable conclusions - certainly nothing that was earth-shaking. But, he makes them in easily understandable terms because this is not a poli-sci or an economics textbook - this is the political version on an evangelistic tract trying to sell the citizens of The West, particularly Americans, that their political and economic culture is worthy of saving, even if it is imperfect.


Goldberg spends a great deal of time pointing out that the vast majority of human history has been the story of dictatorships (history in the formal sense, that is, the part that we have been able to record in written form in some way or another over the last 5,000 years or so). Some of those dictatorships have been formal dynasties, some mere military strongmen. He looks at why and how governments formed through the lens of both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes and notes how they were both correct, in their own ways. 

But, the modern West is really based on the ideas that Locke described and the Enlightenment movement used those ideas to re-think government and emphasize the rights of the individual, even if it inconveniences or irritates the majority. Sometimes these new political system were formally discussed and created (as in the United States Constitution) and sometimes as a matter of cultural evolution (which at least partially explains the British system). I particularly enjoyed his discussion of how the capitalist economic system and Western political models developed together.

Once he establishes why the Enlightenment was so unique, he then looks at several threats to American political culture in our current climate, paying special attention to Donald Trump. Jonah Goldberg, like me, is a "Never Trump" Republican (I call myself a "Republican in exile") who finds himself in a quandary in regards to Trump. While Goldberg and I don't always agree on why, we do both agree that Trump is not a valid choice and is certainly not a Republican. I will not distill his arguments here because he has made them known many times in his opinion pieces.

The audiobook was read by the author and he did a great job of making it a very lively reading, filling it with intonations and areas of special emphasis that only the author can give.

I found this to be an intriguing book, definitely one of the more enjoyable audiobooks I have listened to in the last two or three months. Highly Recommended.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here:  SUICIDE of THE WEST: HOW the REBIRTH of POPULISM, NATIONALISM, and IDENTITY POLITICS IS DESTROYING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY by Jonah Goldberg.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

DOUBLE TAP (Paul Madriani #8) by Steve Martini



Steve Martini
Originally published in 2005.

Synopsis:

A controversial CEO of a tech company is murdered in her own home. The motive is not clear, but her former bodyguard who is also her former lover is arrested for the crime. He claims that he was framed. He is accused of stalking her, he claims he was re-hired off of the books and was actually protecting her because she felt like she was being followed.

Emiliano Ruiz's case was dropped by his original attorney, but Paul Madriani and Harry Hinds pick it up only to find that it looks like a slam-dunk case for the prosecutor. Ruiz's pistol is the murder weapon. He has no proof that he was re-hired to protect the victim and he knows everything about her security system.

But, there is something about the case that convinces Madriani and Hinds that there is more here than meets the eye...

My take:

This is a so-so legal thriller. It's all a little too clandestine for my tastes and its conclusion was a "gotcha" ending. But, the backstory of Madriani's uncle that suffered from PTSD from his service in the Korean War was very powerful - all the more so when you read the last chapter of the book.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Double Tap by Steve Martini.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

THE SECOND KOREAN WAR (audiobook) by Ted Halstead



Published in 2018 by Ted Halstead.
Read by Cody Banning.
Duration: 15 hours, 4 minutes.
Unabridged


Ted Halstead's The Second Korean War is a multi-country thriller in which North Korea tries a desperate gamble to force South Korea to submit to North Korean rule.

The book starts out on an military base on the far eastern part of Russia. North Korea has found out that Russia has a small nuclear "backpack" weapon (a battlefield nuke) dating from the early days of nuclear weapons that has been lost from the inventory over the years. North Korea acquires the weapon so that they can start a two-pronged effort to force South Korea to surrender and force the United States to withdraw from South Korea without fighting.

But, things don't go as smoothly as they hoped, people die and a Russian police detective starts putting things together. The question is, will he put things together fast enough?

The last thing I want to do is write out a bunch of spoilers, so I won't tell how everything breaks down. Some of the twists and turns were nicely done. I especially liked how the Russians were the good guys and honest brokers throughout. There's a lot of technology (radar-eluding planes, submarines) and geo-political intrigue in the vein of Tom Clancy. It's not as good as the best Tom Clancy, but that is a high bar. I found the North Korean plan for South Korea to be exceedingly implausible simply because of their hardheaded insistence on using a specific vehicle. I get it, the stereotype of military dictatorships is that they are ultra-orthodox and inflexible.

I listened to The Second Korean War as an audiobook. It was not a particularly good production. The reader, Cody Banning, has a clear voice. But, his rhythm is just not there. At times, it sounds like he is trying to imitate William Shatner, with odd long pauses at commas. According to my research, this is just his second audiobook, so that explains a few things. There's a lot of potential there.

The audiobook was poorly edited, though. Multiple times you can hear the reader clear his throat, shake papers and sometimes start over as he botched a line. Botched lines happen - but this is  Also, the editor/producer should have caught the fact that Banning mis-read the word "emphatically" as "empathically" throughout the book. This is my 467th audiobook review and this one stood out for its rather poor editing. Too bad.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5, despite the production/editing work. It was a unique take on a potential Korean conflict.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Second North Korean War by Ted Halstead.


Note: I was asked to give an honest review of this audibook by the publisher in exchange for a free download of the audiobook.