"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, November 30, 2012

The Girl Who Ran Off With Daddy (Stewart Hoag & Lulu #7) (audiobook) by David Handler

Published in 1996 by Sunset Productions
Read by Gene Corbin
Duration: Approximately 3 hours (abridged).

Stewart "Hoagy" Hoag is a retired novelist and semi-retired ghost writer who, like the novelist Jessica  Fletcher in the old TV show Murder She Wrote, has a remarkable ability to be around when someone gets killed.

In The Girl Who Ran Off With Daddy we find Stewart and his on again / off again relationship with his celebrity ex-wife in an on again phase. They have a baby and Hoagy is still adjusting to this reality. His basset hound Lulu is not happy having been removed from her position as the de facto child of the couple to being merely the family dog.

But, this small family's routine is thrown into an uproar when Hoagy's old literary mentor Thor Gibbs arrives on his motorcycle with his 18 year old stepdaughter on the back. Thor Gibbs is a an Ernest Hemingway-type  character that is really into the mythopoetic men's movement-type stuff, except his version of it requires a whole lot more drinking and fighting and a lot less formal ceremony. The 71 year-old Thor Gibbs has become notorious for leaving his ultra-feminist wife and running off with his 18 year old stepdaughter, Clethra. They claim to be in love and they want Hoagy to ghost write Clethra's tell-all version of the story.

Of course, someone ends up dead and Hoagy has to scramble to put together all of the clues before the killer strikes again. Hoagy's wry comments provide a bit of comedic sanity throughout.

Gene Corbin read this abridged version of the novel. The abridgment was skillfully done and Corbin does a very good job of creating voices for each character, especially the over-the-top Thor Gibbs. Each scene transitions with (usually) appropriate music.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Girl Who Ran Off with Daddy.

Reviewed on November 30, 2012.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Templar Chronicles: This Cleansing Fire (audiobook) by Joseph Nassise

Published December 2011 by GraphicAudio
Multicast Performance
Length: about 47 minutes.

This short audiobook was originally a short story in a larger collection but author Joseph Nassise has expanded on this story with several other books. GraphicAudio has adapted it to a radio drama format with multiple cast members and plenty of special effects.

The story features Captain Cade Williams, a member of the hidden Catholic order the Knights Templar. They are charged with fighting supernatural forces. One would think they might be a bunch of priests, but they are an elite commando unit carrying modern combat weapons and special swords.

In this story, the team is sent out to find and destroy a group of Asian vampires. They are not Asians, per se, but this type of vampire originated in Asia. Another team was already sent in but they are not reporting back and Captain Williams and his team fear the worst.

GraphicAudio's high production qualities make short stories like this one a lot of fun. Lots of slam bam action   is supported by high quality special effects and actors that make the action pop.

This audiobook is available for free download on GraphicAudio's webpage. Click here for details. The link at the top of the page is to the free Kindle version of the story.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on November 24, 2012.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Efficiency Expert by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Written in 1919 and first published in All-Story Weekly magazine in 1921, The Efficiency Expert is a rare non-science fiction book for Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. I read it on my kindle but if it were a paper book it is estimated to have been about 130 pages.

The Efficiency Expert features Jimmy Torrance, a talented young college student who is a great athlete and natural leader and all around great guy to have at a party but  does not take his studies seriously. When he is almost tossed out of college during his senior year for having no apparent hope of completing the curriculum in four years, Torrance buckles down and somehow passes.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)
Having turned over a new leaf, he turns down the opportunity to manage the family factory and decides that he will move to Chicago and make it on his own.

Jimmy's expectation that the world will come knocking at his door because he has a college degree is humorous and a reminder that times have always been tough for those trying to break into business. Jimmy's money quickly dries up and he is forced to accept a series of entry-level jobs that require no education at all. While at the bottom he meets a pick-pocket/safe-cracker and befriends a young prostitute (they have a platonic relationship) who help him climb his way into a factory management position, foil a white collar criminal and meet the love of his life.

While this is certainly not great literature, it was a very enjoyable read. Burroughs has the ability to take his reader into the darkest jungles, distant planets and into post-World War I Chicago with a clear, vivid style. Memorable, likable characters more than make up for a highly unlikely set of coincidences.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Efficiency Expert

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on November 23, 2012.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Adam by Ted Dekker

Published in 2008 by Thomas Nelson

Ted Dekker is a stalwart member of the Christian publishing world. He usually offers up a large helping of action, mystery and suspense with a Christian flavor. Dekker's strengths are maintaining a quick pace and the creation and development of interesting characters.

In Adam an FBI psychology expert named Daniel Clark is on the trail of a serial killer nicknamed "Eve" (he writes "Eve" on the walls above each of his victims) who kills twenty-something women every dark of the moon. He leaves no clues behind except that he drives a stolen white van, eats candy bars, drinks cherry Cokes, kidnaps his victims with an ether-like medicine that knocks them out. he kills with a form of meningitis and his rituals have strong religious overtones. He always leaves those clues and no others.

Clark is obsessed by this case and it has wrecked his marriage and threatens his career.

One night his team almost catches "Eve" but instead gets shot at point-blank range. The bullet grazes his skull, knocking him out and throwing him into shock, causing his heart to stop. After 20 long minutes of CPR and application of defibrillator paddles , Daniel Clark is revived, much to the shock of his doctors.

But, Daniel sees things differently now. He feels a connection to "Eve" that he just doesn't understand and he is driven more than ever to explore that connection and stop him from killing again.

There is a large paranormal flair to this book, especially with the last 100 pages or so.  Be prepared for that because it does change the feel of the book but goes a long way to explaining other things that happened in the beginning.

The book is interrupted about every 20 pages or so with an installment from a nine-part retelling of the case taken from a true crime magazine. The installments provide a lot of the background of the story as it moves along, cleverly taking the place of an omniscient narrator.

Relentless pacing combined with strong characters overcome some of the unbelievable aspects of the story making this a solid 4 star out of 5 book.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Adam

Reviewed on November 22, 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Empire by Orson Scott Card

Published in 2006 by Tor

Danger: Spoilers follow.

I am torn when it comes to this book. It starts out with a clever premise: What if the super-heated political debate of the last few years was actually being created by a third party that was trying to get red-staters and blue-staters to start fighting. Once the bullets start flying a seemingly disinterested third party might be able to step in and assume the powers of government in the form of a dictatorship that promises to stop the insanity.

So, when the President, Vice-President and most of the cabinet are killed by commando terrorists of unknown origin the country gets very unstable very fast as the finger pointing and the political spin machines start to crank up.

Great premise. Strong start.

But, when the mechanized walking tanks and the hoverbikes, led by a George Soros-type character (who has unlimited funds, apparently) start to attack New York City the action is first-rate and gripping but the believability factor drops through the floor. Plus, everything slows down at about the two-thirds point and gets more and more unbelievable as vastly outnumbered commandos take on the plotters on their home turf in a secret base (yes, just like in an episode of the old G.I. Joe cartoon).

Great idea, poor execution.

3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon at this location: Empire

Reviewed on November 20, 2012.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (abridged) by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Published by Simon and Schuster in 2005
Read by Richard Thomas
Duration: 9 hours, 29 minutes

This is technically a re-read of Team of Rivals for me. I read the original 944 page hardcover book (see my review by clicking here) and I have marveled when I have seen the 41+ hour unabridged version at the library. I love audiobooks but that is a commitment that I am not prepared to make.

William Seward (1801-1872),
Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State
But, this abridgment is a very reasonable length and gives the listener a solid grasp of the political talents of Lincoln and some of what he faced. While the book does not cover all of his difficulties, it does a solid job of  presenting the relationship between William Seward and Lincoln, George McClellan and Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Lincoln and Salmon P. Chase and Lincoln. Those were his most important relationships in the cabinet and they were all very different. Two became great allies (one after a bit of a struggle, one not) and two became political enemies (one was sidelined, one was moved into a different position where he could do less harm). His family life is covered as well.

About one-fifth of the book deals with Lincoln's life before he was president and the way his team worked the 1860 Republican convention to get him the nomination At first I thought this seemed excessive but it also served to introduce his cabinet members since he invited his main rivals for the convention in his cabinet. This book does demonstrate, even in its abridged form, that Abraham Lincoln was a gifted politician with an uncanny ability to read people and convince them to work with him, adopt his plans and somehow come away thinking that they had bested the president.

Richard Thomas (the actor best known as John Boy on the TV show The Waltons ) read this audiobook. His performance was neither good nor bad. This was not entirely his fault. Goodwin's text is informative but is more academically oriented and was not intended for an oral presentation.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This abridged audiobook can be found here at Amazon.com: Team of Rivals (abridged audiobook)

Reviewed on November 15, 2012.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thirst: A Novel by Mary Donnarumma Sharnick

Published by Fireship Press in 2012

Set in 1613 Venice, Thirst: A Novel is a story of family secrets, racial purity, religion and raw power. This is the first novel for the author, Mary Donnarumma Sharnick. As a first novel goes, this one has potential, but also has issues, which is not uncommon. 

The scenes throughout the book are very vivid and easy to imagine with fully fleshed out characters (which is usually the hard part for first-time novelists) but there just needs to be more detail to tie the scenes together to make the story flow, more explanation of Venetian society and the way it worked so that the story moves more smoothly and the reader can fully appreciate what everyone is doing, why it matters and the risks that certain characters take when challenging the powers-that-be.

This is a very female oriented work with lots of details about menstruation, fears of first-time sex, rape, child rape and a very detailed childbirth scene with lots of details about blood and excrement flowing out along with the baby and the placenta being fed to a dog. I think every male character was a rapist, got raped or was cheating on his spouse with a prostitute with the exception of a priest who was asexual and acted as a surrogate mom for an orphan was was born because of a rape. As such, I felt that the book was talking past me more often than it was speaking to me.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Thirst: A Novel

Reviewed on November 11, 2012

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter

I Expected So Much...

Published by Alfred A. Knopf in July of 2012

I love Stephen L. Carter the essayist. He writes brilliant essays. He makes me think and I learn a lot. I have now determined that I just don't care much for Stephen L. Carter the novelist and I will stick to the essays.

When I saw the topic of this book I was thrilled. Carter is a law professor so he knows all of the legal angles. I am an enthusiastic student of the Civil War so I was already very familiar with all of the politics, legal issues and personalities that would have been involved with an impeachment of Lincoln.

The premise of the story is that Lincoln was not killed by John Wilkes Booth, although he was gravely injured. Vice President Andrew Johnson was killed and Secretary of State William Seward was injured so badly that he has not been seen publicly since the attempt on his life.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869)
plays a key role in this alternate history novel.
In real life, Vice President Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached because he was unable to successfully navigate the rough political waters of post-Civil War America. Lincoln is caught in these same currents and is impeached on a host of different charges. Lincoln's lawyers include a young black woman who has recently graduated from Oberlin College named Abigail Canner. She is learning how to be a lawyer, like an intern. The book is mostly told from her point of view.

As the case against Lincoln moves from the House to the Senate the situation is clouded by multiple murders,  mysterious messages that come and go and witnesses disappearing. Canner and another young "intern" named Jonathan Hilliman team up to follow leads that no one else seems interested in. All the while the impeachment case moves forward.

The book is filled with great characters, the topic is interesting and his portrayal of Lincoln and other historical personages is dead on when compared to everything else I have read. But, this book is slow. The plot is byzantine in nature - so intricate, so many plotters out to get Lincoln and so many anti-plotters out to protect him that I just lost interest and the book just dragged. I found that I was forcing myself to finish a book that I should have been enjoying.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

Reviewed on November 11, 2012.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Frozen Heat (Nikki Heat #4) (audiobook) by Richard Castle

Performed by Johnny Heller
Duration: 11 hours, 6 minutes
Published 2012 by Hyperion Audio

Last winter I listened to audiobook #3 in this series, Heat Rises, and I was initially struck by the absurdity of a book written by a fictional author in a television show. I thought it would be a joke. We have a book written by a writer who was created by a television show writer. You would think that this would be a recipe for disaster - a mere cheap marketing ploy to generate some publicity for a television show.
Actor Nathan Fillion as fictional author Richard Castle

However, if you thought that, you would be wrong.

Whoever is in charge of the "Richard Castle" franchise at Hyperion books has taken this quite seriously. Frozen Heat is a great police thriller. The story is about a murder case that homicide detective Nikki Heat's squad is investigating. Evidence points to a connection with the murder of Heat's mother 10 years earlier. As they investigate this connection, Heat and her writer boyfriend Jameson Rook travel to Boston and Paris in a search for answers and find that everything that Nikki Heat knew about her mother may have been wrong.

If you watch the television show Castle  then you will recognize several of the characters from the show have moved on to the books. In my first listen I was mostly unaware of this since I had only seen the show once or twice. Since then, I have watched the show semi-regularly and appreciate the fact that these two fictional worlds overlap so much. Also, it was a bit weird watching the television show and seeing Castle autograph the hardcover copy of this audiobook when I had just got my copy in the mail that day!

Frozen Heat was performed magnificently by Johnny Heller. He covers male and female voices and a wide variety of accents flawlessly as well as getting the comic timing of Rook's smart comments down perfectly.

I always know when an audiobook is a great one - I start dragging it out of the car and into the house and to work so I can look for chances to listen. This was one of those experiences.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on November10, 2012

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Frozen Heat

"Richard Castle's" website can be found here: http://www.richardcastle.net/

FTC Full Disclosure - this work was sent to me by the publisher so that I could review it. The review, however, is my honest opinion and was not influenced by being sent a free copy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The 1990s: A Brief History [Kindle Edition] by Vook

Published in July of 2011 by Vook

Vook is a publisher of e-books enhanced with video clips (Video + Book = Vook). This history is short (Amazon estimates it would be about 32 pages on paper) so it is unlikely to satisfy a history purist. However, for a 32 page history of the United States in the 1990s, it is pretty solid (but admittedly lightweight due to its short length) and very readable.

The most famous image from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The topics covered include:

-A New World Order/Fall of the USSR;
-Clinton's Impeachment;
-Creation of the World Wide Web;
-Cloning/Genetic therapies;
-David Koresh/Oklahoma City bombing/First Twin Towers Bombings;
-The 1992 NBA Olympics "Dream Team";
-Grunge Music.

I rate this e-book 3 stars out of 5.

This e-book can be found on Amazon.com here: The 1990s: A Brief History

Reviewed on November 6, 2012.

Tempting Yerva (kindle) by Chris Turner

Published in 2011 by Innersky Books

Tempting Yerva is a Kindle short story. If it were on paper it would be about 13 pages long, according to Amazon.

An adolescent girl named Dore is a young nun in the Yerva sect. Like monks and nuns across most faiths, her life is a lot of hard work, meditation and discipline and this young girl is miserable. She hates it. She is bored and her raging hormones make her think an awful lot about sex.

The religion seems to have a superficial similarity to Buddhism in that the goal of the aspirant is to achieve "bliss" - a sense of nothingness. Dore has no interest in any of this. One day, alien (literally from another world) voices start to whisper to her and promise her powers, sex and more in exchange letting them use her. She agrees.

Her wildest fantasies come true, she is granted magical powers, no temptation is left unsatisfied and the entire sect is endangered.

My takeaway? Dore has been untempted in her life, but once she is allowed to "sin" she nearly destroys and perverts everything. I don't want to ruin the end of this very short story - you will have to read it to see where her unrestrained activities lead.

I rate this story 2 stars out of 5. Too short. Not explained well enough.

This short story can be found on Amazon.com here: Tempting Yerva by Chris Turner.
Reviewed on November 6, 2012.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency by Mark K. Updegrove

Published by Crown Publishers in March of 2012

Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency is a biography composed mostly of snippets of interviews edited together to tell President Lyndon Johnson's story.

The book is designed to give the reader a view of Lyndon Johnson - the man. Johnson was a controversial man  - easily one of the most controversial of the 1960's. He is easily caricatured and mis-characterized. This ambiguity is odd considering that he was one of the most successful presidents of all time when it came to pursuing and passing a legislative agenda. If not for the Vietnam War, his legacy might be much different today.

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973)
While I learned a lot more facts about Johnson than I knew before reading this book, I did not get a better read on the man himself. His motivations were so mixed and his outbursts so frequent that I could not (and still cannot) tell if he put himself behind legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make a name for himself, because it was the right thing to do or if it was done just to confound people. Perhaps it was all three. Was he a bully, a flirt, a schmoozer or just the most versatile politician of his era?

Johnson's stormy relationship with Eastern elites shines through, but this is well-known. Johnson's frequent womanizing is alluded to just once despite numerous pages dedicated to the relationship between LBJ and "Lady Bird" Johnson. This issue is emblematic of a problem with the book in general. The author if the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library Museum in Austin, Texas. As such, he has access to more of Johnson's papers than just about anyone else. But, I think it is clear that this book was written from the perspective of a fan of LBJ. Fans diminish (or even explain away) the negatives and focus on the positives.

The oral history format of the book was sometimes interesting, but oftentimes it was very repetitive with multiple people expressing the same or very similar thoughts back to back on LBJ and the issues of the day.

Bottom line: the book does little to shed light on the mercurial personality of LBJ. I you know nothing about LBJ, this is a solid place to start. If you know something about him already, you will know more after the reading the book and still not really know the man.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency

Reviewed on November 4, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fact. Fact. Bullsh*t!: Learn the Truth and Spot the Lie on Everything from Tequila-Made Diamonds to Tetris's Soviet Roots-Plus Tons of Other Totally Random Facts from Science, History, and Beyond! (Kindle edition) by Neil Patrick Stewart

Before You Try to Impress Your Friends with All of Your New-Found Factoids, Verify Them 

Published by Adams Media in 2011

This book was a first for me in a way. Fact. Fact. Bullsh*t! was the first book I ever read on my phone thanks to the Kindle app for my android phone. In a way, this book was made for reading on a little phone screen. It is entirely composed of a topic with three "facts" that follow. After that the reader will find out that at least one of those "facts" will be correct and at least one will be incorrect, or bullsh*t as the title notes. The  facts and the bullsh*t answers are explained.

This makes for fairly interesting short-term reading but it is not built for the long haul. This would be a great book to have for standing in line at the bank or if you have to wait for a bus or a train because you can get in and out of a topic in just a few minutes.

But...some of Stewart's facts are more factual than others. For example, he incorrectly states as a "fact" that Thomas Jefferson was the fourth president and the third vice president. In reality, he was the third president and the second VP.

Janet Guthrie at the 1977 Daytona 500.
When it comes to the NASCAR set of "facts" there are multiple problems. He addresses the widely held belief that Danica Patrick is the first woman to race for NASCAR's Winston Cup, which he notes is incorrect, but on multiple levels that he fails to mention. Danica is not the first woman to race in NASCAR, which he correctly notes. However, he only mentions Janet Guthrie, who first competed in NASCAR in 1976. Other women competed in NASCAR's top level as early as 1949, but they are not mentioned. Also, he fails to note that Danica never competed for the "Winston" Cup since its name was changed in in 2004. Also, he notes in his "fact" section that the largest NASCAR event can hold as many as 170,000 fans. That is incorrect. The Brickyard 400 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has 280,000 seats available.

So, in short, this is a fun little book but don't trust everything that you read in it. Before you try to impress your friends and co-workers with your newfound factoids, verify them.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Fact. Fact. Bullsh*t!

Reviewed on November 2, 2012.