"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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Saturday, September 28, 2013

STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL RADIO DRAMA (audiobook) by Brian Daley

If you are a fan of this series and have not listened to this version of the story you need to pick it up today - it is that good

Published by HighBridge Audio.
Originally broadcast in 1981.
Multicast performance.
Duration: approximately 6 hours.

When Star Wars was at the height of its popularity in 1981, George Lucas gave a National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate permission to create a radio drama of the original movie, now known as Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Sci-fi author Brian Daley was tapped to adapt the movies since he had experience with the series having written a trilogy of Han Solo novels in 1979 and 1980.

I have no idea what Daley's qualifications were for writing radio drama were besides those books, but he clearly was an inspired choice. He had a feel for the story and, more importantly, the characters as he more than doubles the original length of the movie. Listeners get more about Luke's life on Tatooine and a lot more about his friend Biggs (who originally appeared at the beginning of the movie but it was cut and mysteriously reappears at the end as an X-Wing pilot). There is more about the Force and how Ben began teaching Luke. In fact, there is just more of everything.

The audio drama features the original actors Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Anthony Daniels as C3P0 as well as music from the original Academy Award-winning soundtrack as well as original sound effects that make the experience complete.

If you are a fan of this series and have not listened to this version of the story you need to pick it up today - it is that good.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here:  Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama

Reviewed on September 28, 2013

Link to my review of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
Link to my review of RETURN of the JEDI.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

STAR TREK: THE LOST YEARS (Lost Years #1) by J. M. Dillard

Published in 1989 by Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster)

The idea behind the book is interesting: What happened to the characters from the original Star Trek series between the end of their original five year mission and the events of the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture?

But, the follow-through is quite weak.

The characters feel like cardboard cut-outs of themselves, especially McCoy. Kirk's decision to become an admiral makes sense. but McCoy's outlandish, petulant, even childish response to Kirk's decision was simply not believable to me. Even worse, the new characters are, at best, one-note wonders.

McCoy and Natira, 
McCoy quits Star Fleet to find a woman from the TV episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky." She is the leader of a group of refugees who live inside a giant spaceship that they thought was a planet. They had a romantic spark but when McCoy returns to visit her he finds that she has made a political marriage because her people need her more than McCoy did. McCoy responds by consuming lots and lots of alcohol.

The book would have been so much better if it had just went with the Spock/Vulcan story line. It was by far the most interesting and had real possibilities. But, it was skimped on to make room for the other parts - and all of those parts come together in a rather unconvincing manner - in a series of galactic-sized coincidences.

There is simply too much going on in this book - too many new characters, too many plot lines and too many romances. The overall quality of the book suffers as a consequence.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Star Trek: The Lost Years.

Reviewed on September 21, 2013.

Friday, September 13, 2013

KENOBI by John Jackson Miller

What does Ben Kenobi do for all of those years while he's waiting for Luke to grow up?

Published by LucasBooks in August of 2013.

Between the two Star Wars trilogies there is an empty space. What happens in the 20 years or so between the birth of Luke and Leia and the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. Fans know, of course, that Leia was sent off to Alderaan and raised as part of the royal family - hidden in plain sight. Luke, on the other hand was taken to Tatooine and secretly raised by his grandmother's relatives in a place as far away from the Emperor as possible. As Luke famously describes his home planet in Episode IV"Well, if there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet that it's farthest from."

So, what does Ben Kenobi do for all of those years? This book gives the reader an idea about the first few months and leaves the possibility for more books.

Kenobi is much more like a Western than the typical science fiction book. A typical Western has a mysterious stranger arrive in a troubled town. Typically, a widow is struggling with a farm or business and a local banker/rancher/rich guy is pressuring her in some way. Sometimes, there are interactions with Native Americans.

In Kenobi, Ben Kenobi is the stranger, the widow is running a store and her deceased husband's best friend, the area's biggest moisture farmer, is pressuring her, both personally and professionally (although mostly professionally). The Tusken Raiders (Sand People) take the role of the Native Americans in this space western.

Ben tries his best to stay out of the lives of the people of this frontier because he is supposed to be secretly watching over Luke. He  chooses to live as a hermit in the midst of some of the most dangerously wild areas. But, Ben's do-gooder ways keep him involved. Plus, the widow lady is quite fetching to this old cowpoke ... er, Jedi.

The most interesting aspect of the book for me was the up close look at Tusken Raider society. Miller creates a plausible reason for farmer/Tusken hostilities. The story itself was solid, but not a particularly great Star Wars story (or Western, for that matter).  The supporting characters were pretty much one-dimensional, although sometimes quite amusing. The ending was all tied up in a much-too-neat package. That being said, I was glad to have read it just for the additional insight to Tatooine and the Sand People and would like to read further adventures of Ben Kenobi on Tatooine.

Note: I received an e-book copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. 

This book can be found on Amazon.com here:  Kenobi (Star Wars - Legends)
Reviewed on September 13, 2013.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

SUNSET EXPRESS (Elvis Cole #6) (Audiobook) by Robert Crais

Book originally published in 1996.
Audiobook published in 2004
Read by William Roberts

Lots of the reviews here give this one 3 or 4 stars. Perhaps it was the format, perhaps it was the end of the school year rush for me and the welcome respite this book provided. Perhaps I just liked it better. Nevertheless, it was a good story, despite the fact that problems with Elvis and Joe's case are telegraphed from miles away.

Robert Crais
In Sunset Express a celebrity restaurateur's wife is killed and her body is dumped in a ravine near their very swanky neighborhood. The police detectives stop by the home of this restaurateur to inform him of his wife's demise and they find a bloody hammer in the bushes by the front door of their mansion. But, there is a problem: the detective (Angela Rossi) that found the weapon has been accused of planting evidence in the past and the defense lawyers seize on that fact. Elvis Cole is hired to look into the accusations against Rossi and see if they have any merit. But, as he investigates he finds more and more leads and soon enough he and his partner Joe Pike are up to their necks in trouble with Cole making smart-aleck comments all the way.

My 2004 audio version was read by William Roberts, a solid narrator who has done multiple tours as a reader for Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels and a narrator who understands how to deliver a wisecrack well. So, the listener is naturally drawn to make comparisons between Elvis Cole/Joe Pike/Lucy and Spenser/Hawk/Susan. Readers familiar with them both can see the analogies already. "Sunset Express" is probably the most Spenser-like of the Cole novels I've read or listened to so far, and that is fine by me - I like the action, I like the wisecracks and I like the process of how they do their investigation. Lots of relationship discussion (for Cole anyway, a little less than average for Spenser).

Crais goes out of his way in Sunset Express to give a little local L.A. flavor, including a street person who has a discussion with Cole about timing and how events unfold (since Cole has rousted him out of his perch under the local public pay phone). The homeless guy ends his conversation with the comment: "To possess great wisdom obliges one to share it. Enjoy."

I give this one 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Sunset Express.

Reviewed on May 18, 2007.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

COLD WIND (Joe Pickett #11) by C. J. Box

Bad news: your father-in-law has been murdered. Worse news: Your mother-in-law is suspect #1

Published in 2011 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

A person who left a comment on one of my Amazon reviews told me about C.J. Box and gave me the title to his first book featuring Joe Pickett. I found it at the library and I was hooked. If you like Michael Connelly or Robert Crais you will love C.J. Box. If you like Tony Hillerman, you will enjoy Box's descriptions of the local landscape and the people of Wyoming.

Cold Wind features Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden. Joe loves the great outdoors, loves being a game warden, loves his wife, loves his family, hates bureaucracy and hates his mother-in-law. His mother-in-law is a real piece of work and is almost universally despised. She has clawed and married her way to a fortune and has no problem using people and tricks of divorce law to take more money. 

Joe Pickett's current father-in-law. Earl Alden, is one of Wyoming's biggest ranchers. He is not really a rancher, but he owns one of the biggest ranches in the state and he is installing a gigantic giant windmill wind farm on it in order to receive federal grants that came with the famed 2009 "stimulus package". Earl is found dead on his own property, hanging from one of the giant windmills and Joe's  mother-in-law is immediately arrested. Joe suspects that she is being framed but he has no idea who is doing it or why.

A Wyoming windmill

One of the things that I like about this series is that C.J. Box is more than willing to demonstrate how misguided federal policies mess with the real world. In this case, the windmills ruin a neighbor's domestic life with their constant whining (at least that it while they are turning), cost much more than the energy they produce, have to be backed up by conventional power plants (for times when they are not turning) and may not have even produced new jobs at all since these particular windmills were used, rehabilitated windmills relocated from Texas.

Nate Romanowksi makes an appearance in this book, but it is not integral to the main story. Unfortunately, I am reading the books all out of order so the character of Nate is more of a distraction for me than a real character of interest. His character could have been edited completely out of the story and made it about 70 pages shorter and a much tighter novel overall.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Cold Wind by C.J. Box.

Reviewed on September 7, 2013.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

CAR TALK CLASSICS: FOUR PERFECTLY GOOD HOURS (audiobook) by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Published by HighBridge Audio in 2007
Duration: Approximately 4 hours

The hosts of NPR's Car Talk, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, offer highlights from their radio show with the theme of motherhood. If you are not familiar with the show, well it is unique. Two brothers who aren't really mechanics (but do have a lot of experience fixing cars) take calls about cars and car repair. They laugh and mercilessly kid one another and sometimes actually get around to offering advice on how to fix a car.

This a a 4 CD set featuring four entire hour-long episodes, which is different than many of their collections that are composed of a series of edited segments. While this is mostly highly entertaining, especially the segment with Martha Stewart (to me, Stewart can seem stuffy and stiff on her show. She rolls with these two jokesters and their enjoyable, sophomoric antics and holds her own and exhibits a quick wit) there are segments that I could only characterize as wearisome, such as the childhood letters home from summer camp from a staff member of the show, John "Bugsy" Lawlor. Thankfully, it is fairly short and the brothers get back to taking phone calls.

The calls in this one are interesting, including an Aussie who wants the recommendation of a good car to drive in Colorado, a woman who went behind the back of her regular mechanic and took her car someone else and my favorite, the man who has a faulty dashboard indicator that keeps telling him that his engine is out of oil. The only way he can get it to stop is to pound on his dashboard, a technique that causes the brothers to nearly fall out of their chairs as they envision him driving and angrily pounding away.

The third CD in this set is a Mother's Day tribute featuring their mother. Most if not all of this material is on another CD that I recently listened to and reviewed, CAR TALK: MATERNAL COMBUSTION

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on September 1, 2013.

SUSPECT by Robert Crais

SUSPECT May Be the Best Book That Crais Has Published

Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 2013

Robert Crais is best known for his long-running Elvis Cole series, but he has consistently produced high-quality "stand-alone" novels as well (however, I just learned that the characters from this book will be part of the next Elvis Cole book). Suspect continues that tradition in a big way.

Scott James is a fairly young member of LAPD who is on the mend from a frightful shooting that resulted in injuries so severe that he was offered a chance to retire. While his physical injuries are real, they are not as profound as his psychological trauma. He was an up-and-coming officer, now he second guesses himself and, more importantly, cannot shake the feeling that he failed his partner who was killed in the incident. He is working the case on his own even as he trains to be a K-9 officer while he is recovering.

Robert Crais
Maggie is a retired German Shepherd who was trained to be a Marine and find Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). She was shot by a sniper while she was protecting her handler. Maggie is lost without her handler - he was her world. They formed a "pack" with just two members and she literally would die for him. But, when the sniper attacked she did not protect her "pack" well enough and her handler died.

Somehow, Maggie ended up in the LAPD K-9 training unit and she and Scott James get paired together - two gun-shy deeply injured souls who begin to open up their damaged little worlds to each other...

Crais' grasp of dog psychology makes this book work. You know how the book will end as soon as these two match up (Of course these two team up and work to redeem themselves to get the bad guys) but it is still a great story - the telling of the story is just as important as how it ends and Crais does a masterful job..

I rate this novel an enthusiastic 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on September 1, 2013.