"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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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

THE GIVER (audiobook) by Lois Lowry

Originally Published in 1993
Audiobook version published in 2001 by Listening Library
Read by Ron Rifkin
Duration: 4 hours, 51 minutes

Lois Lowry has done a very clever thing in her book The Giver. She has written a book at a very simple level that explains some very complicated things in a way that most children will be able to easily grasp. A text does not have to be complicated to express complicated ideas.

In The Giver the reader is presented with a simple, Utopian society in an undetermined future time. Everything is peaceful. Everyone is fed, cared for and everyone has a place. The children are excited because it is time for the children to go through The Ceremony. All children up to age twelve are moved forward to their next year and receive some new responsibility or right, such as the right to ride a bicycle or to volunteer after school hours. Twelve-year-olds are assigned to their future work assignments by the Committee of Elders.
Author Lois Lowry in 2014.
Photo by Kenneth C.Zirkel

The main character is Jonas, a twelve year old who has been assigned to The Receiver of Memory. Jonas is to be the new Receiver and the old Receiver is now The Giver. Through an undeclared process (remember, this is sci-fi), The Giver can pass on memories to The Receiver who holds them for his community. He is to act is the living repository of memories for his people.

What he finds out is disturbing. The memories are so strong and so full of the joys and pains of life that he discovers that his community has worked all of the good and the bad out of life. It is full of what The Giver calls "sameness". Jonas discovers that without the extremes, life is exceedingly bland and seems pathetic. Also, the people of this community have no sense of their own morals. Everything has already been decided. There will be nothing new. Nothing will be too bad or too good. It will just be and that is horrific if you know what people are really meant to be like.

I was reminded of both Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Ayn Rand's Anthem. Both feature a future world where everything is controlled and it has been determined that people will just be happier if they stop thinking, stop feeling and just do as they are told.

I enjoyed the audiobook reading by Ron Rifkin. He does a great job with Jonas' eye-opening transformation, including his near breakdown. 

This is a controversial book. It is definitely one that deserves a discussion with your child as he or she reads it. Read along with him or her and talk about it. It is full of "teachable moments".

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon here: The Giver

Monday, May 18, 2015


Published by Carlos G. Cooper in January of 2015.
Read by DJ Holte
Duration: 4 hours, 57 minutes

If you like military-type thrillers, C.G. Cooper's "Corps Justice" series may be of interest to you. This is a self-published series - and everyone who has read much by self-published authors is rolling his or her eyes right now. But, if you have read a lot by self-published authors you also know that while some self-published authors are really deluding themselves, some can really deliver the goods. In this case, C.G. Cooper is one of those that can really do the job.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a thriller and that means it is fairly formulaic- like westerns and romance novels, military thrillers seem to have just a few standard plot lines. In this case, this book features an all-star team of experts who are working for a gifted leader with a great moral vision who is also independently wealthy. 
Photo by Niels Noodhoek

This book is a great place to start in the series (it's where I started) because the team has just been assembled and it's clear that the series is moving off in a slightly different direction. In this case, this private, elite squadron is working unofficially for the President of the United States to take care of situations that cannot be officially handled on the books.

Now, normally this would be a problem (depending on your politics, imagine either of the last two presidents with access to an off-the-books elite military unit with almost no operational restraints and then shiver). In fact, the bad guy in this book pretty much operates his own version of the good guy's team. But, this is escapist fiction and it is better to not think about things like that and instead just sit back and enjoy the ride.

And, really, it's a pretty smart ride. Yes, this is a high-tech thriller with all of the stock characters (Gentle giant with an oddly "non-macho" skill? Check. Hacker guy? Check. Leader guy who does it all pretty well? Check.) and the stock plot points like stake outs and firefights but it also has a very tight and smart story. A lot happened in the 4 hours and 57 minutes of this audiobook. It didn't feel rushed (until it got to the end it was much too quick) and it didn't waste my time.

DJ Holte is the narrator and he has a great voice for action stories. It is deep and resonating and makes everything sound dramatic. Also, he created distinctive voices for each of the characters. His voice for the evil Colonel was perfect. It sounded world-weary but menacing, just like his character. A great reader can make it easy for the listener to imagine the character based just on his voice and Holte does that.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Lethal Misconduct: Corps Justice, Book 6

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a free digital copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. It really is a fun listen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

THE GOOD SHEPHERD: A THOUSAND YEAR JOURNEY from PSALM 23 to the NEW TESTAMENT (audiobook) by Kenneth E. Bailey

Published by Blackstone Audio in December of 2014
Read by Stephen E. Thorne
Duration: 10 hours, 5 minutes

Kenneth E. Bailey spent more than forty years teaching theology in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus and along the way he developed a natural curiosity about shepherds. This is natural, considering how often shepherds are mentioned and that many of the main figures of the Old Testament were shepherds at one point or another (Abraham, Moses and David to name a few) and that Jesus refers to himself as both a shepherd and a lamb. 

Combine that natural curiosity with a willingness to research and the ability to see the stories from a different cultural perspective and you have something new, at least new for those of us in the West. 

What Bailey has delivered here is a very readable (or in my case, listenable) overview of the major passages about shepherds in the Old and New Testaments and how they relate to one another and the cultural meanings of these texts and makes them all the richer and more meaningful. He also looks at the way the Orthodox and Coptic churches have approached the concept of Good Shepherd through the centuries.

He starts with Psalm 23 and explains the structure of how it is written and goes into cultural detail. Far from boring, I found it to be fascinating and in some ways, it changed my understanding of the Psalm. It says a lot more than I ever thought it said before.

The other passages were Jeremiah 23:1-8, Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 10:2-12, Luke 15:1-10, Mark 6:7-52, Matthew 18:10-14, John 10:1-18, and I Peter 5:1-4. As Bailey works his way through each passage he goes back to the 23rd Psalm and then compares the passages. As he goes along, he assumes that the reader picks some of it up and does not go back and re-explain things that he mentioned many times. If a new thought is introduced (such as the concept of the sheep being misled by a "bad shepherd") he discusses it fully and refers back to the new concept if it comes up again.

For me, the most powerful moment came when he tied together four stories of Jesus' life in Mark 6:7-52. Even though the story of Jesus sending out the disciples to preach on their own, the subsequent beheading of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist,  the feeding of the 5,000 and the story of Jesus walking on water all sit right next to each other in Mark, I have never heard all four them told as one story (usually, I have heard them as three separate stories). The way Bailey explains it, the disciples came back after John's death and the 5,000 would have come to hear Jesus' reaction to the wanton murder of his cousin by King Herod. What would Jesus do to avenge his cousin? After all, culturally, there would have to be some sort of response by Jesus, John's most well-known relative. Would he denounce the king? Would he go into hiding? Would he ask them to join him in overthrowing this despot? Bailey looks into the deep symbolism of every sentence in that story and I was very impressed.

While I appreciate that I received a free copy of the audiobook for review purposes from the publisher through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer Program, this is one of the few times that I wished I had a paper copy of the book so that I could flip through it and make notes as I read and then quickly be able to refer back to it.

Reader Stephen E. Thorne did a good job of reading the text. He read its slowly enough that you could easily follow along and think as you went but not so slow that it dragged. 

This book can be found at Amazon here: 
The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

RED, GREEN, or MURDER (Posadas County #7) (Posadas County Mysteries Book 10) by Steven F. Havill

    I just love Bill Gastner

This series actually extends over the careers of two law officers who hold a position called Undersheriff in the fictional Posadas County, New Mexico. An undersheriff is the person right below the elected position of Sheriff and is appointed by the Sheriff. Generally, the Undersheriff would be the expert in the law that is there to advise the elected Sheriff. The first half of the series covers Undersheriff Bill Gastner, an experienced law officer. Bill would laugh at that at just say that he is old. Bill is sort of grumpy, a little creeky in the knees, moves slowly but makes up for it with a lot of experience and really knowing the people of Posadas County, New Mexico.  He is especially good at thinking while eating very spicy burritos at all hours of the day or night.

The second half of the series covers the career of Undersheriff Estelle Guzman. She is quite talented and, for me, simply not as interesting as Bill. She is admirable and I would hire her to be my Undersheriff because she really knows what she is doing but...she is really boring.

Unfortunately, this book is Bill Gastner's last hurrah as a main character. In this story Bill is no longer the Undersheriff. Instead, he is a state livestock inspector. But, he still gets caught up in the events of the book. In it, everything that makes you love Bill is on display - his knowledge and connections, his bravery and his late night ruminating. His beloved burritos are even part of a mystery.

There are actually two mysteries in this story. One involves the mysterious death of an old friend of Bill. They shared a love of spicy burritos and Bill's elderly friend was too frail to go out to the restaurant for lunch. But, the restaurant was glad to deliver burritos to a couple of long-time customers.

Bill had to cancel due to an incident while he was attending to his duties as livestock inspector. Sadly, his friend died while eating that meal. But, there are strange signs that lead Bill and Undersheriff Estelle Guzman to suspect that this was no accident.

Meanwhile, while Bill is helping with the family of his friend, the cattle that he just inspected are all over the highway and no one can find the young ranch hand that delivered them or the truck and trailer. Did he run off or was he carjacked? And, is there a connection between Bill's deceased friend and the rancher with the missing truck and trailer?

Neither of these mysteries is earth-shaking but I loved this story because I just love Bill Gastner. 

The book can be found on Amazon here: 
Red, Green, or Murder

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

TO KILL a MOCKINGBIRD (audiobook) by Harper Lee


Published by Harper Audio in 2008
Originally published in 1960
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a Library Journal poll
Read by Sissy Spacek
Duration: 12 hours, 17 minutes

I almost feel silly writing a review for a book that is nearly universally regarded as one of the best, if not THE best, novels written in the last century. This book is read in schools across the country, was adapted into an amazingly successful movie that is as highly regarded as the book. This book is not just respected - it is loved.

I also hate to admit that it had been nearly 25 years since I had read To Kill a Mockingbird. Although I remembered that I loved the book, I had really forgotten why.

So, when I was offered the chance to review this audio version by the publisher for free I jumped it at. It had been such a long time that I needed to remind myself why it was so great. 

I am not going to waste everyone's time by re-telling the story in detail. Harper Lee creates a wonderfully rich world set in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression. The story is told from the point of view of young "Scout" Finch. Scout starts as a first grader but the story progresses through several years. She lives with her brother Jem and her father Atticus, an attorney. Her daily life at home is maintained by the African American housekeeper Calpurnia who treats Jem and Scout like they are her own children. Later, her aunt moves in to provide a more permanent feminine role model in the house.

In the first part of the book, Scout's world comes to life as Harper Lee takes the time to lay out her world for us. In the second part of the book, this world is interrupted by an outrageous court case in which Atticus is appointed to defend a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. The third part of the book deals with the consequences of that case. 

Harper Lee (born in 1926)  in c. 1962. 
But, the book is so much more than that. I grew up in a small town in Indiana and her descriptions of the rhythms of childhood play in the summer felt so true to me that the characters become so real that I felt like I actually knew them in my own childhood. 

Sissy Spacek's reading of this book is as timeless as the book itself. The decision not to have her actually change voices as she reads the story was a brilliant stroke. Most audiobook readers change voices and make separate voices for each of the characters even if it is told from the point of view of just one of the characters. Spacek keeps the entire story in the voice of Scout because the entire story is told from her point of view. It is her story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook. I found myself listening to it whenever I could. I happily rate it 5 stars out of 5.

See my review of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman here.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here:  To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

OLD NATHAN by David Drake

Originally published in 1991 by Baen Books

David Drake, a science fiction author who usually specializes in tales of high-tech fighting told from the grunt's point of view changes pace with Old Nathan, a tale of backwoods folk magic. 

Photo by DWD
Set in the the 1830s in rural Tennessee, this book features Old Nathan, often called the "cunning man". Old Nathan suffered a life-changing injury during the battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War. As he recovered, he discovered that he had been gifted with some magical powers, including the ability to talk with animals. 

Fifty years later, he is living in Tennessee and serves as the local area's potion-maker and a resolver of problems of last resort. He also can cast some spells. He does not understand the powers, but he understands that the spells he cast do not always resolve the problems the way that his clients hope.

The book consists of five inter-related short stories. The best story by far is the last one but you really cannot understand it without reading the other four and they are pretty boring. The stories are long on descriptions of Old Nathan traveling by donkey and dire warnings about using magic but I just never really bought into the characters. Nathan was intentionally stand-offish and mysterious and difficult to relate to. The locals all around him were rubes or just difficult to like or even be interested in.

This book can be found here on Amazon.com: Old Nathan.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE LOST KINGDOM (audiobook) by Matthew J. Kirby

Published by Scholastic Audio in 2013.
Read by Charlie McWade
Duration: 8 hours, 41 minutes

The Lost Kingdom is an alternate history set in a world in which mastodons still roam North America in great herds and are hunted by giant predators called bearwolves. The story is set just before the French and Indian War and the situation is easily recognizable for anyone familiar with that time period. The English colonies arranged along the Eastern Seaboard but the interior is largely controlled by the French and their numerous Indian allies through a vast trading network. As the English move farther inland they encounter more and more resistance and everyone knows that it will lead to open warfare, probably sooner rather than later.

In a bold move to secure a new set of allies in the interior, the American Philosophical Society, a group of intellectuals led by Benjamin Franklin, have decided to send an expedition in search of a fabled Welsh kingdom built around the legendary tale of Madoc, the Welsh prince who is supposed to have landed in the America's centuries before Columbus. This really is a legend in our world, so I found that to be quite interesting.

The intellectuals are joined by the son of their botanist, a young teen named Billy Bartram. They are not traveling by boat or by foot but in a sort of steampunk airship powered by balloons of some kind. The ship is an actual ship and it flies much like a blimp. They fly out to the new fort at what will be Pittsburgh in the distant future (barely escaping French spies as they leave Philadelphia). A sneak attack by French Marines and an encounter with a bearwolf throw the entire expedition off track. Throw in the suspicion that there is a spy in their midst and things have really gone wrong for Billy and this crew of geniuses...

****Spoiler alert****

So, here's the thing for me and this book. I do not mind the steampunk ship or the mastadons or even the legend of the Welsh. I think those made the book fun. But, I have a problem when the book violates its own internal rules and here are three gigantic errors that just don't make sense.

1) The expedition sets off without a single weapon in a time period when people of the frontier did not step out of the house to feed their chickens without a gun at hand. They did this out of fear of Indians and also fear of animal attack. To borrow from another story, imagine if in The Hobbit the expedition set out without a single sword because they knew that swords would be useless against the dragon. Well, that would be silly considering how often they had to fight everything else along the way. In a similar way, the lack of weapons means they cannot defend themselves from animals. Also, they cannot hunt to supplement their food which is a massive mistake in and of itself. This mistake compounds itself

2) The expedition has no weapons because they claim they are a science expedition, not a military one. But, in reality, they are out to find out if the legend of the Welsh is true and make a military alliance with them. That makes them a military expedition.

3) The expedition is attacked by a bearwolf just outside of Pittsburgh. The bearwolf chases the very fast-moving ship on land, somehow tracking it over mountains, across rivers and streams through the little sliver of what is now West Virginia, all along the bottom of Ohio, Indiana, across the Wabash river into Illinois and even across the Mississippi River in some crazed single-minded pursuit of this group so it can attack them for reasons that are never stated. But, really, what animal chases a group of people for hundreds and hundreds of miles?

****End spoilers****

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. I couldn't get past the internal contradictions. It can be found on Amazon here: The Lost Kingdom.