"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
Twenty years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1,600 reviews.

Visit DWD's Reviews of Books, Audiobooks, Music and Video new sister blog: DWD's Reviews of Tech, Gadgets and Gizmos!

Friday, August 28, 2015

THE BURNING ROOM (Harry Bosch #19) (audiobook) by Michael Connelly

Published by Hachette Audio in November of 2014
Read by Titus Welliver
Duration: 10 hours, 11 minutes

In a book that feels like the beginning of the end to the long, productive career of LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, Bosch and his new partner work on two different cold cases. One case is unique in that the murder victim just died but the shot that killed him was fired years before - the injury finally overwhelmed him. 

The second case is personal to Bosch's new partner, Lucia "Lucy" Soto. As a child, she was in a day care that was operated in the basement of an apartment building when someone set fire to the garbage in another part of the basement with a Molotov cocktail sort of device. The resulting fire killed a number of the children and their teacher. Since Soto has such a personal stake in this case she should preclude herself from it - but Bosch works it so that they can re-open the case as part of another case.
Michael Connelly. Photo by
Mark DeLong Photography

While the cases were interesting, the interplay between Bosch and Soto really got my attention. Clearly, Bosch has found a detective that shares his level of commitment and he is happy to coach her - he offers critiques when needed and praise when deserved and she works hard to figure out what he does that makes him such a good detective.

Everything points to Bosch moving on to greener pastures. This is the 19th Harry Bosch book (depending on how you choose to number them) and he is approaching forced retirement. He reminisces about old cases (he has a point to them so he is not just telling stories just to tell them), he leaves it to his partner to use the technology stuff, including internet searches. He does the old school stuff, like looking at newspaper clippings and picking locks with paper clips. Together they make a powerful team and Bosch seems to delight in telling people that they pair old detectives with the most talented newest ones so that they can learn. I am a teacher and I recognize the relationship as being the same that I have had with student teachers - mentor and mentee.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly even though Bosch seems to be moving out to make room for Soto, especially with the surprise ending. 

The audiobook was read by Titus Welliver who plays Harry Bosch in Amazon's adaptation of the series for streaming video. I have heard Welliver do several Robert B. Parker audiobooks - he was not bad with those but he is much better with this book. That is not surprising though - Connelly's books always do well as audiobooks. They read like they were designed to be read aloud.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: The Burning Room (A Harry Bosch Novel)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

DOCTOR WHO: SNAKE BITE (audiobook) by Scott Hancock

Published in 2012 by BBC Audiobooks Ltd.
Read by Frances Barber
Duration: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Two physicists are working in a secret lab in a massive space station that literally encircles a planet. Their secret project is kept hidden from everyone - even the power to run it is taken siphoned away from dozens of other locations on the space station. Down below, a unique planet is being studied. In the lab, a a stable wormhole is being perfected. As the wormhole stabilizes, the TARDIS arrives right in the middle of it all. The Doctor (Matt Smith's Doctor) doesn't know where they are at first and he certainly doesn't know why he is there. Once they start to figure things out they discover that things are weirder than they even imagined...

Frances Barber was picked to read this audiobook. The producers tried to tie a little Doctor Who authenticity to the book by picking a Doctor Who alum to read the book. Barber played Madame Kovarian - the Eye Patch Woman who kidnapped Amy Pond's baby. This is a very memorable character and perhaps it would have been better if this character had been in the story because Barber just does not have the rhythms of any of the regular characters. For example, her Amy Pond sounds hesitant and scared. When Amy Pond gets scared, she gets loud and mad, not hesitant. Her portrayal of the Doctor does not have Matt Smith's rapid-fire delivery. 

The plot reads like a middle-of-the-road Doctor Who story (not too good, not too bad) but the performance of the reading just wore on me and made it seem slow. About an hour into the story I checked to see if this was a 2 CD set and was very pleased to see that I had misremembered the number of CDs and this story was nearly over. 

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon here: Doctor Who: Snake Bite.

STONE COLD (Joe Pickett #14) by C.J. Box

Originally published in March of 2014.

Installment #13 in the Joe Pickett series left us wondering what Joe would do with himself and how the series could continue. Joe had just quit his job as a Wyoming game warden due to his absolute disgust with a case of government abusing its power and causing an innocent man to be pushed beyond his breaking point.

But, what would Joe Pickett do if he wasn't a game warden? As a practical matter, how would the series even continue? It's not like Joe Pickett and Nate Romanowski could open up a private detective service in rural Wyoming.

So, Joe is back to what he was doing a few books ago - he has been restored as a game warden again but he is working for the governor as a "troubleshooter." He is the governor's one man personal police force, but the governor hasn't called on him for anything...until now.

The governor wants him to discretely look into a mysterious out-of-state man who has moved into north-eastern Wyoming, bought up huge chunks of land and has made himself the most important man in that part of the state. He owns the most land, pays the most taxes, owns the most businesses, has the most employees and basically lives like a medieval lord in that he is above the law. 

On top of that, there are persistent rumors that this man runs a very high-end hit man operation. The targets are always people who arguably deserved it (like a Bernie Madoff, for example) but murder is still murder. Rumor has it that his professional killers stay at his mansion and Joe recognizes one of these hit men in a blurry photo - Nate Romanowski. 

It took a while for this book to get into its main plot line. However, that does not mean that it was wasted time, it was just more carefully laid out. Once Joe makes it out to the Black Hills of Wyoming the story is absolutely riveting. Joe's unerring ability to find trouble pushes the story along as he starts to dig.

I rate this story 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Stone Cold (A Joe Pickett Novel)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

THREE LINKS of a CHAIN: A NOVEL by Dennis Maley

Published on July 7, 2015 by Jubilo

In many ways, the fight over whether Kansas would be a slave state or a free state was the first fighting of the Civil War. 

In a shortsighted move, the Congress of the United States decided to let the Kansas Territory decide for itself if it wanted to be a slave or a free state. It was shortsighted because it put off a festering political problem and let it be decided in a far away territory with little thought to what would happen in that territory. Immediately, this became a real-life struggle, the physical embodiment of the arguments taking place across the country about slavery and its future. Slave states rightly determined that they needed to bring Kansas in as a slave state and they immediately sent financial backing to support pro-slavery settlers and pro-slavery men from neighboring Missouri who would cross the border and illegally vote in the election.

Abolitionists sent settlers, financial aid and weapons to counter. Soon enough, neighbor was fighting neighbor (John Brown of the infamous Harper's Ferry raid got his start here by killing a number of his pro-slavery neighbors with broadswords) and a series of tainted elections were held. Multiple governments claimed to be in charge of the state, multiple federal investigations resulted in nothing but contradictory conclusions, depending on the political affiliations of the investigators. 

This book starts in Missouri, very close to the border with Kansas. Blanche is a slave working for the local newspaper owner. The town is in an uproar due to its proximity to Kansas. Men are planning to illegally vote one side or another, arms are being sent across the border and ugly fights and arguments are breaking out everywhere.

A slave auction
Blanche is not happy being a slave but figures that he has got things all figured out and will eventually be free due to his careful manipulation of the slave system. He can read, is free to work on the side for extra cash and is confident that he is superior to any field hand slave.

Blanche's plan is simple - he will work for the cash to pay for his freedom or he will simply outlive his master who has promised him that he placed instructions in his will to free him when he dies. But, when his master dies during a fight Blanche finds out that his master may not have done as he promised. When he breaks into his master's widow's house to look for a copy of the will he discovers that she has burned it and she intends to keep him as a slave forever.

Blanche runs at the first good opportunity and heads straight into chaos of Bleeding Kansas followed by slave catchers and encouraged by members of the Underground Railroad. Maybe he can make it if he can determine who is really a friend, who is really a foe.

This is a solid piece of historical fiction. Blanche and most of the characters are composites based on real people. The author's research shows and he is able to give a real feel for the chaos of the times and the precarious life of a slave. The descriptions of Blanche's flight and of the people he meets in Kansas are well done. The only real problem that I had with the book is that Blanche has so many of these interesting episodes and brushes with danger and the same slave catcher over and over again that this middle-aged reader began to doubt that any one person could have so many close calls and still have any hope of escaping. But, I am considerably older than the intended audience and I doubt kids would think twice about it. I took off a star because of it, though.

I imagine that the author found so many great tales of close calls involving runaway slaves while doing his research that he could not bear to cut any of them so he worked them all into Blanche's escape story. I can certainly understand that sentiment. 

As a history teacher, I would certainly recommend this book as a great supplement in a history class. 

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. 

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Three Links of Chain

Note: I was sent an advance review copy of this book at no charge so that I could write an honest review.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

FORT PILLOW: A NOVEL of the CIVIL WAR (audiobook) by Harry Turtledove

Audiobook Edition Published in 2009 by Tantor Audio
Published in hardback in 2006.
Read by John Allen Nelson
Duration: 11 hours, 13 minutes

The massacre at Fort Pillow truly stands out in a bloody Civil War in which hundreds of thousands of men and women died. Even though the American Civil War had so many casualties, the war itself was remarkable in that the two sides were often quite civil with one another off of the battlefield. There are numerous stories of local truces to trade coffee for tobacco and the like. My favorite is the story of Confederate and Union pickets (perimeter guards) who co-built a cabin in stages during the winter and agreed to share it in shifts as the day went along. Prisoners of War were generally cared for (there were exceptions, but they stick out as exceptions), the enemy wounded were treated by the doctors (the care was bad, but the best that was available), and so on.

Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877)
The battle at Fort Pillow in April of 1864, though, stands out as something different. It was much more like the Missouri Bushwhacker and Kansas Jayhawker fighting. It was more than just Union vs. Confederate. It had a personal side to it that resulted in a massacre. 

The positive side to this book is that Turtledove has clearly done an exceptional amount of research. He presents Nathan Bedford Forrest as a complicated man. An uneducated man who outsmarts most West Pointers he fights against and outshines most of his experienced and educated peers. He truly was one of the most talented officers of the war. But, he was also a slave trader and certainly could not approve of Black soldiers fighting against white men.

An advertisement for Forrest's
slave-trading business.
Fort Pillow was garrisoned with white and black soldiers. The U.S. Colored Troops were roughly half of the soldiers, the balance were white soldiers, mostly  from Tennessee. Even though Tennessee was a Confederate state, these white soldiers had sat out of the war and then volunteered for the Union army when they could or had deserted the Confederate army to join the Union. Tennessee supplied 100,000 men to the Confederate cause, but it also supplied 50,000 Union soldiers. A lot of Forrest's men were from Tennessee and they looked at Tennessee men who became Union soldiers as traitors or worse. Forrest's men also believed that these Union soldiers had attacked pro-Confederate families, including unsanctioned raping and looting. Turtledove hints that even though these attacks were unsanctioned, they may very well have been unofficially approved of by the Union leadership at Fort Pillow. Clearly, the fighting in Tennessee was more than just about secession or slavery - it had a personal dimension as well.

The U.S. Colored Troops had their own problems. The Confederate government had pledged to enslave any black soldiers that they captured, on the premise that they were all escaped slaves. 

Forrest and his men launched a surprise, raid-style attack on Fort Pillow in an effort to pick up more arms and other supplies and in a non-stop effort to harass Yankee soldiers wherever they could be found. 

Fort Pillow was poorly designed and its officers did little to improve its viability. For example, fields of fire were not cleared around the fort, little thought had gone into what would happen if the defenders got in close (the artillery could not hit them due to the limited ability of the cannons to fire downward). 

After some hard fighting it became obvious to Forrest that he would eventually take the fort and he asked for a truce to discuss surrender terms. The original commander of the fort had been killed and his replacement refused to surrender, even though Forrest promised to not enslave the U.S. Colored Troops and that they would not seek reprisal against the white soldiers from Tennessee. He also threatened that if his men were forced to take the fort by force he could not ensure that he could stop them from committing these sorts of atrocities.

And, it turns out, Forrest was right...

Turtledove does so much right in this book. It is well-researched. He makes characters out of people in multiple levels of both armies so that he can give a very thorough view of the battle. He does not get bogged down in the technical details of each weapon, but his description of how to operate a Civil War cannon was detailed and extremely interesting.

What does he do wrong?

- He is repetitive. It is great that he gives multiple perspectives, but he gives long, long multiple perspectives on the same topic.

-He has an annoying habit of having the omniscient narrator tell the reader something and then have the characters note the same thing, think about the thing that they noted, tell another character about that thing and then they discuss whether or not to tell other people about it. Any single one of these devices would have been sufficient. Even worse, sometimes a soldier on the other side of the battle notices the same thing and the entire process is repeated.

-There is a long, rather boring chase of a single Union officer after the battle. He sneaks away from the fort, tries to get to Union lines, gets captured and eventually is executed. Way too long and no real pay off at the end.

In sum, the book is too repetitive. The good parts of the book are simply overwhelmed by the tedium of the slow parts. Easily 25% of the book could have been thrown out or condensed. Probably more.

The reader, John Allen Nelson, did some good work in his reading. He did not have enough unique voices to make each character stand out. But, he was great at adding emotion and drama to the story. He often yelled as he read about the men charging Fort Pillow or becoming wounded. 

But, no matter how well read this book was, the story was damaged by an author that does not seem to believe that his readers can follow along unless they are constantly told the same facts over and over again.

I rate this story 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: Fort Pillow: A Novel of the Civil War.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

UNSAVORY DELICACIES (Ridley Fox/Nita Parris Spy Series Book 2) and THE DEMETER CODE (Ridley Fox/Nita Parris Spy Series Book 3) by Russell Brooks

  If you like the Mission Impossible movies, you'll like The Demeter Code

Normally, I don't review two books at the same time. But, the author of this series sent me both books together, explaining that they are closely tied. From what I have read in other reviews, Unsavory Delicacies (really, it is a 30 page collection of short stories) served as sort of a bridge between books 1 and 3.Personally, I think you should just jump into book three, The Demeter Code. I felt no better informed about what was going on at the beginning of Book 3 than I would have if hadn't read 2.

So, if you just jump into book three be prepared for a little confusion, much like at the beginning of the first Mission Impossible movie. In fact, this book reminded me quite a bit of that series due its fast-pace, dramatic action scenes and the emphasis on working as a team and trusting the team over everything else.

The real action starts out with an American operation in Europe going bad, resulting in the death of a contact and a big-time international arms dealer. Once the team sorts through everything they decide that they have to investigate further, even if their bosses are telling them to pull back. From that point on the book is an almost non-stop thrill ride to all sorts of exotic locales like Russia, Afghanistan, D.C., East Asia and Bloomington, Indiana.

Yes, the whole story comes together in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University where the author went to college. I also attended Indiana University long before this author did and have lived within an a two hour drive of it almost all of my life.  I was pleased to note that not only does the story gel in Indiana, his use of Indiana geography made sense (there are two big story lines that take place there) and he gives a solid description of area around Bloomington. 

The evil plan hatched by our bad guys is a good one. It takes a lot of digging to come up with the answer. This could have been a boring story but it is not. It is a complicated story, but I found that if I was confused it was best just to plow on ahead and, sure enough, the confusion was resolved a few pages later. 

The action sequences are top-notch and there are plenty of them.

Bottom line: If you like Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible movies, you'll like this book.

Note: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: The Demeter Code (An International Spy Thriller) (Ridley Fox/Nita Parris Spy Series Book 3)