"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, February 28, 2017

DEAD LIKE ME (Detective Kate Springer #1) (audiobook) by Kelly Miller

A Review of the Audiobook

Published in February of 2017 by Kelly Miller.
Originally published as a book in 2013.
Read by Angel Clark.
Duration: 7 hours, 34 minutes

Detective Kate Springer is not a perfect cop - and she's not the movie stereotype "rogue cop who doesn't play by the rules." She's a solid detective in Tampa, Florida with her own personal struggles.

She and her partner are assigned a murder case in which a young lady is found strangled to death in the back yard of an abandoned house. Springer is struck by how much this young victim looks like she did at her age. The case triggers a flood of memories of her own difficult childhood in which she was sexually abused for years by an older neighbor who was her babysitter.

As the case unfolds her the similarities between this case and her own experiences seem to get stronger and stronger, but is increasingly unsure if this is because they really are that similar or if she has just lost the proper perspective.

And then she gets the shock of her life...

Too many detective novels end up having the detective taking on a massive conspiracy such as an entire drug cartel, a terrorist organization or a plot to take down the government. This novel does the opposite - the detective takes on a case and ends up confronting the demons within. In the end, I found this to be a much more interesting take.

The audiobook was read by Angel Clark. Clark's choice to read her internal monologue with a much different voice than her speaking voice was jarring. I especially did not care for her internal voice - it sounded like a parody of the stereotypical NPR reading voice. This back and forth between the two voices made up the greater part of the story and I never got used to it.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5,

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Dead Like Me by Kelly Miller. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

WITHOUT FAIL (Jack Reacher #6) (audiobook) by Lee Child

Originally released in 2007 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 16 hours, 34 minutes

Jack Reacher is back. He is tracked down by his deceased brother's former colleague in the Secret Service (and ex-girlfriend) because she wants him to take a run at the security around the Vice President-elect in order to test it.

It turns out there is a serious plot to kill the Vice President-elect and Reacher and a partner he has brought in to help join in to hunt for the plotters.

This is a typical Reacher book - lots of snide comments, fistfights and even gunplay. The part where he is brought in by the Secret Service is a stretch, but Lee Child makes it palatable.

The audiobook is read by veteran reader Dick Hill. He gives Reacher a strong voice and I think he really gets the character.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Without Fail by Lee Child.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE FORT: A NOVEL by Bernard Cornwell

Not Cornwell's Best Effort.

Published in 2010 by HarperCollins

Set in 1779 Massachusetts, Bernard Cornwell tells the story of the Penobscot Expedition - a small scale invasion by British forces of a bay in what is now Maine.

The government of Massachusetts is determined to repel this invasion without help from the Continental Army. It calls up its militia and its fledgling navy. It does accept help from the American national Navy and its contingent of Marines. By far, the most famous American in this campaign is the commander of the Massachusetts' artillery unit, Lt. Colonel Paul Revere.

Cornwell does a decent job of developing the British officers as characters.  A young officer named John Moore gets his first taste of battle here. In the Napoleonic Wars, Moore was one of the architects of Napoleon's eventual defeat.

Cornwell's battle scenes are, as always, excellently described. He switches from naval battles to land battles with ease. I felt absolutely confident that I had a reasonable grasp of the strategy and tactics of the battle and the successes and failures of the various officers that led to the outcome of the battle.

But, this book has glaring weaknesses.

Paul Revere (1734-1818)
Cornwell never makes it clear as to why Massachusetts refuses to even ask for help from the Continental Army until it is much too late. My opinion is that Massachusetts was very interested in asserting its independence - not just from England but even from the Continental Congress. But, I am basing that on previous knowledge, not from anything that Cornwell provided.

Paul Revere is a star of the book even though he is actually a fairly minor character in the book when it comes to dialogue. He is not even in most of the scenes that refer to him - there are a lot of references to him not being present at locations where he certainly should be present because he is sleeping on a ship or he is waiting for his cook to prepare his breakfast somewhere. The reader just knows that he is a diva but there is no explanation as to why.

The reasons for the British invasion of this particular bay is also not even made clear. This is a fairly lengthy book, but if I were the editor I would have suggested the addition of a few more pages to make the historical context of the story a lot more clearer and make the importance of what is happening here give the story even more drama.

I rate this novel 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

Thursday, February 23, 2017

READY PLAYER ONE (audiobook) by Ernest Cline

Published in 2011 by Random House Audio.
Read by Wil Wheaton.
Duration: 15 hours, 46 minutes

Ready Player One is a dystopian novel set in 2044 America. Things are not going well - there is an energy crisis, mega-corporations run everything and most of the country lives in poverty. Cities aren't particularly safe and the countryside between the cities resembles Mad Max more than Green Acres. The only relief comes in the form of The OASIS - a free virtual world that allows its users to avoid their depressing real lives and be part of something bright, shiny and new. You can become who you want to be and people of relatively modest means in the real world can become someone quite important online.

The book revolves around Wade Watts and his online persona Parzival. He, along with millions of others, is in the midst of an online treasure hunt for clues to a fortune. He is a "gunter", which is a contraction of "egg hunter", as in the Easter Eggs -hidden references to other movies or pop culture that are sometimes hidden within a movie. 

The creator of The OASIS was a Howard Hughes-type billionaire - brilliant but extremely eccentric. He has promised that the person who found found three keys and successfully opened three gates will win his real-life fortune and his shares in the massive video game corporation that administers The OASIS.

He loved the 1980s and geek culture. It is widely assumed that the keys are hidden in places that combine both. So, these "gunters" study the 1980s with an all-consuming passion. They know all of the movies, the video games, the music and especially role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Wade Watts is a true "gunter" - he knows that his only real chance of making it out of the desperate poverty of his real life is to find these keys. If only he can find a clue...

...and then one day he finds a clue and everything changes, both in The OASIS and in the real world.

The reader, Wil Wheaton.
Photo by Genevieve.
Wil Wheaton read this homage to All Things Eighties and did a great job of creating different voices and pacing for characters. There is a lot of description and narration (as opposed to dialogue) in this book and he kept it lively and interesting.

At first, I loved this book as it was a trip down memory lane for me. The references to John Hughes movies, Monty Python, the music, the video game arcades and Dungeons and Dragons reminded me of my own teen years.

But, it was also depressing. It was sad seeing that the culture of the 2040s was consumed by its fascination with the 1980s and had no cultural innovations of their own - just technological innovations that enable people to experience The OASIS better. Everything was an homage to the 1980s or to The OASIS. 

Was this a great story? No, but it was fun and I was certainly entertained for nearly 16 hours listening to it so I can't complain.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: READY PLAYER ONE.

Friday, February 17, 2017

GO SET a WATCHMAN (audiobook) by Harper Lee

Published in 2015 by HarperAudio in 2015
Read by Reese Witherspoon.
Duration: 6 hours, 57 minutes

I waited for a while to take a chance with Go Set a Watchman. The blowback when it was released was formidable, so I decided to let it sit for a while and in the meantime stop reading the reviews.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

This book is set about 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, in the 1950s. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) has come home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for a long visit. 

When she first arrives she falls into the familiar rhythms of a small town where she seems to know most everyone. She rekindles a romance with her father's young protege and soon enough returns to scandalizing her aunt with her forward ways. Atticus Finch has become a physically frailer man, but his mind is still spry.

Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Everything about the trip seems to be going well until Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet among some papers of Atticus. She decides that she simply must sneak into a meeting of the Citizens' Council - a group of white men who are concerned about the NAACP and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

The meeting is in the same courtroom where Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson and Jean Louise sneaks into the balcony to watch her father, just like she did in To Kill a Mockingbird. In that novel she saw her father do his best to defend a black man in a town that already knew his client was guilty.

In Go Set a Watchman, she sees her father and her serious boyfriend colluding with men who spout racist nonsense. She sees the hero fall - and fall hard.

Jean Louise's reaction was amazingly similar to my own as I listened to an icon of American literature debase himself - shock and disbelief. In my case, I knew it was coming, but I still hoped that maybe it had been exaggerated.

Everything seems to be falling apart around Jean Louise. She flees to her childhood home only to find it has been torn down and replaced by an ice cream stand. Calpurnia, the only mother figure she has ever known, rejects her. Her childhood is gone, her hero is gone and she is totally alone.

Clearly, there is a large bit of autobiography in this book - every bit as much as there was in To Kill a Mockingbird. One can easily imagine a young Harper Lee taking a similar trip back to Alabama and struggling with two versions of her hometown - the idealized version that she remembered from her childhood and the reality that falls short once she looks upon it with the eyes of an outsider.

Despite it all, I found myself enjoying this book. It is, in many ways, a more mature book than To Kill a Mockingbird. That being said, it is certainly not a stand-alone novel. You must read To Kill a Mockingbird before you read this book.

Reese Witherspoon read this audiobook and her lovely voice was an excellent choice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

See my review of To Kill a Mockingbird here.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

ONE YEAR AFTER (John Matherson #2) (audiobook) by William Forstchen

The Story Continues...

Published in Blackstone Audio in 2015
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Duration: 9 hours, 51 minutes

In this sequel to the bestseller One Second After, Forstchen continues to tell the story of what happens to a North Carolina community called Black Mountain after the United States is attacked by multiple EMP attacks from nuclear weapons. All of the modern technology is fried (computers, modern cars, the electrical grid, anything with a circuit board) and America reverts back to a pre-industrial technology level.

*********SPOILER ALERT*************

An Apache helicopter
This book starts one year after the ending of the first book which ended one year after the attack. The main thrust of the story is that the federal government has returned in the guise of an appointed administrator working out of Asheville, NC. It is unclear exactly who is in control of the federal government, but they are drafting most of the able-bodied soldiers of the communities that survived the chaos after the EMP attack. The largest cities, like Chicago and New York City, are in complete chaos. A leader of a cult has taken over giant areas of Chicago and has successfully resisted a federal invasion led by largely untrained troops. So, the idea is to recruit local militias into a million man army to re-take America - an army led, in part, by John Matherson, who would be promoted to General.

The main thrust of the book is a burgeoning federal vs. local conflict symbolized by this demand for most of Black Mountain's local militia. If the militia joins the national army the town of Black Mountain is left defenseless The federal administrator is a cardboard cut-out of a toady bureaucrat who does not really know how to lead people but uses his connections to bully them instead. He has the superior military hardware in the form of Apache helicopters, but no particular skill in using his advantage. In opposition we have John Matherson who has become his town's patriarch and is willing to have his town destroyed rather than submit.

The series of fights throughout the second half of the book were interesting but rather pointless. Why would this federal administrator want to destroy one of the few places that can actually feed and defend itself? His style is all wrong for a brown-nosing toady - those guys know how to manipulate people and this guy does not. Most of the conflict in this book could have been solved with two or three short-wave radio conversations that included John Matherson from Asheville to the new federal government location outside of Washington, D.C.

***********End Spoilers************

Bronson Pinchot read the book and, for the most part, he did a good job. However, the accent he created for the bad guy federal administrator kept going in and out and sounded at various times like he was from the midwest or the south. But, the character said he was from Boston. I don't know if it was a really clever intentional thing - something to emphasize the guy was a liar about everything, including his accent, or if it was just a series of mistakes.

In short, there is a large drop-off in quality from book #1 in this series to book #2. I will finish the series but I am expecting a lot less of the third installment. 

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Year After