"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, March 28, 2017

B IS for BURGLAR (Kinsey Millhone #2) (audiobook) by Sue Grafton

Published in 1993 by Books on Tape.
Read by Mary Peiffer
Duration: 7 hours, 42 minutes

I've been reading this series on and off again for the better part of 30 years. At one point I was trying to read them all in order but then it just got to be random books when I came across one. Lately, I'd forgotten all about them.

But, I saw some sort of article about how the end of the series was imminent and I thought I would start the series all over again (I certainly didn't remember much of this one - just the fact that the burglar mentioned in the title growled as she ransacked the place). 

Kinsey Millhone has been hired to find the sister of a woman who needs to have her sister sign a legal document so that a will can be settled. Kinsey starts her search and finds that the sister has disappeared. She traveled to Florida but didn't make it to her condo and no one has any idea where she really is.

Kinsey digs further and finds that death and mayhem seems to follow the people that she questions in this case and she is certain that something is very wrong - even if she can't quite figure out what is going on yet...

My plan was to listen to all 24 of the existing Kinsey Millhone mysteries in anticipation of the release of what I presume to be the final 2 installments (Y and Z). But, this book was not all that enjoyable of a listen for me. It wasn't the fault of the reader, Mary Peiffer. She did a great job. The book had all of the action of an extended "Murder, She Wrote" except for one extended fight scene. It just had no pizzazz for me and I think I will go back to to becoming an occasional visitor to the world of Kinsey Millhone rather than a regular one.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here:   B IS for BURGLAR (Kinsey Millhone #2) by Sue Grafton.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A WANTED MAN (Jack Reacher #17) (audiobook) by Lee Child

Published by Random House Audio in 2012
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 14 hours, 11 minutes

Jack Reacher is stuck in Nebraska. He is hitchhiking his way across the country to Virginia to physically meet the woman he met over the phone in 61 Hours. He has having a hard time getting a ride, though, because his nose is broken and it is taped over with a shiny piece of silver duct tape and it makes his already-menacing look even more menacing. He finally gets picked up by two men and a woman in a sedan and they are off to Chicago on the lonely interstate in the middle of the night.

But, things don't seem right to Reacher. The woman is uncomfortable, he has caught the most talkative man in two obvious lies and they get stopped by two different roadblocks. Something is up.

Meanwhile, the action flashes back to a old small town Sheriff and a young female FBI agent who are trying to coordinate a search for two men who are suspected of killing a person with ties to the State Department and a missing cocktail waitress. So far, the suspects have slipped through two different sets of roadblocks...

I was torn by this book. The opening drama of Reacher being trapped in the car with the bad guys was actually quite interesting. The interplay between the FBI agent and the sheriff was excellent. But, the way Reacher figures it out the exact situation (or, at least close enough for the early part of the book) is stunningly unbelievable. The locale of the climactic scene, when it come to pass (no spoiler, I promise) is a play off of the situation in another book that it makes me wonder if Lee Child had come up with two possibilities for the other book and decided to recycle his previously discarded choice in this book.

On the other hand, Reacher's funny comments are plentiful and spot-on. 

Dick Hill does a great job reading Jack Reacher. He gets the pacing of Lee Child's writing style and does a great job with accents and even gives Reacher a stuffed up nose sound the entire book because of his broken nose.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5 for too many giant leaps of logic for Reacher and the "recycled" location from an earlier book.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A Wanted Man by Lee Child.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CAIN at GETTYSBURG (audiobook) by Ralph Peters

There is a problem with a book about Gettysburg in which George Meade is the most likable character...

Published by Blackstone Audio in 2012
Narrated by Peter Berkrot
Duration: 15 hours, 20 minutes

It is easy to give a simple shorthand review of Cain at Gettysburg as an attempt to re-make the magic of Michael Shaara's classic Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels from the Union point of view. To be fair, I will give more than a simple shorthand review, but I will be comparing the two books quite often.

The title Cain at Gettysburg is a biblical reference to the story of Cain and Abel - the story of when one brother killed another. It is the first of many religious references throughout the book.

Like the Shaara book, Cain at Gettysburg goes back and forth between the two armies as they draw together for the fateful Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. While The Killer Angels focuses on the senior Confederate officers, this novel focuses on the senior Union officers. The Confederate officers are probably the more interesting characters but Ralph Peters' strongest points in Cain at Gettysburg are when he focuses on the never-ending political rivalries at the top of the Union command. The constant strivings and squabbles of both sets of officers are readily apparent. 

Cain at Gettysburg comes up short in two key areas when compared to The Killer Angels

1) It fails to convey the larger overview of the battle to the reader. However, its battle details are much more gritty and it does include street fighting in Gettysburg itself, something that is often overlooked. 

Union General George Meade (1815-1872)
2) It fails to create a character that the reader can really root for, with the exception of Meade. Peters manages to do something just short of miraculous in this book. He makes Union General George Meade the single most likable and sympathetic character in a book filled with characters of all backgrounds and ranks. Meade was, by all accounts, one of the most gruff and difficult officers in the Union army. He was nicknamed "Old Snapping Turtle", but in this book he comes off as a likable curmudgeon (Meade always gets the short shrift, so this was an interesting change of pace.) In contrast, Lee comes off as an uncaring megalomaniac. 

But, there is a problem with a book about Gettysburg in which George Meade is the most likable character - it means that there is really no one to root for as you read (or listen, in my case). There were a whole slew of regular Confederate soldiers as characters with complex back stories that all led to the same conclusion - religious faith is a fool's game at best. There were a similar number of Union soldiers from a German unit based out of Wisconsin. They were often funny and interesting but I found myself not really caring about them so much as wishing they would finally get the recognition that they deserved.

A rather long section of the book is all about the political stratagems of Union General Daniel Sickles. It is wearisome, at best.

A very big positive to the audiobook is the performance of the narrator Peter Berkrot. He is brilliant. He creates a number of accents (his German accent is fantastic!) and literally yells, whispers and growls his way through the book.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SILENCE by Shusaku Endo

Originally published in 1966.
Translated by William Johnston.

Rodrigues is a Jesuit missionary from Portugal who has volunteered to travel to Japan. The leaders of Japan have recently turned against almost all foreign contact and have cracked down on Christianity. Stories have come back to the Vatican of Japanese Christians being brutally tortured and priests renouncing their faith. 

Rodrigues is determined to face this challenge. He is genuinely concerned about the believers who are left without a priest and he is also sure that he will not fail if his own faith is challenged. He and a partner make their way into Japan and set up in a small fishing village. The local Christians are thrilled but, soon enough, the priests are discovered and Rodrigues finds out that his presence threatens the lives of his new flock and that his own compassion can be used as a tool against his own faith and that even the strongest believer can be pushed too far...

Shusaku Endo (1923-1996)
This is an absorbing work of historical fiction. The reader sees most of the action from the perspective of Rodrigues, so there is not a lot of historical background about Japan and its internal politics. Mostly, this is a look at one man's struggle with his view of God and why God allows the persecution of the people that profess to believe in Him. This is the "silence" referred to in the title. Some readers have struggled with the Rodrigues' conclusions (in truth, Rodrigues does, as well) but I found his internal debate to be a strong one. 

I am giving this book a rating of 4 out of 5 stars only because of the ending. It was not that I did not disapproved of Rodrigues and how he finally resolved his problem, it's that it was done so quickly and I felt suddenly cut off from the ebb and flow of his thoughts. 

William Johnston translated this novel. As a Spanish teacher, I recognize how hard translation can be and Johnston deserves to be recognized for maintaining a consistent feel and flow to this book. His notes at the beginning of the book are also excellent.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Silence by Shusaku Endo.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Published in November of 2013 Legacy Publishing

Union General Benjamin F. Kelley (1807-1891).
He features prominently in many of the stories in 

this collection, including the story of how he was
kidnapped by Confederate rangers in a daring raid.
Echoes of War Drums: The Civil War in Mountain Maryland is a collection of newspaper and magazine articles written by the author. This sort of collection is, like most things, a good thing and a bad thing. What's good about it is the short format makes it an easy to book to pick up and read for a few minutes with the knowledge that you can walk away for a while and not have to remember any important people or plot points. But, there is a lot of overlap among the articles so the book can be repetitive if you are reading it straight through.

I am not a native of Maryland. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've never been to the region of Maryland that is featured in this book. But, I am an avid student of the Civil War so I read it to find out about an area of the country that had a front-row seat to many of the major battles of the Eastern Theater.

It turns out this area had more value than just proximity. It was also a major source of coal and contained vital railroad and canal routes that were a constant target of Confederate raiders.

My favorite story by far was "A Pair of Generals Give the Confederates an Ace in the Hole". This tells the story of how two Union generals were kidnapped by Confederate rangers. I have read this story in just about every history of the Eastern Theater but never in this detail. I had no idea how audacious this plan was until you see it spelled out step-by-step.

"Teenage Rebellion, Civil War Style" the story of a female teenage spy who was caught delivering messages to Confederate forces gives the reader the feel for how fluid the border between the North and the South really was and how family connections often crisscrossed that border.

"Who is 'Genl. Scofield'?" is the touching story of a family that has adopted the grave marker of this unknown soldier. I say that he is unknown because there were only two generals named Scofield in the war and neither died anywhere near western Maryland and they have no connection to the area so this grave is unlikely to be theirs.

Collections like this one fill local book shops across the country and are a great source of additional information that remind the reader that the Civil War is more than the Emancipation Proclamation, Pickett's Charge and memorable lines like, "Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!" It is also about an almost infinite number of smaller events like nuns traveling across Ohio to tend to the wounded for weeks and months in a strange town and families being forced out of their homes for failing to sign a loyalty oath and soldiers guarding a railroad track in a small fort they helped build a long way from home.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Echoes of War Drums by James Rada, Jr.

Note: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the author. I have not met the author and received nothing except for a copy of the book, which I was not obligated to review.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

THE FINAL DAY (audiobook) by William R. Forstchen

A Review of the Audiobook

Published in January of 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Duration: 12 hours, 11 minutes

The conclusion of the John Matherson trilogy does not bring a fairy tale ending to his story of post-EMP America, but it does answer an important question from both of the previous novels - just who has taken over the reins of what remains of the Federal Government?

For those who don't know, an EMP is short for Electro-Magnetic Pulse. Nuclear weapons generate this pulse when they explode and these weapons can be fine-tuned to generate an pulse that will cover a large part of North America. The pulse completely fries modern electronics and in this book series the United States is thrown 100 years back into the past in terms of technology.

John Matherson continues to lead his North Carolina community and they are having some success in re-establishing some of the technology that existed before the attack. They are slowly adding new communities into the fold and are now calling themselves the State of Carolina.

But, this is interrupted by the arrival of a message from Matherson's old commanding officer from his Army days. The Federal government has not forgiven Matherson's community for their attack on a poorly-trained Federal army made up of draftees last year and they are demanding that his community submit to their authority or be invaded by regular Army troops with tons of air support. Matherson is torn - he wants to trust his old friend and mentor but he knows he cannot trust this group that claims to be the reconstituted Federal government...

Unfortunately, this book continues in the trend of the second book in this series instead of the first.  There are plot holes, forgotten characters and lots and lots of repetitive long lectures from characters. So many characters don't have conversations - they deliver speeches. And, some don't just deliver them once, they deliver them again and again. This audiobook could have been edited down by 2 or 3 hours and it would have been a much better experience.

Forstchen has a lot of cursing which does not bother me - soldiers curse, people curse when they get shot at. I grew up in a family that brought cursing up to the level of art. The cursing in this book oftentimes sounds so inauthentic that it was like it was inserted to butch up the story some. Bronson Pinchot's attempt to read the curses and the random yelling like the book described just served to reinforce how clunky so much of this dialogue really is (how many times can you look out the window and curse the people that attacked America in just one book? How many characters can make the same curse in the same book?)  I was reminded of Harrison Ford's comment about George Lucas's dialogue in Star Wars: "George, you can type this $%@&@, but you sure can't say it!"

Also, while I was glad to finally see who was behind this re-constituted Federal government, I did not buy the backstory. It was a let-down.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Final Day by William R. Forstchen.