"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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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

THE EYES of the DRAGON by Stephen King



Originally published in 1984.
Published by Penguin Audio in 2010.
Read by Bronson Pinchot.
Duration: 10 hours, 18 minutes.
Unabridged

Stephen King
The ancient kingdom of Delain is ruled by a good king, but not a great king. He is a widower with two sons and an ancient, yet seemingly ageless, magician adviser named Flagg. His oldest son is Peter - a son who shows all of the signs that he will be a great and good king in the future. His youngest son is Thomas, a young man who is a lot like his father. Thomas is very jealous of the well-deserved attention lavished upon Peter and often turns to his only friend - Flagg.

Flagg is very powerful, long-lived and an omnipresent dark force in the royal palace. In reality, he is more than a mere magician, he is a malignant force that seeks to create chaos and disorder above all else. Flagg is a frequent character in Stephen King books, most notably in The Stand and The Dark Tower series. This book is his second appearance in King's work.

Flagg poisons the king and frames Prince Peter for the regicide. Peter is sentenced to live in a high tower the rest of his life and the young and woefully unprepared Prince Thomas becomes King. Flagg advises Peter and steers the kingdom on a course that will lead to chaos and civil war.

But, high up in his tower, Peter has a plan...


This book is different than the majority of King's books, being an epic fantasy rather than a horror book. It is also presented differently as well. This book has a narrator that acts as a storyteller that often speaks directly to the reader as though we were all sitting around a campfire or a hearth on a cold winter's night. 

The audiobook is read by award-winning narrator Bronson Pinchot. When I say that it is read, though, I am not doing his work justice. He doesn't just read this book. He performs it. He screams, he cries out, he laughs. His characterization of Flagg is so creepy, so scary, that it makes the character emerge fully formed in the listener's consciousness. At the end of the book, when Flagg's true nature is shown to everyone, his screams, his anger, his unhinged-ness (if that is a word) are captured by Pinchot perfectly. 

This is not a perfect audiobook - the story simply lags at too many points for that. But, it is a good story and it is well worth it just to hear Pinchot's audio performance.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: THE EYES of the DRAGON by Stephen King.

Monday, October 9, 2017

GULP: ADVENTURES on the ALIMENTARY CANAL (audiobook) by Mary Roach



Published by Tantor Audio in 2013.
Read by Emily Woo Zeller
Duration: 8 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged

Mary Roach focuses her often-humorous, always oddball approach to science on the human digestive tract in GULP, a book that always entertains, even if it doesn't always stay on topic.

To be fair, she stays in the general area of the topic. For example, when she talks about how much your sense of smell affects your sense of taste she goes into a long (and interesting and sometimes gross) look at the pet food industry and how they convince dogs and cats to eat gross food by making it smell really, really enticing. 


Topics include: saliva, how much a human stomach will actually hold, why lots of animals eat their own poop, why cows ruminate, the role of bacteria in digestion, enlarged colons, why prisoners sneak things into jail by putting them up their rectum but terrorists don't put bombs in the same place, why farts smell and, in an off-topic moment, she discusses if the Inuit actually do rub noses rather than kiss.

Emily Woo Zeller read this audiobook and did a wonderful job with it. This is a fun ride and Zeller read it with just the right amount of enthusiasm. Highly recommended (if you have a strong stomach!)

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. 


This book can be found on Amazon.com here:  GULP by Mary Roach.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A WALK in the WOODS: REDISCOVERING AMERICA on the APPALACHIAN TRAIL (audiobook) by Bill Bryson



Originally published in 1999.
Unabridged audio edition published in 2012 by Random House Audio.

Read by Rob McQuay.
Duration: 9 hours, 47 minutes.


Bill Bryson. Photo by Wes Washington.
Bill Bryson discovered that he lived near the Appalachian Trail, which is no surprise since it winds more than 2,200 miles from northern Georgia to Maine and literally runs within an hour drive for millions of people. After looking into a little, Bryson decided to walk the trail. Why not? He had no equipment, no real experience in wilderness hiking and was woefully out of shape. What could go wrong?

He is joined by his friend, Stephen Katz (not his real name), who is even more out of shape than Bryson and off they go to northern Georgia. The book is more than just a story of their hike, though. It is also a running commentary on consumer culture, the irksome (and all-too-often) ineptitude of the National Park system, the camaraderie of almost every hiker he met, friendship, compulsion, the experience of walking in a society that has forgotten how to walk and makes few accommodations for people to walk, the dangers of invasive species and both the fragility and strength of nature. 


This book is simultaneously a buddy book, a nature lecture and a comedy routine and is thoroughly enjoyable. Well worth your time - and not just if you are aspiring hiker (I am an urban walker - in short spurts of 1-3 miles, not a marathon walker, like you would have to be to "hike through" on the Appalachian Trail).

The reader, Rob McQuay perfectly nailed the tone of the book and made it all the better. Great job.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A WALK in the WOODS: REDISCOVERING AMERICA on the APPALACHIAN TRAIL by Bill Bryson.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

THE LATE SHOW (audiobook) by Michael Connelly



Published by Hachette Audio in July of 2017.
Read by Katherine Moennig
Duration: 9 hours, 22 minutes
Unabridged

Michael Connelly. Photo by Mark Coggins.
Michael Connelly moves away from the aging Harry Bosch character and starts a new character firmly in his literary universe.

Renee Ballard is a detective that works the night shift. Most of her cases aren't really her cases at all - her job mostly consists of taking names, doing preliminary interviews and then turning everything over to the day shift to finish. This job was a demotion because she filed a righteous sexual harassment claim on a boss but was not backed up by her partner who was more interested in sucking up to his boss for a promotion than doing the right thing.

So, Ballard tries her best to do more than just be the person that hands the cases off to other guys. She is a good cop with shades of Harry Bosch, meaning she can get obsessed and play with the rules if she feels like the rules get in the way. When she catches a case that no one cares about involving a transgendered streetwalker prostitute who was nearly beaten to death. Ballard thinks that there may be more to this case than meets the eye so she decides to pursue it. Besides, she loves the underdog and no one is more of an underdog than this victim...


Personally, I was disappointed by this story. There are two mysteries - the one with the prostitute is an excellent mystery, the secondary story involving multiple murders at a night club was too far-fetched for me. Also, I was not very fond of Renee Ballard's backstory. I am generally a fan of all things Michael Connelly. I have reviewed 23 Michael Connelly books and this is only the third that was not a 4 or 5 star.

The reader, Katherine Moennig is an established actress (she worked in a movie based on a book written by Connelly), but I did not enjoy her work as an audiobook reader. It never felt like she established any sort of stride or comfort level as a reader. 


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Late Show by Michael Connelly.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

THE WALK-IN by Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzulo



Published in 2008 by Crown Publishing

Matt Freed is summoned on very short notice to Bucharest to interview a member of Iran's intelligence community. He was unrecruited, meaning that he is a "walk-in" - literally someone who walked into the embassy and offered information that the American government would want.

Freed has been asked to talk to this man because he is an expert on Iranian politics and he speaks the language. He is also an extremely capable intelligence operative. The interview yields valuable and very scary information. Freed starts to act on it and soon discovers that there may be more to this situation than he has been led to believe. He starts his own investigation and becomes convinced that this may be a double cross. His superiors disagree and it becomes a race against time with Freed working against foreign governments and his own...


This is a middle-of-the-road spy novel. The action was good but sometimes the narration needed to be made more clear as the action moved from person to person. The supporting characters were never really fleshed out so they always seemed to be fairly arbitrary in their actions because they were faceless uniforms or suits, depending on the bureaucracies they served. This is a book that would have been much better if it had been expanded.

I rate this novel 3 stars out of 5.

This novel can be found on Amazon.com here: The Walk-In.

Friday, September 22, 2017

LINCOLN'S GIFT: HOW HUMOR SHAPED LINCOLN'S LIFE and LEGACY by Gordon Leidner



Published in 2015 by Cumberland House
273 pages including end notes and a bibliography

Lincoln's Gift: How Humor Shaped Lincoln's Life and Legacy is an excellent short biography of our sixteenth president with a special focus on his legendary storytelling abilities. When one considers who integral Lincoln's humorous stories were to his successes both as an attorney and as a politician, I felt that this biography is one of the few biographies or histories that gave me much of a sense of Lincoln as a man.

Leidner wisely chooses to provide a lot of detail about Lincoln's life before he became a national figure - these stories give the reader a feel for the man long before he became president and give a frame of reference for his reactions and his stories while he was in office.


Very few of his stories are truly laugh out loud funny, but he often told humorous or rustic tales to make his point or distill a complicated idea into something very simple. A classic example of this is when Grant explained how he planned to coordinate all five Union armies to press the Confederate forces at the same time. Grant knew that this would make it difficult for the Confederates to adequately confront an individual Union army because concentrating Confederate forces to defend one front meant moving troops away from an advancing Union army on some other front. Lincoln compared the plan to how hunters work together to prepare game and said, "Those not skinning can hold a leg." (p. 195)

Lincoln's Gift is an enjoyable biography. It is not too heavy into Civil War minutiae but is deep enough to give the reader a glimpse into what he may have actually been like. I rate this biography 4 stars out of 5.

You can find this book on Amazon.com here: LINCOLN'S GIFT: HOW HUMOR SHAPED LINCOLN'S LIFE and LEGACY by Gordon Leidner.