"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, December 5, 2017

WHAT IF? SERIOUS SCIENTIFIC ANSWERS to ABSURD HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS (audiobook) by Randall Munroe



Published by Blackstone Audio in 2014
Read by Wil Wheaton
Duration: 6 hours, 36 minutes
Unabridged

Randall Munroe is the illustrator of the web-based comic strip xkcd. On his website, he has a place where people can leave "What if..." science-based questions and he tries to answer them. Why would they leave science questions on a comic strip website? Well, it turns out that Munroe is also a physicist - with a sense of humor.


The author, Randall Munroe
Munroe has collected the best questions and put them into a book. Questions include things like what would happen if the earth kept growing and when would you notice a change in gravity? What would happen if you fired in an arrow in a zero-gravity environment? How does all of the computing power of all of humanity stack up against all of the actual computers? What would happen if you opened up a giant drain in the lowest part of the ocean and drained it all away? And more.

Many of the questions are interesting and some of the explanations are really interesting. But, many of the explanations go on too long for my tastes. The author takes the answer and extends it on too long - many times he goes beyond the scope of the question and expands it to the point where the results end up in the destruction of the earth and/or the death of all of humanity. It was cute at first but after a while I began to roll my eyes when I saw it coming. There were times when I got tired of the length of the answer and just forwarded on to the next question.

Wil Wheaton read the audiobook version and did a stellar job like he usually does. He captured the attitude of the author perfectly.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5 - too many answers that were just too detailed and too long.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: WHAT IF? SERIOUS SCIENTIFIC ANSWERS to ABSURD HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

NATIONAL BURDEN: CORPS JUSTICE SERIES, BOOK 5 (audiobook) by C.G. Cooper



Published by Tantor Audio in 2017
Read by David Colacci
Duration: 8 hours, 17 minutes
Unabridged

The Corps Justice series continues its tales of SSI (Stokes Security International), a private security firm that sometimes doubles as the President's personal private paramilitary army that acts when he just can't do things politically.

The President is in political trouble. There is a plot to frame the President and a very connected contact of SSI is concerned about strange movements in the stock market. So, he contacts his friends at SSI to give him a hand. And, they soon discover that things are much worse than they had ever imagined...


Politics, as portrayed in this book, are just not realistic. For example, the President appoints a new Vice President (it was a vacant position) and he just goes to work as the VP. No hearings. No fuss. No muss. No Congressional approval (as required by the 25th Amendment). Imagine all of the squabbling and all of the controversy that would be generated if Donald Trump had to replace Mike Pence as Vice President. It would go on and on for weeks, if not months.

I think the idea of a private army that only answers to the President is just really a bad idea (and very illegal), but the book justifies it by making all of the characters in SSI very honorable, upright heroes who depend on their own sense of justice to guide them. That's great, but we don't depend on self-regulation because, in the long run, it's a horrible idea because people can't be trusted. But, hey, that's not just me. Read the thoughts of the guys who wrote the Constitution - it's why they didn't let the President just do whatever he wanted.


For a book series that is mostly about action (terrorists being foiled, explosions, car chases and the like) there was a surprising lack of action in this book. Lots and lots of talking in offices, hardly any action.

Anyway, if you like political fantasy, I suppose this is the book for you. I found it way too cartoonish.

David Colacci read the audiobook. He reads a lot of C.G. Cooper's books and does a stellar job with the accents and the voices but he couldn't save this book all by himself.

Note: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

THE OTHER WES MOORE: ONE NAME, TWO FATES (audiobook) by Wes Moore



I Blasted Through this Audiobook.

Published by Random House Audio in 2010.
Read by the author, Wes Moore.
Duration: 6 hours, 12 minutes
Unabridged

Wes Moore, the author of this book, is originally from a tough Baltimore neighborhood. His family struggled with loss, poverty, his neglect of his own education and rebellious flirtation with crime. But, he "made it", eventually becoming a Rhodes Scholar, have a career in international finance (which was interrupted when he volunteered to serve as a paratrooper in Afghanistan), and now heads two educational foundations, writes articles and makes political commentary.

One day, Moore was sent an article about another young man from Baltimore also named Wes Moore. The other Wes Moore is a convicted murderer and is serving time in prison. This prompted the author to reach out to the other Wes Moore and eventually write this dual biography about how they both ended up in two very different places.

It is not a judgmental book. The author is very aware that he was oftentimes on a path very similar to that of the other Wes Moore and sometimes it is hard to tell their stories apart.

It is a very absorbing story. I listened to the audiobook version of this book over the course of a weekend, going out of my way to find reasons to listen. The narrator is the author, which can sometimes be a bad idea. In this case, the author is an excellent reader.

This is simultaneously an inspiring and depressing book and well worth your time.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Other Wes Moore.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

THE STATE of JONES: THE SMALL SOUTHERN COUNTY that SECEDED from the CONFEDERACY by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer



Published by Random House Audio in 2009
Read by Don Leslie
Duration: 13 hours
Unabridged

Newton Knight (1837-1922)
I am an avid reader of Civil War era histories (I own more than 100 and who knows how many that I have read from the library) and it is rare for me to find a book that covers new territory for me.

This book did. I knew as an abstract fact that there were thousands of white Union soldiers that came from the Confederacy. They are mentioned in many histories, but they are rarely a focus.

The State of Jones focuses on the family of Newton Knight, an unwilling Confederate soldier who was forcibly drafted, fought in multiple battles and eventually went AWOL. 
Newton Knight was not afraid to fight and kill for what he believed in. When the government tried to force him back into the military he started an anti-Confederate insurgency movement centered in Jones County, Mississippi. Those renegades tied up Confederate military assets and virtually stopped in-kind tax collections that were necessary to feed the Confederate military.

Newton Knight was a larger-than-life figure. A complicated man from a complicated family. His grandfather was one of the largest slaveholders in Jones County. But, Newton Knight's parents were outspoken opponents of slavery and Newton continued that tradition. Newton was an anti-secessionist but, when drafted, he became a competent soldier who earned at least one promotion.

The book's authors do a fantastic job of describing life on the march in the Confederate Army - no luster and no sheen. Very honest.

Knight's family back home was often targeted because of his political stances and that was one of the reasons Newton Knight left the army and, in his mind, switched sides and began to fight for the Union. The book runs into some of his weakest parts (scholarship-wise) in this section. Generally speaking, insurgency movements don't keep detailed written records of the membership or their plans, so there are gaps. The authors are clear that they are filling in the gaps with extremely educated guesses - but they are still not confirmed. These educated guesses are the only reason that I am giving the audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Newton Knight's post-war life was just as complicated. He supported the Reconstruction government of Mississippi as it dealt with its own insurgency movement. Eventually, he completely broke with Southern tradition and married a former slave. They may have been the first interracial couple in the county. And, the county didn't know what to do with them. Thanks to the fearsome reputation of Newton Knight, the county mostly ignored them because they did not fit in to an easy category.

The audiobook was read by Don Leslie. His mournful, somber voice was perfect for Newton Knight and his story.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here:   THE STATE of JONES: THE SMALL SOUTHERN COUNTY that SECEDED from the CONFEDERACY.

Friday, November 24, 2017

BECAUSE I SAID SO!: THE TRUTH BEHIND the MYTHS, TALES and WARNINGS EVERY GENERATION PASSES DOWN to ITS KIDS (audiobook)by Ken Jennings


 
Published in 2012 by Tantor Audio
Duration: 5 hours, 2 minutes
Read by the author, Ken Jennings
Unabridged

Ken Jennings takes his famous encyclopedic knowledge of trivia that served him so well on Jeopardy and applies it to 125 bits of folk wisdom that we've all heard of the years that we all know but never really think about, let alone question. Do you really need to wait an hour after eating before you swim? Will your eyes really freeze that way? Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water or will you ruin your eyesight if you read in low light? Ken Jennings does the research and finds the answers in a short, succinct and sometimes snarky fashion.

I am only rating this audiobook 4 stars rather than 5 for one reason - the narrator. The author, Ken Jennings, read the book himself and there is always a danger when an author reads his or her own book rather than hiring a professional.  It must be great to keep it all "in house" but there's a reason why most authors do not read their own work. Reading an audiobook well is a real skill.

In  read way too fast - at a very quick conversational level. It was very hard to listen to and it made me tired to try to keep up. I found that I had to turn it off after ten or fifteen minutes of listening and come back to it after I listened to something else for a while.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: BECAUSE I SAID SO!: THE TRUTH BEHIND the MYTHS, TALES and WARNINGS EVERY GENERATION PASSES DOWN to ITS KIDS.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

PARADISE VALLEY: A NOVEL (Cassie Dewell #4) by C.J. Box



Published by Macmillan Audio in July of 2017
Read by Christina Delaine
Duration: 10 hours, 6 minutes
Unabridged

Cassie Dewell moved to North Dakota in her last book, one of the few experienced police officers in an oil boom town. The boom has mostly died down now, with the drop of petroleum prices but it is still a much busier place than it was before the boom. The local sheriff is pondering retirement and wants Cassie Dewell to replace her.

But, Dewell has other goals - and one of them is the pursuit of the serial killer known as the Lizard King. He is a long haul trucker who specializes in killing truck stop prostitutes (known as "lot lizards", thus the serial killer's nickname). He was also part of a conspiracy that resulted in the death of her mentor and partner, Cody Hoyt and nearly killed her.

Dewell has a plan to capture this serial killer - a plan that is not officially on the books with the department. But, when the trap is finally sprung, things go sideways in ways that no one could have imagined and a kicks of a string of events that change everything...

This book was full of surprises. Christina Delaine, the reader of the audiobook, was one of them. She had to cover a wide variety of characters, including one with a strong Minnesota accent, a young man with a profound speech impediment, a bombastic old man and more. Excellent job.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Paradise Valley by C.J. Box.