"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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Monday, October 28, 2013

TIM RUSSELL: MAN of a THOUSAND VOICES (A Prairie Home Companion) (audiobook)


Published in September of 2013 by HighBridge Audio.
Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Multi-cast Performance


NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion" has an extensive collection of audio CDs based on lots of different themes, including skits that highlight certain regular actors on the show. This CD focuses on Tim Russell, an actor with a real talent for mimicking celebrities and an admirable repertoire of original characters to draw upon. He has been a member of the cast since 1994. 

This CD has 19 different tracks that were broadcast from 1996-2012. Some are laugh-out-loud funny, some are merely amusing, and a couple are just okay (I am not a fan of "Guy Noir" or "The Lives of the Cowboys" - these are two recurring and popular skits that feature Russell) . To be fair, Russell figures prominently in the collection of highlights featuring fellow cast member Sue Scott and I think she got the funnier bits on her CD.  Altogether, this is still a very solid hour of listening and a sure thing for any fan of Garrison Keillor.


Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of this CD by the publisher through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 28, 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

THE ROBBERY: A SHORT STORY by John Brinling



Published in 2011 as an e-short story in kindle format.
Estimated length: 11 pages

The most interesting thing about this short story is the opening paragraph:

Like Superman, Walter tried to catch the bullet. Unlike Superman, it went through the fleshy part of his palm between the thumb and forefinger.

After that, the story just deteriorates in a hurry.

Walter is stealing a fortune in bearer bonds from his company without his partner's knowledge, but he gets robbed almost as soon as he steps out on the street. From there, things spiral out of control with one betrayal after another and once it got going it was pretty obvious that it was going for full bore ridiculous - and it got there.

I found none of the characters sympathetic and it was very hard to actually care about them in any way.

Friday, October 18, 2013

HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON (Temeriare #1) by Naomi Novak



Originally published in 2006.

Way back when when I got my Kindle 2 in 2009 this was one of the first books that I got - it was part of a free promotion and somehow I never read it. I guess I was afraid that it would be too cheesy.

Boy, was I wrong.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
The premise of this book is a mashup of How to Train Your Dragon with Master and Commander. It is the middle of the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon is planning to invade England. All that stands between England and Napoleon's massive army is their far superior navy and a small contingent of dragons. Yes, dragons. It turns out that in this alternate world dragons occur naturally in the wild and have been trained to fight in war, much like horses and dogs occur naturally in the wold and have been trained to fight in war.

Dragons, however, are smart and are able to talk with people. In fact, dragons bond with a human and they become a team. Dragons come in different sizes and jobs, much like an air force's planes or a navy ships. Some are quick and small, some are like giant air-borne battleships. Some spray acid, some just have nasty claws and teeth and can drop big rocks on fortifications, ships, etc,

Captain Will Laurence's ship captures a weaker French ship that puts up a surprisingly tough fight, Once aboard, the English discover why they fought so hard - they have a dragon's egg in their hold! The English immediately move it to their ship, thrilled that their country will get a much-needed dragon (being severely outnumbered by the France's dragons).

But, the egg starts to hatch and when it does the dragon picks Captain Laurence as the person it will bond with. The Captain steps aside as the Captain of his ship and tries to learn as much as he can about dragons, which is not a lot (think about a fighter pilot becoming a tank commander in our modern armed forces and you get the idea). Together, the reader and Laurence learn about dragon behavior and training and even eventually go into battle against Napoleon's forces.

This book is written in period style and pays careful attention to the attitudes and mores of the time period, making it all the more authentic feeling. The bond between the dragon Temeriare and Will Laurence is as natural as that ideal bond between a K-9 officer and his dog - they are different but they are also partners, roommates and loyal friends. If that police dog could talk, the bond would be even stronger. 

This was a fantastic read. I am sorry that I waited more than four years to finally get it off of my to-be-read list.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 18, 2013.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

SNIPER ELITE: ONE WAY TRIP (audiobook) by Scott McEwen with Thomas Kolonair



Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in 2013.
Read by Brian Hutchinson.
Duration: 10 hours, 8 minutes.
Unabridged.

Author Scott McEwen co-wrote American Sniper, the auto-biography of famed SEAL Chris Kyle and from those contacts and the stories he heard he was inspired to write this fictional story of American special forces in Iran and Afghanistan.

The insignia of the Navy SEALs
This is really three separate operations deftly told as three separate stories with overlapping characters and a little overlap when they get back to base. The first operation is the insertion of a lone operative into Iran to kill a weapons designer. McEwen uses this fairly straightforward story to introduce the weapons and other equipment that will be used throughout the book.

The second and third operations deal with a captured American female helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. She is part of a unit that inserts and extracts special forces all of the time so the men feel a real connection to her. When a video is released showing her being raped by one of her captors the men of multiple special forces units decided to act, even when their orders tell them to stand down and let the diplomats try to free her.

The action is first rate, although I can honestly say that I have no idea how realistic it was at all. Nonetheless, it was very entertaining. There were interesting questions raised but not dealt with very well, such as the uniquely weird position of the Afghani translators - they are forever between their own people and a foreign military - part of both at the same time.

If you are easily offended by curse words I suggest skipping this book because men in combat tend to curse and F$@% is used at least one hundred times in the first couple of hours. After that, it was just part of the story.

Brian Hutchinson read this story and did a great job with different accents and depicting the men in different situations. This book was not read, it was performed as he whispered, shouted, threatened and made smart-aleck comments as the characters died in the middle of a firefight - all without making it seem hokey (this book had that potential if read incorrectly).

Very enjoyable.

NOTE: This book was provided to me at no charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review as a part of Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer Program.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 13, 2013.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

THE SECRET SOLDIER (John Wells #5) (audiobook) by Alex Berenson



Published by Recorded Books in 2011.
Read by George Guidall
Duration: 11 hours, 23 minutes
Unabridged

This is my first John Wells book. For those not in the know, John Wells is a former CIA agent who is also a Muslim (if not a particularly devout one when it comes to all of the formalities). He now freelances, sometimes working with the CIA, sometimes not.

The first part of The Secret Soldier deals with John Wells tracking down a former operative in Jamaica and bringing him back to the United States. I am unsure as to why this was included in the book - it had nothing to do with the rest of the story except to establish that John Wells is burned out and is unsure about the life of violence that he has led. 


The heart of the story involves a plot against the royal family of Saudi Arabia. Wells is hired by the King  of Saudi Arabia himself to investigate a series of terrorist attacks within Saudi Arabia. As Wells investigates he discovers that the source of these attacks may by closer to the King than he ever imagined and the trail leads Wells to the Saudi kingdom and into the holy city of Mecca itself.

Once the audiobook moves into the main plot, this book hums along. There is plenty of action, intrigue and the occasional funny moment. The author includes plenty of background information about the political state of Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the Wahhabi movement in Islam so the reader gets a solid grasp of what is at stake. This book is eerily on track with current events even though it was published two years ago. The NSA program that became so controversial in the summer of 2013 is explained in detail as well as the dangerous line walked by governments that do not completely kowtow to the rule of Muslim clerics (witness the current struggles in Egypt and Syria).


Legendary audiobook reader George Guidall reads The Secret Soldier. Guidall covers the wide variety of accents that a book of this scope requires in his typical professional and competent manner. But, in the fight scenes Guidall shines - he speeds up and slows down and makes it like a movie scene with sped up segments and slow-mo parts that makes the reader sit up and take notice. Well done, sir.


This is an excellent book with the exception of the Jamaica-based introduction. Overall, it comes out to a score of 4 out of 5.


Reviewed on October 10, 2013.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Secret Soldier

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NOBODY'S PERFECT (Dortmunder #4) (audiobook) by Donald E. Westlake



Published by HighBridge Audio (Mysterious Press- HighBridge Audio Classics) in 2013.
Read by Jeff Woodman
Duration: 7 hours, 24 minutes
Unabridged
Originally published in 1977.

This is my first Dortmunder novel. I know this is a classic series and I was looking forward to hearing it once I saw HighBridge audio was re-issuing these books.

Nobody's Perfect features master thief (who always has the worst luck) Dortmunder being recruited by a "rich" man who has run out of cash thanks to his philandering and spendthrift ways. This man wants Dortmunder to recruit a team and steal a piece of art in an insurance fraud scheme. Dortmunder will keep the painting and then return it once the insurance check clears in exchange for $100,000.

Sadly, I have to say that while I found the oddball characters refreshing at first, the first half of the book was slow and the amusing situations took too long to develop. they stopped being funny and started being unwelcome intrusions into already slow-moving story. Once the book moves into its second phase (the original plan goes very awry) the book picks up and becomes much more interesting and funny but does not make up for the slow-moving first half.

Jeff Woodman did a great job of creating numerous accents and voices in this audiobook. He delivered the funny lines well but just could not save the first half of the book.

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 9, 2013.

Monday, October 7, 2013

THE LAST PRAETORIAN (The Redemption Trilogy #1) By Mike Smith



Published November 1, 2012.
Kindle e-book.
Estimated length: 405 pages.

Reminiscent of the TV show Firefly, this show has humanity moving out into the galaxy and occupying multiple planets. Also, like in Firefly, the newly settled planets fought a civil war. But, instead of an oligarchy, this universe's civil war resulted in an emperor, much like the chaos at the end of the Roman Republic led to Julius and Augustus Caesar.

Now, hundreds of years later, the current emperor is assassinated in a plot led by one of the admirals of one of his fleets of star ships. The fleet proceeds to move against the emperor's only heir, his daughter, as she travels to the planet where her school is. But, she is protected by the praetorian guards and their leader Jonathan Radec. At the cost of all of the praetorian guards (except for Radec) the princess survives.

The Last Praetorian is the story of the Radec and the the princess and their romance and why they broke up and how they still like each other from afar as Radec and his new crew fight space mobsters and the like.

The positives:

Smith knows how to describe space battles - they are vivid and interesting.

The negatives:

-Poor, poor, poor editing. Missing apostrophes, confusion over the uses of  "to" and "too" and sometimes just plain old clunky writing ("Silently Sofia hoped that Albert was safe, as in the short time she had met him she had grown fond of the man." Location 5076).

-Unrealistic plot details. For example, while the princess and Radec are on the run from the assassins she is able to tap into her bank accounts without being traced.

-Radec's emotional range is simple: he broods or he gets angry and throws things or he tries to seduce women he works with (or for).  Plus, his ultra-sharp sword is a rip off of the light saber from Star Wars.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 7, 2013.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

RETURN of the JEDI: THE ORIGINAL RADIO DRAMA (audiobook) by Brian Daley



Published by HighBridge Audio.
Originally broadcast in 1996.
Multicast performance.
Duration: approximately 3 hours, 15 minutes.

The third installment of NPR's STAR WARS-based radio dramas was also written by sci-fi author Brian Daley (Sadly, he died of cancer very soon after it was recorded). The budget for RETURN of the JEDI was much, much smaller than the original so the recording was about half the length of the first. It still features the wonderful original music soundtrack by John Williams and the original sound effects that make the listener feel like they are part of the action. 


Anthony Daniels returned as See-Threepio. Mark Hamill, however, decided to opt out of this one. Ed Asner stepped in as Jabba the Hutt (he sounded like he was choking as he spoke, though) and John Lithgow took over as Yoda (sadly, he sounded like John Lithgow pretending to be Yoda rather than creating a real voice).

The shorter run time hurts RETURN of the JEDI when compared to the other installments (6 episodes versus 10 and 12 episodes respectively). There are no big expansions to the story - there is basically just enough time to describe the action that moviegoers saw in the movie.


That being said, if you are a fan this almost a must listen, if just to finish the series up. 


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Return of the Jedi (Star Wars)


Reviewed on October 3, 2013. 

Link to my review of STAR WARS (Episode IV).
Link to my review of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK