"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
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

PERSONAL (Jack Reacher #19) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Random House Audio in 2014.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 12 hours, 55 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher gets brought back into military duty, but not officially this time. An extremely talented sniper has taken a shot at the President of France. The shot was taken from an extreme distance and was only stopped by a revolutionary bullet proof glass screen. The various intelligence agencies are sure that this was just a dry run for the G8 economic conference that is coming up soon in England in which several world leaders will be present.

Lee Child
There are four snipers capable of such a shot and 16 years ago Reacher put one of them in jail for murder when he was in the military police. A former boss of Reacher thinks that he has some sort of insight and he partners up with a young CIA / State Department operative and they are off to France. She is the brains, and he is the brawn, at least that's the way it is supposed to be.

But, once they start digging, Reacher starts to suspect that there is much more to this case than he has been told...


This was a middle-of-the-road story. The narration by Dick Hill was excellent, but the book had long bits of repetitive talking that just got tiresome, especially with Bennett, the British Intelligence agent. On top of that, the big bad guy made it feel like it was a video game like Double Dragon - the hero works his way up to the giant boss character. But, the plot twist in the end was just too much. This book should have been edited down to make it much better.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Personal by Lee Child.

Friday, June 23, 2017

GRAY MOUNTAIN (audiobook) by John Grisham



Published in 2014 by Random House Audio
Read by Catherine Taber
Duration: 14 hours, 46 minutes
Unabridged

John Grisham explores Appalachian coal country in this novel through the eyes of a young New York lawyer named Samantha Kofer. Kofer has just lost her job in real estate development law at literally the world's largest law firm in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. Her firm gives her the chance to work for a non-profit for a year without losing her insurance or her seniority and she ends up in the legal aid office in Brady - a tiny town in southwest Virginia in the heart of coal country.

As Kofer starts to work in the office she discovers the world of day-to-day law and how America's poor get bounced around in a legal system with all sorts of hidden rules. Turns out that she has a knack for it. She picks up a case with a coal miner suing for disability due to black lung and she discovers that Big Coal rules all in this region - and there's nothing anyone can do about it...

Like so many of John Grisham's books, the plot is merely the vehicle for Grisham to discuss an aspect of the law. The plot suffers but that's okay by me - I have learned a lot and been entertained as I went along. 

I learned a lot about modern coal mining (to be more accurate, they don't really mine so much as tear apart mountains in a process called "mountaintop removal") and my natural affinity for the union movement was strengthened. Too often, the rules are written by the companies and the government ends up enforcing things that hurt regular people. Without a union, most of these people have no one on their side.

Catherine Taber did a fantastic job of reading this book. Her accents were great and she did a great job with a variety of voices. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Gray Mountain by John Grisham.

Monday, June 19, 2017

SECOND SON: A JACK REACHER STORY (audiobook) (short story) by Lee Child



Published by Penguin Random House Audio
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Unabridged short story

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher series does not feel constrained to write his Jack Reacher books and short stories in any sort of chronological order - a fact that I find immensely interesting as a reader because it is so very unusual. 


Lee Child
In Second Son, Lee Child takes us all the way back to 1974. Jack Reacher is 13 years old and his father has just been transferred to Okinawa as a part of the U.S. Marines along with his mother and his slightly older brother Joe. 

Moving to a new place is always hard and Okinawa is no exception. Reacher must prove himself to the neighborhood bully, he meets a girl and he solves two mysteries. 

The story is fun, but 13 year old Reacher is way too smart for a middle school kid, even if he is Jack Reacher. But, the mysteries were fun. In fact, the whole story was fun, kind of like looking at old yearbook photos of someone you know from way back before you ever met them.

I am a big fan of the reader, Dick Hill. But, I think he is an exceptionally good fit for this series. I don't even bother to physically read the books now - not if Dick Hill is reading them to me.

I rate this audiobook short story 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook used to be offered as an individual short story, which is how I listened to it, but it is now part of a larger collection. Here are links to both on Amazon:

Second Son.


No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Short Stories.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

WHAT YOU BREAK (Gus Murphy #2) (audiobook) by Reed Farrel Coleman



Published in 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Keith Szarabajka
Duration: 10 hours, 34 minutes
Unabridged

The Gus Murphy series is quickly becoming a favorite. Gus is a retired Long Island police officer who provides security and drives the shuttle van back for a tired hotel that pretends to be luxury but really isn't fooling anyone.

Gus retired because his college-aged son died of a heart failure playing a pick up basketball game and it simply destroyed his marriage and his interest in being a police officer. 

In the first book in this series, Gus was a complete mess. Since then, he has gotten his life back together again, in a manner of speaking. He has friends again, especially his friend Slava, a fellow employee from Eastern Europe with a hidden background as a soldier of secret police. Gus also has a love life and he's even bought a car. And, he's got a new case - looking into the murder of a millionaire's estranged granddaughter.

But, when his friend Slava gets mixed up with a shady-looking guest at the hotel and Eastern Europeans start dying in New York City, Gus starts to investigate out of fear for his friend. Soon enough, Gus has more trouble than he bargained for...

This was an excellent audiobook experience. The accents were wonderfully done and it was very enjoyable.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: What You Break.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

WILLIWAW! (audiobook) by Tom Bodett



Published in 2000 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Tom Bodett.
Duration: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Unabridged

Thirteen year old September Crane and her 12 year old brother Ivan live on Bag Bay in Alaska, practically in the middle of nowhere - and they love it, mostly. They enjoy the interaction with nature, they know the bay and how to travel across it. They know how to get clams, how to put vegetables away for the winter and just about how to do everything else for themselves. 

They have to know because their father is a fisherman is often gone for a few weeks at a time. Their mother died on the bay, killed by a rare, powerful storm front called a williwaw, when they were much younger.

Their father trusts them to follow the rules and take care of themselves so long as they check in with him on the radio on a regular basis. But, when Ivan decides to splice into the charger for the radio to charge up his handheld video he blows up the whole rig and that's just the beginning of their troubles...

While this is certainly not the best of Tom Bodett's books, it was an enjoyable listen as an audiobook. The characters were likable and the relationship between the kids and their father felt authentic. Tom Bodett's voice is simply great for audiobooks. One of the best.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Williwaw! by Tom Bodett.

Monday, June 12, 2017

MAYFLOWER: A STORY of COURAGE, COMMUNITY and WAR (abridged audiobook) by Nathaniel Philbrick



Published in 2006 by Penguin Audio
Read by Edward Herrmann
Duration: 5 hours, 57 minutes
Abridged

Everybody knows the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. Or, they think they do, anyway.

Nathaniel Philbrick's re-telling of this oft-misunderstood story is very approachable for the average reader. He begins with an explanation of the religious differences between the Puritans and the Church of England and how the politics of the day exacerbated the situation. 

Philbrick's re-telling of how the Pilgrims moved from England to Holland and eventually to the New World was very well done, as was the story of the first few seasons of Plymouth Plantation (Plymouth colony), starting in 1620. In fact, the book flowed very well throughout, even though it was abridged. Oftentimes, abridged books are clunky, but this one was not.

The story finishes with King Philip's War (1675-1676). This was a sad war. Wars are all sad, but this one was particularly brutal, complete with decapitations, mutilations, mass murder, and forced deportations into enslavement. On a per capita basis, it was the most devastating war in American history.

Veteran actor Edward Herrmann's (1943-2014) voice is perfect for reading history. He gives it a bit of gravitas but he is not too pompous. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This abridged audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War.

Friday, June 9, 2017

DIARY of a JACKWAGON by Tim Hawkins and John Driver



Published in 2015 by Thomas Nelson.

I am a giant fan of Tim Hawkins and have been ever since he used to run an infomercial on late night TV for his 2007 DVD Full Range of Motion.  I have tickets to go see him in concert at the end of July with my family. 

But, this book was mostly a re-hash of his routines - routines that I dearly love but not nearly as funny when I am reading them as they are when he delivers them. As I was reading, I kept thinking that these would be a whole lot more funny if he was saying them. Hawkins added extra material to support the stuff from his routines but the whole package ends up being just 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Diary of a Jackwagon by Tim Hawkins.

Monday, June 5, 2017

FORT SUMTER 1861 by Albert Castel



Originally published in 1976.
Reprinted and sold by Eastern Acorn Press through the National Park Service.

Something like 24 years ago I went with to Gettysburg with a wife and a friend for a weekend trip. On that trip I bought this little book. It sat on my shelf unread for more than 2 decades. No reason for that - I am an insatiable student of the war - I have reviewed 91 books on the subject before this one. But, it sat there unread until now.

This is a readable and quite thorough history of the events leading up the famous Firing upon Fort Sumter. The best feature of the small book (fifty 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages) is that it doesn't just tell about Fort Sumter, but also about Fort Pickens. The book details how Sumter was part of a larger policy. Most histories separate the two of them and that is a mistake.


The book also describes the duplicitous actions of Secretary of State William Seward throughout the affair. Seward seriously doubted the abilities of President Lincoln and tried to conduct his own private negotiations with South Carolina to end the crisis. On top of that, he countermanded some of Lincoln's own directives when it came to relieving Fort Sumter.   

The expected stuff is included as well - who fired the first shot, when the fort was surrendered and so on. This was a $1.25 well-spent 24 years ago. 

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Fort Sumter 1861 can be found on Amazon.com here.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

KILL YUAN (audiobook) by Peter Nealen



Published in May of 2017 by Peter Nealen, LLC
Read by Cody Parcell
Duration: 12 hours, 23 minutes
Unabridged

The Yuan in the title Kill Yuan is a Chinese Navy captain who has stolen his frigate and its crew and become a pirate leader in the South China Sea. For some reason, the government of China is not acting against him and the other governments in the area are not strong enough to move against a true military ship the size of a frigate (in the pirate world a frigate is much larger than most of their re-purposed ships). The United States has ignored this new pirate leader because its forces in the area are busy playing cat-and-mouse war games with the Chinese Navy.

Cut to Dan Tackett. He is a former member of the U.S. military who has done some independent work as well. But, he has stopped all of that because his wife has died in a car crash and he has to raise their two children. But, making the money he needs while repairing motorcycles is tough and he has to make it up with lots and lots of overtime, meaning that he is not actually raising his own children - he is leaving that up to the day care providers and he hates it. In the evening he is drowning the pain of the loss of his wife in plenty of alcohol.


Out of desperation Tackett looks online for some independent military contractor work and finds an offer that looks to good to be true: $50,000 per month! He decides to go for it, leaves his children with their grandparents and goes off in search of a fortune that will pay off his house and leave him able to raise his children.

Tackett arrives at the training facility in Florida with a number of recruits and discovers that it's training pace is unbelievably grueling, even though it's purpose is hidden. His true employer is also hidden and this might just be a problem once they are deployed...


I listened to the audiobook version of this book read by Cody Parcell. Parcell did a fine job of reading the book despite his consistent mispronunciation of the word "redoubt" (it is pronounced rah-doubt, not reed-out). His pacing was good and he did a great job with the Chinese accents.

While I like a good action book, I freely admit I am not really an avid reader of pure military adventures so this one was a little out of my normal reading zone. The section on training was excellent. The middle part of the book (when they are deployed) was also excellent. The last third of the book got a little too full of jargon for my tastes.  When the author started to refer to weapons by the letter number combinations (like M16 and AK47 but different number combinations I had never heard of because I have never served in the military) I just assumed they were rifles of some sort and went on with the experience. On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable listen. I listened to it very quickly, which is a great sign.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Kill Yuan by Peter Nealen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

DIE TRYING (Jack Reacher #2) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Penguin Audio
Originally published in 1998.
Read by Jonathan McClain
Duration: 14 hours, 47 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher helps out a lady in need with her dry cleaning and ends up being kidnapped, thrown in the back of a van with her and driven across the country as part of an over-the-top plan.

Reacher tries to figure out a way to escape while simultaneously trying to figure out why the kidnappers them in the first place. Of course, once he starts to figure out things, he discovers that their near hopeless situation is actually worse than he thought...


Lee Child
This is a great Reacher novel. I am listening to them all out of order, which isn't much of a problem since Lee Child isn't really writing them in any particular order. Lots of action, plenty of plot lines and Reacher himself make this entry worth reading.

This is the first Reacher novel I have listened to that was read by Jonathan McClain. Most of them I have heard were read by Dick Hill. McClain's style grew on me as I listened and I enjoyed it. His voicing of the creepy bad buy was especially good.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. 


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Die Trying by Lee Child.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE POSTMAN by David Brin



Originally published in 1985.

This is the book that inspired the Kevin Costner movie of the same name. It has a lot of similar features but the movie changed a great deal.

Gordon Krantz is a survivor of the Doomwar, a nuclear and biological war between all of the world powers. The war was bad enough but survivalist groups called the Holnists made survival in what was left behind. The Holnists are united by a common ideology that teaches that some men are naturally superior to others and every man must grab what he can get in this world.

Krantz is slowly working his way across the country. He started out in Minnesota and 15 years later he has made it to Oregon. He has to walk because the nuclear pulse wiped out the electronics. Life is tough everywhere, but in most places it resembles the Mad Max movies more than anything else so it is slow going.

Krantz loses everything to a group of thieves and luckily stumbles upon a mummified letter carrier in a postal jeep - a man who drove off of the road and died during the later stages of the war and no one found him. Out of desperation, Krantz takes the clothes off of his mummified body and takes the letters he was carrying as well.


Krantz bluffs his way into a fortified town by insisting that he is a letter carrier for the Restored United States and he's delivering old mail and will start carrying new mail.

Turns out that people were craving news from towns just a few miles away because and were excited by the prospect of any sort of return to the old days, even if it was just a pile of old letters. 


So, Krantz promises to deliver letters as he moves along, figuring that he's got a new con he can pull on each new town sp that he can finagle a few hot meals and a decent bed to sleep in as he moves through Oregon. But, as people start to believe in him, he starts to think that maybe there's something to this postman gig after all. Things start to look better until you toss in a super-computer, a dystopian Amazon princess of sorts and the largest Holnist invasion force that anyone has seen in years - maybe the largest ever.

This book differs from the movie in a lot of key ways, as I have mentioned. There is enough of a difference that you will not feel like you have already been though this story before.

That being said, this is not a particularly great sci-fi story. I love the "big idea" part of the book (the postman inspires a renewed interest in civilization) but the book just has too many moving parts (the 3-hour long movie attempts to address this by simplifying things, believe it or not).


I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, May 29, 2017

BEHIND REBEL LINES: THE INCREDIBLE STORY of EMMA REDMONDS, CIVIL WAR SPY by Seymour Reit



This is the story of a real-life Civil War hero. Despite technically not being able to join the army at all because she was a woman, Emma Edmonds joined crossed the American-Canadian border to join the Union army for the action and adventure. She knew full well that she could keep up with the men because she grew up helping on her family farm. But, she never expected the adventures she experienced during the war.

Emma Edmonds (1841-1898)
Seymour Reit tells a fictionalized version of this true story (the events are real, the details, like conversations, are made into a story) that starts out working in an army hospital but soon ends up dressing up in different outfits and crossing the enemy lines to act as a spy and had all sorts of close calls while generating plenty of usable information.

This is an immensely readable book. My fifth grader chose it to read for a school project and her enthusiasm for the book inspired my wife and I to read it as well. 

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Redmonds, Civil War Spy.


STANDARD HERO BEHAVIOR by John David Anderson



Published in 2007 by Clarion Books

Indianapolis native John David Anderson's Standard Hero Behavior is a tongue-in-cheek look at the Lord of the Rings type fantasy world, sort of like The Princess Bride

Mason Quayle is a young, under-employed bard (he write epic songs about heroes and the like) and his best friend Cowel sells epic plumes for the hats of heroes (think Three Musketeer hats). The problem is that they live in a town that used to be full of heroes but the new duke of their city has the monsters under control. It used to take dozens of heroes, now it is handled by one man. Mason can't figure out how he does it all by himself because his father used to be the most-requested bard for all of those heroes and he's very familiar with the old songs and stories.

But, that was a long time ago. His father is gone, disappeared along with several of the most powerful heroes while off on an epic quest. 

One day Mason is summoned to the Duke's home and he finds out that everything is not as it seemed and he and his friend have to go out and find the old heroes before it is too late...

I really liked the premise of this book but as the book went along I felt like it just didn't live up to its potential. It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't as good as I felt that it could have been.


I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

THE HARD WAY (Jack Reacher #10) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Brilliance Audio in 2008.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Unabridged

Jack Reacher is just hanging out in a New York City coffee shop, drinking coffee and staring out the window when he gets caught up in a kidnapping case. Turns out he witnessed the money hand off without even realizing what he was seeing. The ransom payer tracked Reacher down, picked him up and brought him to his exclusive penthouse apartment/office. Turns out his wife and stepdaughter have been kidnapped and he has decided to leave the police out of it and just pay the ransom.

The millionaire runs a quasi-legal mercenary operation and has decided to use his best men to search out the kidnappers and eliminate them...and he wants Reacher to help due to his previous police experience and offers him a hefty cash bounty if he produces. But, as Reacher starts to dig into why someone would want to kidnap his new employer's wife and stepdaughter he starts to find a lot more nagging questions than answers...

This was an especially interesting Reacher book for me. Lots of action, about 3 surprise twists and a number of interesting locales. Dick Hill's narration is just about perfect. He totally captures Reacher's attitudes. 


I rate this audibook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Hard Way by Lee Child.

Friday, May 26, 2017

THE BATTLE of GETTYSBURG: AMERICAN HERITAGE SERIES (audiobook) by Bruce Catton



Published by Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books in January of 2017
Read by Eric Martin
Duration: 3 hours, 4 minutes
Unabridged

I love Bruce Catton's histories of the Civil War. As a rule Bruce Catton (1899-1978) wrote histories that are easy to read, thorough enough to give the reader a solid grasp of the issues and peppered with well-told human interest stories. 


Confederate Major General George Pickett (1825-1875)
This history of Gettysburg feels a bit disjointed, sort of like it was a knitted together from a series of articles that Catton wrote for American Heritage magazine. For example, it spends a lot of time looking at the events just before the battle and skips one of the more dramatic and important moments of the battle on the second day (Little Round Top).

However, the exaggerated emphasis on the first day did not bother me. Too often the first day is sort of skipped over and it's not like the second day was ignored - it just focused on Dan Sickles' horrible deployment and the danger it posed to his own army. That is also important. 


The third day, of course, focuses on the infamous Pickett's Charge. Catton's short history also includes a solid look at Lee's retreat back to Virginia, the consequences of this loss to the Confederacy and a peek at the ceremony in which Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address, including a reading of the speech itself.

Eric Martin did a nice job with the book. He has a pleasant voice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: THE BATTLE of GETTYSBURG: AMERICAN HERITAGE SERIES by Bruce Catton.

 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

VICTORY at YORKTOWN: A NOVEL (George Washington Series #3) (audiobook) by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen



Published in November of 2012 by Macmillan Audio.
Read by William Dufris
Duration: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Unabridged

Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen conclude their Revolutionary War-based trilogy with an up-and-down look at the final year of real action in the war (October of 1780 to October of 1781).

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumball
The actual battle descriptions are quite good in the book. The book is absolutely great with its explanation of the strategies employed to maneuver Cornwallis into the Yorktown fortifications, the coordination between the French and American forces and demonstrates just how narrow this victory really was. 

However, the audiobook starts out with a two hour overwrought description of the execution of Major Andre. Andre was the British officer that conspired with the infamous American traitor Benedict Arnold. While this scene was used referred back to often throughout the rest of the book, the scene itself was very repetitious and entirely too long to make it's point. I nearly quit the audiobook completely after an hour of it.

William Dufris did a great job with all of the accents the book, especially the French officers.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found at Amazon.com here: VICTORY at YORKTOWN: A NOVEL (George Washington Series #3).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE GIRL on the TRAIN (audiobook) by Paula Hawkins



Published in 2015 by Penguin Audio
Read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher
Duration: 10 hours, 59 minutes
Unabridged


Every day Rachel sees the same couple in the same house as she is commuting to London on the train. The train makes a regular stop near this house while waiting for another train to clear the track and Rachel stares out at the backyards of the neighborhood where she used to live before her husband left her for another woman. She notes the attractive new couple that has moved in a couple of houses down from her old house and makes up pretend glamorous background stories for this seemingly happy couple whose house is identical to the one she used to live in.

One day she is shocked to see the lady from her fantasy world kissing another man. Even worse - soon after, that woman disappears, is presumed dead and becomes the center of a media frenzy.

Rachel tries to get involved by telling the police about the other man but she tells her story so poorly that it makes no sense. Even worse, she is known to the police because it turns out that Rachel is a boozy stalker of her ex-husband and his new wife and child and turns up at her old house (just a couple of houses down from the victim's house) on a semi-regular basis after she has gotten drunk so she has absolutely zero credibility.


But, Rachel carries on and gets herself involved in the story in so many ways...

I am going to be brutally honest here. I know this was a runaway bestseller and everyone is talking about how amazing this book is but I found it to be irritating on so many levels (the exception being the actual reading of the book by the 3 different narrators - they were great).

All of the main female characters, except for Rachel's roommate (who gets dumped on in the narration for not wanting a roommate that vomits in the hallway and does not clean up the mess) get their validation from the approval of men (as expressed through sex) and their ability to make babies. It is a pathetic little inbred world. In a way, this an anti-feminist story (woman have no value except to make babies for their men). Or, maybe it's a too-clever feminist satire. Either way, it's very annoying.

Even worse, the whole thing could've have been a short story if the very articulate Rachel would've just explained herself a little better to the police from the beginning. An extra 3 or 4 sentences would've made a world of difference.

This is one of those books where I found myself rooting for the killer to just take out a few more of these characters before the book ended.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SMALL WARS: A JACK REACHER STORY (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published in 2015 by Random House Audio.
Narrated by Dick Hill
Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Unabridged

Lee Child. Photo by Mark Coggins
Jack Reacher is back in his Military Police days in this short story. He has been moved to a new base in Georgia and immediately has a murder to investigate - a new female intelligence officer who is beautiful, rich and is on the fast track to the top is found dead beside her Porsche on a country road near the base.

Jack Reacher starts to dig and quickly puts all of the pieces together in a satisfying, but too-short story. All of the stuff you love about a Reacher novel are here:  smart comments, a little bit of fighting, quick thinking and an ending that makes you think about the difference between what is legal and what is just. Dick Hill's narration is spot-on, like always.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.


This audiobook short story can be found on Amazon.com here: Small Wars by Lee Child.

Monday, May 15, 2017

OUT of RANGE (Joe Pickett #5) by C. J. Box



Originally published in 2005.

Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett has been re-assigned. Normally, he covers the area around the town of Saddlestring but he has been temporarily re-assigned to a plum location - Jackson, Wyoming - the home of the Grand Tetons and a well-known retreat for the rich and the famous.

While Joe is thrilled for the opportunity, he is not happy about the circumstances behind it. A fellow game warden that he knew and respected suffered some sort of mental breakdown and killed himself. Plus, his family has been receiving ominous "breather" phone messages at all times of day and night...

So, Joe Pickett goes off to Jackson only to find that this new assignment is extraordinarily complicated by politically-connected power players, trendy protesters and the investigation into the previous game warden's suicide and things are getting weirder and more complicated all of the time...

I am reading this series in what seems to be an insane random order. A lot of the events in this book are referred to in other books down the line so this is an important chapter in his story. But, this was not the best of the Joe Pickett series and certainly not a good one to start with if you are thinking of starting the series. But, for me at least, a book with Joe Pickett is like a visit with old friends.


I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 15, 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

WORLD WAR II: AIR WAR: AMERICAN HERITAGE SERIES (audiobook) by Stephen W. Sears



Published by Highbridge in February of 2017
Read by Paul Boehmer
Duration: 2 hours, 47 minutes
Unabridged

Four P-51 Mustangs in formation over Britain.
Stephen W. Sears used to write for the magazine American Heritage and in that capacity more than 50 years ago he wrote a short and simple history of the air war over Europe in World War II. It was designed to be an introductory read for high school students. I am not sure if this audio edition is the same book, but it is serves the same purpose.

If you are a casual student of World War II, the kind of person that watches an occasional documentary from the time to time, this is the perfect book. There are details, but not enough to drown the reader. Sears moves the story along at a brisk pace, but still slows down enough to tell a personal story to remind the reader that this was a real story full of real people. He is more likely to tell the story of the average airman than of the generals.


Sears discusses the air war over Britain before the United States was drawn into the war but once America is drawn into the war he mostly focuses on American pilots and strategies and how the Germans countered them. He also talks about what happened to airmen who were shot down over enemy territory.

The only problem that I have with this audiobook is the narrator, Paul Boehmer. His style took a lot of getting used to. His frequent odd pauses in sentences are distracting (I would call them Shatner-esque). I am not a fan.


I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: World War II: Air War.

Friday, April 21, 2017

THE BODY BUILDERS: INSIDE the SCIENCE of the ENGINEERED HUMAN (audiobook) by Adam Piore



Published in March of 2017 by HarperAudio
Read by Fred Sanders
Duration: 12 hours, 56 minutes
Unabridged

Adam Piore describes the advances in medicine in a number of areas, especially (but not limited to) recovering from injuries, illness or dealing with genetic disorders.

He starts out with a profile of a leader in the field of prosthetic limbs who has reverse-engineered the human leg and, for the first time, makes the idea of TV's "Six Million Dollar Man" seem like a real possibility. There is the amazing story of the engineer who created a device that allows a blind woman to "see" with her ears.

Piore describes advances in experimental genetic engineering and muscle therapies that promise not only to help with genetic disorders but also may ultimately end aging as we know it.

But, it's not just about the body, it is also about the mind. There are advances in figuring out what causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Parkinson's and those advances are leading to new discoveries - like the ability to give a person a photographic memory. 

The audiobook was read by Fred Sanders. His reading style is solid, but not exciting. Very much like listening to almost 13 hours of an NPR broadcast.

This book is very informative with only a few minutes scattered throughout that are really too detailed and too technical to keep up my interest. But, those are more than made up for with the amazing human interest stories and the news (at least it was for me) about the newest advances and where they might lead.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Body Builders.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

1453: THE HOLY WAR for CONSTANTINOPLE and the CLASH of ISLAM and the WEST (audiobook) by Roger Crowley



EXCELLENT!

Unabridged Audio Edition Published in 2016 by Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio
Read by Simon Prebble
Duration: 10 Hours, 56 Minutes

When Rome was at its height it split itself in half and created a second capital for the eastern half in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The eastern half survived the official "Fall of Rome" in 476 AD and continued on for nearly 1,000 more years until it succumbed to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It was the seat of the Orthodox Christian Church and oftentimes stood as the bulwark against Muslim military advances into Eastern Europe.

From the time of the first formal attack against Constantinople in 674 AD until it finally fell in 1453, the capture of this city was, at the least, on every Muslim leader in this region's "to do" list, if not an active goal.


Once the Ottoman Turks arrive on the scene the Byzantine Empire is clearly on its last legs. The city is still defended by one of the most elaborate set of walls ever built and its history and architecture are truly amazing. But, its glory days are long gone. The city has sold a lot of its treasures to defend itself. Its territorial holdings, at one point, included a majority of the territory of the Roman Empire. By 14523 it only held a part of modern Greece and the territory immediately around the walled city.

The Ottomans, in contrast, were an Empire on the rise and they understood that the capture of Constantinople offered great strategic, economic and symbolic value. 


This is a book that could have truly been horrible. We've all had that professor or teacher or book that takes the most exciting parts of history and drains all of the joy from the learning experience and leaves behind a dry, lifeless exercise in tedium. 

This book had all of the hallmarks of that experience. 

1. Medieval battle? Check.

2. The Byzantine Empire, whose very name is literally synonymous in English with being unnecessarily complicated? Check.

3. Multiple religious traditions that most American readers know little about? Check (Islam) and check (Orthodox Christianity).

Constantine XI (1405-1453)
However, Roger Crowley's history is almost always highly entertaining and informative. He paints vivid word pictures of the battles and they come off much more like the epic struggles depicted in a Tolkien novel than the a dry recitation of facts. He introduces new historical figures and makes them feel like real people.

Constantine XI, the Byzantine Emperor comes to life as an honorable and brave warrior who refused to escape and leave his city even when there was no hope. He was an experienced soldier who actively led his men throughout the siege. Legend has it that he dressed as a regular soldier in his last moments and led his men in a hopeless last-ditch defense of the city. His body was never definitively identified.

Mehmed II was the hard-headed and often difficult young Ottoman emperor. He spoke multiple languages, survived the brutal family dynamics of the Ottoman leadership and embraced new technologies, like cannon. He was rewarded for this flexibility when he took the city that many considered impossible to take.


Simon Prebble's reading of this book was excellent. It was like listening to an amazing English history professor give one of the most interesting history lectures you have ever heard. Perfect combination of voice and text.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5,

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 1453: THE HOLY WAR for CONSTANTINOPLE and the CLASH of ISLAM and the WEST by Roger Crowley.



Friday, April 14, 2017

BEFORE SHE DIES (Bill Gastner #4) (Posadas County Mysteries) (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill



Originally Published in 1996.

Audio edition published by Books in Motion in 2002.
Read by Rusty Nelson
Duration: 9 hours, 17 minutes
Unabridged

Posadas County New Mexico Undersheriff Bill Gastner is having a bad night. He almost gets shot substituting as the policeman on duty at the local high school basketball game, the suspect dies in custody and then someone shoots and kills a deputy sheriff and nearly kills a reporter on the side of the road with a shotgun.

The investigation begins in earnest following the slimmest of leads with Gastner and company looking for a killer before the only known witnesses dies and looking for another missing witness before the killer strikes again...

This audiobook starts out like a rocket but the second act gets bogged down in the procedural minutiae of this police procedural. The third act picks up though and the book ends on a strong note.

The reading by Rusty Nelson was solid except when he tries to read in Spanish. The author's Spanish was passable - if I were the sheriff of Posadas County and my anglo detectives were this fluent I would be pleased. It was good enough. But....these were supposed to be conversations between native speakers of Spanish, one of whom grew up in Mexico. There's no way that these conversations would be confused for authentic Spanish speaker conversations and Rusty Nelson's brave attempt to speak Spanish was...well, it was interesting. But, most people won't know the difference either way, so don't let this dissuade you from listening.


I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Before She Dies by Steven F. Havill.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WHERE IT HURTS (Gus Murphy #1) (audiobook) by Reed Farrel Coleman



Published in 2016 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Chris Andrew Ciulla
Duration: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Unabridged

Gus Murphy is a retired cop whose life has completely fallen apart after the sudden death of his son due to an undiagnosed heart problem. His marriage fell apart, he quit the force and now works in a hotel as security and a shuttle van driver in exchange for a room.

A low-level mobster-type seeks him out to hire him as a private detective to look into the brutal death of his son by torture. Murphy is not particularly thrilled to look into it and emphasizes that he is not a private detective. But, his emotions get the best of him because this mobster is also a dad who has lost his son so he agrees to look into it, figuring that he would uncover nothing.

But, it starts to look like the police just gave a cursory investigation and missed some serious clues. When his "client" shows up dead, Gus Murphy knows that he has stumbled into something that he has to see through to the bitter end...

While this book is full of all sorts of cliche set pieces from detective stories over the years, this is an extraordinarily well-written novel and it works. It was engrossing and the narration by Chris Andrew Ciulla only made it better. He nails the accents, the pacing - he nails the whole thing.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

Sunday, April 9, 2017

WINTERKILL(Joe Pickett #3) by C.J. Box



When Joe Met Nate...   

Originally Published in 2003


Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett is making his rounds when he sees a hunter open fire on a herd of Elk, killing many more than a hunting license would allow. It turns out he is the local administrator of federal lands, the man who approves permits, makes rental agreements for grazing or logging and the like. He escapes Joe's custody for a few minutes, only to be found pinned to a tree - the victim of an attack with a hunting bow.

The local sheriff has a suspect in mind - a local anti-government type that Joe has heard of but has not met - Nate Romanowski (for those who have not read the series, Joe and Nate become de facto partners in many of the books in this series). Joe suspects that Nate is not the real killer and goes off on his own to do a little detective work on the side. He has his eyes on a wandering group of anti-government activists who have set up camp in a federal forest. And, they include the biological mother of the foster child Joe's family has been trying to adopt for the last several months. Throw in a nutty federal bureaucrat and a wild winter storm and you can see how things will get tough for Joe Pickett this winter...

I read the Joe Pickett books as I naturally find them. I could order them all and read them in order but, what's the fun in that?  This book is the beginning of four different multi-book plot lines and it would actually be a good place to start the series if you can't find book #1 or #2 in the series. The action is great, the tension over the proper use of federal lands is real, even if it is overdone by some of the characters in this book. 


I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SHOWDOWN at YELLOW BUTTE by Louis L'Amour



Originally Published in 1953.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988)
Tom Kedrick is a professional soldier who doesn't have a war to fight in right now. But, he has been hired by an acquaintance to lead a crew of hired guns to clear out a group of horse thieves and ne'er do wells from a big parcel of land that is opening up for settlement.

But, when Kedrick arrives the whole thing just doesn't feel right so he starts to nose around some on his own. W
hen Kedrick checks out his opponents, he discovers that they are settlers with families, not thieves and Kedrick is sure that things are not the way that he was told when he was hired on...

This is, by far, the worst Louis L'Amour book that I have read and it is my understanding that it was one of his first. The beginning of the book is dreadfully slow and L'Amour adds characters at a furious rate throughout the book. There must be at least 40 named characters in this 188 page book and most of them deliver only a line or two and then just disappear from the story or are killed off.

My 1953 edition had 188 pages and I quit after 120 pages. I just couldn't stand it any longer.

I rate this book 1 star out of 5.

If you must have this book to complete your Louis L'Amour collection, you can find it here on Amazon.com: Showdown at Yellow Butte.

Monday, April 3, 2017

ECHO BURNING (Jack Reacher #5) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Originally published in book form in 2001.
Unabridged audio edition published in 2008 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by Dick Hill.
Duration: 14 hours, 21 minutes.

Jack Reacher starts out the story as a wanted man in Texas after he defends himself in a bar fight with a bully who turned out to be a police officer. He flees his hotel right before the police arrive and hitches a ride in record time. Even better - the driver is an extremely attractive woman who is heading far out of town towards the desert border with Mexico in Echo County, Texas.

But, as Reacher and the driver talk it turns out that Reacher's good luck in hitching a ride was helped because the driver is looking for someone to deal with her rich, abusive husband who is being released from prison soon and Reacher looks like the tough sort of man who can deal with him. She lists all of the reasons why she can't involve the police, lawyers or simply flee.

As she explains her situation, and after he meets her young daughter, Reacher reluctantly agrees to come along with them to see if there is something that he can do.

But, soon enough, he finds that things are way more complicated than he was led to believe and he's not sure who he is telling the truth...

This was an excellent Jack Reacher book - one of the best that I have read. The story was complicated, the action was very good and not too over-the-top. There are a lot of complicated plot lines going throughout the book and Lee Child does a good job of bringing them all together.

Dick Hill is excellent with his narration of the Jack Reacher series. He perfectly captures Reacher's sarcastic comments and observations. He is a pro and it shows.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Echo Burning by Lee Child.

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
Unabridged

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.