"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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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.