Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Review: The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Meet Tiffany Aching; her hobbies include making cheese, tending sheep, babysitting her two year old brother, gallivanting about with pictsies (the male version of pixies), learning the fine art of witchcraft, and saving said brother from the evil clutches of the Elf Queen. Yes, this endearing and intelligent nine-year-old does it all. “The Wee Free Men,” is another novel transpiring in Terry Pratchett’s alternative universe, known as Discworld. And like almost any other Discworld novel, you need not read any of his prior works to understand and appreciate this story, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Indeed, Pratchett keeps true to form with his usual wit and humor in this fun and light-hearted adventure.

Unbeknownst to dear Tiffany is that she has the skills and ability to become a witch: a feat very uncommon for the people of Chalk. After all, how can one that has come from chalk have the strength to be a witch? But her grandmother was a witch and she too has the knack. Before she can be taught by the witches, she must save her kidnapped brother. It is while learning about her potential future as a witch and searching for her brother that she is introduced to the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of thieving and fighting blue pictsies who befriend Tiffany. Seeing the witch potential in her and fearing her abilities, they help her on her mission to save her brother. These rogue fairy creatures are not the brightest of beings and lack any magic of their own, but they certainly are amusing and provide sufficient comic relief. After several side adventures and dealings with rowdy pictsies as well as a talking toad, Tiffany manages her way to Fairyland where she must use all her skills to find and defeat the evil Elf Queen.

Stephen Briggs, a familiar name and voice to the Discworld series, does this book justice. He has narrated twelve prior books by Terry Pratchett and mapped out Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld as well as co-authored “The Discworld Companion.” He carries the story like an old pro who has resided in Discworld for many a year.

Briggs switches from young lass to a Scottish sprite with amazing ease. Even when dishing out some of the more difficult and exaggerated names, he delivers them with efficient speed and smoothness. During one section of the book, Briggs speaks so quickly and does so well, it’s reminiscent of “Who’s On First” by Abbott and Costello. He is a fantastic match for Terry Pratchett. While well done and observant, often Pratchett’s humor can take a while to get to the point or, be hard to pick up when reading through. Briggs skillfully keeps the story going while giving all the right cues and inflections for humor so the listener never misses a laugh. He manages to flesh out the various characters within the story that just by their mere words, one gains an impression of the person.

This is a book that is actually better in audio format. Much of the dialogue carries heavy accents, which can be hard to read. Internally hearing the dialogue through one’s inner voice can make reading it a much slower and more difficult process. However, in audio, the slang and poorly pronounced words (purposely on the character’s behalf) become much easier to understand and follow along. And besides stories like these have such a fairy-tale quality to them, hearing them is much more delightful than reading it on your own.

“The Wee Free Men” is a fun, light-hearted, and humorous tale written by a master of storytelling and delivered by a fantastic storyteller. It’s not a must-read, but certainly worth its while and a delightful way to pass the time.

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Review: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 by Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. When the great books and hottest picks of the year are chosen, what happens to all the rest? Are they just tossed to the roadside, forgotten and left to gather dust on a bookshelf in a second-hand bookstore? While these books may not contain the next George Orwell, Victor Hugo, or Charles Dickens, it doesn’t mean they are devoid of literary value. “The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2003,” sets out to prove just that. But with a label like “Non-Required Reading,” this book begs the question, “With everything that is published in a year, how can you arbitrarily pick the ‘best American non-required reading’?” No matter how one tries to rationalize this title, it still sounds like it’s the second place writing. But instead, it proves to be alternative reading that teeters on a thin line. It does not get the attention it probably deserves but is not deserving of a great deal of attention.

Regardless of the dubious title, the pieces are still quality works filled with humor, thought, understanding, and amusement. They cover a range of worlds from life in a tribute band to dealing with social differences (and indifferences) in suburbia to how open-mindedness and arrogance often become bedfellows. They are short pieces that can sometimes require reflection before moving on while others require no reflection but rather a quick laugh. None of the stories particularly stuck out and some are even hard to remember, but no story seemed poorly chosen for this selection.

This abridgment does not do the series justice. The audiobook permeates with potential and just when the book is settling into its groove, the book finishes. With just three CDs, the listener only hears seven stories. Most of the first CD is the foreword, which is followed by a lagging introduction, detracting from the audiobook as a whole. The stories are interesting in many regards particularly for their wit and also for their ability to keep the reader wondering, just where the story is going. It’s no wonder why there were chosen for the series, but there’s no explanation as to why these were the only stories chosen for the abridgment. An introduction to the audio edition explaining the why these particular stories were picked would have served as a better introduction than what was offered. An audiobook like this should be additionally offered as unabridged. Two of these seven short stories are less than seven minutes in length. This brief glimpse only leaves the listener wanting more. Abridging a story into three hours gives you the basic plot of the book, but abridging an anthology cannot really make its point in such a short span with just a few stories.

Most works were read by the author and read decently. Granted, the stories were short and lacked many of the dynamic elements that might require a professional narration, but the authors held their own as narrators and delivered their stories with no errors. Amazingly with some stories such as “Saint Chola,” the author’s voice seemed to perfectly match the story. However, it would be interesting to see how a single narrator would have read all the stories.

“The Best American Non-Required Reading” isn’t definitive nor is it classic in any sense but it is fun. These seven stories are entertaining and enjoyable enough that they give an honest definition to the title of the series. They also work well for short commutes or for the listener who only listens in short intervals of fifteen to thirty minutes. Certainly, no one should be required to read them, but if you’re tired of recommended and required reading, you should try these for a nice diversion.

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Review: Idlewild

Idlewild Idlewild by Nick Sagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. This is not your average Halloween—in fact, it’s not even a holiday, but a death-obsessed eighteen-year-old boy who awakes to find his memory has been rebooted and his body is immovable. While his thoughts are scrambled, he slowly regains some memories. Suddenly, he realizes that he was attacked and someone is out to get him. Halloween knows he cannot trust anyone, but with holes in his memory, he is hard-pressed to figure it all out on his own.

It’s the 22nd century, and Halloween and his classmates attend a high-tech school that prepares them to be the leaders of tomorrow. It is a physical school but much of the education and training transpires in a virtual reality simulation where the students use a myriad of resources that borderline on magic. The students rely heavily upon their virtual reality identities and return to the real world only when necessary or when attempting to avoid the caretaker of the virtual school. Hal and his friends are constantly finding ways to hack this system and manipulate the caretaker programs. While producing one of these glitches, Hal learns the true nature of his school and the legacy awaiting his fellow students. But with one student already missing, and his life in evident danger, Hal struggles to determine who among his friends and enemies has also learned of what awaits them after graduation.

The story maintains a decent level of mystery and suspense. Playing the part of the detective, Halloween even goes to the extent of having a gathering of all the students to flesh out the villain. Unfortunately, this party causes unforeseen events that only further Hal’s confusion and disillusion with his environment. Just as Hal was regaining his memories and understanding his situation, he is blown away by the knowledge that indeed his whole universe does not exist. He must determine what to do with his life when everything he knows is a lie.

Since the release of “The Matrix,” this idea of a reality within a reality has grown with popularity and one could say that “idlewild,” is just another copycat. However, it is much more than that. Nick Sagan combines aspects from “The Matrix,” but that is not his sole model. While it feels akin to such “what is reality” type stories, it carries its own distinction. Also, early in the story, he relies heavily upon H.P.Lovercraft and makes enough references to the famous writer to warrant looking up information on the genre writer. On the technological aspect of his writing, he seems to have been influenced by William Gibson.

Clayton Barclay Jones uses a soft and eloquent voice that perfectly coincides with this first person narrative. As the voice of Halloween, Jones is superb in fleshing out Halloween as a cool, calm, and collective being trying to rationalize his world. Even at times of excitement, the voice maintains gentleness quite appropriate for the protagonist. What does not work for this audiobook is Beth McDonald. At the beginning of each chapter, she reads off what sounds like a transmission record. This record appears to be a technical summation of what happens in the virtual world. While it is meant to feel very mechanical in its reading, it is too much for the listener. When reading the book, the reader has the ability to read and slowly digest what the readout is saying. McDonald delivers a fantastic computer voice but reads very quickly giving the listener no real chance for understanding.

“idlewild,” is a fantastic and thrilling novel about a young man’s fight for life and understanding of what living ultimately means. Enriched with a story line that has similarities to “Oryx and Crake,” “The Matrix,” “Neuromancer,” and several other contemporary books, the book keeps you guessing and maintains your interest until the very end.

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Review: Penthouse: Between the Sheets

Penthouse: Between the Sheets Penthouse: Between the Sheets by Penthouse Magazine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. The first mistake one can make when listening to “Penthouse: Between the Sheets” is to try to listen to large portions of it. This audio collection was not made for super-sized consumption, but rather a series of scrumptious and titillating snacks over the course of a week or more. In this selection of thirty-six stories from the pages of Penthouse, sex is rampant, and more importantly, sex is fun. The stories include couples, threesomes, public sex, casual encounters, and many other stimulating scenarios. They follow one after the other with only their title and author serving as introduction.

“Wet Panties Everywhere” might have been a more appropriate title for this collection. Not in every story, but a majority of the stories make constant reference to women and their wet panties. I never knew this was a real issue. Could this be why women have lingerie departments and men have about 2 racks for all their underwear needs? It’s interesting to speculate how men’s perceptions influenced writers’ words. After all, these stories were written for a magazine that has a predominantly male heterosexual population. Many stories had male on female, female on female, and two females on one male scenarios, but none crossed the line to really show any male homosexual traits. Instead, we constantly have scenes where women are so horny and sexually excited, their panties are slipping right down their legs. So can one deduce that horny women is what men really want?

The choices of stories and their alignment into the anthology seemed was not given much consideration. Often, it was hard to deduce just what the collection was thematically aiming for: a panorama of erotic stories, delicious stories to listen to at bedtime, or a subtle social commentary. For instance, the first two stories launch right into the sex while the third story lingers on about a spouse dealing with a cheating husband. While erotic could have a broad meaning, this collection seemed to be directly aimed at heterosexual males. The cheating spouse story just didn’t fit the theme that well. Other stories varied on their quality and reliability to stimulate the listener. If these are to be erotic bedtime stories, a guilt trip about marriage vows followed by a quick lesbian scene, didn’t quite fit the bill.

The narrators were a bit inconsistent. Sometimes, they read simply, without excessive inflection and dramatization, but then there were times when the narrator came across as a bad phone sex operator, trying to sway the listener with the tone of her voice, rather than letting the story do the arousal. While the text does need some interpretation, many of the stories were over-dramatized by the readers. Straight reads with minimum inflection would probably have done better because then the listener had the freedom to decide what was erotic about the story, rather than have it decided by the narrator. The counter-argument to that would be that these are erotic stories and part of the eroticism is sensuality. This line of thought lends weight to the idea that the soft and husky female voice only added to the story. However, like video pornography, bad acting wins laughs not erections.

If you’re looking for an anthology of erotica to help attune your taste buds, then “Between the Sheets” is not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for strictly heterosexual-oriented erotica, then get ready for a feast, because this audiobook was made for you. Not every story will keep you excited and entertained, but there is bound to be plenty that you’ll want to listen to again and again.

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Review: Blood Canticle

Blood Canticle Blood Canticle by Anne Rice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Following as a direct sequel to Blackwood Farm, The Blood Canticle picks up only minutes after it’s predecessor. Anne Rice’s most famous bloodsucker from The Vampire Chronicles, Lestat, tells this story from the first person point of view—something Rice has not done since Memnoch the Devil, published in 1995. Lestat initiates this new adventure by addressing his listeners and fans in the amusing and stylish trademark that he has become known for. He rebukes his audience for complaining about his recent transition from devilish and mischievous deviant to new sainthood-hunting benevolent Boy Scout—in so much as a vampire can be a boy scout. Lestat’s new goal in life is to become a saint.

The book opens up to immediate excitement with Quinn Blackwood bringing his near-to-death dearest love, Mona Mayfair to his bed in order so she can die in his arms. Before her death, Mona chooses the “gift” and becomes a vampire, like Quinn and Lestat. Her transition releases her from a wasting sickness that had ravaged her body for more than three years. More so, than in any prior novel, Anne Rice combines her two popular series, The Vampire Chronicles and The Mayfair Witches by turning Mona Mayfair into a vampire—forever binding these two powerful families. Of course, some characters are happier about this merger than others and the same can be said of Anne Rice fans.

With her recovery in sight, Quinn, Lestat, and Mona seek out Rowan Mayfair, the Mayfair heiress, and others in the Mayfair clan to discover the whereabouts of Mona’s child whom she birthed several years prior. The child was taken from Mona and now, in her healthy vampire state, she wishes to reunite with the child. However, Mona did not give birth to any child but a mythical humanlike creature known as a Taltos. The rest of the book deals with discovering the true nature of the child, unveiling the secrets of the Taltos, and ultimately, saving them.

Like many of Rice’s novels, this one is jammed pack with detail, sexual overtones of all kinds, wit, gore, and even a moral, or two somewhere in the mix. Both Lestat and Quinn are easily likable characters that the listener cares about. Mona is hard to immediately accept because her character goes through so many changes throughout the book—from being on the verge of death, to becoming immortal and then, discovering the truth to lies told to her by her family as well as finding your long lost child—but she does grow on you. All the characters are decently fleshed out both by good story telling and by a good performance.

Stephen Spinella made a highly believable and excellent Lestat. He narrated in a lightly French accent that lets the reader dissolve completely into Lestat’s world. Stephen’s voice genuinely reflects Lestat’s characteristics as well as the atmosphere. He tackles the other accents of the story with just as much ease and quality. The only stumbling block comes when dealing with Mona Mayfair. Her voice has certain fluctuations and nuances that do not seem natural and sometimes were inconsistent with her entire character. The listener is left wondering if that is a result of her transformation into a vampire, her youthful passion, or the narrator.

Do you choose style or story? Typically, with abridgements of Rice’s books, that is the ultimate decision. Lestat has a very distinct style about him and when he spins a tale in the first person, the decision needs to be made. Do you keep Lestat’s smooth and detailed style and skimp out on the plot or do you forego Lestat’s style and delve into the story? More often than not, this abridgement relies on Lestat’s style and treads lightly on the action. This does not always work. For instance, Lestat delivers a brief paragraph on the training he gives his two fledgling vampires followed by a long explanation of just what the three vampires are wearing when embarking on their mission. There seems a bit of short-changing by going on about clothing instead of a first hand account of learning the ways of a vampire. Would Empire Strikes Back be as exciting, if the audience watched Luke Skywalker spend an hour picking out his clothes and a brief snippet of him training with Yoda?

As an entry for both of her series, The Blood Canticles blends storylines and characters succinctly and smoothly. Rice has delivered another great tale for her fans to drool over and for listens to enjoy. And with Spinella voicing the work, it is hard to believe anyone else could make a better Lestat. True fans of Anne Rice will want to stick with the unabridged audiobook but for those wishing to dabble or to get a rough idea of what her stories entail, this abridgement of The Blood Canticle would make an excellent choice.

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Review: Wolves of the Calla

Wolves of the Calla Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. A book series that releases a new book every year or two creates sufficient anxiety while awaiting the new volume. But a series that has taken over twenty years to finish can be downright torturous. The Dark Tower series started in 1982 with The Gunslinger and since then, four other novels have continued the saga of Roland of Gilead and his troupe of fellow gunslingers as they venture forth to the mysterious Dark Tower. Wolves of the Calla is the fifth in this seven book series.

Wolves of the Calla finds Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and their pet, Oy, arriving at Calla Bryn Sturgis, a rural community in the borderlands of a parallel universe. They are quickly recruited and accept a mission to protect the children from the group known as the Wolves of Thunderclap Mountain. These “wolves” sweep through the town every generation taking half of the children. The gunslingers must figure out how to defeat this horde of sixty laser-sword wielding warriors. Of course, this is not their only challenge. While training the townspeople to fight, they must also prevent the Sombra Corporation from acquiring a plot of land in New York City, 1977. If the Sombra Corporation gains control of the land, they will destroy a crucial piece of the puzzle regarding the Dark Tower. In addition, mistrust and betrayal breeds within Roland and the gunslingers that could tear their group apart and relinquish any chance of making it to the Dark Tower.

As a preempt to listening to Wolves of the Calla, one might consider re-reading most, if not all of Stephen King’s prior works—and innumerous other literary works. One might even contemplate skimming through E.D. Hirsch’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, to assist in a fuller appreciation of King’s new book. The depth of his interconnected worlds is rivaled only by the universe created by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation and Robot series. His uncountable cross-references both with his prior Dark Tower books and other works is astounding, fascinating, and frustrating at the same time. One understands many of the references but wants to go back and catch up on all the other references he’s not sure about. Attempting to dive into Wolves of the Calla without first tackling its predecessors will leave the listener lost and confused with only a vague understanding of what the book is about. The introduction gives brief summations of the prior four books but they only really work as slight refreshers for those who have kept up to date with the series. And even still, you might consider listening again to last book if not all four, if you have not heard them in quite a while.

Picking up the mantle dawned by Frank Muller as narrator for the Dark Tower series; George Guidall does not hesitate or disappoint audiences in his narration. While Guidall’s voice isn’t as gravelly as Frank Muller, he adds a light rasp, making the audiobook a smooth transition from Muller to Guidall. At the same time, Guidall maintains his own unique style and doesn’t display any hints of copying Muller. Guidall delivers an impressive performance even without comparison or consideration of other narrators of prior Stephen King books. Guidall’s amazing ability to narrate such a wide range of characters with such accuracy and believability and maintain the suspense of the story only further illustrates why he was chosen to narrate this audiobook.

One of King's many admirable talents is his use of slang. He finds the most appropriate slang for the era, location, and person. While the listener may not be familiar with the terms, he can easily understand and value the relation between the slang and the user. This smoothness is only further capitulated by Guidall's ability to read them so naturally.

Towards the end of the book, one wonders how many cultural references Stephen King can squeeze in and is it too many? Considering the breadth and expanse of this series, the references can often be quite amusing and even appropriate while not delineating from the quality of the tale.

The very touching note read by Stephen King at the end was rewarding almost as much as the book. Stephen positively comments on audiobooks and pays tribute to Frank Muller as his “inner voice” when writing. He also mentions the WaveDancer Foundation, a charity to assist in the welfare, health, and recovery of disabled artists. This note by the author can also be found in the text version.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series will further propel the fantasy genre nearly as much as The Lord of the Rings established it. He blends the real and unreal with simple ease and has created a universe that is deep and compelling. As Stephen King mentions, he hears a voice whenever he is writing and maybe we should thank that voice (and of course George Guidall’s voice) for providing us with an unabridged story that is just as easy to listen to, as it is to read.

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Review: The Best American Erotica 2003

The Best American Erotica 2003 The Best American Erotica 2003 by Susie Bright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Best American Erotica 2003 can best be described as a cornucopia (or rather pornucopia) of titillating and scrumptious stories from fantastic erotica writers across the country. The range of stories includes straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender sex with a variety of landscapes including Hollywood, a military base, a strip club, and the quintessential pool scene. This special 10th anniversary edition includes twenty-three new stories and several delicious additions.

Being the only Best American stories to be published for ten years straight without interruption, the book, first, takes a trip down memory lane. Acting editor for ten years, Susie Bright went through painstaking work to contact all prior writers for the Best American Erotica series and gave the readers highlights of what she had discovered about life after being published in this series. Through surveys in her 9th edition, Bright also reprints the five favorite stories of all time—making it a total of twenty-eight wonderful tales of sexual delight.

Like many Best American series, it can be hard to enjoy the book through its entirety because not all the stories are relatable to the reader. But particularly a book based on sexual content can have more trouble. Whereas a Best American Mysteries or Best American Travel Writing can feature a story the reader might not like, some stories in Best American Erotica may disturb the reader. The story could be disturbing due to its content or quite possibly, what erotic feelings, and questions it evokes in the reader. However, like other Best American series, it stays true to its purpose in providing the reader with a vast sampling of quality erotica writers. Therein also lies a benefit because while there will be stories that one does not like—there is bound to be a story for everyone. And be aware that your definition of erotic literature may not meet the same definition as Susie Bright and her band of writers. Many of the stories did not meet my interpretation of an erotic story but rather seemed to be erotic vignettes, which was just as entertaining.

Erotic literature is not the text version of porn and this book reaffirms that notion. While these stories do have “sex” in common—that’s not really the driving point of erotic literature. The act of arousing is what makes these stories so damn fascinating and enticing. In most pornography, it’s the sex itself that people are interested in but in this anthology, one finds that sex is not always the climax but the path taken to find sex which proves much more stimulating. A book like this makes the reader more aware of the vast panorama of what is and what can be sexual and enjoyable.

The only flaw in this gem of an audiobook was the introduction. While Susie Bright is great at hosting her show and decent at the stories she reads, her introduction lacked professional quality. She came across as bland or fake even when trying to sound exciting. She also had a few stumbles while reading the introduction, which should have been corrected. And yet, even the introduction was beneficial, learning about the history of Best American Erotica. From there, the book examines interviews with former and present writers in the series. Her questions range from typical (“What special awards did you receive” and “Did you attend college?”) to not so typical but certainly entertaining questions (“Any interesting felonies or misdemeanors you’d like to mention?” and “Has your work ever been banned in another country, expelled from a local library, or seized at Customs?”). What’s more amazing and funnier than the questions are the responses.

Listening to the Best American Erotica 2003 was a pure delight. Regardless of their arousal factor, these stories were exciting and interesting. One piece of advice when listening: Be careful where you listen to this audiobook; it proved quite distracting while listening to it at work, but was much easier to deal with in the car or at home. This audiobook has that rare ability to fully draw your attention and keep you from getting anything done, both a bane and an attribute to this book.

Open-minded listeners will enjoy this voyeuristic journey into various sex lives to observe sex both different and akin to their own experiences. While not every story will have you on the edge of your seat, ready to orgasm, it certainly will provoke your imagination and give you some superb ideas for your next sexual encounter. With 2004 right around the corner, I look forward to hearing next year’s edition.

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Review: The Delphinus Chronicles

The Delphinus Chronicles The Delphinus Chronicles by Richard G. Roane
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. What happens when a computer becomes more powerful than it’s makers imagined? How does one deal with the fact that humans might not be the only highly intelligent being on Earth? What do you believe when startling evidence challenges everything you thought you knew about the history of humankind? The Delphinus Chronicles tackles these issues and more in this unabridged fictional book by R. G. Roane.

Ross Ericson, a professor, and his gang of graduate students receive a super-computer that has mastered language comprehension and has become an identity unto itself. “Simon” as it is named, quickly learns to communicate with both humans and dolphins. And by doing so, it opens up communication between the two intelligent species. Ross and the students soon discover that they are not alone and few things are what they appear to be. From here, the story progresses into learning about Earth’s true origins, Atlantis, cover-ups, sunken ships of gold, murder, mayhem, and visions of a new world.

The Delphinus Chronicles has a pulp-fiction quality to it. While it’s not high-end literature, it does provide one with about eight hours of suspenseful entertainment. But at times, it was a hard listen. With few memorable characters, weak dialogue, and poor villains, the book did not seem complete.

The story was narrated by Helen Brindle Lisanti and sound effects were added in addition to musical preludes to each chapter. The sound effects were not really consistent or rather; they were consistent with a few sounds such as a phone ringing, dolphins squeaking, or a dot matrix printing chewing away at paper. However, the listener is thrown off guard by the sporadic sound effects instead of being further propelled into the story. The sounds felt forced and unnatural. At times, the narrator even paused for a sound to be heard. At one point, a word was not even used. The book simply stated, “the printer made a [zzzzttt] noise” and in place of the word, they paused for a second and played the sound of a printer.

Helen Lisanti made a decent narrator for this book—except when it came to doing voices. Her reading of the text was smooth and easy to fall into step with but the voice changes for the characters proved to be troublesome. Her accents were fairly accurate, but most of her voices had faults or lacked quality as well as distinction. Determining the sex of the speaker also became a difficult task. Occasionally, a character’s voice (such as Juniper) sounded similar to a cassette voice half-eaten by tape deck rather than a deliberate older male with a gravelly voice, which is what I am assuming they were trying for. A dry read of the voices might have made the conversation easier to follow.

Available on cassette, CD, and even MP3-CD, makes this book very convenient to get ahold of—no matter your preference. Each chapter is preceded by a 20 to 40 second clip of music to further dramatize the book. On an interesting side note, the music was composed by an award winning eighteen year old. After the music played, the recording played silence for a five to ten second pause, which was long enough for one to wonder if the CD was still playing.

The storyline is a blend of “The Matrix” meets Michael Crichton meets Clive Cussler. And although it does not meet the quality of such works, The Delphinus Chronicles does keep you fairly entertained. While the quality fluctuates within the book, one must keep in mind that it is the first audiobook produced by Cherry Hill Publishing. Consider their first audiobook a diamond in the rough, and hope their next production will be a bit more polished.

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Review: Dude, Where's My Country?

Dude, Where's My Country? Dude, Where's My Country? by Michael Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Straight off the success of his documentary “Bowling for Columbine” and his last book “Stupid White Men”, Michael Moore delivers another book taking a hard look at the state of America. The three years since Bush has taken office have left many of us trying to figure out what’s going on. Four years ago, the country had a stable economy, jobs were available, people could rely on their pensions, and savings plans—oh yeah, and we weren’t at war. According to Michael Moore, the quintessential question is “Dude, where’s my country?” Granted, the September 11th attack certainly did change the course of the country—but Michael Moore believes much more so that our “great” leader George W. Bush has warped the country to his own frightful agenda by feeding off the country’s fear of terrorism.

Michael Moore has fully loaded this book with intriguing facts and comments about the September 11th attacks and its aftermath—including links between President Bush and bin Laden as well as the hard “facts” leading to the Iraq war. He starts off strong in the first few chapters bringing up relevant questions that all Americans, particularly the press should be asking of George W. Bush in regards to September 11th. He poses questions about the Bush and the bin Ladens business relations over the last 25 years and Taliban leaders meeting with big Texan business associates of George Bush while he was governor of Texas. He follows this up with a series of lies told by the Bush administration over the last few years and how those lies have affected the United States as well as the world. For instance, while citing various prominent sources, he notes that the most records of Iraqi biochemical weapons were from American companies with the United States approval to sell these weapons to them.

Up through the first two-thirds of the book, Michael Moore provides stunning and thought-provoking statements in his simple style that speaks to the common person. His style and words put a solid form to the unspoken frustration in the minds of many middle and working class Americans. He shows us just how we are getting screwed by our government and we are getting screwed by big business; and also how they are doing it blatantly without fear of punishment. That is where Michael Moore’s book shines. However, where it starts to dim is the second half of the book. His ability to identify and unmask the problems is phenomenal—but his suggested course of action—leaves much to be desired. His ultimate (and serious) plan would be to push for Oprah or another celebrity Democrat to run for office. However, he genuinely wants Oprah to run for presidency—believing her to be the best possible candidate.

When he spends one chapter pretending that he is “God” talking to the world, it can be hard to take him serious and the powerful energy produced in the beginning, starts to fade. It is thoughts like these, where he gets a little side-tracked. And yet, it is not hard to disagree with his strong anti-Bush and anti-Republican stance, he just doesn’t give a serious platform for reform that people are going to accept. However, if just for the major points and thoughts discussed in the first chapter and other smaller points towards the end, it is a must read for anyone wishing to gain a wider view of U.S. and world events.

Though it wasn’t until the third or fourth CD, that I found myself accepting his voice, D. David Morin did a decent job of narrating. He spoke quite well with the intensity and hints of amusement where necessary. As a narrator, he did an excellent job but as a substitute for Michael Moore’s voice, he was indeed lacking. It’s not that Michael Moore has a very distinct voice, but for anyone who has ever seen a Michael Moore documentary or listened to his speeches—you come to find his voice is irreplaceable.

A weak point of the book, as one would imagine with all non-fiction books, were the footnotes. The first chapter in the hardcover version is loaded with footnotes. The audiobook notes that the footnotes and endnotes can be found on the website (http://www.michaelmoore.com )—but it is not entirely obvious where to find the cited material on the site—and once you do find the notes, not all chapters are available. This is a major sore spot for anyone trying to validate and accept his work for truth. The other obvious problem is that you do not entirely know where the footnotes fit in.

“Dude, Where’s My Country,” can make you laugh; it can make you cry; it may entice you to immigrate. Although the end is not the best part of this book, it is still interesting to hear Moore’s take on things, but the first half of this audiobook is a must listen for any U.S. citizen.

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Review: Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War

Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War by Dan Dane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. When civil attorney, Bill Blake is drafted into the army, he leaves his wife and children behind to go to Vietnam. Once there, he does not fight a war, but is placed in the JAG Core—the lawyers who deal with justice within the military. They act as prosecutors or defense to military personnel who have committed various crimes. These crimes often mean court martial being in violation of “Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order”.

The audiobook gives an account of the ten months Blake serves in Bien Hoa, dealing with his cases, his comrades, his superiors, and his evaluation of the war. While the book does have a beginning and an end (Blake arriving in Vietnam; Blake leaving Vietnam), the middle of the story is filled with a series of snippets of the various cases Blake must handle and other events during his time. The middle section reveals a panorama of issues that Blake must contend with which include drug abuse, corruption in the army, racism, and attacks by the enemy.

Blake is your typical “everyman”—trying to do his part in the war, survive, help his fellow soldiers, and get home in one piece. Through his eyes, we see how the good intentions and high hopes of many Vietnam soldiers slowly ebbed into depression, sadness, and dissolution, and how these soldiers sought escape both physically and mentally.

In the courtroom, he plays both the prosecution and the defense, depending on what he is assigned. But he approaches each side with just as much ferocity. He defends one marijuana dealer just as intensely as he prosecutes a heroin dealer. He does his job to the best of his ability like many of his fellow lawyers. Much of his frustration does not come from the enemy, but from his own side—his corrupt superiors and an incompetent co-worker. These people cause the source of much of Blake’s misery—not the enemy. He rationalizes and understands the enemy—though he rarely has to face them—but it’s those people around him, that make him really question what Vietnam is all about.

This dramatized audiobook is superb in its presentation. The sound effects are stunningly real. Often, I found myself looking around for a helicopter, and turning down the volume to see if the "whomp whomp whomp" was a helicopter in the book or a flat tire. The sounds, when incorporated are smoothly intertwined with the story, providing another element of reality to the production, without overdoing it. The sound effects such as the helicopter are very low and then slowly become prominent. Most of the sound effects are gently sounded but believable—even the gunfire manages to be unobtrusive—a difficult feat for any sound engineer. At the end, the same song is played on each CD serving as an indicator to put in the next disc. The music both style and lyrics seem to blend naturally with the atmosphere of the audiobook.

Ross Ballard may be a newcomer to the field of audiobooks (prior work includes his first official audiobook, “Irreparable Harm” by Randy Singer), he is quickly becoming a favorite to my ears. In “Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order,” Ross Ballard nails all his cues. The book is written in the first person—a style that compliments Ballard’s accent and smooth deliverance. His natural Virginian accent blends perfectly well with the book. His twang gives a bit of warmth and sincerity that improves the quality of this audiobook tenfold. While it is hard for him to break his drawl, it was not necessary for this audiobook. Being told through the eyes of Bill Blake, it seemed actually more real that all the characters had a hint of Blake in them—as if directly seen through his eyes. After all, it is Blake’s story. Ballard’s smoothness cannot be underrated either. His aptly applies gentleness where needed and yet can hold to the firm tone when required—and can change from one to the other with great ease.

If you are looking for a “war novel”, with lots of explosions, fights, and gore, this audiobook should not be on your list. However, if you are looking for one man’s experience in the Vietnam War and the lessons he learned during his ten months in Bien Hoa, you should consider this. The range of emotion Blake faces from elation to depression is a truthful emotional evaluation of what war can mean to men and women who leave their homes and represent the US across the world.

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Review: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. Bridget Jones is that dear friend that we all know who manages to somehow just mess things up, without even trying. A social klutz to no end, but you can’t help but to smile and love the poor girl. For those who read (or listened, or watched) the first book, Bridget Jones Diary, you’ll remember the story ends with Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy in a typical “Happily Ever After” scenario. “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” picks up shortly after that and asks “What does happen in happily ever after?” The couple gets together in the third act, but what happens in the fourth act? Helen Fielding answers this by showing the listener that happily ever after does not always work out the way we expected.

We find dear Bridget still working away at her diary in the new year and dancing on cloud nine now that she is currently going out with Mark Darcy. Her elation doesn’t so much fade but morphs into a bit of neurosis as she and her single friends (singletons) analyzed every word and action of Mark Darcy with the assistance of numerous self-help books. In fact, these self-help books bring about Bridget’s demise, for some many different books professing often conflicting philosophies and how to achieve “happiness”—that her actions resulting from said influence, almost always backfire.

Within a few months, the couple has gone its separate ways due to a series of miscommunications and mishaps on both ends. So Bridget returns to the world of singletons, still deathly scared of dying alone in her flat only to be found half-eaten by wolves. So it’s back to the world of self-help books and her fellow singletons, all of which preach different “must do” tactics to happiness and yet they have not achieved such happiness either.

It almost seems that since the previous year, nothing has really changed for her. She still looks the same, weighs the same, smokes the same amount of cigarettes, drinks the same amount of alcohol, and is still single. But this time, she knows she wants Mark Darcy, but getting him back become quite the problem.

Bridget faces many challenges and new exciting adventures such as a botched remodeling attempt in her flat that does nothing but leave a large gaping hole in the wall for the rest of the world to see and an interview with Colin Firth in which she obsesses of his part as Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”. Her mishaps are on a grander scale this year—including several run-ins with the police, a death threat, and involvement in an international drug ring. It doesn’t spoil the end to let your know that she does find her way back to Mark Darcy—that’s inevitable—however, the adventure getting there is the real joy of this audiobook. The height of which leaves her in a Thai female prison singing Madonna songs in her undergarments for the other inmates.

There’s one point in the book that puts a whole blur on reality and art is the actor, Colin Firth. Numerous times, Bridget refers to Colin Firth and how she loves the scene in “Pride & Prejudice” where he leaps into the pond. In the book, she is given an opportunity to interview him. Now, in the movie “Bridget Jones Diary”, Mark Darcy is played by none other but Colin Firth. This put a tint of irony to the whole situation for those who have seen the movie, because Colin Firth is held to be the ideal man by Bridget and her singletons.

At some points in the book, where Bridget goes over each minute of her day (usually as part of some joke the author is plotting), the listener might get annoyed to hear the time read out five to six times in a row: 12:01AM, 12:02AM, 12:03AM, 1204AM, 1205AM. The repetitiveness can wear on the listener because often, the joke is predictable at that point and therefore, the humor doesn’t play out as well. Regardless of this, the book still plays out fantastically. The diary format lends itself well as an audiobook.

Barbara Rosenblat is sensational! There, it’s been said. She magnificently narrated this audiobook; I can’t imagine it being done any better. Her vibrancy and accent are simply smashing. She maintains the liveliness that permeates from Bridget’s diary, even during the low times. Her narration is like seeing right into the mind of Bridget Jones and directly listening to her thoughts. Her talents at understanding and properly voice the feeling of text is more than impressive—it’s perfect.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is not great work—but it is a great source of entertainment—poignant, funny, and very enjoyable. Bridget is an endearing and sweet woman, whom we can all relate to. Helen Fielding has produced another gem of a novel that keeps the readers and listeners deeply entertained and laughing.

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Review: Nina: Adolescence

Nina: Adolescence Nina: Adolescence by Amy Hassinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note:  This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe.  This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. This audiobook is an endearing story about a young girl emerging into womanhood and the many expected and unexpected dilemmas that come with that growth. Most young women wage war with their self-image, but Nina not only battles with her own inner demons, she faces additional pressure with her naked body being publicly displayed. Her mother, a painter, has cataloged Nina's transformation from child to adult in a series of nude portraits that are being shown in a gallery. Nina also carries a burden-the guilt for the death of her younger brother, four years prior to the beginning of the story. Her lost brother is detrimental enough for her to become quite introverted. She does not have any friends in school-until she meets Raissa, a friend from her dance class. In addition, as her mother's acclaim grows, a personal friend and renowned art critic, Leo takes a very deep and dangerous interest in Nina.

Nina's two primary relationships (Nina and Raissa, Nina and Leo) comprised much of the book. From Raissa, Nina learns about friendship and redevelops her youthful exuberance, which was lost with her brother. Their relationship is the typical teenage friendship but it is completely new to Nina who has not had friends. They fight, they laugh, they play "Truth or Dare". The two friends find themselves in a slew of teenage predicaments and remain friends through it all.

The intricate relationship that develops with Leo is another beast altogether. Leo, who was close to Nina's mother, takes a sexual interest in the fifteen-year-old, seducing the innocent Nina with cunning and guile. Amazingly, the talented author is able to deliver this part of the story in a believable manner. Her writing does not pass judgment-rather the author provides keen insight into Nina's mind to find that Nina's actions are a result of a combination of her confusion, her budding sexuality, and Leo's advances.

Another strong aspect to this story is Nina's relationship with her parents. While she does love her parents-she jumps back and forth with them in regards to how she feels towards them. They frustrate her one moment and are the best parents ever in the next moment. Her parents are present throughout the book, but much like everyone's teenage years-they may be there, but in many regards they are not there. They are no longer completely involved in their daughter's life and they begin to understand that Nina is becoming an adult with her own life.

This story captures the nuances of a female's emergence into womanhood. The author is able to freeze those memorable events of youthful discovery that many reminisce over delightfully. In addition, the realism of the story makes it that much more compelling-all elements of the story are so believable that one never really thinks, "Oh that couldn't happen."

Mia Barron does a fantastic narration of this book. Her tone was perfect for the exuberance, youthfulness, and energy of Nina. Mia captivated Nina with superb precision, however, there was one fault. This reviewer happens to be from the Boston area-where the story takes place. Knowing that the Boston accent can be a bit obnoxious, I can understand doing a flat accent for a dialogue, but the narrator delivers much of the dialogue in an accent resembling the Wisconsin/Minnesota region. Being distinctly familiar with the accent, I did find this a little disrupting. But her skill is not to be underrated-her depiction of a teenager emerging into womanhood is right on key.

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Review: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anderson skillfully deconstructs an unspoken but prevalent theme in the US history of race relations since well before the Civil War: white rage. Directly and indirectly, she shows how the often stereotypical assumption of African-Americans as being unwieldy or out of control (that is, having "black rage") is largely a matter of projection of a white rage. White rage has historically over-reacted to each attempt by African American and other marginalized peoples to establish an equal footing as put forward in the US's founding documents. Thus, she shows from the Civil War to the presidency of Barak Obama, how viciously and brutally dominant white culture has reacted. Whether it was de-facto enslavement for unemployed African Americans in the post-Civil War era, the rise of segregation, the intentional exclusion of compensation for African Americans who fought in war, the attempts to shut down or create private or charter schools in the absence of desegregation to unequal sentencing (or due process) in the justice system to systematic attempts to limit their ability to vote, white social, cultural, and political power has actively sought to see equality as a threat to the status quo and been willing to take innocent lives and freedoms to maintain and perpetuate this power and racial divide. Anderson's makes that proves entirely clear with accessible prose that provides specifics but does not inundate readers with unnecessary details.

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Review: We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be Feminists We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adichie's short book (what's the equivalent of a novella in nonfiction? Long-form essay?) is a collection of short essays that stem from her TED Talk exploring how and why feminism is a necessity for all societies. She connects her personal stories and experiences to the larger discourse on feminism and draws useful analogies for many to understand and appreciate about its place in the 21st century throughout the world. It's a quick read that can refuel some while also introducing complex considerations about feminism to someone just exploring it for the first time.

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Review: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is a single book that can structurally explain how racism permeates the history and mythology of the United States, then Kendi's book is if not the book, then certainly a contender (having not read all of them, I cannot say, but having read many books on race, this one is among the best). Kendi traces the history of the United States' approach to, discourse on, and political consequences of racism from the colonies in the 1600s until the present. He does this by exploring the lives of five pivotal figures in the history of racism who span all five centuries of US history: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis. Kendi posits three ideologies that are found in various forms throughout the history and the works of those with whom he presents: racist, assimilationist, and anti-racist ideologies. Ultimately, Kendi's power lies in his ability to tie the individual lives to the contemporary discourse of the individuals' time while also drawing parallels to and building a mounting context for understanding racism in the present.

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