Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Tomb That Ruth Built - Audiobook Review

Title: The Tomb That Ruth Built: Mickey Rawlings, Book 7
Author: Troy Soos
Narrator: Johnny Heller
Unabridged Length: 6 h, 39 m
Published by Common Mode, Abbreviated Audio, 2015
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers, Historical Fiction, Sports

From the Publisher:
The Roaring Twenties: America is dancing to jazz, gangsters are selling bootleg liquor, and the New York Yankees are building a baseball dynasty. In 1923, Yankee Stadium opens and Babe Ruth is about to lead the team to its first world’s championship. But the promising season gets off to an ominous start when the body of a murdered bootlegger is found buried in the new ballpark. Utility infielder Mickey Rawlings, in his first year with the Yankees, is called to investigate and soon gets caught in the crossfire of rival gangsters. The Tomb That Ruth Built is the seventh in Troy Soos’s acclaimed Mickey Rawlings baseball mystery series.

My Review:

My earliest baseball memories include watching the New York Yankees on our family black & white TV with my dad in the late 50s through 1964; the era of Mantle, Maris, Ford, and Berra. I learned a lot of Yankee history from my dad and checked out every book I could find about the early Yankees, from my elementary school and public libraries.

With that background, my fondness of cozy mysteries, and the narration by master storyteller Johnny Heller; I decided this audiobook had the potential to be a home run, so I bought it.

Utility infielder Mickey Rawlings has been traded to the 1923 New York Yankees. The Yankees have not yet won a World Series, getting beaten by the New York Giants in both 1921 and 1922. Yankee Stadium is set to open. Babe Ruth is a star, but also a party animal. Rawlings has been in the major leagues for a dozen years, with six different teams. He is now assigned as Ruth’s roommate for road games, in part to keep the Babe somewhat in line.

Hopes are running high for the Yankees and their magnificent new stadium. Just before opening day, the body of a bootlegger is found in the wall behind one of the concession stands. Unfortunately, a list of “clients” is also found on the body and Babe Ruth is on that list. To help avoid scandal, the Yankees ownership asks Mickey to discretely investigate, since he played one season with the deceased, a former major league pitcher, and since he has a reputation in solving crimes. This leads Mickey into a world of speakeasies, gangsters, movie producers, and other nefarious characters; when all Mickey really wants to do is play baseball.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Inventing Niagara – Audiobook Review

Title: InventingNiagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies
Author: Ginger Strand
Narrator: Karen White
Unabridged Length: 13 h, 10 m
Published by Tantor Audio, 2008
Genres: Nonfiction, History

From the Publisher
Americans call Niagara Falls a natural wonder, but the falls aren't very natural anymore. In fact, they are a study in artifice. Water diverted, riverbed reshaped, brink stabilized, and landscape redesigned, the falls are more a monument to man's meddling than to nature's strength. Held up as an example of something real, they are hemmed in with fakery - waxworks, haunted houses, IMAX films, and ersatz Indian tales.

A symbol of American manifest destiny, they are shared politely with Canada. Emblematic of nature's power, they are completely human-controlled. An archetype of natural beauty, the falls belie an ugly environmental legacy still bubbling up from below. On every level, Niagara Falls is a monument to how America falsifies nature, reshaping its contours and redirecting its force while claiming to submit to its will.

Combining history, reportage, and personal narrative, Inventing Niagara traces Niagara's journey from sublime icon to engineering marvel to camp spectacle. Along the way, Ginger Strand uncovers the hidden history of America's waterfall: the Mohawk chief who wrested the falls from his adopted tribe, the revered town father who secretly assisted slave catchers, the wartime workers who unknowingly helped build the atomic bomb, and the building contractor who bought and sold a pharaoh.

With an uncanny ability to zero in on the buried truth, Strand introduces us to underwater dams, freaks of nature, mythical maidens, and 280,000 radioactive mice buried at Niagara.

From LaSalle to Lincoln to Los Alamos, Mohawks to Marilyn, Niagara's story is America's story, a tale of dreams founded on the mastery of nature. At a time of increasing environmental crisis, Inventing Niagara shows us how understanding the cultural history of nature might help us to rethink our place in it today.

My Review:

Inventing Niagara was a timely listen for me last month as I’d just seen the big hoopla in the media about Niagara Falls being partially frozen over. Of course it was, since the river flow had been majorly diverted to generate power on both sides of the river. Who knew the utilities had the capacity to totally shut down the river flow, to turn off the falls? Of course, winter is usually the off-season for tourism at the falls. The “frozen” falls created an off-season tourist attraction with national media coverage.

Until recent years, I’d always thought Niagara Falls was a natural wonder. At one time, it was. It has a storied history and pretty much none of it has anything to do with preserving nature. It is all about greed and the exploitation of natural resources. The history of the falls is very interesting and not generally known. Over the years, myth has often trumped reality.

Karen White does an excellent job keeping this book moving along with a read that seems to fully capture the author’s intention. She has an expressive voice that gives the experience of the author telling her story directly to me, as opposed to a dry straight read.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Starling Project – Audiobook Review

Narrator: Alfred Molina, Full Cast
Unabridged Length: 4 h, 10 m
Published by Audible Studios, 2014
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers, Audio Drama

From the Publisher:
New York Times
best-selling author Jeffery Deaver will make your ears tingle and your pulse race in this Audible Studios original full-cast audiodrama starring Alfred Molina.

An aborted raid targeting a major arms dealer. A hostage standoff at a bank that may not be what it seems. A plot to spring a former African dictator from prison. What is the threat that connects them all? And just who is the mysterious mastermind, The Starling? From Mexico to Washington - from London to Marseille to Prague - war crimes investigator Harold Middleton and his team of Volunteers risk their lives to follow the trail of clues. But how can they stop The Starling - when he always seems one step ahead?

With more than 80 speaking roles and state-of-the-art sound and music design, The Starling Project is an immersive listening experience written by a master of the thriller.

My Review:
The Starling Project is a full blown movie in your ears. It includes a full cast, music, sound effects, and a fast moving plot. From the opening sequence in northwest Mexico, this audiobook grabs the listener.

This is the story of Harold Middleton and his Volunteers, a group that works for the International Tribunal for Justice. Their mission is to find, arrest, and extradite fugitive war criminals and those who support them. The story begins in the jungle of Baja California where Middleton and his crew, along with a team of UN Peacekeepers is attempting to remove computer hard drives from a house owned by Anton Gregory, a money launderer who supports war criminals, gun runners, terrorists, and dictators. The drives may include important information relative to the Starling Project, an upcoming operation that the Tribunal expects a lot of people to die.

So, what is the Starling Project, who is the mastermind, and how can he be stopped? Get ready for a wild four hour ride with lots of plot twists, red herrings, and interesting characters.

The Starling Project was written by Jeffery Deaver specifically as an audio drama, with no intention of ever having it in print. It allowed for natural dialogue without the “he said” or “said Middleton” and so no need for a narrator. Music was effectively used to transition between scenes and to build suspense during scenes.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cop Out - Audiobook Review

Title: Cop Out
Author: Ellery Queen
Narrator: Robert Fass
Unabridged Length: 6 h, 3 m
Published by Blackstone Audio, 2014
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

From the Publisher:
Who are you, Malone? Just a little while ago you were a cop. That was before the two punks and their girl hit town. That was before they boosted a payroll and shot down a man and took your nine-year-old daughter as insurance to cover their getaway. Now you’re just a man. Scared. Not for yourself—that would be easy. But for your child, the only thing in the world you love enough to make you play ball with the kind of scum you’ve hated all your life.

My Review
My memory of Ellery Queen was from the 1975 television series that featured Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen and David Wayne as his dad, Inspector Queen. The series had a slew of celebrity guests and the viewer was challenged each week to solve the mystery based on the facts presented. These were pretty lightweight and non-graphic who-done-its. However, that is not what we find with Cop Out. To start with, neither Ellery Queen nor Inspector Queen are in this audiobook. Cop Out was written in 1969 as standalone, outside of the series of Queen mystery novels.

Cop Out is also a pretty intense suspense novel that really isn’t a mystery, as we immediately know the bad guys and there is no who-done-it element. It is far more violent than the lighter Ellery Queen mysteries from the 40s and 50s.

In the quiet town of New Bradford, Mr. Howland the bookkeeper for Aztec Paper Products has decided to steal the payroll in what is supposed to appear as a robbery. He conspires with Furia, a psychopathic but not too bright hoodlum; his henchman, aptly named Hinch; and Furia’s girlfriend Goldie, who happens to have grown up in New Bradford. The payroll is $24,000 and the split is supposed to be $6000 each. Furia decides to increase their own shares by killing the bookkeeper. This starts an immediate murder investigation as the clerks body is found before the crooks can get out of town.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Curmudgeons Guide To Getting Ahead - Audiobook Review

Author: Charles Murray
Narrator: Charles Murray
Unabridged Length: 3 h, 10 m
Published by Blackstone Audio, 2014
Genres: Nonfiction, Business

From the Publisher
In the bestselling tradition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a gently curmudgeonly but invaluable guide to the dos and don’ts of the workplace.

Bestselling social historian Charles Murray has written a delightfully fussy—and entertaining—book on the hidden rules of the road in the workplace—and in life—from the standpoint of an admonishing, but encouraging, workplace grouch and taskmaster. Why the curmudgeon? The fact is that most older, more senior people in the workplace are closet curmudgeons. In today’s politically correct world, they may hide their displeasure over your misuse of grammar or your overly familiar use of their first name without an express invitation. But don’t be fooled by their pleasant demeanor. Underneath, they are judging and evaluating your every move and utterance. And in most cases, if you want to advance in your career, it is their approval you need to win.

In the course of this pithy and powerful book, Murray tells us the proper etiquette for email, how to stop using such overused and fuzzy phrases as “reaching out” and “sharing,” his thoughts on piercings and tattoos and proper dress, the importance of rigor in language and good writing, why being judgmental is good, and other curmudgeonly pieces of wisdom and advice. He suggests how to stand out at work (work long hours when you are young and unencumbered by family and other obligations), when to use strong language and when to avoid it, and offers a bare-bones usage primer on how to avoid confusing words like “advice” and “advise,” which look or sound similar but have distinct meanings.

Written with both verve and reserve and drawing on the core values that have historically made good manners the best lubricant to social and professional advancement, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead is an invaluable resource for anyone hoping to land the job of their dreams—or get ahead in their career of choice.

My Review
I’m not the target audience of this book as I’m old enough to be (OK, I am) a curmudgeon and have observed most of what Charles Murray covers, since I started working with large corporations in 1976. I first ran into the writings of Murray when I read “The Bell Curve” (during my last time in graduate school in the late 90s) that he co-authored along with Richard J. Herrnstein in 1996.

Senior managers in most businesses today are curmudgeons, usually baby-boomers, whose values are different from younger workers, particularly Millennials. Young workers are judged by older managers for their communication skills, dress, timeliness, grammar, respect for elders, work ethic, manners, and general workplace behavior. The details matter and promotions are often based on how well young employees mesh with the values of the organization; that is, the values of senior management curmudgeons. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Herbie's Game - Audiobook Review

Narrator: Peter Berkrot
Unabridged Length: 10 h, 57 m
Published by Blackstone Audio, 2014
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

From the Publisher:
It’s everyday business when Wattles, the San Fernando Valley’s top “executive crook,” sets up a hit. He establishes a chain of criminals to pass along the instructions and the money, thereby ensuring that the hitter doesn’t know who hired him. Then one day Wattles finds his office safe open and a single item missing: the piece of paper listing the crooks in the chain. When people associated with the chain begin to pop up dead, the only person Wattles can turn to for help is Junior Bender, professional burglar and begrudging private eye for crooks.

But Junior already knows exactly who took Wattles’ list; the signature is obvious. It was Herbie Mott, Junior’s burglar mentor and second father—but when Junior seeks him out to discuss the matter, he finds him very unpleasantly murdered. Junior follows the links in the chain back toward the killer, and as he does, he learns disturbing things about Herbie’s hidden past. Just how much of the life he’s lived for the past twenty years has been of his own making, and how much of it was actually Herbie’s game?

My Review:
Junior Bender is back in Timothy Hallinan’s Herbie’s Game, the fourth book in this humorous crime fiction series. The story opens with Junior doing what he does best; burglarizing a home. Afterward, when he is back at his place with his girlfriend checking out the loot, someone knocks on the door. It is Wattles, a San Fernando Valley executive thug, along with his goon Bones. Wattles is what amounts to a crime broker. If someone needs something done, from a minor beat down to an arson to a hit, Wattles can arrange it for a price through his network of criminals.

Junior is hired by Wattles after a burglary at Wattles’ office. Everything was left open and only one thing was taken, a piece of paper. The office is usually very secure, so Junior can think of only one person capable of pulling the job, his mentor Herbie Mott. When Junior accepts the job to retrieve the paper, we find why it was so important. It contained the chain, a list of names in order that were involved in what ultimately was a hit. Only Wattles knew all of the names on the chain. Others, all felons, simply were called to participate to pass on envelopes of money to blind drops, each getting a payment for their participation, but without knowing the killer. They simply delivered and received the payments. It made for a hit to be nearly impossible to trace back up the chain to Wattles and whomever hired him, and given all were felons, none were believable witnesses. Normally, this list of disconnects was never in writing, but that had changed as Wattles was having some recent memory loss issues.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Last To Know - Audiobook Review

Title: Last To Know
Author: Elizabeth Adler
Narrator: Joe Barrett, Amy Rubinate
Unabridged Length: 7 h, 46 m
Published by Blackstone Audio, 2014
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

From the Publisher
A killer targets a peaceful lakeside community, and one family is changed forever by secrets and lies.

Evening Lake is idyllic, peaceful, with a close-knit community of families who have been coming to this western Massachusetts getaway for decades. Then newcomer Lacey Havnel and her daughter Bea move in. They are nothing like the well-heeled families who populate Evening Lake. Mysterious and rough around the edges, they keep to themselves.

Detective Harry Jordan sees his lake home as a respite from solving crimes on the streets of Boston. The Osborne family views their cottage as a way to avoid the distractions of life—especially for Wally Osborne, a famous horror writer who seems to need the peace and quiet more than anyone.

One night, Harry is walking alongside the lake when the night is rocked by an explosion: the Havnel house is engulfed in a conflagration, and young Bea is seen fleeing, hair on fire, and plunging into the lake. She survives, but her mother does not, and Harry is pulled into the investigation.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the community, Diz Osborne, the youngest Osborne son, carries a weighty secret about who else he saw rowing on the lake that night. When it’s discovered that Lacey died not from the explosion but from a knife wound, it’s soon clear that a murderer is on the loose. And this murderer is poised to strike again and again.

My Review

Burned out Boston homicide detective Harry Jordan decides to take some time off to reflect on his career and his life, after splitting with his fiancée, Mallory Malone. She heads to France, he heads to his cabin at Evening Lake in western Massachusetts to relax.

His next door neighbors include the Osborne family. Wally Osborne is a popular crime fiction writer and likes the peace and quiet of the lake community. His wife Rose is a socialite, gourmet cook, and seems to run the family that is made up of son Roman, twin daughters Madison & Frazer, and son Diz, the youngest. Everyone at Evening Lake knows one another, has for years. Then, the Havnels arrive. Lacey Havnel, and her 21-year-old daughter, Bea have moved in directly across the lake, since Harry was last here. They seem to keep to themselves and don’t seem to fit in with the others in Evening Lake.
As Harry is walking along the lake one evening, he sees the house directly across the lake, the Havnel place, explode and go up in flames. Harry is the first on the scene and pulls Bea Havnel from the lake, as she had run from the house with her hair ablaze and dived into the lake.