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Benjamin

Likes to listen while doing chores; likes to write reviews while he should be doing chores.

Silver Spring, MD, United States | Member Since 2010

184
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 57 reviews
  • 61 ratings
  • 297 titles in library
  • 5 purchased in 2015
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24

  • The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama

    • UNABRIDGED (32 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Michael R. Gordon, Bernard E. Trainor
    • Narrated By Rob Shapiro
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (28)
    Performance
    (25)
    Story
    (25)

    The Endgame is Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor's most ambitious and news-breaking book to date. A peerless work of investigative journalism and historical recreation ranging from 2003 to 2012, it gives us the first comprehensive, inside account of arguably the most widely reported yet least understood war in American history - from the occupation of Iraq to the withdrawal of American troops.

    Phillip says: "Detailed accounting of U.S. experience in Iraq"
    "Interesting Perspective, but One-Sided"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    First let me say that this is a necessary book if you are looking to get informed about the Iraq War, but it is not enough on its own because the breadth and depth of the topic cannot be contained in one book. The battalion and brigade viewpoint of this book are certainly enough to make it a worthwhile read. It serves as an excellent play-by-play and the inclusion of the individual service member stories make it a perspective that often goes uncovered.

    Additionally, the inside baseball of Iraqi politics is an essential piece of this story and is expertly woven into the exposition of the US military moves. While the coverage of all the players is burdensome in audiobook format, it is necessary, and if you can remember who did what, very enlightening.

    Gordon and Trainor’s access to classified materials is mostly a good thing, but can lead them astray. Their access to the JSOC operations and the intelligence efforts against the Quds Force and the interdiction of Explosively Formed Projectiles built in Iran answers a lot of questions. You would not get this view just from reading the news. On the down side, they tend cite classified materials whenever possible even when it doesn’t add much to the book -- seemingly to trumpet their unprecedented access.

    Though insightful, this book is not the definitive work on the Iraq War. Because of some biases and perspective limitations you will need to reach outside to get a better picture. The two shortcomings are political views and holding too closely to the insider’s perspective.

    First the political: There is little criticism of President Bush’s handling of the war. Enough is said about Franks’s leaving Sanchez understaffed and unprepared and Bremer’s failures, but is not connected with the Bush administration’s world view of how this war would unfold and how long we would be involved. Bush’s administration posited that it would be over quickly, it would be cheap, and we’d all be home by Christmas. This drove the initial strategy, and it was a train wreck. But who gets the blame in the book? Bremer, Sanchez and Casey. Granted, all three men had their share of blame, but Bush is painted very heroically. At one point Bush is described as “steadfastly maintain[ing] a position of ambiguity,” where others might have been unclear, obfuscating, or vacillating. Democrats are generally described as uninformed and driven by selfish political interests. This political cant is neither devastating to the book, nor does it detract from the muddy-boots-level view this book provides, but it is there, nonetheless.

    The book also holds too closely to an insider’s perspective. This is an advantage when you describe what was happening on the ground, but it is a hindrance when considering the larger questions of the war. The insiders consistently wanted to stay with the mission until something was accomplished, lest the opportunities for a democratic Iraq and the sacrifices of the troops be wasted. This perspective made it seem that when people talked about drawing down or ending the war, the listener was being led to ask, “Don’t those outsiders get it? We’re winning. We can’t stop now.” I personally met with that perspective on the ground with old Iraq hands I worked with. It was certainly a real thing, but it ignores half the story. The book doesn’t cover the cost of the war, the fact that WMDs were a fiction, over stretched forces, Iraqi foot-dragging and dependence, war-weariness at home or, importantly, that Obama was elected to the presidency running hard against the war in an election that was largely seen as a referendum on Bush’s Iraq War policy. It’s as if the people who wanted us out of Iraq were a small, eccentric, and not particularly bright minority when the opposite is true. There were plenty of reasons to leave, but you wouldn't know it from this book.

    The reader, Shapiro, did a very good job with a tough piece of material; most of his pronunciations were pretty accurate. This book was full of Arabic words and names and he nailed all but a few, which is a tall order. He even managed US military acronyms (extra points for “MNSTC-I”). Points off for blowing the pronunciation of Huế (Vietnam). Good pacing and a pleasant voice.

    Overall, this book is a good addition to the Iraq War canon. It is one perspective to add to the bookshelf, but not the only one.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • A Crucible of Souls: The Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Mitchell Hogan
    • Narrated By Oliver Wyman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1711)
    Performance
    (1549)
    Story
    (1552)

    When Caldan’s parents are brutally slain, he is raised by monks and taught the arcane mysteries of sorcery. Vowing to discover for himself who his parents really were, and what led to their violent end, he is thrust into the unfamiliar chaos of city life. With nothing to his name but a pair of mysterious heirlooms and a handful of coins, he must prove his talent to earn an apprenticeship with a guild of sorcerers. But he soon learns the world outside the monastery is a darker place than he ever imagined, and his treasured sorcery has disturbing depths. As a shadowed evil manipulates the unwary and forbidden powers are unleashed, Caldan is plunged into an age-old conflict that brings the world to the edge of destruction.

    Isaac says: "Good, but... Something is missing"
    "Ummmmm... It's... Ok, I Guess. Kind of."
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book isn't terrible. Not good either. Marginal. It makes a passable play at a coming of age fantasy novel, but it felt like 20 hours of Cliff's Notes. Nothing is particularly well described. Landscape, culture, emotions, personalities are all pretty much left up to your imagination. I get that it is possible to over-describe, but Hogan pretty much just left detail out. There are some passably described magic fight scenes near the end, but it was a long time getting there.

    The pacing was agonizingly slow. The entire book encompassed about enough story for the first third of a good coming of age fantasy book.

    World-building is weak. Character development is weak. The magic system is ok. There are a few pivotal moments where the outcome is in doubt, but few actual twists and turns.

    The only sphere where the author really indulged himself was with unknowns centered on the main character. He has some powers beyond that of normal people. You know this through pretty much the whole book, but Hogan plays it pretty close to the vest. You get plenty of tease, but little progressive elaboration. This is an element I suspect might pick up in later books.

    The reader was Ok. Not a masterpiece, but good characterizations, tempo and clarity.

    I will likely not continue this series. I read the reviews of the second book and they were pretty discouraging. I can only recommend this to none, but the most devoted fantasy fan.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By David Wong
    • Narrated By Nick Podehl
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1357)
    Performance
    (1269)
    Story
    (1281)

    Warning: You may have a huge, invisible spider living in your skull. This is not a metaphor. You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection - the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate skepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That’s just as well, since the “cure” involves learning what a chain saw tastes like. You can’t feel the spider, because it controls your nerve endings.

    Charles says: "Very Different than John Dies, but Equal"
    "Horromedy!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book does a fantastic job of melding horror with the absolutely ridiculous. Wong basically built a messed up town where conventional laws of science do not apply and infested it with spiders, ghosts, zombies, monsters, evil bureaucrats, and a couple of slackers that only overachieve at monster fighting.

    The book is twisted and absurd and funny. The plot holds your attention, not so much by twisting, but rather by sprinting off in unexpected directions like an unruly dog having just seen a squirrel.

    Both author and narrator combine to develop the characters which all achieve an excellent texture whether main protagonist or bit player.

    I recommend this book highly. My only reservation is that it slows down toward the middle. It starts strong and finishes strong and the middle is manageable. I say, go for it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Theft of Swords: Riyria Revelations, Volume 1

    • UNABRIDGED (22 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Michael J. Sullivan
    • Narrated By Tim Gerard Reynolds
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (6409)
    Performance
    (5883)
    Story
    (5884)

    Acclaimed author Michael J. Sullivan created instant best sellers with his spellbinding Riyria Revelations series. This first volume introduces Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, two enterprising thieves who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the death of the king. Trapped in a conspiracy bigger than they can imagine, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery - before it’s too late.

    AudioAddict says: "And I didn't think I liked fantasies..."
    "Not Polished, but Extremely Readable"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    First of all, I think it's admirable how author succeeded through self-publication. Way to go! That in itself makes a good story for believing in yourself and your product.

    The story itself is a good yarn with fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, monsters, chases, escapes, miracles... It's one giant and true love short of being the Princess Bride. To make up for this, Sullivan offers the intrigue of an evil church conspiracy bent on remaking the world to conform to their will. So it is a very interesting story that keeps you engaged.

    The characters are well composed and endearing. Both the author and the reader play their parts in bringing them to life. Reynolds really brings the individuals into contrast with very subtle changes in voice. His characterizations are not super bold, but they are enough to make individuals recognizable. I am not the largest fan of his overuse of the British, West Country for low-born accents, but that is a very minor thing. Mostly very good.

    My only issue with the book is that it lacks a bit of polish. Sullivan tends to overuse the word "guy," which sort of messes with the medieval setting. There are also editing flubs in the track, where words are repeated. The text could be tightened up a little bit. But all this is just quibbling; if you don't sweat the small stuff, it is a really fun read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Providence of Fire

    • UNABRIDGED (23 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Brian Staveley
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1097)
    Performance
    (976)
    Story
    (972)

    Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy.

    L. Sheldon Clark says: "Miscommunication driven plot ruined a good story"
    "A Big Step Back"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I was so hopeful after the first book. This was going to be one of those series where I actually put books on pre-order. I really liked where it was going. And then this happened. I don't know if Staveley was rushed to publication, or if he was told to cram a lot more stuff into the book to keep it lively, but this book doesn't make much sense.

    Oh, there are some redeeming pieces. Staveley can check most of the blocks that go along with your basic fantasy novels. He has good fights, readable banter, surprises, and colorful atmosphere. I don't want to give him zero credit. He does those parts pretty well.

    His major problem is that his characters are broken in a way that makes the story not make sense. I am not saying that he writes damaged characters intentionally like an alcoholic who acts perversely yet humanly. No, his characters are constantly doing things for no reason or for reasons they know to be false or just completely stupid. Sure, the scenes and outcomes are more dramatic, and what they do may fit for that scene, but they don't make sense to the rest of the story. I get it that characters often act contrary to their interests, it can build drama. This is understandable and completely forgivable in stories. It happens in real life all the time, but when every major character makes decisions like the drunkest freshman at a college party just to make that individual scene as striking as it can be, their motivations in the larger narrative fall apart. That is the problem with this installment. The author gets dramatic scenes that don't make sense when you try to string them together.

    As this could be the sophomore doldrums, I might swing back around for the third book. But I won't be waiting breathlessly. I could just as well give this series up.

    I consistently enjoy Simon Vance's readings. This narration was also strong.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Cursor's Fury: Codex Alera, Book 3

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By Jim Butcher
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (3643)
    Performance
    (2567)
    Story
    (2573)

    The power-hungry High Lord of Kalare has launched a rebellion against the aging First Lord, Gaius Sextus, who with the loyal forces of Alera must fight beside the unlikeliest of allies - the equally contentious High Lord of Aquitaine. Meanwhile, young Tavi of Calderon joins a newly formed legion under an assumed name even as the ruthless Kalare unites with the Canim, bestial enemies of the realm whose vast numbers spell certain doom for Alera.

    Readalot says: "Great series"
    "From Spy to Soldier"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The books in this series are shaping up to mark individual, chapters, or episodes in the development of Tavi of Calderon. The titles, beginning with book 2, pretty much lay that out. This installment has lots of spycraft and a big battle at the end. I think what I enjoy most is that the main character uses his wits to get himself in and out of trouble. In his world, he is basically handicapped. That doesn't even come close to stopping him though. He experiences the humiliation of not being able to do what everyone else can, but he is also not bound by their blinkered thinking and limitations. Tavi is a great character for perseverance and cleverness. He is a well-crafted character.

    I am not going to go on about the reading and the horns as I did in my reviews in the previous two books. It is enough to say that Reading's characterizations are solid and her pacing is good. There seem to be some editing flubs where one word runs right into another, but other than that, pretty clean.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Academ's Fury: Codex Alera, Book 2

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By Jim Butcher
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (3895)
    Performance
    (2770)
    Story
    (2775)

    For 1,000 years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the Furies - elementals of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Metal. But now, the unity of the Alerians hangs in precarious balance.

    Eric says: "Wonderful series"
    "Plot Thickens"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book moves Tavi's story out of the country and into the city. As opposed to book 1, Academ's Fury is where the story arc has it's true beginning. It kind of makes Furies of Calderon seem like a pilot episode where the writers knew mostly what they wanted but then decided to take the rest of the story in a slightly different direction. And I do mean "slightly" here.

    This book has a lot more intrigue, more politics and about the same amount of magic combat. It's a really good read, enough twists to keep you on your toes and enough explosions and sword fights to keep your inner 15 yr. old boy engaged. Character introduction and development is solid too.

    I am still not entirely pleased by Reading's accent in this audiobook. I don't get why the producers felt the need for her to go British. I normally like her a lot. Despite the contrived accent, her characterizations are firming up. She has obvious talent.

    I still don't understand what is up with the random horn fanfares. Is that there because the book was originally split into multiple files to speed up downloads?

    I would recommend this book to fans of fantasy. Well worth a credit.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Furies of Calderon: Codex Alera, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 58 mins)
    • By Jim Butcher
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (5042)
    Performance
    (3624)
    Story
    (3664)

    In the realm of Alera, where people bond with the furies - elementals of earth, air, fire, water, and metal - 15-year-old Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. But when his homeland erupts in chaos - when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies - Tavi's simple courage will turn the tides of war.

    Eric says: "great fantasy series"
    "Great Story, Questionable Reading"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I read this book years ago and loved it. I am a sucker for this kind of fantasy, one that follows the boy of great and yet undefined potential through adventure and sorcery. It was reading the Belgariad (Eddings) as a kid that turned me into a reader. This is a book has a similar narrative to Pawn of Prophecy. I am a fan of Butcher from the Dresden Files and this is a departure from urban fantasy to more swords & magic fantasy. He does a solid job. His development of the world and the system of magic is fantastic. This particular quality he shares with Sanderson, however, he is quite different in many other ways. In short, Butcher does a great job of drawing together great elements of fantasy to make for an enjoyable story.

    I generally like Kate Reading. This one is a rare miss for her. I don't get why they made the choice to play British in this novel. She's American and it shows. When she characterizes certain characters that are a departure from her normal speaking voice her British accent goes in and out. Also, one of the advantages of getting a British reader to do British accents is that they don't all have the general standard British accents. Bumpkins will sound like they're from Yorkshire. City dwellers will sound like there from Norf London, that kind of thing. Because she's trying to pass as British, you don't get variation, you get inconsistency.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Age of Iron

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Angus Watson
    • Narrated By Sean Barrett
    Overall
    (376)
    Performance
    (350)
    Story
    (348)

    Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary traveling south to join up with King Zadar's army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people. First Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar's most fearsome warriors, who has vowed revenge on the king for her sister's execution. Now Dug's on the wrong side of the thousands-strong army he hoped to join - and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side.

    R. J. Thorne says: "Gritty and funny, ASOIF fans stop here"
    "Liked it. Wanted to like it More."
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I will be on the lookout for the next in this series. The book is good, but its potential is great. Those that make the Joe Abercrombie association are not far off. Like Abercrombie's, this book is a character-driven novel with abject violence and exploration of the extremes of good and bad in people. The character description is reason enough to read this book. Watson adds spice by toying with a quasi historical fiction of iron age Britain.

    Two places where this book is less than excellent are the pacing of the plot and the description of the setting. The plot doesn't really follow a tempo, and really just collapses into a coherent shape at the end. It feels like the author in the last quarter of the book, crumpled up the paper and wound up with an origami crane. Also, Watson really could have gotten more mileage out of his recreation of Iron Age Britain, he could have better imagined what people ate, wore and built. With the holes in the historical record, he could have really taken the science, engineering, home economics and society for a real spin. I feel like he played it too conservative.

    I think the reader is dead on for the characters, but he didn't blow my mind which is what I reserve a 5 for. Its a tough bar to clear though. He did a respectable job.

    I think there is tons of potential to this series. Worth a credit.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Strategy: A History

    • UNABRIDGED (32 hrs and 4 mins)
    • By Lawrence Freedman
    • Narrated By Michael Butler Murray
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (109)
    Performance
    (95)
    Story
    (93)

    In Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world's leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, in a consistently engaging and insightful account of how strategy came to pervade every aspect of our lives.

    Logical Paradox says: "Comprehensive 'Tour de Force' on Strategy"
    "Academic Writing, Probably Better in Text"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    If you take nothing else from this review, understand this: this book is a history of theory. They are clear about this in the description, but it bears repetition, thus: A. History. Of. Theory. So the narrative goes from one strategic philosopher to another and as often as not discusses how the philosophy touched the world at large.

    This book does not show how strategy is relevant to you. It also makes a weak case as to how the development of strategic theory was relevant to the history of the world. It is as if the artifact of strategy only barely touches the larger world. The author cannot be accused of overselling the relevance of his subject. Unfortunately, that makes it pretty hard to get interested.

    There are two major items in this book's favor. One, that it keeps a refined focus on strategy and artfully keeps from being drawn down to the level of tactics, which would be an easily understandable digression. And two, the book has a good vision for the analysis the strategies of political movements, though sadly, it is there where it looses thematic focus.

    In the end, I couldn't finish this book. It is an academic text unsuited to audiobook format. It also is written with that academic tendency of never using a fifteen word sentence where a fifty word sentence will do.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Steelheart: Reckoners, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Brandon Sanderson
    • Narrated By MacLeod Andrews
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10866)
    Performance
    (9975)
    Story
    (10013)

    Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills. Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them. And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father.

    D says: "He got the idea from a near traffic accident"
    "Still Sanderson, but not Genius"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I'm a Sanderson fan, but I might not sound like it here. Perhaps I grade him harshly because some of his other work is so good. I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it, particularly for a YA audience, but not-so-Y adults will enjoy it as well.

    Sanderson does well what he always does well:
    -Characters have very cool magical powers.
    -Fight scenes with magic are fast and plentiful.
    -The "all super villain / no super hero" premise is great!
    -The post (ongoing?) - apocalyptic setting is interesting with plenty of room to develop. Though this last is full of anthropological and incentive-based paradoxes that you are better off not thinking too deeply about.

    In my mind, these are enough to carry the book. These alone make it good enough. Unfortunately, there are some issues that are uncharacteristically slapdash. The general narrative is just too convenient. The plot never really derails, the characters have already planned everything out and nearly always find what they are looking for. Any twists are very forseeable. Sanderson drops too many clues. I'm horrible at figuring these things out and even to me it seemed plain as day. The characters are pretty wooden. There are some exceptions. Ok, one. Cody. But the rest are underdeveloped.

    Lastly, the "boy meets girl" piece is achingly contrived. I know Sanderson wanted wanted a young love element. But, come on, of course the crack team of hardened super villain assassins is going to include a pretty girl his own age who resents him at first, and warms to him later when he demonstrates his quality. Of course it does. While I can suspend disbelief to fit a villain-created forever night in a steel-fossilized Chicago, the love interest character is a bit too fantastical.

    The reader was good. Very well cast to do a young man narrator. His accents were ok as were his characterizations.

    NOTE: As of this writing there is a free short story available on Audible as an interlude to the series. The next full novel that has not yet been published.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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