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Michael

I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

Walnut Creek, CA, United States | Member Since 2002

3006
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 390 reviews
  • 1380 ratings
  • 1432 titles in library
  • 58 purchased in 2014
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  • The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By V. S. Ramachandran
    • Narrated By David Drummond
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (218)
    Performance
    (160)
    Story
    (155)

    V. S. Ramachandran is at the forefront of his field - so much so that Richard Dawkins dubbed him the "Marco Polo of neuroscience". Now, in a major new work, Ramachandran sets his sights on the mystery of human uniqueness. Taking us to the frontiers of neurology, he reveals what baffling and extreme case studies can teach us about normal brain function and how it evolved.

    Michael says: "Great if you like understanding how brains work"
    "Great if you like understanding how brains work"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Do take some time to look at the included PDF before you start listening otherwise you will be frustrated at various points. The book does repeat some things from other of Ramachandran???s books, but it was all stuff that was interesting enough to bear repeating. The book also becomes speculative at points, but the author notes where experimental results end and speculation begins and he also points out that speculation is an important part of the scientific method. The speculation becomes a little wild near the end of the book when the author attempts to frame art in term of neuroscience, but it was interesting to think about nevertheless. The book mostly describes unusual neurological conditions, links them to specific brain regions, and describes experiments to test related theories. This is quite good fun if you are in to that sort of thing ??? if you are not, it might seem dry.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • Written in Red: A Novel of the Others

    • UNABRIDGED (18 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Anne Bishop
    • Narrated By Alexandra Harris
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1026)
    Performance
    (945)
    Story
    (952)

    As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut - a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg's Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard - a business district operated by the Others. Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job.

    Angela says: "WOW!!!!! JUST WOW!"
    "Just TOOO Cute (for adults)"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Really, way too cute. I expected a dark adult urban fantasy. Instead this was beyond Disneyesque.

    There are cute ponies, cute puppies, cute talking animals, lots of cookies & peppermint tea, shopping & catalogs, and making friends, as well as an unbelievable amount of mail sorting. Yes, there were some potentially dark themes of cutting, vampires, and were-creatures, but everything was so darn cute and simplistic there was little tension.

    Even the antagonist is too cute to stomach.

    The universe did not seem internally consistent to me. The internet exists, but humans are woefully uniformed about vamps and werepacks. The protagonist was raised without emotional sensations except those stimulated by ritual cutting, yet is just as cute as a button and peppy as can be. There are also direct inconsistencies like the protagonist sometimes knowing about wolves and sometimes not. I am also dubious that associating self-mutilation with psychic-powers for impressionable young females readers is the best of ideas.

    The prose were weak, perhaps just ok for young readers, but too childlike for me. The universe is like 1990s US with the names changed to protect the cuteness. LA is “Sparkletown”, Wednesday is “Windsday”, and so on. Everyone and everything has a cute name. The masculine characters are all amazingly weak and PC considering they are mostly werecreatures and police.

    The writing was also totally predicable. After the second chapter if you pause and ask yourself “How will this book turn out?” You will likely guess correctly on every aspect. There was literally not a single thing that surprised me.

    The environment is not urban, instead it is like a friendly small college town where prey and predator learn mutual respect, how to understand each other and work together.

    The narration is quite annoying with exaggerated cutesy-pie or gruff, but I find it hard to blame the narrator for this, as it seems that is how the characters were written.

    My daughter really liked this series and recommended it to me. She loved the cuteness juxtaposed with darkness, and the characters and story, for her, made up for any inconsistencies. Nevertheless I would not even recommend this for young readers.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Ready Player One

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Ernest Cline
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10431)
    Performance
    (9716)
    Story
    (9716)

    At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

    Travis says: "ADD TO CART, POWER UP +10000"
    "Virtual Reality Teen Fiction that did not Suck!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I generally dislike virtual reality SF.

    I am not a teen, so teen fiction usually has to be transcendent to interest me.

    I saw 10,000 ratings with an average of 4.7…and thought “how bad could it be for light summer reading?”

    Ready Player One is virtual reality SF teen fiction, is not transcendent, but it majorly did not suck.

    Now, I must admit, I am a geek. I owned and programmed the TRS-80, Amiga, Commodore 64, and had first-hand experience with much of the tech and geek-pop of this novel. My main annoyance with this book was the failure to give the Heathkit EC-1 it’s due (admittedly not the 80’s). Ok, Ok, I am an uber-geek. If you are an uber-geek and lived through the 80’s, you will likely appreciate this book, even if you don’t love it.

    I did not love this book. It made a few geek-annoying mistakes, and was firmly in the first-kiss-goal-teen-fiction genre. The romantic tension is a first kiss, not, well, you know. This is only great fiction if you have spent WAY too much time playing video games. Yet, it is a pleasant little story with a Geekgasm of references that made it well worth the listen. I might even listen to this one again.

    The narration by STNG’s Will Wheaton was spot on throughout.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Gone Girl: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Gillian Flynn
    • Narrated By Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (16552)
    Performance
    (14713)
    Story
    (14757)

    It is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media - as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents - the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter - but is he really a killer?

    Teddy says: "Demented, twisted, sick and I loved it!"
    "Don’t Risk Reading Reviews of This Book!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    A few of the reviews say a bit too much.
    No spoilers below – just the minimum readers should know.

    This book is really worth reading to the end, which was not clear early on.

    The book contains strong adult language, very adult themes, and deviant behavior.

    Kirby Heyborne is a just a bit weak as Nick, Julia Whelan is terrific as Amy, overall the narration is quite good.

    This is not great art, but it is well written and near the top of this genre.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Barnaby Rudge

    • UNABRIDGED (26 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Charles Dickens
    • Narrated By Sean Barrett
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (43)
    Performance
    (39)
    Story
    (37)

    For the background to this historical novel, a tale of mystery, suspense and unsolved murder, Dickens chose the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. Mayhem reigns in the streets of London, vividly described by Dickens, and the innocent Barnaby Rudge is drawn into the thick of it.

    Tad Davis says: "Wonderful"
    "Pleasant but not Great Dickens"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is an early Dickens’ historical novel about the anti-Catholic Gordon riots of 1780 and the doings and loves of a host of country characters. There are some great Dickens characters and moments in this novel; the raven, the villains, Hugh and his dog and, of course, Barnaby. Yet this is not Dickens best work. The novel lacks focus; it is a historical chronical, a mystery, a romance, an adventure and a parable. In each aspect it foreshadows later and better Dickens novels. The novel winds up too predictably and too cleanly. In his later works there is more focus and nuance.

    The narration is quite good throughout, but the voice of Miggs was too annoying even for Miggs (an annoying housemaid). Although this is not Great Dickens, it is still Dickens, which is still quite good.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Death Times Three

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Rex Stout
    • Narrated By Michael Prichard
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (102)
    Performance
    (63)
    Story
    (61)

    Murder strikes thrice in these three baffling mysteries of crime and detection. First, Stout's great detective, Nero Wolfe, develops an appetite for the sweet taste of revenge when someone slips something most foul into his lunch. Then a couturier's beautiful sister uses Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's man about town, as her ready-made alibi. Finally, Wolfe has a run-in with the law after a mysterious old woman leaves a package at his brownstone that pits him against a cunning criminal and the U.S. government.

    Michael says: "Three Stories All Good, but Two were Repeats"
    "Three Stories All Good, but Two were Repeats"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This collection contains three stories, two of which appear in different versions in other collections. The stories are Bitter End, Frame-Up for Murder (a later version of Murder is No Joke found in And Four to Go), and Assault on a Brownstone (an early version of Counterfeit for Murder found in Homicide Trinity). These were good stories, but two were repeats for me. Counterfeit for Murder is one of my favorite Wolfe stories and is better than Assault on a Brownstone. Frame-Up for Murder is a bit better than Murder is No Joke. Bitter End was quite enjoyable. I generally prefer the novels to short stories, but these are among the better Stout shorts.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Chase

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Dean Koontz
    • Narrated By Nick Podehl
    Overall
    (26)
    Performance
    (26)
    Story
    (25)

    Ben Chase is a war hero, but a reluctant one. He struggles with bitter memories and feels alienated from the culture to which he has returned. When he claims that a psychopath is stalking him, he has by then made such an outsider of himself that no one believes him. He must resurrect the repressed warrior within to save himself and a woman he comes to love. Heroes need monsters to slay, and they can always find them - within if not without.

    Michael says: "Past Imperfect"
    "Past Imperfect"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Chase is a Koontz novella from 1972. I enjoyed the protagonist and a number of story elements, but Chase had less character development and interesting action than the many longer (and better) Koontz novels. The romantic interest (and the protagonist’s only friend) is introduced quite late in the book, with little time left for development. I enjoyed what there was, but it ended far too soon, feeling truncated, and like about one-half of a really good Koontz novel. The narration is very good, clear, clean, and with subtle emotionality that enhance the story. I won’t read this again, but enjoyed what it was.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee
    • Narrated By TBA
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (207)
    Performance
    (166)
    Story
    (164)

    In recent years, Google’s autonomous cars have logged thousands of miles on American highways and IBM’s Watson trounced the best human Jeopardy! players. Digital technologies — with hardware, software, and networks at their core — will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human.

    Chris Lunt says: "Good for the periphery"
    "Upbeat but Limited Survey of Exponential Change"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is an upbeat survey of a technical and very rapidly changing field. The field is changing so rapidly some of the technical information in this book was obsolete before it got published. For example there is a section on the Waze GPS mapping system. This was purchased by Google and integrated into Google Maps way back in 2013. As a survey, it provides mostly news stories (computer wins Jeopardy, etc.) and some related statistics, but very little deep thinking or analysis.

    I much preferred The Singularity is Near (which is weird, but thought-provoking) and Race Against the Machine (which is very much like this book, but clearer).

    The authors make a number of policy recommendations all of which seem amazingly short sighted, liberally biased, and basically ignore the authors' own primary hypothesis of an exponential inflection point in technology growth.

    The authors refer to the world being at an exponential inflection point of technical change (that is, the near future is about to be significantly different than the recent past would predict) yet the authors repeatedly indicate while discussing their recommendation, we are not yet on the brink of significant change, pointing out that change in the recent past has not been all that fast. So which is it?

    The authors seem largely to focus on mitigating "spread". Spread is the authors' code-word for income/wealth inequality. Interestingly, the book seems to me to have a strong liberal bias, yet it has been edited carefully so this bias is well cloaked from a casual reader.

    The Authors' make a bunch of policy recommendations:

    Education
    Use technology in education
    MOOCs in particular
    Higher teacher salaries
    Increase teacher accountability
    Increase hours spent in education

    Encourage Entrepreneurship & Start-ups
    Reduce regulation
    Upgrade Infrastructure
    Government support of new technologies with Programs & Prizes
    Use technology to match workers to Start-ups, including foreign workers
    Tax incentives for start-ups

    Raise Taxes
    Raise taxes on the rich and famous
    Increase maximum tax rate
    Increase non-worker tied corporate taxes including VAT
    Increase Pigovian Taxes (taxes on pollution)
    Traffic Congestion Pricing

    Increase Social Support
    Guaranteed Basic Income Cash or vouchers or Negative Income Tax
    Government run mutual fund paying citizens
    Encourage technologies which augment, rather than substitute for, human ability
    Implement Made-By-Humans advertising

    These policy recommendations seem largely unrelated to the technical revolution and include a lot of government control and wealth redistribution. I am somewhat dubious these are great ideas particularly if government uses the new technologies to enhance its already substantial power.

    So many important questions are totally ignored by this book. Is the developed world approaching stuff saturation? If so, how will a new service and entertainment economy work? Will humans be enhanced by technology? Will there be an enhancement backlash? Will nano-technology (or AI, or some other technology) go dangerously wrong? Should we be addressing such risk now? Such questions are raised in other books like The Singularity is Near.

    The narration was OK but not superb.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The City

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Dean Koontz
    • Narrated By Korey Jackson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (281)
    Performance
    (261)
    Story
    (261)

    There are millions of stories in the city - some magical, some tragic, others terror-filled or triumphant. Jonah Kirk’s story is all of those things as he draws listeners into his life in the city as a young boy, introducing his indomitable grandfather, also a "piano man"; his single mother, a struggling singer; and the heroes, villains, and everyday saints and sinners who make up the fabric of the metropolis in which they live - and who will change the course of Jonah’s life forever. Welcome to The City, a place of evergreen dreams where enchantment and malice entwine.

    justin says: "How exactly a 2-star review with 4 hours???"
    "Weak Start, Decent Finish"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a good Koontz, but far from his best work. This seems targeted to young adults more than most Koontz books, thus it is a bit less intense, has less graphic action, has adult themes greatly muted, and even less intricate prose.

    This was so sweet as to severely challenge my suspension of disbelieve (which is always necessary in this genre, yet generally less so with Koontz). I don’t meet many ten year old catholic black jazz prodigies that cross themselves every time they say “geeze”.

    The narration was quite good and augmented the story well.

    I did not at all regret reading this, but I will not read it again, and would not strongly recommend it, even to young readers.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Not Quite Dead Enough

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Rex Stout
    • Narrated By Michael Prichard
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (97)
    Performance
    (61)
    Story
    (57)

    World War II has arrived, and U.S. Army intelligence wants Nero Wolfe urgently. But the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth refuses the call to duty. It takes his perambulatory, confidential assistant, Archie Goodwin, to titillate Wolfe's taste for crime with two malevolent morsels: a corpse that won't rest in peace and a sinister "accident" involving national security. So as Goodwin lays the bait on the wrong side of the law, Wolfe sets the traps to catch a pair of wily killers.

    Michael says: "Odd and Just OK, but a Must Read for Wolfe Buffs"
    "Odd and Just OK, but a Must Read for Wolfe Buffs"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is really two novella, Not Quite Dead Enough and Booby Trap. Both are set during WWII and Archie is a Major in the US Army. These stories both have unique twists making them a must read for any follower of Archie and Nero. These are both quite unusual Nero Wolfe stories. The stories themselves are not the best, but the odd character situation and events make these stories very well worth reading. They should not be among the first read. The narration is excellent as usual.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Pedro G. Ferreira
    • Narrated By Sean Runnette
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (37)
    Performance
    (34)
    Story
    (34)

    Physicists have been exploring, debating, and questioning the general theory of relativity ever since Albert Einstein first presented itin 1915. Their work has uncovered a number of the universe's more surprising secrets, and many believe further wonders remain hidden within the theory's tangle of equations, waiting to be exposed. In this sweeping narrative of science and culture, astrophysicist Pedro Ferreira brings general relativity to life through the story of the brilliant physicists, mathematicians, and astronomers who have taken up its challenge.

    Michael says: "A Love Letter to General Relativity"
    "A Love Letter to General Relativity"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is quite an unusual science book, quaint and pleasant. The author’s love of relativity clearly comes through in the rich writing and narration. The book contains yet another history of modern physics, but is unusual in having General Relativity as the focal point of the historical developments. This is unusual because General Relativity wasn’t actually such a focal point, quantum physics and particle physics were at center stage and General Relativity was a side-player at best. Yet, this odd viewpoint is still enjoyable and interesting. This is also one of the least equation burdened book in this genre.

    Unfortunately, General Relativity is not really a perfect theory. We know the theory must be wrong. The theory is non-quantum and stubbornly refuses to quantize. The book was not very thought provoking, as it praised General Relativity instead of delving into its weaknesses. Certainly it is exploring the weaknesses and assumptions of Relativity that will lead to unification.

    Often books with lots of science and math don’t do well in audible format. This book is not about the science or math of the theory, but instead describes the personalities and stories surrounding General Relativity. This works very well in audible format and the narration is excellent, slow, clear and even passionate.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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