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Cynthia

Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!

Monrovia, California, United States | Member Since 2012

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  • 171 reviews
  • 171 ratings
  • 421 titles in library
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  • Guns

    • UNABRIDGED (49 mins)
    • By Stephen King
    • Narrated By Christian Rummel
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (905)
    Performance
    (820)
    Story
    (806)

    In a pulls-no-punches essay intended to provoke rational discussion, Stephen King sets down his thoughts about gun violence in America. Anger and grief in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School are palpable in this urgent piece of writing, but no less remarkable are King's keen thoughtfulness and composure as he explores the contours of the gun-control issue and constructs his argument for what can and should be done.

    Daniel E. Jacobs says: "putting his voice on what people have been saying"
    "Review by US Army Vet: That's How it Shakes Out"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It seems important to mention one's "creds" in writing reviews of Stephen King's "Guns" so I will start with mine: I served in the US Army, and was honorably discharged as a SGT/E-5. I qualified Expert with an M16 (the civilian equivalent is an AR15), and I'm still proud of that.

    I also have a copy of "Rage", in the compilation of "The Bachman Books" that I purchased the year it was published, 1985. I remember reading "The Bachan Books" the same week I purchased it. I loved "The Running Man" and liked "Roadwork", and while the plot of "Rage" was intriguing, the writing was so sophomoric, it was painful. I found out later King wrote "Rage" while he was in high school, so there was an explanation. I read "Rage" once again, in 1996, when I heard Michael Carneal shot classmates in West Paducah, Kentucky. It sounded so much like the story I'd read 11 years earlier, I wanted to make sure I wasn't imagining the similarity. I wasn't.

    King's essay "Guns" starts with a scathing social commentary, "That's How it Shakes Out." It doesn't matter if the first station you've got programmed into your remote is FoxNEWS and Ann Coulter is your dream date, or if you are so far left you contribute frequently to KPFK: the media cycle for mass shootings is the same.

    King argues forcefully - and sometimes vulgarly - for gun control. King is a gun owner himself, and does not want to disarm the country - but he does want assault weapons banned, and large magazines banned; and he wants background checks.

    What King argues isn't new or innovative, but the writing is vintage King. There are phrases I remember from "The Shawshank Redemption" (the movie adaptation, not the original novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption") and the unabridged edition of "The Stand." There's also a theme in the first and last section of "Guns" that runs through "The Library Policeman" and "The Ten O'Clock People." The theme was chilling in the stories, and the probability it's a reality is startling.

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    96 of 131 people found this review helpful
  • Anarchy and Old Dogs: The Dr. Siri Investigations, Book 4

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By Colin Cotterill
    • Narrated By Clive Chafer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (74)
    Performance
    (57)
    Story
    (57)

    An elderly man has been run down by a logging truck on the street in Vientiane just opposite the post office. His body is delivered to the morgue of Dr. Siri Paiboun, the official and only coroner of Laos. At the age of 73, Siri is too old to be in awe of the new communist bureaucrats for whom he now works. Before he can identify the corpse, he must decipher a letter in the man’s pocket—it is written in invisible ink and in code.

    Cynthia says: "CSI: Vientiane, Laos"
    "CSI: Vientiane, Laos"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I used to have a crush on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation's Dr. Gil Grissom, so adeptly played by William Petersen. And Petersen as Will Graham in Michael Mann's "Manhunter" (1986)? Based on Thomas Harris' 1981 "Red Dragon" prequel to the book/film "The Silence of the Lambs" (1988/1991), Petersen as a fictional investigator is tenacious and cooly ironic.

    Gil Grissom/William Petersen, I'm sorry. I will always admire your entomological wizardry - but my forensic adoration had been replaced with the 1977 version of Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73 year old National Coroner of Laos. Dr. Siri's impossibly green eyes are a tell that he is the host of a millennia-old sprit - but only Buddhists "in the know" recognize the shaman Ya Ming in the Laotian National Coroner.

    In Colin Cotterill's "Anarchy and Old Dogs" (2007), the resourceful Dr. Siri is faced with a puzzle Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret would love. The question wasn't how an elderly man died: it was the result of a marriage of a poorly made Soviet truck with badly designed brakes, and a man blinded by cataracts who couldn't have seen it coming. Dr. Siri's question: who was the man, and why had he just picked up a blank "letter" sent from a town near the Thai border?

    Dr. Siri's sardonic comments about communism and bureaucracy are a wonderful complement to the equally snarky repartee of his oldest friend, Comrade Civilai. Civilai and Dr. Siri are both founding members of the Pathet Lao. Civilai's adept maneuvering has gotten him party respect, a large house, and even access to a plane and pilot. Dr. Siri uses Civilai's privileges to solve the mystery, and to find romance.

    I enjoyed the narration - as always, Clive Chafer's pronunciation of Lao, Hmong, and French words are an easy listen.

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    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • FREE The Gray Man

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 41 mins)
    • By Mark Greaney
    • Narrated By Jay Snyder
    Overall
    (1280)
    Performance
    (1132)
    Story
    (1154)

    Court Gentry is known as The Gray Man - a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible, and then fading away. And he always hits his target. But there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness. Now, he is going to prove that for him, there's no gray area between killing for a living-and killing to stay alive.

    Rollin says: "Gripping, unremitting action"
    "WETSU, Gentry, WETSU!"
    Overall
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    Mark Greaney's 'Gray Man' is Courtland Gentry, the quintessential loan wolf American assassin/hero. Gentry is a patriot and soldier, abandoned by a fickle Central Intelligence Agency he served as a paramilitary soldier. He's not DEVGRU veteran or a Special Forces operative. Gentry's got the same - or even better - training, but with unlimited financial resources and the stamina and speed of an endurance athlete.

    Since "The Gray Man" (2009) is the start of a series, I'm not spoiling the story by mentioning Gentry survives. The plot - and the suspense - is the number of bad guys that end up dead, and in what nearly impossible way Gentry kills them. Why is Gentry being chased by covert assassination organizations from two dozen second and third world countries? Who is the real brains and what is the real reason for what's happening? Does the weaponry/science work? And is it well written, and worth the listen?

    Grearney, of course, answers the first few questions. As to the weaponry/science issue - well, I found one really obvious "no way would that EVER work" scientific scenario (I am a veteran and I do know my armaments) but by the time it happened - well, I was completely hooked. Maybe the particular emptying of cartridges and subsequent explosion could never have worked, but I could have come up with something that did - and I was too enamored of Gentry to let Greaney fail him.

    At the same time I listened to - and really enjoyed - "The Gray Man" I wondered what Audible algorithm or Amazon metric pointed me to this book and this author. I have yet to have a mystery solved by a cat show up as a suggested purchase; I've never read or listened to a book involving aliens, or crystals, or both; and as to romances - well, I listened to one once because the author and I share a last name, and for the first time ever, invoked Audible's "No questions asked" return policy. I realized that as a listener/reader of some fiction and a lot of non-fiction military history, I must fit some psychological/marketing profile. Audible, can you let me know what that is? I'll forward it to my therapist - it will probably save six months of analysis.

    This is not the book the 2007 movie "The Gray Man" was based on. That's about Howard Hamilton "Albert" Fish, one of the first identified psycho-sexual serials in America, who was given that sobriquet before he was executed in 1936. Grearney's Gray Man, with his unshakable sense of right, is the moral opposite of that long ago psychopath.

    The title of this review comes from a response my basic training platoon had to a drill command. It's pronounced 'wet sue' and it means "We Eat This S*** Up".

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    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Disco for the Departed: The Dr. Siri Investigations, Book 3

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Colin Cotterill
    • Narrated By Clive Chafer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (88)
    Performance
    (73)
    Story
    (72)

    Dr. Siri Paiboun is summoned to the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current communist government hid in caves, waiting to assume power. Now a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, but an arm is found protruding from the concrete walk laid from the president’s former cave hideout to his new house beneath the cliffs. Siri must supervise the disinterment of the body attached to the arm, identify it, and determine the cause of death.

    Cynthia says: "It's a Dead Man's Party"
    "It's a Dead Man's Party"
    Overall
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    Tony Hillerman (1925 - 2008) introduced me to Navajo culture when I picked up a used paperback copy of "The Blessing Way" (1970), laying between small metal cutouts of boots painted turquoise with magnets glued to the back, and a worn and rusted set of metric wrenches at Peddlers Pass in Prescott, AZ. For a few charmed hours, I was transported into a Native American culture nothing like the Ojibwa I was a little familiar with.

    Before I listened to Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series, Laos merged into Cambodia/Thailand/Vietnam, just like all Native American tribes were somehow lumped together in my mind before Hillerman's books. Thanks to the epic journey from one end of Laos to the other of Siri's morgue assistant, Mr. Geung in "Disco for the Departed" (2006), I know that Laos is (or was) no more homogenized than any other tribal region. "The Coroner's Lunch" (2004) Book 1 introduced Dr. Siri and his resident spirit, Ya Ming ; "Thirty-three Teeth" (2005) Book 2 introduces the kind, sturdy autodidact Nurse Dtui; and this book - Book 3 shows how people with Down syndrome can preserver over incredible odds.

    In "Disco for the Departed", old communist party fighter Dr. Siri solves an old, undiscovered mystery in the caves he and his comrades fought the war from. Deposed Laos royalty continues to play a small, fascinating role in the story. The ghosts that haunt the Disco are a good counterpart to the story, but - in the tradition of all good mysteries - spiritus ex machina does not solve the case.

    I don't actually know if the Lao pronunciations are right, but I assume Cotterill - who lived in Laos for years but was raised In an English speaking country - chose Clive Chafer as a narrator because his Lao and Hmong pronunciation was good. I didn't need an audio version to enjoy Hillerman's books, but I'm around enough native Navajo speakers when I visit Arizona to know how to read what I'm seeing. Since I don't know Lao or Hmong, the Audible worked especially well for me.

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    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

    • ORIGINAL (24 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By The Great Courses, Robert Garland
    • Narrated By Professor Robert Garland
    Overall
    (950)
    Performance
    (855)
    Story
    (846)

    Look beyond the abstract dates and figures, kings and queens, and battles and wars that make up so many historical accounts. Over the course of 48 richly detailed lectures, Professor Garland covers the breadth and depth of human history from the perspective of the so-called ordinary people, from its earliest beginnings through the Middle Ages.

    Mark says: "Tantalizing time trip"
    "When the Mundane makes History Real"
    Overall
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    The Villa of the Papyri is nestled on the bluffs of the Pacific Palisades in California. Finished in 1974, it was closed for renovations and reopened in 2010 as "The Getty Villa." J. Paul Getty's Villa - and The Getty Center in West Los Angeles are, as Getty promised, free to all.

    Okay, maybe the original Villa dei Papiri was in Herculaneum, which was destroyed in AD 79 - along with Pompeii - when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Pompeii is now temporarily at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, near the LA Coliseum and USC.

    I coincidentally finished listening to Dr. Robert S. J. Garland's "The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World" (2010) just before I took out of town family to the Pompeii exhibit. Garland's lectures were so concise and vivid, I recognized every single artifact and I knew what it was used for - and keep in mind, I listened to the Audible version which doesn't come with books. I knew what kind of artisan made something, the training they had, and whether they were a slave, a manumitted slave, or free born. I looked at a restored fresco, and impressed my sister by telling her that the ancient Romans would have changed the painted scene as fashions changed. Trends and fads are as old as Ancient Greece. Just as the 1980's Laura Ashley overstuffed and frilled pastels and floral wallpaper gave way to furniture and frames various hues of the same color, tailored linens, hardwood floors and painted walls 30 years later, the painted harbor scene popular during one emperor's reign gave way to starkly contrasting blocks of color, proving that abstractionism isn't a modern construct. I even knew when I got to the gift shop which replica jewelry belonged with the exhibit, and the social class of the women who would have worn it. It didn't stop me from buying the regionally misplaced and historically non-existent Sphinx earrings just because I liked anyway.

    The title of this series of lectures is a misnomer, though. Garland's lectures on Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, and to a limited extent Ancient Persia, are worth the price and the listen. However, he's missing entire major ancient civilizations: China's written history is more than 4,000 years old; there's the Mayans, who were a civilization for about 3000 years, until the Spanish arrived, with their viruses, in 900 AD; and many other cultures that flourished and vanished or were absorbed by conquerors. These civilizations had writing, so they were historic, not pre-historic.

    If the title had been accurate, I'd give this 4 instead of a 3. It's not higher because some of the lectures are repetitive. I did enjoy Dr. Gardner's voice and his delivery, but I wasn't so excited that I listened to more than one lecture a day.

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    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Thirty-Three Teeth: The Dr. Siri Investigations, Book 2

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 40 mins)
    • By Colin Cotterill
    • Narrated By Clive Chafer
    Overall
    (130)
    Performance
    (110)
    Story
    (108)

    Feisty Dr. Siri Paiboun is no respecter of persons or party; at his age he feels he can afford to be independent. In this, the second novel in the series, he travels to Luang Prabang, where he communes with the deposed king who is resigned to his fate: it was predicted long ago. And he attends a conference of shamans called by the Communist Party to deliver an ultimatum to the spirits: obey party orders or get out.

    Kathi says: "Parts of this book were very interesting--not all"
    "Quincy, ME in Laos"
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    From 1976 to 1983, Jack Klugman ruled a fictional Los Angeles County Coroner's Office as Chief Medical Examiner Quincy in the series "Quincy M. E." The daring forensic scientist was brilliant, quirky and had an abiding social conscience that made him the target of unethical businessmen and corrupt politicians.

    Imagine the fictional Quincy in Southeast Asia - Laos to be specific - in the late 1970's after the Americans (who were never officially there) are gone and the communists have taken over, and you've got French-trained Siri Paiboun, MD. Siri served as a physician with the Lao Communist Army for decades. At 72, when the monarchy that ruled the Kingdom of Laos finally fell, Siri hoped to retire. Instead, his comrades insisted it was his duty to continue to serve the people as National Coroner.

    Siri serves with the same unerring moral compass if Klugman's Quincy, salted and cured with a liberal dose of cynicism. Siri doesn't have basic resources to do his job, but with the assistance if Nurse Dtui (pronounced "two ee") and laboratory assistant Mr. Geung, the job gets done anyway. Colin Cotterill's "Thirty-three Teeth" introduces Dtui in greater detail than in Book One, and her fragile but fierce mother might represent all Laotian mothers.

    Siri's got an advantage most coroners lack: he's haunted, literally, by a spirit named Ya Ming. Other spiritualists recognize Ya Ming by his brilliant green eyes, which Siri shares. Ya Ming also has 33 teeth - a clue to this exotic mystery.

    I would never have gotten the Lao pronunciations right if I'd read the book instead of listening to it. It would have been like being poked on the ribs during a movie - distracting and annoying. I'm glad I went for the Audible.

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    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Heft

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Liz Moore
    • Narrated By Kirby Heyborne, Keith Szarabajka
    Overall
    (1396)
    Performance
    (1261)
    Story
    (1263)

    Forrmer academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn’t left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career - if he can untangle himself from his family drama.

    Deborah says: "Mesmerizing Performance"
    "Ignatius P. Reilly as Inspiration"
    Overall
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    The first really, really fat fictional character I met was John Kennedy Toole's (1937 - 1969) Ignatius P. Reilly, the hero of "A Confederacy of Dunces" (1980). No, the dates aren't typos - and neither is 1981, the year Toole's book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Toole's Reilly is New Orleans personified, in all of its excess, insular and corpulent glory.

    Liz Moore's 550 pound Arthur Opp of "Heft" (2012) is no Ignatius P. Reilly, but Opp, the reclusive, disgraced night school college professor bears an uncanny literary resemblance to the actual writer Toole. Moore has an MFA from Hunter College, where Toole was an instructor long before Moore was born. I've never taken a writing class, but in my imagination, college professors of both sexes wear tweed blazers with leather elbow patches, a la Reilly; scuffed brown loafers with tassels; and stride confidently in front of a full classroom making Important Observations about Prize Winning Literature that will Inspire eager new college students.

    Opp the literary character never inspired anyone except Yonkers-born and raised Charlene Turner. Charlene went to one semester of night school, dropped out, married, and had a son, Arthur "Kel" Keller. After her divorce, Charlene got a job at Westchester Prep School, where students dress carefully in The Right Clothes and a Mercedes for their 16th birthday is a modest gift. Kel is allowed to attend, and fits in surprisingly well. Kel may be from the wrong zip code, but an ace three sport athlete is welcome just about anywhere.

    Both Opp's and Kel's lives are fragile constructs, and as William Butler Yeats famously said, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" ("The Second Coming," 1919). If Charlene Turner was the centre, "Heft" is the story of the fall and eventual rise of both men.

    "Heft" uses two narrators. The Opp narrator, Keith Szarabajka, sounds quite large and almost out of breath. The performance reminded me a bit of Adam Arkin's performance as Dale Biederbeck in the television show "Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale" (2002). Kirby Heyborne was convincing as a teenager.

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    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WW II

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 36 mins)
    • By Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila
    • Narrated By David Colacci
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (468)
    Performance
    (406)
    Story
    (412)

    Chester Nez, the only surviving member of the original twenty-nine Navajo code talkers, shares the fascinating inside story of his life and service during World War II.

    Roxane says: "Interesting Listen for WWII Buffs"
    "The Enemy Way"
    Overall
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    The first time I learned about code talkers was over a hot, humid summer in Missouri, during basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. One of my drill sergeants was part Native American, and he proudly told the story of the unbreakable code Navajos created in World War II.

    Event though Sgt. Duke wasn't one of "the dineh" he was carrying on the Navajo tradition of telling fascinating stories, just as Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila do in "Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII" (2012).

    The extended title of the book sounds almost too formal, but it is precise in a way Nez must have insisted on. At the end of WWI, a US Army battalion in France used Choctaw soldiers as ad hoc code talkers. Seminoles served as code talkers in Europe in WWII, while Navajos served in the Pacific.

    Nez was one of the original 29 men, fluent in Navajo and English, recruited from schools and reservations in Arizona and New Mexico, to develop a top secret code. The military was desperate: the Japanese had broken every other code, and machine encryption using a one-use code took hours to encrypt and decrypt. Navajo was ideal: it was rarely written at the time (it was well after WWII that the Navajo Nation even agreed on an alphabet); it was extremely difficult for non-native speakers to learn; and Navajos were raised to memorize long stories.

    "Code Talkers" works exceptionally well as an Audible book, especially with the way this story is told. Nez and Avila weave Navajo customs and traditions, such as a medicine bag, into 'a day in battle life' narrative, Nez served as a code talker at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Angaur and Peleliu - without ever being allowed to take leave. Nez was about to ship out to Iwo Jima when someone pulled his jacket and realized he'd accumulated enough points to be honorably discharged.

    Nez shipped stateside for a few months of medical care, and then went home to his family and their land. He started to have nightmares, haunted by the 'chindi' (evil remnants) of the hundreds of dead enemy soldiers he'd seen. Nez - and the estimated 400 to 500 other Navajo code talkers - kept their work secret, even when tormented by wicked memories.

    "Code Talkers" has a lengthy description of Navajo sings - including The Enemy Way, a traditional Navajo cure. Nez went through an Enemy Way shortly after his service ended. More than 20 years later, when his work was declassified and he faced too many questions, he went through another Enemy Way ceremony, followed by a Blessing Way. Absolutely fascinating - and, as Nez would have said himself - they worked because he expected them to work.

    David Colacci is an accomplished narrator. Well, that's an understatement after 160+ narrated titles. I don't know if his Navajo pronunciation was correct or not, with the exception of the handful of Navajo words I've heard spoken by native speakers - and those sounded right to me. But, as good as Colacci is in this Audible, I wish Tantor had found a native Navajo speaker to narrate this. The actual language is just that important. This is the first time I'm giving a Colacci audible less than a 5, but it's not a Colacci Issue: it's a producer problem.

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    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • The Coroner’s Lunch: The Dr. Siri Investigations, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By Colin Cotterill
    • Narrated By Clive Chafer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (422)
    Performance
    (356)
    Story
    (353)

    Laos, 1975: The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else: the rest of the educated class have fled.

    Jane says: "a splendid story"
    "Coroner to the Communist Stars"
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    Last summer, I developed a short lived passion for Michael Connelly's "Lincoln Lawyer" series. Connelly's Mickey Haller (2005 - present) is an easy love for an old Los Angeles trial attorney like me. I listened to the entire series, one right after another, and was secretly relieved there were only four books in the series at the time. It's an expensive habit.

    This summer, Audible hooked me on Colin Cotterill's "Dr. Siri Paiboun" series. Or maybe one of the ghosts that haunts Dr. Siri (pronounced SiLee, not like the iPhone 5 voice) is haunting me, too - sitting on a wooden chair in my living room, urging me in Hmong (which in my dreams I understand) to keep listening to more Paiboun mysteries.

    Dr. Siri is canny, resourceful and accidentally a detective. He's an old insurgent who fought for Lao communist forces for 40 years. Siri is a colonial French-trained doctor, unexpectedly and unwantedly named as Laotian National Coroner, despite a complete lack of forensic training. Mystery ensues and supernatural forces visit, but Cotterill follows the good mystery writer's custom of not using 'deus ex somnium' as clues. Siri is aptly assisted by sturdy and bored Nurse Dtui and the capable and occasionally comedic Mr. Geung, both unforgettable characters in their own right.

    Now, for the problem: Cotterill's series has 9 books so far, and this is going to get expensive. Audible, what about a 'buy one in a series, get a second one free' deal?

    This book worked so much better listening than reading for me. I would have mentally stumbled over the correct Vietnamese, Lao and Hmong pronunciations, and that would have distracted me from the story.

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    22 of 27 people found this review helpful
  • Hard Choices

    • UNABRIDGED (26 hrs and 55 mins)
    • By Hillary Rodham Clinton
    • Narrated By Kathleen Chalfant, Hillary Rodham Clinton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (232)
    Performance
    (197)
    Story
    (198)

    Hillary Rodham Clinton's inside account of the crises, choices, and challenges she faced during her four years as America's 67th Secretary of State, and how those experiences drive her view of the future. In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, she expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed.

    Cynthia says: "Senior Stateswoman in need of Editor"
    "Senior Stateswoman in need of Editor"
    Overall
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    I have often wondered what former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was thinking on May 1, 2011 when that famous photo of her, with her hand over her mouth, was taken in the White House Situation Room as she waited for the results of Operation Neptune Spear. I read/listen to just about everything I can get my hands on about the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden, like Mark Owens and Kevin Maurer's "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" (2012) and former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates "Memoirs of a Secretary at War" (2014). I would have listened to HRC's "Hard Choices" (2014) just for her perspective on that mission, but this book has so much more.

    HRC sets forth comprehensive US foreign policy, starting with her husband, Bill (William Jefferson) Clinton, president from 1993 to 2001; George H. Bush, 2001 to 2009; to Barack Obama, 2009 to the present. HRC has been a first hand observer or participant in international politics for more than 20 years, as First Lady; then as a Senator from New York; and then as Secretary of State.

    The book is so current, it talks about Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimea. HRC's position on Russia is hawkish, and Vladimir Putin should count himself fortunate she isn't president right now. I'm not an up-and-coming or current world leader, or rebel general working on being a dictator, but if I were - and wanted to know where I, or my country stood with the current most-likely-next-president of the United States, I'd find out in "Hard Choices".

    If I wanted to know about her husband's infamous dalliance more than 20 years ago, I guess I could read "The National Enquirer" - but I wouldn't waste my I time reading about it and HRC doesn't waste my time writing about it. I would rather know her position on Iran's nuclear enrichment program, Syria's use of chemical weapons, or what might work in patching up international relationships badly damaged by leaks of candid assessments of world leaders in State Department cables. "Hard Choices" talks about those issues, not about whether staying with her husband was a difficult decision.

    HRC has a unique view of countries and their leaders. Some nations - for example, China and India - have national feelings and attributes (inferiority and insecurity) that she does not confuse with the beliefs or actions of their leaders. Other very small nations - such as Qatar, with a population about 20% of that of Los Angeles County - are so closely aligned with their leaders, they can't be distinguished. HRC's ability to separate the nutcase in charge from the population as a whole has been key in the Obama administration's arguable successes in various Arab countries.

    Which brings me to the editor part: "Hard Choices" is 657 pages in print and 27 hours on Audible. Even with 'a long commute' it took me a while to finish the listen, because, well, I got a mired in the details, and sometimes, I got bored. I had the same problem with Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" (2005). I could have used a Playbill, a world map, and a timeline for both books.

    HRC has a great voice, and I would have been happier with her doing the entire narration. She did the introduction, and there's an Easter egg: there's a 15 minute epilogue in her own voice. Kathleen Chalfant is fine, but it's not the same.

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    29 of 33 people found this review helpful
  • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Simon Sinek
    • Narrated By Simon Sinek
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2120)
    Performance
    (1663)
    Story
    (1658)

    Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their successes over and over? People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why.

    Allan says: "Important Theme - Repetitive Presentation"
    "Manipulate or Inspire?"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Simon Sinek's 2009 "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action" wasn't what I was expecting, but I hadn't really taken a good look at the summary. I thought I was getting a business process or procedures book that would help identify and design streamlined procedures. I thought I was getting case studies, like : "If a car maker has a goal to sell 100,000 of a certain model of cars in a year, what steps would be taken - and why? What good leaders have done this before? And are there more effective steps - for example, if the maker is selling hybrid cars, should the maker conduct its own survey of green consumers? Or would it be more efficient to buy a marketing list from Whole Foods?

    The book was much more interesting. Sinek, an eternal optimist whose name ironically sounds like 'cynic', isn't talking about that 'why'. His book is about why people and organizations do what they do when they aren't doing it just to make money and satisfy shareholders. Sinek discusses the dream of Sam Walton to bring affordable goods to rural America. That was his "why". Wal-Mart was, for a time, beloved - but Sam died and the corporation is canibalizing its own employees [my words, not Sinek's]. Probably a third of the book is about Apple and Steve Jobs. Jobs was alive when Sinek wrote "Start With Why". I'd agree with Sinek's proposition that Jobs/Apple wanted to change the world, and that was their "why." However, I read Walter Isaacson's authorized biography "Steve Jobs" (2011) and I'd go one step further: I think Jobs "why" was that wanted to control the world, and that Jobs did end up controlling a lot of it. Sam Walton definitely lead by inspiring. Jobs - well - sometimes he inspired, and often he scared people silly.

    I did find it curious that Sinek didn't mention Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, or its portfolio of successful companies. I don't think Buffet fits Sinek's model, but Buffett is one of the wealthiest, most admired and philanthropical businessmen of our time. The Oracle of Omaha doesn't have the technical know-how of Microsoft's Bill Gates or the artistic genius of Walt Disney, but Buffett is, in a very quiet way, trying to change our world by eliminating income inequality.

    Sinek argues that inspirational leaders are reaching to their limbic brains. I'm sure that is true, but I think that's a vast oversimplification of where inspiration comes from. That particular brain system is so large and so complex, it's like arguing that water comes from the ocean. He's developed a theory of "The Golden Circle" to describe the core of motivation. I'm not sure it's as all encompassing as Sinek believes, but it's a good seed for additional research.

    Sinek did the audible narration himself, and had an interesting accent. He'd be going along, and all of the sudden, an East Coast accent would pop up for a word, and disappear. The answer was he lived all over the place growing up - including New Jersey. The audible could have used an Audible proof. There were a couple of places where a some lines repeated.

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    8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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