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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 2015

3829
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 430 reviews
  • 1420 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 32 purchased in 2015
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  • The Book Thief

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Markus Zusak
    • Narrated By Allan Corduner
    Overall
    (10445)
    Performance
    (8361)
    Story
    (8400)

    It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books.

    Amazon Customer says: "Word Thief"
    "Light Genocide"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The Book Thief is rather light reading considering it is about death and life in Nazi German during WWII. The narrator is a mildly funny and likable Death who is being overworked by the massive carnage of WWII yet is lovingly careful with each of his human consignments and is hauntingly interested in a few of the living. The protagonist is a young girl growing up with a foster family during the horrors of war and adolescence. The Book Thief seems written for young teens, but is good enough for adults to share with their kids. If you start this, do finish it. The ending is, by far, the most powerful aspect of the book and is worth the prior, less powerful, bits. For a young person this is a compelling and heartwarming and heart wrenching, but not overwhelming, story of war and death and genocide. The narration if quite strong and clear, adding an enjoyable expressiveness to the characters. I liked this book, but did not love it.

    18 of 20 people found this review helpful
  • Things Fall Apart

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Chinua Achebe
    • Narrated By Peter Francis James
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (493)
    Performance
    (382)
    Story
    (385)

    Okonkwo is born into poverty, with a wastrel for a father. Driven by ambition, he works tirelessly to gain the prosperity of many fields and wives and prestige in his village. But he is harsh as well as diligent. As he sees the traditions of his people eroded by white missionaries and government officials, he lashes out in anger.

    Darwin8u says: "Achebe's Magnum Opus"
    "At the Dawn of Colonialism in Africa"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book reads like a fantasy novel but is historically based fiction. It is an interesting tale of tribal African life at the dawn of colonization. The story and characters are captivating, especially the African wives’ tales. This book was on some lists of the best of the twentieth century. I would not go so far as that, but it is a good book, well worth the listen. As a book written by a native Nigerian that well received and praised in Africa and in the West in the late 1950’s, it deserved to be included in the lists of greats due to its good writing combined with its cultural importance.

    The narration is excellent dealing well with the native vocabulary, expression of emotions, and storytelling.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Time

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 20 mins)
    • By Alan Hall PhD
    • Narrated By Satauna Howery
    Overall
    (4)
    Performance
    (4)
    Story
    (4)

    We all wish we had more time. But what is time? How and where did this fourth dimension come about? Can some subatomic particles travel backward in time? What happens to time when gravity gets superstrong? Can the universe go back to the future? This audiobook delves into the nature of time and what some scientists have learned about this strange dimension.

    Michael says: "The Narration is Fine…Otherwise HORRIBLE"
    "The Narration is Fine…Otherwise HORRIBLE"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the worst Audible selection I have ever gotten, and of my 1500 listens, this will be the first I will return…it is that bad.
    Recently I lamented I did not have more stars to rate a great listen. Now I wish I could use less than one star.

    This book’s only relation to Time is a nauseating plethora of aphorisms about time, then it devolves into incoherent ramblings about the sun’s death, global warming, population inversion, and antibiotic resistance. This is self-published, self-produced, self-edited, garbage.

    A bunch of Alan Hall books appeared in the Science/Physics section of Audible, and I gave one a try. It will be my last.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Age of Reason Begins: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Rembrandt, Galileo, and Descartes: 1558 - 1648: The Story of Civilization, Book 7

    • UNABRIDGED (34 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Will Durant, Ariel Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (43)
    Performance
    (38)
    Story
    (37)

    The Age of Reason Begins brings together a fascinating network of stories in the discussion of the bumpy road toward the Enlightenment. This is the age of great monarchs and greater artists - on the one hand, Elizabeth I of England, Philip II of Spain, and Henry IV of France; on the other, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Montaigne, and Rembrandt. It also encompasses the heyday of Francis Bacon, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Descartes, the fathers of modern science and philosophy.

    Lori Tian Sailiata/Lara Britt says: "Beyond Classic"
    "Mostly 30 Years of War, but Reason bests War"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    See my review of Volume I for comments of the series.
    This is book seven of Durant’s The Story of Civilization.
    This, like the other volumes of this series, is wonderful. It is beautifully written, integrated history of Europe over the period between 1559 and 1648. Notwithstanding the title, this only touches on the age of reason at the very end of the volume. Most of the text is dedicated to the struggles in England and the Thirty Years War. The details of war, other than the reasons for the war and the peace, are historical, but not intensely interesting (unless you are really into war). Thus, I did not enjoy this book as much as most of the others, nevertheless the sections on Shakespeare and Bacon, and the very end which covers Galileo and Descartes was fantastic and well worth the 30 years of warfare.

    The integrated history attempts to cover all aspects of society in the period, living conditions, industries and commerce, crafts, arts, politics, economics, religion, fads, leaders, and spirit. There are dates, but that is not what it is about. The writing is targeted at general readers with an interest in history, and is a very easy listen.

    The narration is clear and powerful and erudite.

    I highly recommend this series – at least twice (separated by 10 years). This is my third time.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Henderson the Rain King

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Saul Bellow
    • Narrated By Joe Barrett
    Overall
    (160)
    Performance
    (97)
    Story
    (93)

    Bellow evokes all the rich colour and exotic customs of a highly imaginary Africa in this comic novel about a middle-aged American millionaire who, seeking a new, more rewarding life, descends upon an African tribe. Henderson's awesome feats of strength and his unbridled passion for life earns him the admiration of the tribe - but it is his gift for making rain that turns him from mere hero into messiah.

    Michael says: "Funny and Powerful"
    "Funny and Powerful"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    One review called this racist, colonial, and an absurd farce. Another that Henderson was a Baron Munchhausen. I could not disagree more. This is a humorous book about a man facing his own mortality and fretful desires with incredible energy and love. Henderson’s quest is improbable, adventurous, transformational, and funny, but not absurd or farcical. There is nothing here close to Munchhausen riding a cannonball or taking lunar excursions.

    I found the writing quite conversational yet subtly superb. The characters are well written and I found Henderson eminently likeable. He was flawed, but not more so than most, and he had an admirable and indomitable love of life. The book at one level is gruff and oozes manliness, yet under this very thin veneer one finds fear, loneliness, and powerlessness. All this, with humor on every page.

    The narration is darn near perfect. It is difficult for me to imagine how it could be better. Barrett is clear and bombastic and uses tone to express the emotions just under the surface.

    This is a classic and worthy of it praises. Worth listening to again.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Appointment in Samarra: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By John O'Hara, Charles McGrath (introduction)
    • Narrated By Christian Camargo
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (35)
    Performance
    (31)
    Story
    (32)

    In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, social circuit is electrified with parties and dances. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English. But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction.

    Michael says: "Quite good, but not a classic"
    "Quite good, but not a classic"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    O’Hara thought he was better than Hemingway…he wasn’t. Yet this novel has its points, examining the power of society and belief. I did not find this one of the best novels of the twentieth century, but it is more than respectable. The power of the story is the all too obvious inability of humans to be themselves. Hemingway liked this novel, which makes sense. Hemingway and O’Hara examined the same issue (society vs. individuality) from utterly different perspectives and both valued truth. Both perspectives are interesting making this, for me, a good read, if not a must read. I did not find this a downer as the point is to avoid reaching your end without ever being your true self.

    The narration is good, but not great, occasionally losing intensity necessary to the story.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Driving into the Future: How Tesla Motors and Elon Musk Did It - The Disruption of the Auto Industry

    • UNABRIDGED (47 mins)
    • By Can Akdeniz
    • Narrated By Andrea Erickson
    Overall
    (1)
    Performance
    (1)
    Story
    (1)

    Tesla Motors is undeniably one of the most exciting, innovative, and in-the-moment companies in the automotive industry, but the company's reach will continue expanding much wider in the coming years. From its disruptive reputation to its forward-thinking leader, Elon Musk, Tesla Motors has the potential to change the world as we know it. The questions are: How have they done so much so quickly, and what is their secret to success?

    Michael says: "Just an Ad for Tesla Stock"
    "Just an Ad for Tesla Stock"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    You will learn nothing from this, except Tesla stock will go up and up, and Elon Musk was a child prodigy and now a successful genius and a great boss. I listened to this only because I just finished The Great Race and The Powerhouse (both about the future of EV cars). Certainly not worth a Credit! Was it worth the $2.75? Hum…Nope. The narration is clear but way too peppy and too partial.

    Tesla has a $25B market cap but is yet to show a profit. Maybe Tesla will be the next Google but this book will not help anyone decide.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Ishmael Beah
    • Narrated By Ishmael Beah
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (169)
    Performance
    (141)
    Story
    (138)

    This is how wars are fought now by children, hopped up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s. In the more than 50 violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived. In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now 26 years old, tells a riveting story in his own words: how, at the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence.

    Amazon Customer says: "Fascinating and tragic story"
    "Intense, but not intense enough"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a story of a 12 year old boy’s life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The writing is first person and author narrated, but did not strike me as intensely personal, or brutally honest, or deeply introspective. It effectively tells the story of how a normal kid becomes a killer, and then returns to some level of normalcy. If you are not familiar with the issue of child soldiers, this book is an excellent introduction.

    I expect quite a lot from a memoir. In this case I heard the author’s intense story, but I also felt the author held back the very worst and the potentially most powerful. It is completely understandable for a young man (now 26) to be unready to express the fullness of the story, but a memoir should await that readiness.

    The narration is good, but a bit dry and in a very few places difficult to understand.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the issues surrounding child soldiers, but as a memoir, or as literature, I found it weak.

    There is an appendix dryly recapping the history of Sierra Leone which seemed a pretty odd way to end a memoir.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Steve LeVine
    • Narrated By Mike Chamberlain
    Overall
    (30)
    Performance
    (24)
    Story
    (24)

    A worldwide race is on to perfect the next engine of economic growth, the advanced lithium-ion battery. It will power the electric car, relieve global warming, and catapult the winner into a new era of economic and political mastery. Can the United States win? Steve LeVine was granted unprecedented access to a secret federal laboratory outside Chicago, where a group of geniuses is trying to solve this next monumental task of physics. But these scientists - almost all foreign born - are not alone.

    Michael says: "Nitty Gritty Battery Story"
    "Nitty Gritty Battery Story"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a very detailed story of the scientists, car companies, government programs, and venture capitalists, involved in the development of the battery of the future. This tries to do quite a lot and may be too detailed for many readers. I understand those that feel it was boring. It covers the stories of battery development, the process of vying for a big government projects, the greed and maneuvering of venture capital funded startup companies, and how EV’s might affect the environment and the oil industry. Although this was not an easy listen, I learned a lot and enjoyed the various storylines. Overall I was very satisfied with this book. The one thing was unsatisfying is the story ends abruptly with the battery of the future still in flux. The narration was very good, dealing with the technical detail very well.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Interpreter of Maladies

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Jhumpa Lahiri
    • Narrated By Matilda Novak
    Overall
    (523)
    Performance
    (299)
    Story
    (305)

    With accomplished precision and gentle eloquence, Jhumpa Lahiri traces the crosscurrents set in motion when immigrants, expatriates, and their children arrive, quite literally, at a cultural divide. The nine stories in this stunning debut collection unerringly chart the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations.

    Jennifer says: "Novel-amazing; Audio-mediocre"
    "Underwhelming"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a highly touted, award-winning collection of nine short stories and is on several “best” lists.
    I found most of these stories superficial, and the writing quite ordinary.

    I love short stories, but these stories seemed to focus on the shallowest aspects of both Indian and US culture. I liked the last two stories the best, but these were only above average. The rest of the stories did not make me laugh or cry or give me shivers or move me or shock me or surprise me or make me consider deeply. Yet the stories were not bad, and the writing was not bad. I did not find myself liking, or respecting, any of the characters. Yes, real life can be shallow and tedious but I don’t need to read that part in short stories.

    These stories seemed like they could be short scenes in novels, if supported by the structure and story and characters of a novel. On their own, they seemed a bit pointless.

    The audio production was down right annoying. The chapters do not align with the stories and there are discordant musical interludes between and within stories. The tone of the narrator was peppy and light, as if this was a children’s book, and I found the narration clashed sharply with the material. I certainly will not listen to this book again.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Native Son

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Richard Wright
    • Narrated By Peter Francis James
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (265)
    Performance
    (191)
    Story
    (198)

    Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic.

    Noah says: "Simply a classic"
    "75% Art, 25% Protest"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Native Son, written in 1940, was ahead of its time, and represented an important voice in an age on the brink of change.

    The first two books of this novel were quite excellent, a personal story that felt honest and impactful, with well-drawn characters and an exciting plot. The book then proceeds into the third book with a long question and answer dialog, and long monologs, reminiscent of Dostoevsky, but seemed too heavy handed to me. The first two books of this novel, through character and story, made the points better than the exposition of the third book.

    Native Son has been criticized as being “protest fiction”, limiting its artistic value. This is true, but only true of the final book of the novel. The first two books are artistically executed and powerful. Somehow I think the novel would have been more powerful if this ended without third book.

    The narration was terrific, clear and subtly powerful. The narration adds greatly to the experience.

    Although I am glad I listened to this, the last book was tedious, reducing the overall experience. Yet, this was an historically important novel and may be worth reading for that reason alone.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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