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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

  • 395 reviews
  • 1385 ratings
  • 1480 titles in library
  • 79 purchased in 2014

  • 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 Jeff Cummings
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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.

    Michael says: "Upbeat but Limited Survey of Exponential Change"
    "Upbeat but Limited Survey of Exponential Change"

    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:

    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.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • The Sound and the Fury

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By William Faulkner
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    First published in 1929, Faulkner created his "heart's darling", the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story Faulkner told through separate monologues by her three brothers: the idiot Benjy, the neurotic suicidal Quentin, and the monstrous Jason.

    W.Denis says: "Hang in"
    "Good, but no Ulysses"

    The Sound and the Fury starts with a non-chronological stream of consciousness narrative from the point of view of a mentally challenged young boy. This part is a bit hard to follow the first time through and it really helps to read a synopsis (like the Wikipedia entry) before reading this section. Several printed version use italics to indicate the temporal shifts, which are hard to catch in the audio version. At times the prose rise to the level of greatness, but this is not so for of most of the writing. I found the stream of consciousness writing in the first section much less effective (and less enjoyable) than the narration in James Joyce’s Ulysses (which predated The Sound and the Fury by nearly a decade). Here the stream of consciousness, at times, seems inconsistent with the mental capabilities of character, and is subtly broken when the story demands clarity.

    Other sections use other narration styles and are more story like. The novel tells a story that rings true, but is unpleasant and unaffirming. This is a story of the slow decay of an upper class southern family and includes demeaning portrayals of black servants, anti-Semitism, and other politically incorrect material.

    This novel has some moments of excellent writing, and has some elements that were (almost) revolutionary at the time of publication, yet I found this overall a good, not great read.

    This version does not include the appendix covering the fictional family’s history that is included in many later print versions.

    Grover Gardner’s narration (as usual) is excellent, particularly considering the challenging material.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Of Human Bondage

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By W. Somerset Maugham
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Of Human Bondage is one of the greatest novels of modern times, and it is certainly Maugham's greatest achievement. It was published in 1914, when Maugham was at the height of his creative powers. The story concerns Philip Carey, afflicted at birth with a club foot, and his passionate search for truth in a cruel world. We follow his growth to manhood, his educational progress, his first loves, and the wrenching tragedies and disappointments that life has in store for him. In some of the finest prose of the 20th century, Maugham has presented us with the timeless story of one man's search for the meaning of life.

    Michael says: "Greatly Unsettling"
    "Greatly Unsettling"

    The writing and essential truth of the novel is compelling but the protagonist, who is a caring, intelligent, and thoughtful person, is buffeted by fate and his emotions control much of his life. I did not like the protagonist, even at the end of the book. Yet, this book is not about the protagonist, it had no action, and is not even a story of a journey of discovery, but is about an idea, and the book’s title “Of Human Bondage” resonates throughout the book.

    This is a great book, but this is not a book to escape into, it is a book to experience and learn from. It was not a fun read, maybe not even enjoyable, but the book is subtle and powerful. As I read the various scenes, I would think “dumb kid”, then think of human bondage, and how his passions and environment bound him, and how elusive is the path to human freedom.

    I just read this for the first time in my fifties, but I could see this book would have been even more powerful if read as a young adult. I would recommend this book to any adult, but especially to young adults. This book is unsettling in the best way. My advice, when the book seems off-putting, recall the title, and read on.

    The short musical interludes and rare sound effects add absolutely nothing, and are distracting but do not ruin the experience.

    The narration is really excellent, expressing conflicting emotions while remaining a very clear reading of the text.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Lock In (Narrated by Wil Wheaton)

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs)
    • By John Scalzi
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

    Alexis says: "Fun! Things you might want to know:"
    "High Quality Scalzi"

    This book is a cop procedural mystery with a nice sci-fi story. As with most of Scalzi the science is well thought out and interesting. This story mixes a lot of action with a compelling mystery, good characters, and a lot of humor. This is not Scalzi’s best work, but it is still quite good. Scalzi works in a bit a social commentary which adds an extra level of interest to the book. This is yet another good example of Scalzi’s unique style and high quality.

    The book has a long (2+ hour) audio performance of a fictional documentary covering the disease that is pivotal to the book. I listened to this after the book, but I wondered if it would have been more interesting integrated into the novel, or even before the novel. Perhaps it would be a little too dry before the book without knowing the characters.

    I enjoyed the narration and was not annoyed by the use of “he said”. Having listened to unabridged for many years, I think I am used to authors that attribute each line of dialog.

    I finished the book wanting to know more about the world and the characters. Lock In was not quite good enough for me to buy and listen to the second narrator addition, and I will not likely listen to this addition again, but if Scalzi writes a sequel, I will certainly get it ASAP.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Outlander

    • UNABRIDGED (33 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Diana Gabaldon
    • Narrated By Davina Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Why we think it’s a great listen: An all-time Audible favorite that mixes historic fiction, adventure, and romance with one of the most fascinating literary devices: time travel. Outlander introduces an exhilarating world of heroism and breathtaking thrills as one woman is torn between past and present, passion and love. In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall returns from World War II and joins her husband for a second honeymoon. But their blissful reunion is shattered....

    Lulu says: "The Reason for the Existence of Audio Books"
    "Superior Historical Romance but nothing more"

    As a historical romance this book has really steamy explicit sex scenes and more than a bit of sadistic violence. The sex scenes are from the female perspective, and quite steamy but not at all crude.

    This is a superior historical romance and it is well read, but it remains only a historical romance. This is not science fiction or fantasy, the time travel is only a tiny plot device that solves a really annoying problem with historical romance. The female protagonist must think in a modern way to be approachable and interesting to modern women, the time travel bit was a brilliant little technique to allow this. I don’t consider this a love story, as there is a lot more to love than what is under the kilt. This was a story of passion, with a bit of adventure and a historical context.

    I am a guy, and I don’t tend to like historical romances unless the novel transcends the genre, this novel was good, but did not transcend. In the end, it was just a sequence of scenes (romance, passion, adventure, historical, violent, and steamy) with nice characters and a historical context but never really going anywhere. I find most historical romance either totally unreadable, or enjoyable only because they are so bad they are funny. Outlander scenes are well written and enjoyable, and if I were a bored female, I may have really appreciated the steamy scenes, but I want more from a novel, I want an arc or epic, or exploration, or transformation, or something. Outlander was mildly entertaining but nothing else.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Dune

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Frank Herbert
    • Narrated By Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud'dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream.

    Joshua says: "Wonderful production!"
    "Essential – more than once"

    If your only experience with Dune was the horrific movie, read on.
    The mini-series was much better, but does not hold a candle to the original novel.
    If you read and loved the original, you may be surprised how much you will enjoy this audible version.

    Dune is more than great Sci-Fi, it is great fiction. I recently re-saw the mini-series and immediately wanted to experience the unabridged original again. The book was even better than I had remembered. The prose, the characters, and the story are all superior.

    I was surprised there were quite a few subtle nuances in the story that I had not picked up on in my pervious several readings. I enjoyed this immensely as this is rare in all but the best of fiction.

    Unfortunately the rest of this series does not live up to this powerful beginning, but not to worry, Dune stands alone. I strongly recommend this book even if you really disliked the movie. There are images and characters in this novel that have affected me strongly since my childhood and influenced me as a person. There are few works of fiction that I both enjoyed and appreciated as much as Dune.

    I generally don’t like music or sound effects in an audio book, but here the sound-effect are light and don’t distract from the story. The narration, although not perfect, is quite good. This audio edition does the work justice.

    5 of 5 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

    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)"

    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.

    2 of 3 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

    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!"

    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.

    6 of 6 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

    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!"

    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.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Barnaby Rudge

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

    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"

    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

    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"

    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

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