As a SERIOUS dog lover (I have four and a foster currently and I'm actively involved in Rescue), I take interest in most books about dogs and there are a lot of them lately. Dogs seem to be the latest craze in books - slipping past Angels, almost up there with Zombies, but not quite at the level of Vampires yet. However, a fair number of these books seem to be written by people who don't really have much experience with dogs and "What's a Dog For?" is one of those. John Homans is a journalist so his writing is competent, but he admits that he has truly known only a couple of dogs - both Lab mixes - so he really isn't the ideal candidate in my mind to answer a question like: What's a Dog For? And, he doesn't answer the question in this book - OK, I guess it was rhetorical anyway - but he does do a good job of lining out the basic scientific study of the evolution of dogs and their cognitive abilities, the history of breeding and humane organizations, and the changes in cultural attitudes toward dogs.
This book will be interesting to most dog lovers, but I saw two major short comings. For a book titled, "What's a Dog For?", this book is decidedly short on the history and background of working dogs (other than hunting dogs like LABRADORS - Homans' dog). Search and Rescue, aids to the physically disabled, herding dogs, therapy dogs, police/military duty; there is an almost inexhaustible list of job functions dogs have taken on in history and still do. Homans talks much about how the "emotional side" of dogs and their physical characteristics have allowed them to mold themselves into human society, yet he skims over the fact that dogs (unlike his example of tamed foxes who are also cute and emotional) have made themselves almost indispensable to people independent of what jobs we ask of them or what environments we put them in. (Hey, dogs have gone over the mountains, into the deserts and arctics, across the oceans, and even into space to work with us!!) The fact that dogs always seem willing, even eager, to "partner" with us (even our family dogs protect our person and property) versus just being a pet like a gerbil may have a lot more to do with the dog's success in our society than just the fact that they are cute. Yet, I was still thinking that for scope and entertainment, this book was still a good 4 star until Homans came to the last hour or so and entered the debate on No Kill. Homans seems to ignore the fact that the No Kill movement has resulted in the annual euthanasia rate in the US dropping from 20 MILLION dogs and cats in 1970 to about 3 million today and that many city run pounds are now operating on No Kill principles. The current euthanasia number is still ghastly but hugely improved, yet Homans only reports this change from the perspective of the ASPCA, an organization that will lose its current raison d'être if No Kill succeeds. Homans paints Nathan Winograd (founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center) as a kook and a zealot as characterized by the head of the ASPCA without interviewing Nathan Winograd or anyone active in No Kill. He uses the large Pit Bull population in shelters as evidence that we must continue killing - can't get all those dogs into refuges like Michael Vick's dogs (quotes the ASPCA guy) - but, in fact, Michael Vick's dogs were fighting dogs which most pit bulls in shelters are not AND (this is a big AND), most of Michael Vick's pits were rehabbed and ADOPTED to regular people, not killed and not sent to refuge. So this was a totally specious argument and Homans as a journalist should have caught it. Homans seems to be arguing that a commitment to stop the killing through aggressive spay/neuter programs and education is tantamount to giving dogs person-hood. I just don't agree and I don't think he presented his arguments well in this area.
Ultimately, if you are interested in dogs, this book provides a quick fairly entertaining historical summary. If you actually care about what happens to all dogs in our society, this book presents an incomplete and somewhat skewed picture. If you want to understand dogs better, this is NOT the book - Homans clearly loves his dog, but doesn't seem to have much insight into dogs as a whole. If you really want an answer to What's a Dog For?, get a a dog!
Katherine is not just a love story set in a historical setting, the love affair between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt lasted decades and changed the course of European history. The two became the ancestors of the Tudor line of England and the forebears of many other significant European rulers and historical figures. Seton meticulously researched this book and pieced together a biography of Katherine Swynford that not only accurately documents a fascinating period of time - the end of the Plantagenet rule in England - but sucks the reader into a love affair that changed history.
I have loved this book for so long so perhaps no narrator could quite measure up to my expectations of what it deserves on audio. However, I was a bit disappointed in Wanda McCaddon. This book is very focused on Katherine's long love affair with John of Gaunt, but it is a serious piece of historical fiction and I didn't think that McCaddon's rather melodramatic delivery quite did it justice. However, McCaddon is easy to understand and this is a great book so overall, the narration was acceptable.
One of the greatest love stories of all time - highly recommended!
I have now heard all the books in this series and the only criticism I have is that the narrator changes through the series. Although Christopher Cazenove is the best of them, fortunately, all are quite competent. And, since Jonathan L. Howard does not follow the current overly used trend of first person, his third person narrative is not really harmed by the change in narration.
It is hard to describe this book or this series that is a fantasy turn on alternate reality with a bit of steampunk, but I found myself completely captivated, thoroughly entertained, and desperate for more. Howard's writing is witty, wry, sardonic, and very clever and his characterizations are brilliant - odd and strangely sympathetic. One reviewer aptly compared the tone to "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", but this is much more fast paced with characters that are ultimately more likable as bits and pieces of the backstory fill in the gaps. This is my favorite type of series - each of the books delivers a satisfying resolution to the immediate conflict with an overarching goal that ties the series together so each book is a credit-worthy experience.
Dark and delicious - I can't wait to forget the plot points in the series so I can enjoy it again!
Someone I know who is an internet fan of Scott Sigler suggested I read this so I checked it out and have now listened to all 5 books currently available in the series. This is not the best writing in the world and I am not a football fan, but this is so entertaining, that I was really sorry to get to the end. (More, please ASAP Audible!)
I grew up in West Texas (Friday Night Lights) and was in high school marching band. I then went off to Texas A&M (home of the Fighting Texas Aggies - Gig Em'!) so of course I was a complete football fanatic in my younger years. However, as age and a little wisdom crept into my life I was more and more disturbed by the level of violence in football on and off the field (Michael Vick) and the serious injuries that resulted and have lost my taste for the game. However, I have to admit, that if I had a chance to see a Galactic Football game (can you imagine seeing a player leap 20 feet in the air to catch a pass?), I would be there with bells on!
The basic premise is simple if a bit silly - far in the future an alien race has conquered most of colonized space which includes 5 different sentient beings (including humans). They want to find a way to unite these varied groups of sentients, many of whom hate each other, and they do it through a Galactic Football League. The story is about the League, these many types of "people", a coming threat to all the sentients, and most especially it is a great coming of age story of one boy, Quentin Barnes.
If you only like "hard" science fiction, if your religious/political views tend to be fundamentalist, or you can't handle any violence in your books, you won't like this series. If you like soft sci-fi with some great aliens, lots of action, and some great characters, you're probably going to really enjoy The Rookie. Kind of goes without saying that if you love football, you will probably get a kick out of this book, but you really don't have to be a fan to enjoy the story. (It does help a little if you know the basics of football, but that probably isn't really necessary to enjoy the story.)
I had only two problems with the series:
1. Quentin Barnes is presented with many opportunities to expand his mind and make choices. He doesn't always make the right choices, but he eventually grows in ways that make him easy to like and understand. However, I draw the line at having to accept that other people's cultures are always OK. One group of aliens in the book eats live animals - not because their biology requires that just because that's what they like. I'm NEVER going to say that it is OK to inflict pain and agony on another living being just because that's what you like to do. I think the book takes accepting other cultures maybe a step too far - some cultures include child slavery, no education for girls, caste systems and that's just not OK in my book. Our own culture encourages eating and drinking to excess along with a lot of other ugly things and that's not OK either. I just don't think open-mindedness means you have to turn a blind eye to cruelty or stupidity or discrimination.
2. The books start out saying that they are "suitable for readers 10 and up" and I TOTALLY disagree. While the value systems portrayed are mostly quite positive and most parents would be happy with "moral messages" woven into the narrative, there is a LOT of violence both on and off the field in these books. Players are maimed (a guy has his leg bit off!) and killed during the games and there are murders, torture, and executions that take place off the field. I would never recommend the books for someone as young as 10 - I think older teens would be OK.
With those two issues said, the series is extremely entertaining, really funny (some great satire on sports journalism), and the audio presentation is wonderful - totally pulls you into the story. I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Rookie and all of its sequels.
Well, I fell into an Audible trap - bought books 2 and 3 on sale but I hadn't read book 1. I won't do that again. It's not that I hated these books, but had I listened to The Second Ship before I bought the next two, I wouldn't have bought the next two. Live and Learn.
Since I had all 3, I listened to the whole trilogy and it's not the worst I've ever heard but I did have some problems with it. Much of the writing and definitely all of the characterizations are standard YA. You have 3 SUPER SMART teens, 1 rogue Black Ops agent who might as well be Super Man (seriously - chiseled features, body like a brick house, flashing eyes - somehow with these stellar good looks, the guy is never recognized???), well-intentioned but completely oblivious parents, and a slew of evil scientists and government baddies. Oh yeah, also one intrepid reporter who goes so far beyond the call of duty that it isn't funny. The plot is a step above that with a lot of action, some pretty interesting and decent science, and quite a lot of suspense. However, the entire series is chalk full of sadists, psychopaths, rapists, and murderers and there are several scenes in each book of torture, kidnapping, rape, gang rape, and gruesome murders. Each of the books in this series made me feel like taking a shower when I finished because they pushed me past my disgust limit. Kind of a shame because I don't think that added anything to the story.
I've heard MacLeod Andrews perform better - I didn't think he added much or took much away from this book.
Most adults can probably handle the seamier parts of these books, but I would not recommend these for teens.
I picked up The Nelson Touch because the aliens in Ark Royal seemed like they might be interesting and I was hoping the second book might pick up a bit from the first. I was sadly disappointed. Although there is a little more insight into the aliens in The Nelson Touch, the storylines are still mostly focused on human melodrama with an awful lot of repetitive detail. (Got really sick of the zillion discussions of how sleep deprived these people are - well, duh, often true for active duty military.) The worst part for me is that the book has a huge anachronism in it that is actually a major plot driver. The first born son of the King of England (who is the SECOND born child) enlists as a fighter pilot and much angst ensues because as everyone knows, as the first born SON he will take the crown if his father dies. Nuh-uh! The British Law of Primogeniture has recently changed (about time!) and sorry, Mr. Nuttall, but the prince's sister would be next in line in the 24th century if there is even a crown to wear by then. So, that whole story line becomes a big bust. OK, the book was published a few years before the law changed, but I think a good sci-fi writer needs to be able to project out the future just a little better than this and this one was definitely predictable.
Once again, the women characters are cardboard cutouts and the men aren't really that interesting either. Once again, Ralph Lister did a good job with narration, but this just wasn't a very engaging story. And, once again, we STILL don't know much about these aliens.
I'm done with this series.
In this first episode of a first encounter space story, there is not a lot of battle action, little information about the alien race, and not much hard science, but there are some good character studies and some suspenseful build up for the second book in the series. My biggest criticism of the book is that the male characters were much more interesting and realistic than any of the female characters. Part of this is because Nuttall writes in 3rd person limited with a shifting POV and none of his POV characters is a woman. However after reading both this and the second book, The Nelson Touch, I think the bigger part of that is because Nuttall doesn't have a very good sense of women. OK, just my opinion, but if you are really going to write great space opera, you have to have great male AND female characters - especially in a book where you don't yet know much about the aliens and a lot of action is about relationships between men and women.
Ralph Lister is better with male voices than female, but he did a good job with the narration and his voice seemed a good fit for the book.
I liked Ark Royal enough to listen to the next in the series and I will review that separately to prevent spoilers, but I really did not like The Nelson Touch and won't buy any more in this series.
There is so much going on in The Palace Job that you definitely don't get bored, but you also don't have much chance to really get to know the characters and the plot gets muddy and confusing at times. This is a fantasy con story like Ocean's 11 or The Sting set in a world of wizards and unicorns. Weekes has a real talent for being able to "twist" a story - sometimes quite delightfully - and he sketches out characters that are easy to like and root for. But, he keeps the reader so in the dark that it is hard to understand the action at times and there is insufficient backstory to truly fall in love with the characters. Justine Eyre has an amazing voice - the timbre is lovely and perfectly suited to a fantasy story. But I found her difficult to understand. Her enunciation is not really precise and combined with her pronounced accent, I had a tough time understanding her when there was any other background noise (like the car or the washing machine). She does do really nice character voices and I would have rated her higher except that I had to rewind so often because I didn't catch what she said.
I liked The Palace Job enough to read the sequel (The Prophecy Con), but my feeling about the second book was about the same. I found both books to be entertaining enough that they were worth the price, but far from the best fantasy I've read. I will keep an eye on Patrick Weekes - I think the talent is there and experience might make him a pretty great fantasy author.
I have long wanted to get the audible version of one of my favorite historical novels, "Katherine" (Anya Seton), but decided I should brush up on my Plantagenet history first since I get some of this period confused. I couldn't have asked for a better, more interesting overview. Dan Jones hits the highlights of each of the kings and this presentation done in precise linear fashion makes it very easy to follow. I did find that keeping a family tree handy on my computer helped, but this was not difficult to follow in spite of the fact that the same 3 or 4 male and female names were used by those people over and over. (Keep wanting to holler back 800 years and suggest someone throw in a Tammy or a Larry!) One of the biggest reasons I used to get confused is that at about the 4th Matilda and the 3rd Edward, my brain wants to wander, but this book kept me plugged in the whole time. I was not thrilled with Clive Chafer's highly declarative style of reading - as one reviewer aptly put it, Chafer's delivery is more suited to a broadcaster than a narrator. However, the material is so interesting, I didn't get too hung up about the narrator. I will definitely read Jones' next book, "The War of the Roses", as soon as I finish my beloved "Katherine".
John Scalzi doesn't do a lot of fancy footwork with language (he's not a writer that will give you a punchy new metaphor or a lot of symbolism), but for my money he is one of the best storytellers out there. You can count on Scalzi to give you an exciting plot with a great climax and a satisfying conclusion, characters you can love and love to hate, and a great sense of humor woven into the story to keep things fun and on pace. Lock In is no exception - the story follows Chris Shane, a new FBI agent, and his more experienced and jaded partner, Leslie Vann, as they work to solve a crime and uncover a conspiracy in a world radically changed by a pandemic and the technology that has evolved to cope with the affects of the disease. As much as I enjoy traveling the universe in sci-fi, I love the occasional look at the future from planet side and Lock In does that nicely with a lot of focus on bio-engineering, virtual reality, and software programming as well as a smattering of economics, politics, and sociology mixed into a story that is at heart a fast action police procedural. Scalzi gives you just enough science and logic to buy in to his world without slowing the plot down with too much detail.
I had a little trouble getting started with the story because you enter the story about 20 years after Haden's has struck so although this is a near-future sci-fi and you will recognize some aspects of the world as similar to today, the story begins after the radical changes the virus has wrought and it took me a little time to catch up. Once I did, I couldn't stop - lots of action and great characters. There seems to be some room in here for "the continuing adventures of Chris Shane" and I really hope to see more - I was so sorry when this ended.
I have liked Wil Wheaton's narration each time I've heard him, but I think he has matured as a narrator and is even better now. He doesn't really do "character voices", but he has the perfect emotional inflection for the dialog and the narrative both. Since this story is mostly told first person from the POV of Chris Shane, Wheaton was a good fit.
The novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome, which is at about 2:15 on the second download is terrific also. It is the story of how the virus struck and spread, the government and medical community response to it, the outcomes of the disease, and the beginning stages of the technology developed to cope with Haden's Syndrome. This is told sort of documentary style with a whole cast of narrators (including some of the really fun ones like Luke Daniels and Bronson Pinchot) and reminded me a little of World War Z. The novella is recorded after the book, but you could read these in either order. The book is much more action packed so it's probably a more exciting way to learn about Haden's, but I think I would have liked to have heard the novella first because I would have had a better understanding of Lock In from the beginning. Either order really is OK; neither the book nor the novella would spoil the other.
Very entertaining and a little thought-provoking - highly recommended!
If I could choose one phrase to summarize this masterpiece, I couldn't do better than the title of Jan's review - "Not written - crafted...exquisitely" (nicely said, Jan!). Although APFOM has an interesting plot and a shattering ending, if you read this book just for the story, you will miss the best part; APFOM is truly a modern classic with some of the best and most engaging use of literary devices and provocative thought I've ever seen. To list a few:
1. Enveloping and evocative use of setting - both historical and geographic - to set the tone and pacing
2. Masterful use of the first person form. First person is challenging when you want to portray detail for many characters. A Prayer not only provides detail characterization for a great cast of eccentrics, its primary protagonist is not the POV character. In lesser hands, the reader would not be able to relate to Owen Meany with all his strangeness when portrayed only from the POV of his friend, John Wheelwright, but Irving not only slowly makes you understand Owen, but truly love him.
3. Foreshadowing, allusion, and symbolism so subtle and finely woven into the narrative that you will not realize until the ending that you have been told repeatedly what is going to happen and still the ending is gut-wrenching and shocking and inevitable.
4. Some of the most insightful commentary on religion and faith that I have ever read in fiction. The beautiful, tragic, and repulsive aspects of religion are all woven into this narrative with little jewels of wisdom scattered throughout. One of my favorite quotes, "My belief in God disturbs and unsettles me much more than not believing ever did. Unbelief seems vastly harder to me now than belief does, but belief poses so many unanswerable questions." In the end, A Prayer is a real tribute to active Faith.
I read the book many years ago when it was first published and I think it can be advantageous to see this book in print to understand how Irving wrote it (Owen's dialog is in all caps and Irving often throws a word said in Owen's voice into the middle of John's sentences) so you will appreciate the phenomenal narrative interpretation of the book by Joe Barrett - truly an outstanding performance of a challenging book. I have had a permanent place on my bookshelves for APFOM for years, but not re-read it just because the ending is hard. However, I couldn't resist the audiobook when it was on sale and now I realize I should have picked it up long ago because it is more than worth full price. If you have read the book, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audiobook - you will not be disappointed. And, Irving packs so much beautiful prose and food for thought in this book, it is one that really should be read or heard more than once.
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