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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-18

Some Books Get Scarier As Time Marches On

I came into this book a newbie -- with very little preconceptions other than it was a classic dystopian story. I haven't seen the recent TV series. But with everything going on in the world, I thought it finally time to dive into this book.

And it's terrifying story to behold. It's hard to imagine how a book from the 1980s can project into our current cultural and political landscape and seem to hit so accurately. The characters and themes are familiar and often brutal. It's full of haunting imagery we hope will not play out in our own future. Men, seemingly good men, who stand by silent and do nothing while evil takes over.

Claire Danes gives a phenomenal, nuanced performance of a woman filled with longing and desire. Not only for a world better than the hell she's living, but also a woman who hungers for simpler things, like a man's touch without the danger that now poses.

The Handmaid's Tale continues to be a very timely and human novel, suggesting the dangers lurking around the corner.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-18

Han Solo? He Would've Disappointed You

I haven't kept up with all the Star Wars books either in the old EU or this one, but when I saw Daniel Jose Older was writing a Han and Lando book, I knew I had to check it out. After listening to it, I'd say it's probably one of my favorite Star Wars novels to date -- right up there with James S.A. Corey's Honor Among Thieves and the original Zahn trilogy. (And it reminds me that I have some holes to fill.)

The conceit of the story is that a relic from Han and Lando's past resurfaces with the potential to turn the galaxy's droids into murderbots. That bit from the Force Awakens where Kylo Ren tells Rey about what a disappointment Han was as a father? In this story, we see Han struggling to learn how raise young Ben, be a stable husband for Leia, and generally just settle down. He's failing on pretty much all fronts and he misses being able to do things he was actually good at. At the same time, Lando is trying to figure out if he's a scoundrel or a hero and whether or not he has the ability to stay in a committed relationship. Rest assured: this book is just as much about Lando as it is Han.

You can tell from pretty early on that Daniel Jose Older didn't take writing a Star Wars book lightly -- he was aiming to write a great novel about aging heroes reconciling with their failures of the past and present. There's a lot to be said about the current status and servitude of droids. Additionally, he has a blast playing with some of the conventions of Star an ewok slicer and a certain gungan who will leaving you rolling as he blasts your preconceptions of his species. The new pilot that Han and Lando pair up with who reminds them of their younger selves is one of my favorite new characters in the SW EU.

I was a little surprised to see Marc Thompson splitting narrator duties with Daniel Jose Older and January Lavoy. Thompson does the heavy lifting, and while his pacing and intonation still seem forced to me at times, his voices for the characters are amazing -- especially some of the new characters to this story. Daniel Jose Older does the Han Solo flashbacks and it is a delight to hear him narrator hit the rhythm of his own prose. I thought Lavoy was an odd choice at first to do the Lando segments, but in the end she did phenomenal voicing both Lando and Ellthree.

For Star Wars fans -- especially Han and Lando fans -- this is a must. It's fun-filled adventure about two has-beens trying to right their past and present in a galaxy far, far away.

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2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-28-18

I Love Lagunitas...But I Digress

By the time I got around to listening to this one, Lagunitas had been bought out by Heineken. Hopefully, the beer continues to taste as good as it has in the past, but it's fair to say the sale left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths as many complained one of great craft breweries selling out.

This book, written before the Heineken deal, is not a biography, but a business memoir, stresses author and Lagunitas founder Tony Magee. Mainly, it's a lot of stories about the breweries early days -- how it got founded, how it moved from one location to another to another, and some of the obstacles it came up against. Magee often apologizes for his digressions, but in the end that's what this book feels like -- one digression after another with little to hold it together. I can't imagine it appealing to people who aren't diehard craft-brewing or Lagunitas fans.

The audiobook isn't helped much by Brett Barry's narration. Technically, there's nothing wrong with Barry and I'd be happy to hear him read other books. But here, his narration mixed with Magee's words make the author sound like someone you would not want to hang out at a bar and have a few drinks with.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-28-18

Smooth Shiny Girls, Hardboiled and Loaded with Sin

It's hard to go wrong with Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. This one is enjoyable from beginning to end no thanks to Marlowe's pathos and dull but glistening moral compass, and the cast of characters Chandler brings out here. A fortune teller, a gangster operating off the shores of L.A., the daughter of a deceased chief of police, jewel thieves. Farewell My Lovely has its fair share of problems. Mainly: there's a lot more casual racism than I remember in some of the other Marlowe books -- mainly aimed at Native Americans and African Americans. It made me wince a few times.

Ray Porter's narration is generally excellent -- he has a knack for Marlowe, the good and bad cops, and the other heavies. I'm not big on the way his female characters sound, which comes off as a little forced. I can forgive it for how good the rest of his performance is, though.

As much as Marlowe, the real star for me will always be Chandler's smooth and shiny prose, hardboiled and loaded with sin. Roll the windows down as you drive up the L.A. coastline of noir with the sea breeze hitting you in the face. It's gonna be quite a ride.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-15-18

The Devil's in the Details of Redemption

Joe King Oliver needs the help of a devil to finally find some redemption. Framed over a decade ago and kicked off the police force, he's finally ready to re-examine the case that cost him his career, his family, and his lifestyle.

This one was entertaining, but it didn't work as well for me as some of the other Mosley series I've read. Joe King Oliver isn't quite as likeable as Easy Rawlins or Paris Minton. Maybe part of it is the setting -- I'm a sucker for the historic LA that both Rawlins and Minton inhabit. But it feels like Mosley was rushing a little too fast in places. The story begins with Oliver being framed and going to Riker's Island, where he loses everything and is emotionally traumatized by the event throughout the rest of the book. In the second chapter, we just back to present time -- a decade later. That first chapter breezes by so fast, I don't know if I ever really bought all of King's trauma and loss of identity the way Mosley seemed to be wanting me to. Additionally, some of the revelations Oliver discovers toward the end of the book seemed a little bit obvious to us from the get go. (Admittedly, it's hard to me to believe that a womanizer of King's caliber quit that particular game for a decade.) Still, Mosley is a pretty incredible writing, so I'm inclined to be a little bit forgiving about some of these criticisms.

One thing is certain -- Dion Graham's narration is perfection. His voices for the different characters could fool you into thinking it's a full cast performance. Things become more exciting when Oliver enlists the help of a criminal Melquarth Frost. (Mosley seems to always love a morally bankrupt tough guy playing foil to the good cop/detective.)

Though it didn't work as well for me as some of Mosley's others, I wouldn't be opposed to trying another book with the same characters, especially if Graham returns. There's enough here to leave me cautiously optimistic for the next tale.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-15-18

Easy on the Ears

Pretty early into listening to this book I told my friend: Maybe we should just listen to mystery novels the next few months. I love all kinds of books, but Mosley's style, pacing, characters, and setting made me want to just drop everything else and binge on mystery for a good long while.

Here's the set-up: In 1940s Los Angeles, Easy Rawlins, an out of work black man is asked by a rich, dangerous white man to help him find a beautiful and mysterious woman. It's not an original plot, but the setting and the characters and Mosley's sweet and smoky prose sell it all so good. I'd read a little bit of Mosley's work in the past, but I went back to the beginning of this one -- and it was my first Easy Rawlins book. It didn't disappoint. It was smooth and vivid, with a lot on its mind about racial identity and what it means to be a black man in the United States of America -- back in the 40s as well as today. I can't believe how tight it is -- how much Mosley managed to cram into 5 1/2 hours.

Michael Boatman's performance helps make this book easy on the ears. Easy himself is such a likeable character, and Boatman's performance makes you feel like you're having drinks with him.

I can't wait to hear more of these, and more of Mosley's other books. (And all the other mystery novels I'm gonna binge on.)

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-23-18

Must Listen for Would-Be Filmmakers

So you think you want to study movies? Maybe even make them? Why don't you give Patton Oswalt's Silver Screen Fiend a listen? Really, I think it should be required reading/listening for film school students.

The worst addiction of Oswalt's life wasn't recreational drugs or alcohol, but the five years when he crammed as much cinema into his life as possible. This was the plan for how he'd break into directing and filmmaking -- by watching as many movies as he could. The addiction cost him friendships, girlfriends, his health, and damaged his career. Thankfully, it's a hilarious memoir.

Starting with a Billy Wilder double-feature of Sunset Boulevard and An Ace in the Hole all the way to the Phantom Menace, it's a wild, compulsive, and enthusiastic ride, and while I've never seen the majority of the movies mentioned, Oswalt's performance is so engrossing and funny, I don't feel like I've missed out on much. I can't imagine this book being as much fun to read as it was to listen to.

And this book was SO MUCH FUN to listen to. I loved that the Phantom Menace was the movie that broke him of his addiction -- not just because Oswalt thought it was bad, but because he spent so many hours with friends ripping it and George Lucas apart...and then came the realization that all he was doing was criticizing -- he wasn't making or doing anything. And he needed to get back to that.

So enjoy the listen and critiquing -- then make sure you get back to work and get your creative juices flowing.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-18-18

It's the Journey That Matters in the End

I'm glad I gave this one another shot. I'd read the Left Hand of Darkness 10 years ago and bounced off it kind of hard -- which was strange because I understood the themes would be about gender and was excited to see a different perspective. When my friend suggested we listen to it I was skeptical, but willing to give it another try. Sometimes, you encounter the same book and it impacts you in a different way.

Le Guin's book is 50 years old and still has a lot relevant to say about gender, humanity, and patriotism. 10 years ago, maybe I didn't think the message was as revolutionary -- I thought we were progressing. These days, I suppose I still think we're progressing but I realize the road ahead is still a difficult one. So I was able to connect a bit more with Genly and Estrevan, which was helped by George Guidall's excellent narration and added a certain humanity to it.

Like I said, I 'm glad I gave it another chance -- I can see why it's a classic piece of science fiction.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-10-18

Hang On and ENDURE

It sounds like a great set-up for a fiction thriller: A doomed research expedition stranded in one of the most desolate and remote places in the world without a chance of rescue. Their only hope is to somehow rescue themselves.

But it happened, and together they endured and survived. In 1914, just as the Great War was breaking out, Ernest Shackleton set out on the Imperial Trans-Antartic Mission aboard the Endurance. The ship became trapped in the ice and the crew had to abandon ship and survive in Antartica. No one would be coming to rescue them, so Shackleton devised a plan for he and his team to save themselves.

It's an exciting, true tale pulled from the diaries and journals of the crew, and narrated expertly by the great Simon Prebble, who grounds the whole adventure with his steady but icy performance.

If I had a criticism it would be that Alfred Lansing paints an overly heroic picture of Shackleton. I wish we could've got a more rounded picture of him. Perhaps Lansing thought it'd get in the way of this rousing adventure? In the end, that's exactly what this book was -- an unbelievable tale of survival and adventure, and I'm glad I took the time to listen to it.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-20-17

Like a Holiday Episode of This American Life

There's a little bit of everything in Audible's latest holiday listen for members. This one has a story about the folks who receive and respond to the letters sent to Santa Claus, a hard-to-find Charles Dickens ghost story, Improv Christmas Carols, and more.

It seems like Audible's struggled to figure out what to give listeners after burning through so much of Dickens holiday work. This year's offering reminded me of NPR's This American Life -- it's a small little bundle of fictional and non-fictional tales probably best listened to in one sitting. It's clear that the folks at Audible worked hard to put this one together. It's a grab bag of a stocking stuffer, and I enjoyed digging around to hear what was inside.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful