Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Gulliver's Travels" By Jonathan Swift

I picked up this audiobook as it is a classic and I never read it.

Summary: Gulliver is a man who spends much of his life at sea, as a surgeon, captain and ship owner. On four separate trips he ridiculously lost and finds himself in a land well beyond anything charted on any map. This premise is a bit absurd, but ultimately, it is an excuse to place Gulliver in societies that look nothing like the British lands he grew up in.

The first land he finds is filled with people incredibly smaller than him. He is enslaved by them and spends much of the time trying to convince them that he is not going to destroy them. The second place is filled with people much bigger than him and he is paraded around like a fancy pet in a special box. The third place is a floating city that rests on powerful magnets that repel the earth. These are scientist/philosophers with their time dedicated to pondering. The forth place, my favorite, is the land of the horse people. Here the horses are intelligent and the humans are of animal minds. These ignorant humans are called Houyhnhnms and Swift goes out of his way to use it as an insult against British elites, over and over.

In each place Gulliver takes careful note of every similarity and difference between the strangers and his own homeland. Much of the book is a critique of 18th century Britain by demonstrating how much better these strangers appear to be. And when similarities are highlighted, they are often so that Swift can use the fictional characters to illustrate the flaws he sees in British society. These observations are delivered as devoid of emotion as possible to give them a feeling of simple scientific truth, which makes the jokes that much funnier.

What I Liked: Swift takes full advantage of the story to comment on the lives of his fellow citizens. He does not

What I Didn't Like: It sounds stupid, but I have difficulty with classics partly because of the language barrier, we'll call it. These days, no one talks like Swift, and it means I have to spend extra effort to figure out what some of the sentences mean. It's not his fault, but it still detracts from the experience.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"When Books Went to War" By Molly Guptill Manning

I heard an interview with the author on the radio and a few months later saw the audiobook at the library. 

Summary: As the Nazis gained power they campaigned against certain books, hosting book burnings and eventually banned books outright. As the allies challenged the axis on the battlefield, there was a parallel conflict building up. In America librarians and others united to fight the fascists in the war of ideas. As the Nazis burned them, the Americans distributed them.

In the beginning there were civilan book drives with drop offs all across the nation. They accepted all books and worked to get them into army training camps and deployment centers so that soldiers could select a title and read at their leisure. The idea was to show that America supported freedom of the press and to remind soldiers what they were fighting for.

The book drives proved inadequate because people dropped off books that were unwanted and impractical, especially the large hardcover editions that could not be carried by a soldier in the field. The government then organized a program to publish special Armed Services Editions of various titles selected by a council. The books were custom designed to fit in a soldier's pocket and stay with him until he was done reading it. Many consider the program to be reason millions of people became lifelong readers after the war.

What I Liked: The importance of books in World War II is great. I love the idea of a council whose only job is to get as many books into soldier's hands as a way to fight the enemy.

What I Didn't Like: This book has no story arc or protagonist. There is no compelling build up to keep you reading. If this wasn't an audiobook I am not sure I would have finished.

Rating: If you have an interest in WWII or book history, you might like it, otherwise, probably not.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Bourbon Kings" by J.R. Ward

I'm a big fan of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series.  I enjoy her over the top characters and her heavy hand with rap references gives me shivers of pure glee.  "The Bourbon Kings" is the first book in a new, non-supernatural series.

Summary:  The Bradford Family is Southern Royalty.  Extremely wealthy and even more entitled, the newest generation of Bradfords play hard and spend harder, without really caring where it comes from or how its made.

Tulane "Lane" Bradford is the youngest son of the family.  Devastatingly handsome and very charming, he lives in New York to escape an unhappy (understatement) marriage, a domineering father, absent mother, messed up siblings and the love of his life, who's heart her broke when he married someone else.

Lane gets a phone call that brings him home to the family's estate, Easterly, where the glamour and privilege enjoyed by the Bradfords starts to crumble.  As Lane realizes he needs to man up, his romance with Lizzie rekindles as his family falls apart.

My Thoughts: I'm still torn about "The Bourbon Kings" and its been a few weeks since I've read it. Part of me enjoyed the story in a rubbernecking, guilty pleasure sort of way.  I am endlessly fascinated by the train wreck lives of the idle rich.  Add in dark family secrets, a little bit of intrigue and a quickie in the million dollar wine cellar and I'll be turning the pages faster than a Kardashain can take a selfie.

"The Bourbon Kings" had all of that, but...the characters also left me so cold that I couldn't find it in my bookwormy heart to sympathize with them when the choices they made brought them to the lowest of lows.  These characters aren't just the idle rich, they are entitled to the point of ridiculousness.  They don't own their mistakes unless forced to, don't work for anything they're given, and really have almost no redeeming qualities.

Lane thinks he impregnates a college fling and marries her, despite being in love with someone else.  Then, instead of facing the fact that he made a mistake he runs off to a life of alcoholism and gambling.  Even after he learns that his gold-digging wife aborted their baby.  Although Lane is the male lead of the romance in "The Bourbon Kings", I didn't find him worthy of the leading lady.

Lizzie King, the leading lady of the book, is an an independent, strong willed woman.  She's the head gardener at Easterly, works hard and knows her worth.  Except amid the chaos of the Bradford family, she ends up feeling like a supporting cast member.  I was far more interested in the messed up Bradfords than the romance between Lane and Lizzie.  Plus, I wanted Lizzie to see that she could do better than Lane and run away as far as she could.  A hot body and a Porsche aren't worth it.

My gut reaction to the miserable characters and their glamorous lives is that Ward is bringing each member of the Bradford family to their low point before raising them up.  Towards the end of the story Lane filed for divorce and even took a minor interest in unraveling the mess of the family business.

Point of interest, I still can't wrap my mind around the only lady Bradford.  Ginny, the only daughter of the family, is filled with so much self loathing and fear that she agrees to marry her rapist instead of get a job.  SAY WHAT?  Add in the fact that she doesn't interact with her teenage daughter and can't be bothered to pick up her own clothes, I found absolutely nothing likeable about her except for her taste in accessories.

Rating:  I found the romance lack luster but the family drama titillating.  I'm glad I read it, moreso that I got it from the library.

Also Read by This Author:  All of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, most of the Fallen Angels series.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Apocalypse Cow" by Michael Logan

I found the sequel to this book at an independent bookstore called Uncle Hugo's and knew that I just had to read it. I read them in order, though.

Summary: The British government created a secret weapons program designed to destroy the food supply of potential enemy nations. The weapon of choice was a virus custom built to infect cows and similar food animals. Unfortunately, the virus got out and infected a slaughterhouse.

This story follows a group of people including a lousy journalist who gets the biggest break in history, a nerdy teenage boy who has the most ridiculous parents and the sole surviving slaughterhouse worker who is kidnapped by the government. They all start out in different places but find themselves thrown together in a world filled with murderous cows.

In the beginning, no one knows how bad it is, and so they try to go about normal life. As the epidemic gets worse, people begin to panic and the government initiates their response plans. The virus spreads to more and more animals until the group finally decide to escape the UK.

Special note, this book won the Terry Pratchett Prize in 2011, with Pratchett writing a forward.

What I Liked: The humor in this book is amazing. There are lots of great puns, hilariously awkward scenes and killer cows. In general, I like post apocalyptic stories, and Logan fully takes advantage of the serious genre all the while making interesting characters and compelling plot. Take out the cows and this is still great writing, but the cows make it that much better.

What I Didn't Like: ......

Rating: Must read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick