Monthly Archives: May 2011

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen

I know what you are thinking – another book about UFOs and aliens.  Although this book does cover the crash at Roswell, there are no aliens there. Most of this book is really about the clandestine activities of the CIA and Military; including the nuclear testing, our use of Nazi scientists, and our spy planes (U2, Oxcart/SR-71 Blackbird, etc). 

Most of the book’s claims are preceded by ” Declassified in …”  Whether they are legit or not, I have no way of telling. Most of the detailed history in this book takes place before 1968 mainly due to the previously classified nature of the material.

The author did a good job of turning what could have been a dry history into an interesting story by making characters of the historical figures. I liked how she did not linger too long on any one area of the history.

Spoiler highlight to read

This book seemed very believable up until the end, when she dove more into the Roswell incident. The author had almost of no real citation other than an unnamed source. The unnamed source said that the UFO was Russian-made and piloted by genetically and surgically malformed children with the help of Joesph Mengele. He also claimed that is was all a plot by the Soviet Union to spook us into thing that aliens where invading so they could use it as a cover to attack us. It was disappointing that the author waited until the end to spring this nasty surprise on the reader. 

The only part of this book that was worse than the spoiler mentioned above is the narration. It is read by the author. While most of the time I find this great, this was time is was 15 hours of torture. Her reading was in the very 80s style of narration, when there was no inflection or character performance. It it was worst narration I have the “pleasure” of listening to in a very long time.

Story gets 6.5 out of 10 (would have been better if not for the ending)
Narration gets 3 out of 10

Happy Listening

My next book will be Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs

The Life of Pi By Yann Martel

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a wonderfully creative story about a young Indian boy’s struggle for survival first in India and later in a lifeboat after his ship to sank on its way to Canada.
The first part of be book is really focused on Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel’s childhood in Pondicherry, Ind ia, where his father owned a zoo. During this part of his life Pi acquired is nickname and a fondness for religions.  This continues until Pi is about 16, when his family decides to sell the zoo’s animals and move to Canada due to the political climate in India.
The second and larger part of the book is about Pi and his family’s journey. Unfortunately, the ship transporting the family and some of their animals sinks after four days at sea.
Pi ends up the only human survivor on then lifeboat, along with an orangutan, hyena, zebra and a bengal tiger named named Richard Parker. Before long, the survivors are cut down to just Pi and Richard. The real bulk of the story is the relationship between the two over the following 277 days.
Martel did a great job with this book. It’s hard to believe this book was rejected by at least five different publisher before it got published.
Jeff Woodman did an amazing job narrating this 11.5 hour book. He uses an Indian accent for most of the book and it is so convincing that I didn’t know he wasn’t Indian until I checked out other books he has narrated. He really brought this book to life for me.
Story gets 9 out of 10
Narration gets 9.5 out of 10
This book is available at Amazon and Audible
Happy Listening 

The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry is the second book in the Joe Ledger trilogy. Unlike the frist book, there are no zombies. Yes, I know, I was disappointed too. 

This trilogy revolves around Joe Ledger, an agent for the top-secret Department of Military Science (DMS). On a mission to stop threats to the US and the world, at the heart of the DMS is man that goes by many names and his super computer, Mindreader. 

First off let me say this book is not going to win a Phillip K. Dick award or  Nebula award. It Is a modern day pulp chalked full of violence, sex and pseudoscience. That said, it really was not a bad book. Though there wasn’t a lot of depth, it was a very enjoyable read.

The big threat this time is white supremacist geneticist with a mysterious past who is planning to wipe out everyone that is not white using weaponized genetic diseases that are targeted to ethnic groups. 

The biggest problem with the book is that every chapter has the time stamp until the killer virus is released. The reason this becomes a problem is during the fight scenes chapters can be only a few sentences. While this may not be a problem in the print version, it is annoying in the audiobook.

Ray Porter narrated this book. It was an adequate performance, but did not really add anything to the book. The only place the narration really suffered was in the Russian accents.

Story gets 8.5 out of 10
Narration gets 6 out of 10

You can get this book at Amazon and Audible.

Happy Listening

My next book will be The Life of Pi By Yann Martel

Sorry About the delay on a Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is is still coming.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin is the zombie virus model applied to vampires. The book has two parts: the first part set around 2015 and the second set 93 years later.
The first part of the book revolves around the discovery and refining of the virus on 12 death row inmates and one 6-year-old girl named Amy in a hidden Army Base is Colorado.  
The second part takes place nearly a century after the inevitable outbreak. In a government-created enclave, life is now an odd mix of high and low tech. One day Amy inexplicably shows up causing chaos in the colony. Soon after a few of the survivors discover a tracking chip in her neck and abandon the failing colony to follow the signal back to its origins in Colorado.
The Passage is written well for most of the book. But there are a few areas that fall flat; and when it falls flat it’s really bad. The transition between the two sections was so disjointed I almost put the book down. There is also the feel of an epic trek (Lord of the Rings style) but the neither you or the characters really know why they are going. 
The ending was also disappointing. After 35 hours of listening, I was hoping for more.
As for the narration, it is done by Scott Brick, Adenrele Ojo, and Abby Craden. Even though there are three narrators, Scott Brick is really the main course with the other two serving as side dishes. Love him or hate him, Mr. Brick is one of the kings of book narration and his reading of this book is another gem in his crown. Adenrele Ojo, Abby Craden did a great job as well.
Story gets 6.5 out of 10
Narration gets 9 out of 10
This book is available from Amazon and Audible.  
My next book will be A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Narrated by John Bedford Lloyd

My boss was kind enough to give this book to everyone in my office so I felt obligated to read it.  The premise is that checklists save lives and can help you live better. There is an extremely positive quote fromMalcolm Gladwellon the cover and I wish I could say that I enjoyed it as much as he claimed to have enjoyed it. 

The Checklist Manifesto’s six hours of run time was hard to get through. The problem was this book felt more like a magazine article that was stretched into a book. As a magazine article, I probably would have taken understood the author’s point and maybe even enjoyed the read. As a book, it seemed like it would never end.

The author is a doctor and gave plenty of good examples of how the premise is useful in his field, but I would have liked to have seen more examples of how it works in other fields and everyday life. My other big gripe was with just how much of the book is describing surgeries in great detail. I did not enjoy that imagery and it just felt like he was padding the book.

John Bedford Lloyddid a decent job narrating the book, though he’s no Scott Brick or George GuidallHowever, I don’t think even the world’s best narrator could have saved this book for me, given the material.  


Story gets a 4 out of 10
Narration gets a 6 out of 10

If you want this book, it is available at Audible and Amazon.

Happy Listening

My next book The Passage By Justin Cronin

The Death of an iPod

Well after over 36 months with 40 to 60 hours a week of use, my iPod has died. I am switching to my iPhone. So far the iPhone battery is holding up ok. But, I still really miss my iPod classic.

WWW trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

The WWW trilogy is nice transition from my previous book, Plex. Although this was a trilogy, it seemed more like one book in three parts rather than three different books. I have to admit that I have only listened to one other Robert J. Sawyer book, Fast Forward, which I found to be so dry and slow I almost did not finish it.

The main human character in these books is Caitlin Decter, a blind 16-year-old girl who is a bit of a math genius. About the only thing Caitlin does better than math is surfing the web. Early into the first book she is invited to Japan to receive an experimental retinal implant. This implant co-opts the vision center of her brain to allow her to see the structure of the web. This is how she first encounters a fledgling emergent artificially intelligent entity. 

This AI grows and becomes known to the world as WebMind, which is essentially a sentient version of Google. What follows is the struggle of society to embrace and integrate this world-changing technology.

The story flows at a nice pace and only stalls in a few places, which I found to be a nice change from the other Sawyer work I read. While it did not keep me guessing at every turn it was not too predictable either. 

One criticism – I wish Sawyer would have cut off the last few pages of the last book. I found them a little too hokey.

At the heart is these books is the idea of transition and growth, whether that be a 16-year-old blind girl getting her site or an AI emerging from the whole of the World Wide Web.

Narrated by  Jessica AlmasyMarc VietorOliver WymanAnthony Haden Salerno, and A. C. FellnerAudible produced this book and gave it an Ender’s Game-style narration. Each chapter of the book is written from one character’s POV and get its own narrator. All of the narrators did a great job. I love the way that Caitlin’s narrator gave her a slight southern twang without it being over the top, This goes for all the accents in the book which takes place mostly in Canada. There is also an intro to the first book by Sawyer himself, which is nice.

Story: 8 of 10
Narration: 10 of 10

Happy Listening!

These book are available at Amazon WWW: WakeWWW: Watch, and WWW: Wonder and Audible WWW: WakeWWW: Watch, and WWW: Wonder

My next book will be The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives By Steven Levy

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives was written by Steven Levy and narrated by L. J. Ganser.
Have you ever wondered how Google got where it is today? Then this could be the book for you. With a run time of nearly 20 hours, Plex goes in depth into the world of Google – sometime a little too far.
I liked the way Steven Levy broke down this book. There is a section for each area of Google’s development; including Google’s beginnings, how it started AdSense, the acquisition of Android and YouTube, etc. With the level of detail included in this book, Levy must of had nearly full access to Google. I was even surprised by the last chapter which detailed Google’s shortcomings and projects that failed.
There is also a interview by the author of Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Location and Local Services. The interview only adds a few facts to the book, but it is a nice perk on an audio book.
L. J. Ganser had a tough challenge with this book as a core history book and the material can get a little dry. I find the topic very interesting, but I have to admit that from time to time my attention did wander. With over 115 books under Ganser’s belt (according to Audible), I would have to guess the those episodes were due more to the author than the narrator.
If you love tech and how the biggest players develop or just want to know more about Google, you will probably like this book. If you’re the type that loves new gadgets and programs but couldn’t care less how they came about, you would probably be better served to avoid this book.
Story gets 7 out of 10.
Narration gets 8 out of 10.
This book is available at Audible and Amazon
Happy Listening
My next book is Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy