Posts Tagged ‘Audiobooks’

Book Review: The Race Underground by Doug Most

AuthorDoug Most
Narrator: John H. Mayer
TitleThe Race Underground
Publication Info: Books on Tape, 2014
ISBN: 9780553398069
Summary/Review:

This fascinating study documents the race between Boston and New York to be the first city to have underground rapid transit.  Spoiler:  Boston wins the race, but the modest Tremont Street subway would soon be overshadowed by New York City opening an extensive network of subways covering hundreds of miles all at once.  This work includes a lot of tangents into the engineering, technological, and social changes of the late-19th century and early 20th-century in delightful ways.  Most frames the story around two brothers – Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York City – who were behind the push for improved transit in their cities, but the stories of many politicians, engineers, financiers, dreamers, and ordinary people amazed (or frightened) by the changing world around them.  The story is not without tragedy as people died building both subways, not to mention a fair amount of corruption, but ultimately this is a triumphant story about the progress of humankind.

Recommended books722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York by Clifton Hood , A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo, Underneath New York by Harry Granick , Subway Style by New York Transit Museum, Change at Park Street Under: The story of Boston’s subways by Brian J. Cudahy, and Tremont Street Subway A Century of Public Service by Bradley H. Clarke.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler

Author:Bruce Feiler
TitleWhere God Was Born
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2005)
ISBN: 9780060888572
Summary/Review:

Feiler’s book is a unique combination of travelogue, history, theology, and personal growth.  Feiler documents his journeys to Israel, Iraq, and Iran to visit the sites of places mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures.  There’s a lot of interesting discussion of the Israelites and the connection to land, but how the religion was born only once they were taken from the land.  There are also hints that the Babylonian captivity was not as bad as depicted in the bible.  Feiler also has an interesting take on David, the flawed hero, who spent many years as a bandit and even collaborated with the enemies of Israel. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the book is when he worships with a Jewish community in Iran who have a surprising amount of religious freedom, something Feiler traces back to the Persian king Cyrus who liberated the Israelites from captivity.  He also traces Zoroastrian influences to the Abrahamic religions to this period.  In the end, Feiler finds in the Bible a blueprint for religious tolerance and understanding that could be followed today.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Author: Ellen Ruppel Shell, Lorna Raver (narrator)
Title: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2009)
ASIN: B002HIT0SG
Summary/Review:

Cheap is an intriguing expose on the modern American desire for bargains fed by discount stores and discount ideology in more areas of commerce than one would realize.  Ruppel Shell offers a fascinating history of discount stores from the late 19th-century to present.  Interestingly, many of the originators went under by the 1980s to be absorbed by the more ruthless corporations of today.  The hidden costs of inexpensive purchases are then detailed from environmental destruction, human rights violations of the employees who manufacture, distribute, and sell the products, the dangers of poor quality goods to the consumer, the erosion of the middle class, and the fact that a lot of this cheap stuff isn’t even worth what we pay for it.  Ruppel Shell makes the interesting point that we now live in a world where there are high-end goods and discount goods, but no reliable in-between.  IKEA, Wal-Mart, and outlet malls are singled out as some actors in the discount culture, but the closing “hope-for-the-future” chapter also details companies like Wegmans and Costco that are thriving despite adopting strategies that go against the grain of discount culture.  While the essence of this book is not likely to be surprising to most readers, it is still eye-opening in its details.


Recommended books:Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan,
Rating:****

Book Review: Gregor and the Code of the Claw by Suzanne Collins

AuthorSuzanne Collins
TitleGregor and the Code of the Claw
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2008.
ISBN: 9780739364895
Summary/Review:
The final volume of The Underland Chronicles completes the fascinating and well-written series.  While at heart a war story, it finds its protagonist Gregor grappling with ethical dilemmas, mortality, and fate.  And if you’re like me and thought the prophecies of Sandwich were too overbearing in the earlier novels, it was a relief to see what Ripred and Gregor make of the final prophecy.  The Underland Chronicles are a worthy addition to fantasy literature and something readers of all ages should enjoy.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins

AuthorSuzanne Collins
TitleGregor and the Marks of Secret
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, 2008.
ISBN: 9780739364857
Summary/Review:
The Underland Chronicles continues its compelling story.  This one is set apart from its predecessors as it doesn’t follow a quest.  Instead it finds Gregor and his family in everyday interaction with the Underland, only falling into adventure to solve mysteries that crop up eventually leading to war between the Underland humans and the rats.  The story continues to grow dark with imagery reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust and the killing fields of Pol Pot.  This book is also essentially a two-parter leading right into the final book Gregor and the Code of the Claw.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

AuthorDavid Levithan
TitleEvery Day
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2012.
ISBN: 9780449015230
Summary/Review:

This novel is told from the perspective of a person – or perhaps just a consciousness – named A who awakes each morning occupying the body of a different person.  Over the years, A has come up with practices and ethics to not interfere in the lives of the bodies occupied, but this all changes at the age of 16 when A becomes obsessed with a girl named Rhiannon.  A reveals the secret identity to Rhiannon and tries to find some way to maintain a relationship. Along the way we get sympathetic vignettes glimpsing into the lives of several teenagers each facing their own joys and struggles. Levithan’s writing is well-done and the story works both as ripping good yarn and as metaphor for the teenagers’ search for identity.


Recommended booksThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Fade by Robert Cormier.
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

AuthorJhumpa Lahiri
TitleThe Lowland
Publication Info: Knopf (2013)
ISBN: 9780385367431
Summary/Review:

Lahiri’s novel, like many of her works, deals with Indian expatriates assimilating to life in the United States and coming to terms with their past in India.  The Lowland tells the story of two brothers Subhash and Udayan.  While Subash leaves for America to study in Rhode Island, Udayan is drawn to the Maoist Naxalite movement.  The Lowland is also about a woman named Gauri who is connected to both brothers.

A big spoiler here, but after Udayan is killed by the police, Subhash marries the pregnant Gauri and takes her to Rhode Island to help her escape living with her oppressive in-laws.  The marriage built on expediency cannot sustain and the desires of Subhash and Gauri to pursue their own goals and carry on in their lives with the memory of Udayan drive the conflict of the narrative.  It is in many ways a quiet story with a lot of the passions tempered under placid exteriors and one that offers a sympathetic but not nonjudgmental look at each of the characters.


Rating: ***

Book Review: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins

AuthorSuzanne Collins
TitleGregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
Publication Info: [New York, N.Y.] : Listening Library, 2005.
ISBN: 9780739353950
Summary/Review:

The third volume of The Underland Chronicles is another ripping yarn but also one where the quest is really a metaphor.  Revelations of the Underland’s past are made and the morality of the human’s position in Underland society is questioned.  Gregor’s family also become a greater part of the story, as Gregor’s mother visits the Underland for the first time and also succumbs to the plague that afflicts the mammals of the Underland.  It’s great that Collins can maintain the high quality of adventure while unfolding the ongoing plot of the chronicles.
Favorite Passages:
Recommended books:
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Author: Suzanne Collins
TitleGregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2005.
ISBN: 9780739344842

Previously Read By Same AuthorThe Hunger GamesCatching FireMockingjay, Gregor the Overlander

Summary/Review:

The second volume of The Underland Chronicles continues the delightful adventures and imaginative world-building of it’s predecessor.  Gregor and his sister Boots return unwillingly to the Underland and find themselves drawn into another quest to seek a rat known as the Bane.  [Side note: Being the father of a girl the same age as Boots makes me love her characterization all the more].  The book builds on the Underland with new characters and new locations but at it’s best it develops continuing relationships, especially between Gregor and his bonded bat Aries.  It is also a darker story as Gregor faces a tragic loss and must make a difficult  moral decision that defines his character.  If I have one quibble it is how these stories are guided by prophecies, although there is the counterpoint that the interpretation of these prophecies is often way off base within the story itself.  Another excellent work by Suzanne Collins, go get it now!

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Author: Suzanne Collins
TitleGregor the Overlander 
Publication Info: [New York, N.Y.] : Listening Library, 2005.
ISBN: 9780739344859

Previously Read By Same AuthorThe Hunger GamesCatching Fire, Mockingjay

Summary/Review:

I read this book for the first time in 2006 (my original review is on Library Thing) and was impressed by the adventure set in a fantastical world under the Earth.  I learned a few years ago that it was the first book in a series and have been meaning to try to read through them all.  And so I begin with a reread of this terrific story about a boy named Gregor and his toddler sister Boots who fall into the Underland, where lies a mysterious kingdom with humans allied with giant bats and cockroaches at war with giant rats.  Gregor discovers that his long-missing father is held captive by the rats and thus begins a quest to find him.  The story is a delightful mix of action, humor, and introspection.  I included this book in my list of 100 Favorite Books back in 2009 and I believe it still deserves a spot in that list. Suzanne Collins has become famous for The Hunger Games (and their film adaptations), but I think this is her best work.

Recommended booksAlcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
Rating: *****

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