Audio Books for Road Trips

MacMillan Audio Books regularly sends me their books on CDs for review.  This summer they have flooded my mail box with much more than I could keep up with.  I may eventually read them all, but meanwhile, here’s a quick look, in case you are going on a road trip and looking for an exciting book to keep you awake during the dull stretches on the road (like between Tucson and San Diego, or across the endless plains of Texas or the flat boring I-10 across southern New Mexico.)

The Patriot Threat by Steve Barry

I received The Patriot Threat: A Novel just before we left for our Southern Road Trip.  The trip turned out to be full of interesting views and things to comment on, so we did not finish the book while on the road, but the story was intriguing enough that Ken listened to the rest of it as he drove back and forth to work when we got home.

In a nutshell, the story combines a thriller present-day adventure with a historical conspiracy theory, all wrapped around the question of the legality of the Internal Revenue System of the United States. It hooked me with “insider” meetings with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and financier Andrew Mellon and a plot based on the financing of the Revolutionary War for heavens’ sake! it hooked Ken with the derring-do of the hero Cotton Malone, a retired Justice Department Intelligence operative called back to foil North Korean bad guys who are out to bring 21st century America to its knee with an 18th century incident.

The production of this audio makes a bit of news itself, as it is an “author’s cut.”  That means that Steve Berry pokes his voice in every now and again to give us some background on the research that went into the writing, or the way he names his characters. You’ll have to decide if you like this addition. I found it interesting at times, but more often annoying–like being forced to read footnotes whether I wanted to or not.

Badlands by C. J. Box

I’ve talked about C. J. Box novels before. Set in the wide open spaces of Wyoming and Montana, he wrote about a family adventure in Yellowstone Park, and most recently about a terrifying trucker gone bad. The new book, Badlands: A Novel, picks up some threads from the last one, but reads more like the first one I read.

In that last book, The Highway, his previous hero Cody Hoyt was joined by a woman police officer, Cassie. In Badlands, Cassie takes over the investigation, and we get a break from the terror of The Highway, even though it is clear that story line has not been exhausted, and we will see more about it in the future.

Ken listened to this one and gave me the information in the last paragraph.  He actually liked it better than The Highway, because it was a relief not to have that totally evil bad guy around. I haven’t listened to this audio book of Badlands yet, but I am looking forward to it, because I like C. J. Box’s gritty presentation of life in the wild west of the 21st century.  And this one is set in North Dakota, one of the TWO states I have not yet visited.  I know he’s great at describing locations, plus he takes on the current oil boom in that state.

Run You Down by Julia Dahl

This one I have listened to with anticipation.  I loved Julia Dahl’s debut novel about a murder among the Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, Invisible City.  The heroine, Rebekah Roberts , a beginning reporter for a secondary newspaper in New York City, was raised by her Christian father, but knows that her mother, who she never met, was Jewish.

In addition to learning about her heritage of Judaism, and specifically about the lesser known Hasidic sect, Rebekah, continues to seek her mother. Alternating sections feature Rebekah’s current search–both reportorial and personal and her mother, Aviva Kagan’s, story of her own history.

I am not sure that this book is strong enough on location to qualify as a help to writers, but it certainly is a terrific primer in understanding “foreign” cultures.  In the process of learning about the Hasidic way of life, Rebekah also is exposed to a Nazi and White Supremacy Culture–more variety than she signed up for in trying to determine if a young married Hasidic woman died by accident or suicide or murder. And is the murder only the tip of the iceburg of a cover up of a broader involvement by Jew-haters?

The Precipice by Paul Dorion

With The Precipice, we’re back in Paul Doiron’s state of Maine with Mike Bowditch, Maine game warden. I have enjoyed the previous books by Paul Doiron, not just for the ripping good stories they present, but even more for the great introduction to the state of Maine–particularly the wilder parts–or which there are plenty. (I actually liked The Bone Orchard more than Massacre Pond, and you can see why in the linked reviews)

I have not gotten to this one yet, but I’m looking forward to the Doiron look at  lesser-known regions of what is in my opinion a seriously under-visited state. Most people don’t get beyond the fringes of the seacoast where the majority of the population are, but the real beauty of Maine is on the lakes and in the forests, away from civilization.  Granted, once you’ve read about the monsters lurking in the woods in Doiron’s books, you may be a little reluctant to set off down a path–in Precipe, it’s a part of the Appalachian Trail–but at least you’ll know what it looks like and that the game wardens are your friends.

Pinnacle Event by Richard A. Clarke

If there were a contest for the most impressive resume for an author of an international thriller, Richard A Clarke would win hands down. He’s got the “write what you know” thing down pat, that is for sure. Before serving ten years in the White House as a Special Advisor to the President for Global Affairs and Cyberspace and the National Coordinator for Security and Counter terrorism, he served in various other diplomacy roles. All of that makes him well suited to write a book like Pinnacle Event, based on an International conspiracy involving atomic weapons and more typical murders.
I have to admit that this is not my kind of novel, but Ken enjoys the international spy thrillers, so he’s listening to this one. He tells me it is very technical and a bit to end-of-the-world-ish for his taste. As far as being a good book for A Traveler’s Library–I have my doubts. While it wanders the world, the action, not the locale, is clearly the focus.


The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

I am not sure why MacMillan even bothered to send me this book, since I made it pretty clear what I think of Taylor-Bradford in a former review, which you can see here. I did not listen to this one, and the breathless prose describing it on the back of the box did not persuade me. “From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a stunning and dramatic saga of love and loyalty.”Why she is such a stupendous hit is a mystery to me, but obviously, I’m in the minority.

Bradford didn’t get to be a best selling author if no one is  reading her. So FYI, any fans out there–this is about the Ingham family who serve the Swann family and is set between 1926 and the crash of 1929.


And that’s it for my summer road trip audio book suggestions (and cautions).  What does it mean that four of the six authors of the books that Macmillan Audio sent to me are people I have reviewed before?  Guess I’ve been at this for a while. And these authors seem to write faster than I read.

Note: There are links here to Amazon, in case you’d like to add these books to your car trip luggage.  I do that because I’m an affiliate of Amazon and make a few pennies when you order through those links, however, as I explained in a prior audio book review, Amazon is making a concerted effort to bury audio books by companies other than their own digital audiobooks.  If you do a search and come up with the title as a Kindle book, be sure to click on the button for “other formats” if it does not show audio books on CD–if that is what you are looking for.

Southern Road Trip Revisited

Biltmore Estate
Biltmore House from Stable Cafe

Once again, My Itchy Travel Feet, the premier blog for traveling boomres, is sharing part of Ken’s and my Southern Road Trip. It is kinda like Donna is asking me, “What did you do on your summer vacation” and then publishing my answers.

Of course I was blown away by the house and its decor, as I describe in the article, but I also was in awe of the fact that George Vanderbilt and his team were responsible for the birth of modern forestry in the United States.

You can see the article and more pictures, here:  Exploring Asheville’s Amazing Biltmore House

In case you missed it, My Itchy Travel Feet also shared my suggestions for three ways to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by car.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Actually, this is now a walking path, not a car path, but one of the stops on one of the car trips I recommend in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

War Stories from Belfast

Book: Watching the Door: Drinking Up, Getting Down, and Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast Published 2009, by Kevin Myers.

Destination: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Watching the Door, a memoir of a journalist drawn to the unrelenting tragedy of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, is as much about a young man’s coming of age as it is about the battles (more commonly murders) he was covering in Belfast.

I’m warning you right now that despite the skillful writing and terrific wit of Kevin Myers, you may find this book hard to take with its unrelenting drumbeat of death after death after death.

On the other hand, if you want to understand the struggle between the Irish and the British and the inextricable parallel struggle between Protestants and Catholics, I doubt you could find a better guide.

Myers describes the young man that he was with an unflinching eye.  The same devotion to being totally honest applies to his portraits of the many Irish that he ran into as a young reporter. At the end of the book, he clarifies which ones have their actual names, and which have fictitious names–even though they are real people. Because of his supposed neutrality as a reporter, he gained access to people in all the various factions, and paints their portraits with ironic clarity.  Although the young Kevin was a liberal and sympathetic to rebels and nonconformists, he has grown out of his youthful fascination and verbally skewers all sides with the kind of deadly aim they once took on each other with guns.

Once you’ve read this book, it will be hard to forget some of those characters like  the young waitress who blandly described how she aided IRA murders by holding up a mail slot flap so the sniper could shoot through the hole undetected, but didn’t understand at all how she was culpable; or the young assassin who could not tolerate swear words. And then there was his good friend who did not believe in war or killing, but did believe in getting even–a fine distinction.

Myers clearly demonstrates how muddled the question of right and wrong and cause and effect become in such a struggle.  This is particularly clear when he talks about how the British, being kindly, provided health care for people who were damaged in any way by the unrest. Therefore people piled into an ambulance that showed up and began claiming trauma–although their fellow Irishmen may have lain bleeding from actual wounds from a bombing.  And people whose homes were destroyed could apply to the government for a new home, thus providing a massive building industry and jobs for thousands of men from Northern Ireland who were compelled to contribute part of their wages to the local military. In this way the British were funding the insurrection against the British.

The numbing recital of murders turns into suspense when the reporter himself becomes the prey for some imagined wrong against some group or other. More than once he is warned by a friendly person that this or that leader has assigned assassins to hunt him down.  Thus he, like most people who live in Belfast, lies awake waiting for the door to open and gunfire to spray the room, or an explosion that will destroy the building he is in.  He survives several of these threats–presumably because the thugs have found easier or more deserving targets.

The parade of death is also interrupted by his recital of sexual affairs and even a love affair or two.  Not to mention LOTS of alcohol.  The setting for the book is as much bars as the street.

Like so many war correspondents, he frequently reaches the point where he thinks he should leave (he has Irish heritage but was raised in Britain) but he always thinks that it is all going to end soon, and there is a terrible fascination in living in such danger.

The truth was that the only people who really knew what they wanted were the leaders of the insurgency; one of the singular characteristics of almost any terrorist war.

Not that I was engaged in any such useful speculation.  Unsuspectingly, I had passed a moral and psychological Rubicon.  War had become a natural condition of my life now, as the city closed in on itself, tribal village by tribal village, each withdrawing to its clearly defined boundaries; and when they were not clearly defined, they were redefined by ruthless expulsion and intimidation.

Because Myers was not tied to any particular group, he has no “side of the story” and thus gives a clear-eyed view of what insurrection is like, that reminds me of the Kenya I saw  in my review of The Boy is Gone.

Life in Belfast was now defined by murder, indignation, accusation and counter-accusation.  Historical forces were at work here, and like flotsam in a raging sea, people found themselves being hurled against the implacable rocks of fatal injustice.

His Belfast in the 60s is a terrible, soul-less place. Terrifying at worst, gloomy at best.  I am assured that this bears no resemblance to the present Belfast, and the book should only inform travelers of the past, not persuade them to stay away in the present.  Kerry Dexter, writing at Perceptive Travels, suggests some things to see, cautions, and music for your trip.

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