"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Friday, October 26, 2018

CAPTAIN AMERICA: DARK DESIGNS (audiobook) by Stefan Petrucha



Published in 2016 by GraphicAudio.
Performed by a multiple performers.
Duration: approximately 6 hours.

S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors discover a dormant virus in Captain America's bloodstream while performing a newfangled ultra deep scan after an encounter with a different dangerous virus. This is not just any virus, it is an "extinction-level" virus, meaning it has the potential to wipe out the human race if it were to become an active virus.

So, Captain America is placed into a containment area so the virus won't kill off the world in case it goes active. But, giant old Nazi robots from World War II keep coming to life with Adolf Hitler's voice demanding to fight Captain America. If he doesn't show up to fight, they threaten to start killing nearby civilians. Iron Man shows up to help, but these robots are really just too much for one Avenger to handle and everyone else is busy, unreachable or just too unpredictable (you don't unleash Hulk into downtown Paris).

How can Captain America fight these robots when he is supposed to be under quarantine? What's making these robots come to life after all of these years? How long has Captain America been carrying this virus and where did he pick it up? Will S.H.I.E.L.D. be able to come up with a cure or will they have to put him into cryogenic stasis and hope for a cure in the future?

GraphicAudio's production values are always good - like an old-fashioned radio show. The actors are all good, but I especially enjoyed the performance of Richard Cutting, the actor that played Iron Man/Tony Stark. He sounds so much like Robert Downing, Jr.'s version from the Marvel movies that you would swear that Downing was performing the part himself.

The part of the story with Captain America having to be quarantined is intriguing, especially the ongoing debates with the epidemiologist that is brought in. But, the story of the Nazi "sleeper" robots is a re-hash of a previous story and, in the end, just suffers from some serious logic problems. Why would the Nazis design these robots to attack Captain America one at a time, like in a video game where the hero character fights increasingly difficult characters as he works his way up to the "big boss"? Also, the historian in me asks why Hitler wouldn't simply unleash all of these nearly unstoppable robots (I think that there are 7 of them in the two inter-related stories) onto Russian, British and American foot soldiers and take out tens of thousands of them in one fell swoop and just make Captain America a hero without an army to back him up?

Oh, well. Asking comic book stories to make sense kind of defeats the purpose of comic book stories.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: CAPTAIN AMERICA: DARK DESIGNS.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

THE SOUL of AMERICA: THE BATTLE for OUR BETTER ANGELS (audiobook) by Jon Meacham



Published in 2018 by Random House Audio.
Read by Fred Sanders and the author, Jon Meacham.

Duration: 10 hours, 55 minutes.
Unabridged.


LBJ and MLK discussing Civil Rights strategy - 
Jon Meacham takes a look at Presidential leadership from the Civil War onward, particularly the power of the President to lead the country to "do the right thing" in a time of crisis. He has a particular focus with how the President deals with people who want to abuse the rights of others. Well, to be completely honest, Meacham does not have a complete clear thesis in this book and I am not 100% sure what his overall goal was. What it turned out to be was an interesting, rambling work that looked at several crisis points in American history and how the politicians, mostly presidents, responded.

He looked at Lincoln (the source of the title), Grant during Reconstruction and the rise of the KKK, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ. There is a little discussion of George W. Bush and there is an implied criticism of Donald Trump at times, especially when he discusses demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy. 

Meacham is much kinder towards Woodrow Wilson than most historians, when one considers how much he abused his authority during World War I (he acknowledges it and moves on). His look at LBJ was similarly friendly, but was much more interesting and inspiring because it focused on his work to get the Civil Rights legislation passed (and virtually ignored the Vietnam War).

The audiobook was read by Fred Sanders. He did a fine job, but I actually enjoyed the reading of the opening and closing thoughts by the author more.

So, to sum up, this was an enjoyable, if muddled book. Worthy of your time.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE SOUL of AMERICA: THE BATTLE for OUR BETTER ANGELS.

COSTLY GRACE: AN EVANGELICAL MINISTER'S REDISCOVERY of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE (audiobook) by Rob Schenk



Published in 2018 by HarperAudio.
Read by the author, Rob Schenck.
Duration: 11 hours, 26 minutes.

Unabridged.


Rob Schenck tells the story of his life as a story of three conversions. His first conversion was a conversion from Judaism to Christianity as a teenager. Soon after graduating high school he married and began to work to his certification to join the ministry. He first worked in a shelter for junkies but he found that to be a little too dangerous for his wife. Plus, he longed for something with a larger impact.

He became a pastor with a church but still felt that wasn't enough. He participated in joint missions in Mexico to help those that live in the garbage dumps and scrounge them for food and recyclables. After one of his trips he found that his twin brother (also a pastor) had become involved in Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion movement that encouraged protesters to block the entrances to abortion clinics and use non-violent resistance to stop women from getting an abortion. Eventually, the police would show up and start arresting people and it would become a big spectacle that would make the news.

Schenck was persuaded to attend a protest. This was his second conversion. He promised his wife that he wouldn't get arrested - he was just going to observe. But, the lure of the action was too much and he ended up getting arrested. He was hooked. He loved the idea of taking direct action in the name of the Lord.

He became a top figure in the anti-abortion movement. He confronted public figures for their support (twice he ended up being held for questioning for confronting Bill Clinton). He carried actual aborted fetuses to rallies to show people what they were really talking about when they discussed abortions. He became very familiar with the process of being arrested for the cause.

And the cause was also becoming an influential force in Republican politics.  Schenk worked with all the major players. At this time, he began to seriously study the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister who was placed in a concentration camp for his constant questioning of Nazi authorities. Eventually, he was executed by  the Nazis just days before the end of World War II. His studies of Bonhoeffer made him question what he was doing as a Christian.  He began to question the cozy relationship he had with the powers that be in Washington. His questions led him to conclude that his fellow evangelicals were wrong in their unlimited support of the NRA and gun rights, especially after two abortion providers were assassinated.

But, he was most moved by the reaction of several Amish families after a school shooting in an Amish school by a non-Amish man. This is a very powerful section of the book. He begins to openly question how one can be pro-life and pro-gun. Should Christians trust a pistol at their side more than the God who says they should "fear not" and trust only Him? How many other things had he not considered? This is his third conversion.

This third conversion made him look at the close relationship between church and the GOP that he had been advocating since Ronald Reagan first ran for President in 1980. Was the church selling its soul for access to political power? Were basic Christian tenets being forgotten for the opportunity to use the government's power rather than depend on God and his people? Was the price of access to the pinnacle of power too high, especially in the Age of Trump?

Costly Grace is an interesting trip down memory lane for me in a lot of ways. I very much remember Operation Rescue and the mass abortion clinic protests. I also happened to stumble upon a documentary made about him ("The Armor of Light") that struck me and made me do some thinking. Ironically, I didn't remember that he was the subject of this documentary until he described one of the scenes in this book.

Rob Schenck reads his own audiobook and does a good job with it. The book is a little slow at times, but I found the discussion of his third conversion to be well worth the wait. Easily the best part of the book. I know that Rob Schenck and I would not agree on everything, but I also know that it would be a respectful and meaningful discussion. Very thought-provoking book.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: COSTLY GRACE: AN EVANGELICAL MINISTER'S REDISCOVERY of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION in AMERICAN HISTORY by Robert Somerlott



Published in 1998 by Enslow Publishers, Inc.

How many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln? NPR claims more than 15,000 - more than anyone except Jesus Christ. This book enters an already crowded field with only one distinct thing going for it - it is aimed at middle school students. That means, I need to review this book with that fact in mind.

To Somerlott's credit, he generally hits the reading level of middle school students and he does keep his focus on the threats to Lincoln and Lincoln's lackadaisical attitude towards his own personal security. It's not always gripping reading, but it is generally accurate and includes a lot of illustrations and some primary sources in special pull-out sections.

The only quibble I have with the book is the rather simplistic way it deals with Lincoln's attitude toward slavery and African American civil rights. Lincoln was politically liberal on this topic for his day, but the cherrypicked quote provided on page 18 makes Lincoln sound more like Martin Luther King than the man who had an ever-evolving opinion (more liberal) on racial matters.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION in AMERICAN HISTORY by Robert Somerlott.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

BRETT ENTERS the SQUARE CIRCLE by David D'Aguanno



Published by David D. D'Aguanno in 2018.
Read by Travis Henry Carter.
Duration: 8 hours, 32 minutes.
Unabridged.

Brett Cornell is a private detective in Rhode Island. He's big, he's fearless and he knows how to fight. He is full of smart comments, opinions about orange juice and is quite sure that he is the most amazing lover of all time. He is cunning. He is unscrupulous and will certainly pad his bill to eke out as much money as he possibly can from his clients. And, he's not much for education. 


Brett begins by running into a series of rough cops at a bar. These are violent officers who throw their weight around with everyone - especially with know-it-all loudmouths like Brett. Soon enough, Brett ends up being challenged to participate in a charity fight with the biggest bruiser cop of the bunch - except that everyone knows that this fight will be for real.

In the meantime, Brett has been hired to find a missing woman who is suspected of having run off to Florida with his client's husband. It's the middle of winter in Rhode Island - who wouldn't want to take a working vacation to Florida? But, things get more and more complicated the more Brett investigates...

The audiobook was read by Travis Henry Carter who delivered a fantastic performance. He performed lots of accents and male and female characters with a lot of skill.

However, I found Brett's long-winded expositions to be wearisome. He is a memorable character, but not one that I would ever choose to spend any time with. The book is told in first person and Brett takes a long time to tell any story. He can be amusing, especially in his profound ignorance (he thinks Tampa is in Arizona, for example), but he just plain old wore me out.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.


Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher so that I could write an honest review.

SUGAR MONEY: A NOVEL by Jane Harris



Published by Arcade Publishing in 2018.

Set on the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Grenada in 1765, Sugar Money is the story of two brothers. Lucien is thirteen years old and his older brother Emile is in his twenties and they are both slaves on Martinique. They are owned by a group of French monks who were forced off of Granada during the world-wide war commonly known as the French and Indian War in the United States. When the monks escaped Granada they left more than 40 slaves behind. Lucien and Emile are sent to Granada to organize an escape to Martinique - not an escape to freedom, just an escape to better working conditions and continued slavery.

The strength of this book is in it's descriptions. The descriptions of slave life on Granada and of the environs are top notch. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really pan out to be anything more than a "non-event" in my mind. There's a lot of build up for an underwhelming finish. Because of this, I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Sugar Money by Jane Harris.


Note: I was sent a free Advance Reading Copy of this book as a part of the Amazon Vine Program so that I could write an honest review.