"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
Eighteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1500 reviews.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher #24) (audiobook) by Lee Child

The author, Lee Child

Published by Random House Audio in October of 2019.
Read by Scott Brick.
Duration: 11 hours, 21 minutes.

Jack Reacher is traveling by bus when he notices a sleeping old man with a bank envelope full of cash falling out of his pocket. He also notices that another man has noticed the money and clearly wants to steal it. When the old man and the potential thief get off of the bus in an unfamiliar city, Reacher follows and intervenes.

But, as always seems to happen, Reacher gets involved in something deeper. This time around it is really bad...

This was an entertaining audiobook. Scott Brick has replaced Dick Hill as the voice of Jack Reacher and I am still getting used to that because I am a major fan of Dick Hill. But, Scott Brick is growing on me.

This was a much bloodier Reacher novel than most. Reacher has never had a problem with violence, but in this novel he takes it to a new level. It seemed out of character to me.

Still, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher #24) (audiobook) by Lee Child.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

THE MIDNIGHT DOG of the REPO MAN (audiobook) by W. Bruce Cameron

Published by Macmillan Audio in 2014.
Read by George K. Wilson.
Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes.

This short audiobook is a prequel to the book The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, a book by W. Bruce Cameron. Cameron is most famous for his book A Dog's Life.

This book is also about a dog, at least it sort of is. Really, it is the story of how Ruddy McCann got his basset hound. Ruddy is a decent man with a checkered past and a grinding sense of shame for what he did in the past. He is also a bar bouncer at his sister's bar at night and a repo man by day. A repo man repossesses cars when people stop making their payments.

Good story, but definitely not a stand-alone story.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Midnight Dog of the Repo Man.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton

Published in 2004 by Books on Tape.
Read by Richard Allen.
Duration: 9 hours, 39 minutes.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is most famous as a basketball player - in high school his team won 71 games in a row. He won three national championships in the three seasons he was allowed to play in college (freshmen had to play on a freshman team back then so his first season doesn't count). No one scored more career points in the NBA than Abdul-Jabbar. He is arguably the best basketball player ever.

Turns out that he is also a thoughtful, active man with an interest in social justice and history. That's where this book comes in. The 761st Tank Battalion was brought to his attention because, it turns out, he knew one of its members growing up - he just didn't know his story.

The problem is, no one really knew the story of these young men - and they should.

The 761st Tank Battalion was one of the lead elements of General Patton's push into Germany during the last months of World War II. They were sort of a hybrid unit that was spread out among infantry units, designed to work with infantry. This simple fact would have hurt their unit's fame if they had been an all-white unit - their actions were just tossed in with other unit's statistics they fought with for just a few days. But, when you toss in the obvious racism of the day (multiple citations were sent up the chain of command, only to be tossed in the trash or ignored. This was corrected in the 1990's by an independent commission), you can see why no one heard of these soldiers.

Abdul-Jabbar focuses on just a few soldiers in this unit in this history. Many of these men wanted to be fighter pilots when they joined up, but were told that African-Americans were not allowed to fly. But, they could be in tank units. So, an all African-American tank unit was created. Eventually, the unit ended up in Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) in Texas. They were trained and then never sent to either front. Instead, they became the decoy team that other units trained against. They pretended to be the Germans in practice maneuvers - over and over and over again for nearly TWO YEARS - much longer than white units.

After D-Day, Generals Patton, Bradley and Montgomery pushed the Germans across France and approached Alsace-Lorraine in France near the German border. It was tough on the tank units, though. Experienced, intact tank battalions were at a premium. They sent for the 761st and they fit the bill perfectly, even though Patton had no confidence in African-Americans as soldiers. He kept those thoughts to himself, though, and actually visited the 761st and spoke with them, saying:

"Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsofbitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down! They say it is patriotic to die for your country. Well, let’s see how many patriots we can make out of those German sonsofbitches."

The rest, as they say, is history.

This is an entertaining history, designed for the regular reader. The only real complaint I have with it is the audiobook reader, Richard Allen.  He mispronounces many military terms. There are many German and French cities and towns are named throughout the book and, to be honest, I have no idea how to say most of them. But, I do know some, and when the reader mispronounces the commonly known German and French name places, such as the Danube River, I know that there have to be lots of other problems.

To be fair to Richard Allen, it isn't his fault. 
Allen has since passed away, but he was a multiple award winning audiobook reader. He was brought in to read, not for his knowledge of foreign languages. The production team in the booth in the recording studio should have brought in someone to coach him how to say these place names. It's not that hard to find a French speaker and a German speaker - almost every local high school has teachers of both that could have coached him.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton.

OF MICE and MEN (audiobook) by John Steinbeck

Originally published in 1937.
Penguin Audio edition published in 2011.
Read by Gary Sinise.

Duration: 3 hours, 11 minutes.

The narrator, Gary Sinise, as the character George in the 1992 film
version of this novel. 
This is probably the 5th or 6th time that I have read this book. I reviewed it as a print book 10 years ago (click here to see that review).

Gary Sinise read this book and did a fabulous job, especially with the voices of Lennie and Crooks. He played George in one of the many movie adaptations of this novel in 1992.

This was my first time hearing this book as an audiobook and I was very impressed that it was an even more effective book when read aloud than in print.

This review of one of the most-read, most-celebrated novels in the English-speaking world will not include a plot synopsis - what's the point? Instead, let me say that this short novel has an amazingly tight plot. In this 3 hour and 11 minute story, nearly every scene, and most lines of dialogue are relevant to the climax of the story.

Foreshadowing abounds in the first half hour of the audiobook, almost all of the conversations in the bunkhouse point towards the dramatic scene at the end and the point to the theme of the little guy never getting a real shot to improve his lot in life. Even the title, Of Mice and Men, is a reference to the poem To a Mouse by Scottish poet Robert Burns that was written when he accidentally destroyed a mouse's nest while plowing at the beginning of winter. The mouse had done everything right, only to lose it all to events beyond its control. The poem contains this line:

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Of Mice and Men (audiobook) by John Steinbeck. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

OBVIOUSLY: STORIES from MY TIMELINE (audiobook) by Akilah Hughes

Published by Listening Library in September of 2019.
Read by the author, Akilah Hughes.
Duration: 4 hours, 58 minutes.

To be fair to Akilah Hughes, I had never heard of her before I heard her interview on NPR promoting this book. The interview was good enough that I got the book. If you are not familiar with her, she is a comedy writer and YouTuber with a pretty good following.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book - the part that talks about her early life. It was fun in tone and sometimes seriously funny, except for the story of her horrible 5th grade teacher. She tells her story in an episodic manner - by theme. Sometimes, the stories overlap and sometimes she (always confusingly, at first) tells them backwards, such as when she detailed her struggles with weight towards the end of the book.

But, when she makes her move to New York, the story changes its tone. It becomes a lot more about name dropping and telling stories about people she is angry with (personally and professionally, but mostly personally because she makes her professional life very personal). One of the most bizarre stories was the one in which she and a friend get into a friendship-killing fight over the relative talent of Rihanna. I like pop culture, but I have never been that into any single pop culture figure. I can't relate.

The audiobook was read by Akilah Hughes, which makes sense - she has a ton of practical acting and speaking experience. She did a good job as a reader.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. 4 stars for the first part, 2 stars for the last part for an average of 3 stars. It can be found on Amazon.com here: OBVIOUSLY: STORIES from MY TIMELINE by Akilah Hughes.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell

Museums, parking duty and the point of it all.

This book was originally published in 2017 by Abingdon Press.

I had a week off of school for fall break last week. During that week I had three experiences of a religious bent (beyond my weekly church attendance): 1) I read this book, 2) I helped park cars for my church's annual "Trunk or Treat" that we host for the community, 3) I visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I listed the activities in this order because that is the order of importance on a spiritual level. The Creation Museum is an impressive and beautiful 75,000 square foot facility that, to me, is just the wrong approach to Christianity. It is so bent on proving that every little sentence fragment in Genesis is accurate that it almost entirely misses the point of Christianity. I felt no love or comfort there. It reminded me of the passage from 1 Kings Chapter 19:

11-12 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
13When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”            -The Message translation

My second event was helping to park cars (it is a big event) with 4 other good guys from my church. We all come from different kinds of jobs, our family lives are all different, but there we were working together as a small part of a larger team to help provide a safe, free experience for a bunch of people we'd never met. That was good - not the profoundest experience and not the necessarily the most meaningful way to reach out as a Christian, but it was good.

My third event was this book. The older I get, the more I realize that the simplest teachings of the Gospels are the most profound. Those parables of Jesus are simple and offer the most teaching. The arguments about this and that fine point of theology are simply beyond the point. They are that big, cold museum that sucks up time and resources. They are the loud wind and the earthquake from the story of Elijah. They are noisy things that get the attention, but not the essence.

Gambrell says it simply on page 89 of his book:

"...often I am asked by pastors and student ministers to 'go deep.' I am told that their people need to be challenged with deeper truths. My response to them is always the same: there are no deeper truths than that God loves me for no good reason, and He forgives me completely and wants me to show that love to others. I will never get over God's amazing desire to redeem me, to make more of me than I could ever imagine, and that He intends to accomplish this, not by helping me with my little life but by actually living His life through me!"
Gambrell's message - don't focus on you and your problems. You will always
have them, but reaching out to others helps the other people and it helps you. I know in my career as a classroom teacher, the more I come at things as a servant and with a tone of forgiveness, generally the better things work. Do I always succeed? Not even close.

Gambrell acknowledges that failure will be all too common on page 206 (almost the very end of this short book):

"Now if, at the end of this book, you are thinking that this living-for-another thing is too hard to keep up, is too hard to maintain 24/7, then you are correct. To live the perfect Christian life of complete humility and servanthood is not difficult...it's impossible.

But we are called to be an example of His life and live in a way that points others to Jesus by our modeling of His character and love.

This short, easy to read book includes lots of questions that could be used for self-reflection or group discussion.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell.