"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
Thirteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014


To be published by Alfred A. Knopf in September of 2014

I have read many histories of the Revolutionary War and most only tell the story of the build-up to the war from the American side and only describe Britain's political scene as it was interpreted by the colonists. To be fair, it was often misinterpreted by the colonists.

But, in reality, there were two sides to this fight and it was not just the colonists that were misinterpreting the political signals of their brethren across the Atlantic. The British government had no idea how far their colonial governments had evolved along democratic lines (compared to a modern democracy they were all quite restrictive but when compared to Britain they were quite open). 

The Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773. Nick Bunker picks this
moment to be the point of no return between Britain and the colonists.
In fact, it seemed that often Britain was barely aware of the colonies because it had too many other crises to deal with, including a  severe drought, a crisis in India brought on by the East India Company, a disastrous drop in the price of tea and a run on several British banks. On top of all of this, Britain's social order was changing in response to its infant Industrial Revolution.

Each of these was a major crisis that consumed the time of Lord North, the Prime Minister. North and his cabinet careened from one crisis to another and were still able to maintain their majorities and the control of the government - so in that respect they were very successive. But, as author Nick Bunker notes: "As they tried to govern their own complicated country, Lord North and his friends allowed America to slip away." (p. 71)

Bunker's text is well-written and his points are clear and often quite sympathetic to America's pre-war complaints. He clearly demonstrates that Lord North was a masterful politician that failed to deal with Britain's larger, more long-term issues. Clearly, the colonists were not in a mood to compromise, but a bold stroke (such as the briefly considered idea of turning the Continental Congress into a some sort of colonial parliament led by a governor appointed by the British) was never taken.

I was struck by the absolute lack of information Lord North and his cabinet had. The 4-8 week time span that it took to send correspondence across the Atlantic did not help with this failure of proper intelligence,  but even worse were the governors who filed reports that completely misinterpreted the mood of the colonies. Some never filed reports at all. This was no way to run an empire.

Bunker's text inspires the reader to make comparisons with modern politics - the bank failures, the investment bubbles, the foreign policy surprises, the constant political posturing and an embarrassing lack of actual intelligence about the intentions of two potential enemies (the colonies and France) and an unwillingness to look at the big picture until it was too late.

Note: I received a pre-publication galley of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed on August 16, 2014.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

PEACER: UNMASKED (audiobook) by Dave Swavely

Published in 2013 by GraphicAudio
Multi-cast performance
Duration: about 1 hour

GraphicAudio continues to crank out high-quality audiobooks with their own twist. Typically, GraphicAudio adapts a book to become more like an old-fashioned radio play with its own theme music, special effects and lots of different actors playing all of the characters.

Peacer: Unmasked is a prequel to the other books in this growing series. They are set in a future San Francisco - a San Francisco that was heavily damaged in a massive earthquake. Democracy was tossed out in favor of a dictatorship that keeps things under control.

The main character is Michael Aeres, a former soldier turned Peacher, or a policeman with B.A.S.S. (Bay Area Security Service), the company that serves as San Francisco's government. B.A.S.S. officers have almost unlimited authority to act in the name of keeping the public peace, including murder.

When multiple members of a protest group turn up dead, Aeres stakes out the area and makes a disturbing discovery...

As always is the case with GraphicAudio, the production is well done and enhances the story, which runs hot and cold. In this short production a lot of the groundwork is laid down for the rest of the series, including an explanation of the technology, the dictatorship and those that protest against it. Sometimes the explanations overwhelm this little story.

This audiobook is available for free at GraphicAudio's site. Go here to learn more.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on August 9, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014


     The Fundamentals.

Published in 2009 by Kaplan Publishing

Although I am going into my 25th year of teaching, I enjoyed the advice that was intended for new teachers offered in See Me After Class. It is always good to go back to the basics and make sure that you remind yourself of the fundamentals.

The strength of the book is just that - it deals in fundamentals. Tricks to get you through the first day with its ever-changing class lists, reminders that we do indeed learn from our mistakes, warning of the danger of falling behind in grading papers (including giving yourself enough time to grade big things before the report card grades are due), the danger of sending too many kids out of class, remembering that all kids do not respond to incentives or consequences the same way, advice to get those project assignments turned in, and a part that I particularly liked: an overview of some basic different types of students you are going to run into ("Low Performing Kids", "Unmotivated Kids", "Shy Kids", etc.). Each type has a little profile and little sections like "What They Need from You" and "Why Giving Them your Attention Is Still Worth It". 

Elden recognizes that we all have our bad days and gives advice about how to recover from them. At the end of some chapters she includes a series of quotes from veteran teachers describing an absolute disaster that happened to them. The idea is that is that even though you will struggle and even outright fail, you can succeed and even thrive. She also includes advice about the teacher's lounge and how to present yourself as a professional, how to survive observations, how to talk to parents and more.

Perhaps the most important advice is sprinkled throughout the book - you have to make it work for you as a teacher. Your style, your comfort level, your idiosyncrasies. She gives lots of advice and encourages you to realistically adapt it to you and your situation. 

So, this old dog didn't really learn any tricks with this book but it encouraged me to think of the basics and even to re-consider some of what I do. 

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on August 1, 2014.

Monday, July 28, 2014

NOOSE (short story) by Ernie Lindsey

Published in 2013 as an e-book.
Estimated length - about 14 pages.

Finalist for the 2005 Sherwood Anderson Short Story contest.

Ernie Lindsey's short story Noose is a coming-of-age story set in the American south in September of 1916. It features a 17 year-old named Roy who works as a farm hand for a northerner who moved down south for a simpler life. Roy has a strong love for animals which makes him an excellent farm hand. Besides working on the farm Roy also dates Emily, the boss of his daughter. Roy and Emily are much more intimate than anyone suspects and Roy is quite sure that he and Emily are completely in love. 

The farm community receives word that a circus elephant named Mary is going to be killed for killing one of her handlers during a parade in a nearby town. The elephant will be executed by hanging from a railroad crane. This part of the short story is based on a true story (click here for more information). This hanging does more than kill an elephant - it changes everything for Roy. 

At the time of this review this short story is free on Amazon.com as a kindle e-book.

I rate this short story 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on July 28, 2014. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

HAVOC (Philip Mercer #7) by Jack Du Brul

Published in 2006 by Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Read by J. Charles.
Duration: 12 hours, 43 minutes.
Unabridged audio edition.

Jack Du Brul's Havoc is a techno-thriller that races from the Hindenburg disaster to Africa to Washington, D.C to Atlantic City to Niagara Falls to Russia and back to Africa with hardly any time to take a breath. 

The book features Philip Mercer, a geologist by training that often troubleshoots for the White House. This is the seventh book featuring Mercer, a fact that was not on the audiobook label. However, Du Brul does a great job of catching the reader up on what has been going on - I assumed it was the first book in the series as I was listening to it. 

The Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937.
The action starts with a traveler on the infamous Hindenburg as it flies to its fate with destiny in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937. A crazed man is hiding a secret in a safe in his room and he is afraid that the Nazis know he has it and are plotting to steal it from him. As this man sits and watches his safe he devises a plan to get it safely off of the airship before it lands in New Jersey - he throws it overboard into a farm field with an attached note for Albert Einstein. The note falls off and the safe gets forgotten in the chaos of the Hindenburg disaster.

Fast forward to modern day in the Central African Republic. Mercer accidentally meets Cali Stowe, a fellow American. Mercer tells her he is here to investigate a geological hunch for someone as a favor. She says that she is there to investigate a village that has an extraordinarily elevated cancer rate. They are both telling half-truths. But, most importantly, this village is in the middle of a civil war and a dangerous warlord is on his way, burning and looting as he comes...

As the story progresses, Stowe and Mercer find that they have a mutual interest in this village and in each other. The more they find out about, the more tense the situation becomes. There are a lot of complicated threads in this book but Du Brul does tie them all together at the end

The story is full of action and adventure - some of it fun, some of it believable, some so outrageous that the story borders on silly. Mercer gets to be too much after a while - he is an expert on the Hindenburg, he knows how to fight, he's an expert with pistols, grenades, rifles, knives, swords and even with bows and arrows. He knows about mines, cave-ins, scuba diving, trains, dinosaur bones, forklifts, helicopters, speed boats and bar tending. But, his heart is in the right place and if you just go with the flow and don't think about it it just might not bother you too much. 

The audiobook was read by J. Charles. Charles did a merely okay job with the variety of accents required by this book. He has a hard time with women's voices and Cali Stowe has a lot of lines in this book. His foreign accents all fell into the category of "not an English language accent". Everyone kind of sounded the same. 

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. 
Reviewed on July 22, 2014.

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE EXECUTION (Jeremy Fisk #2) by Dick Wolf

 No Sophomore Slump Here!

This series revolves around Jeremy Fisk, a detective with NYPD's counter-terrorism squad. New York City has an extensive counter-terrorism unit because New York City has been such a frequent target of terrorism. Fisk is fluent in 5 languages, including Arabic and Spanish. He is frequently a contact person between NYPD and the FBI or CIA.

The Execution takes up where the first book in the series, The Intercept, leaves off. (See my review of The Intercept here) Wolf makes a great attempt to catch up the reader but I think that if you have not read The Intercept you will be a little lost.

The main plot of the story involves Mexican drug lords and an incorruptible member of the Mexican federal police, Detective Cecilia Garza. Garza leads a handpicked task force that is trying to stop the drug smugglers while the bodies of innocent bystanders literally pile up in Mexico. The worst of the worst is a drug lord known as The Hummingbird.

The United Nations in New York City. Photo by Neptuul.
While Fisk helps prepare New York City for United Nations Week (dozens of heads of state show up to give speeches, including the President of the United States) he meets Detective Garza as they both investigate a Mexican drug cartel style mass-killing in New York City. Soon enough, they begin to suspect that this may have something to do with a planned meeting between the President of the United States and the President of Mexico and that all of those dead bodies were intended to be a threat of something worse...

Dick Wolf is best known as the producer and creator of the many different TV series in the Law and Order franchise. I have to say he's learned something about pacing while working in television for all those years because this book moves along quickly, but not at a frenzied pace.  

This is an enjoyable thriller and this series is off to a great start. No sophomore slump here!

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through the Amazon Vine program.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.