"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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Thursday, May 16, 2019

AN AMERICAN SUMMER: LOVE and DEATH in CHICAGO (audiobook) by Alex Kotlowitz

Published in March of 2019 by Random House Audio.
Read by by the author, Alex Kotlowitz.

Duration: 9 hours, 53 minutes.

Journalist Alex Kotlowitz has written several books about race, crime and life in the Midwest rust belt. This book focuses on Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. How violent are they? In the past 20 years, 14,033 people have been killed and another 60,000 have been injured by other people shooting guns. Just to compare, it is as if the entire population of Scranton, PA or Ogden, UT or Napa, CA were all killed or wounded by gunfire.

But, it's not like all of Chicago experiences this violence. It is really just a few neighborhoods - so the impact is a lot like a civil war is going on in a medium-sized city. Everyone knows someone who has been shot and most people know someone that has been killed. That takes a toll on the survivors and that is what this book is about. 

Kotlowitz follows nine stories from these neighborhoods. Some were victims, some hurt others and some did both. Most of these stories are unrelentingly sad. Some were a little hopeful and one was downright inspiring.

The reader learns about the cycle of violence, how city officials have tried to help and fail and how the police can become just another violent part of a violent neighborhood. Chicago Police Department has paid out $662 million in damages for police misconduct since 2004.

This is a sobering, well-written book. Not an easy listen, but an important one.

This book was read by the author, Alex Kotlowitz. He did an excellent job.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here:  AN AMERICAN SUMMER: LOVE and DEATH in CHICAGO by Alex Kotlowitz.

Please check out this book as well: 

Monday, May 13, 2019

THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Illustrations by the author.
Translated from French to English by Richard Howard.

The Little Prince is a classic novel, voted the best French book of the 20th Century. It is written in deceptively simple language - so simple that a French teacher colleague of mine has her advanced French students read it in the original French every year.

But, don't let the simple style fool you - this book packs a lot of big ideas about the foibles of modern living and adulthood into this small book about a space traveler who lands in the Sahara desert. The space traveler (the Little Prince) meets a crash-landed pilot and shares the story of his travels.

I read the book easily over a weekend while on a camping trip. I read it on my Kindle phone app. Because the author's illustrations are just as iconic as the book itself, the folks at Kindle decided to scan the pages in the way they are published. I have no problem with that, but my phone app did not let me enlarge the pages in any way with a zoom feature. At times, the text was pretty tough to read. Because of that, I am going to deduct a star from my overall score - I am reviewing the Kindle version and the Kindle version has a weakness.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Little Prince

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

THE SECRET LIFE of BEES by Sue Monk Kidd

Originally published in 2002.

The Secret Life of Bees is set in the summer of 1964. Lily Owens is a young teenager living in small town South Carolina on a peach farm. Her mother died when she was very young, her father is abusive. Her best moments at home come when she is with the housekeeper, Rosaleen. 
Sue Monk Kidd

The story starts immediately after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Rosaleen, who is African American, decides that she is going to go into town and register to vote. Rosaleen meets some resistance, reacts and gets arrested. Then, she gets a beating and ends up hospitalized. Lily breaks her out and they flee to another small town - Tiburon.

Why Tiburon?

Lily only has a few trinkets from her mother and one of them is a piece of paper with an African American Virgin Mary with Tiburon, SC written on the back. She is determined to find out more about her mother and save her stand-in mother.

When they get to Tiburon, they are directed to "the pink house" and discover a thriving honey business ran by three African American sisters. Lily and Rosalee learn about bees and family as Lily tries to figure out her mother's connection to this place...

There are obvious connections to other Southern "coming of age" stories like A Member of the Wedding or Huckleberry Finn, but this book is unique. The religious angle alone sets it apart (for both good and bad). It is certainly worth your time to read.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 4 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Friday, April 19, 2019

THE FUTURE of CAPITALISM: FACING the NEW ANXIETIES (audiobook) by Paul Collier

Published in December of 2018 by HarperAudio.
Read by Peter Noble.
Duration: 9 hours, 26 minutes.

The author, Sir Paul Collier

Paul Collier is an award-winning economics professor at Oxford University. His name is symbolic of how he approaches this book, The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties. Collier has been knighted for his work as an economist. This means that he could have listed his name as Sir Paul Collier, but he does not. Collier may be a big shot professor who holds three positions at Oxford University (possibly the best university on the planet), but he is also the guy from Sheffield, England. Collier repeatedly compares it to Detroit because they are of a similar size and both lost a great deal of their industrial base over the last 50 years.

This book is intended to be read by the layman. Collier could certainly bury the reader with obscure terms, but he does not. Instead, he uses plenty of real world examples of well-known companies (Toyota vs. GM, for example) and well-known situations (how Johnson and Johnson reacted to the Tylenol poisoning scare in 1982, how Bear Stearns investment company put themselves into a completely ridiculous financial situation that helped kick off the worldwide Great Recession in 2008) to make his points. I am a licensed high school economics teacher, which means that I know enough economics to sound smart to people who don't know anything about economics and enough to sound dumb to actual economists. I followed about 97% of what Collier was saying. I will blame the parts that I didn't follow on the audiobook format - sometimes you get distracted when you listen and I did not rewind and re-listen. 

Collier points that the industrial Western world is splitting itself into two economic regions. In the United States we have mega-cities (NYC and Silicon Valley, for example) that are prosperous and the rest is "flyover country". Even local "big cities" like Detroit are struggling. In the UK, it is London and, well, everything else. These two regions are experiencing the modern economy quite differently. For example, President Trump points out (correctly) that the American economy is growing at a good rate. And Bernie Sanders points out (also correctly) that the benefits of this growth is largely going to certain groups and certain regions. The rise of these two men in the top ranks of the American political system are discussed in this book as a reaction to this type of economic growth. He points out that similar moves to more extremism in politics have happened across multiple modern economies.

Collier has considered various ways to re-structure tax policy to help even out this growth. He also advocates a move away from the business theory espoused by Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman which can be written in shorthand this way: the sole purpose of a business is to generate profit for its shareholders (within the rules). Collier does not discount profit, but argues that making it the sole goal is shortsighted because it can make management shortsighted (especially since a lot of CEOs move after just a few years) and will choose to make quick cash rather than long term growth. He provides several examples and cites data that says that corporations that are privately held tend to do better than publicly held corporations precisely because the leadership of the privately held corporations are in it for the long haul.

But, this is not just a book about corporations, it is also a book about immigration, public policy, how the government can change the way it educates its young people, the way it retrains displaced workers and the way it approaches the chronically unemployed. He is a very big fan of the German approach to post-high school education, and if he describes it accurately, I cannot disagree.

This book was well read by Peter Noble, a gifted audiobook reader. It was a joy to listen to him read, but I suggest that the traditional book (or even e-reader) would be a better way to go through the material in case you want to take notes or re-read passages.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE FUTURE of CAPITALISM: FACING the NEW ANXIETIES by Paul Collier.

Collier mentioned this book in his book. I read it last year: 

I thought this book went very well to another book that I was reading at the same time: 

Thursday, April 18, 2019


Published in October of 2018 by Liveright.

2016 was a moment of reckoning for political writer Max Boot. Boot wrote for all of the well-known Conservative publications - The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, etc. He appeared on TV shows and radio shows and describes himself as a "movement conservative". But, the rise of Donald Trump and his subsequent election made him change his registration from Republican to Independent in protest.

Why? In his own words: "In March 2016, I had written that Trump was a 'character test' for the GOP: 'Do you believe in the open and inclusive party of Ronald Reagan? Or do you want a bigoted and extremist party in the image of Donald Trump?' To my growing horror, most Republicans were failing the test."

I picked up this book because I felt the same way. There is no point in laying out all of arguments against Trump - everyone has heard them. Like Boot, I was dismayed that "...most Republican leaders showed that they were willing to discard their principles as mindlessly as a Styrofoam fast-food container if by doing so they could enhance their own positions and avoid the wrath of a powerful and vindictive leader."

So, like Boot, I find myself a Republican "in exile" - I have left the party. Like the Cuban exiles, I find myself on the outside looking in and wondering what the hell happened.

Over the last two and half years Mr. Boot and I have come to a lot of the same conclusions. One of them is that President Trump has brought to life a strong nativist and racist strand that was always a part of the Conservative movement, but a part that we had always assumed was a tiny and shrinking part. Instead, he has exposed it to have been just hidden away out of politeness. Boot points out: "No, not all Trump supporters are racist. But virtually all racists, it seems, are Trump supporters."

Also: "It is hard to know who is worse: Trump or his enablers. I am inclined to think it is the latter. Trump does not know any better; he has no idea how a president, or even an ordinary, decent human being, is supposed to behave. But many of his supporters do know better, and they are debasing themselves to curry favor with him because he controls the levers of power." Boot does not go into the Evangelical support of Trump. Boot is not a Christian, so it is not his fight. But, I am so you can take that same quote and apply it to the big name Christian leaders that attach themselves to this man and make excuses for him and see how my frustration is doubled.

In the end, this book will not change any minds. But, I found it helpful to find someone as well-written as Max Boot has come to so many of the same conclusions that I have have.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE CORROSION of CONSERVATISM: WHY I LEFT the RIGHT by Max Boot.

Monday, April 15, 2019

THE MIDNIGHT PLAN of the REPO MAN (Ruddy McCann #1) (audiobook) by W. Bruce Cameron

Published in 2014 my Macmillan Audio.
Read by George K. Wilson.

Duration: 11 hours, 15 minutes.

Ruddy McCann is a former college football star (in the running for the Heisman Trophy) who ended up going to prison rather than the NFL. Now, he is in his early thirties, out of prison and back in his hometown in northern Michigan. He helps his sister run the family business (a dingy old bar) and he works as a repo man. A repo man repossesses cars for lenders when their owners are behind on their payments, usually with a tow truck.

Ruddy has a lot going on in his life right now. He met an interesting woman, he has a difficult repo job and the bar is in serious need of a cash infusion because the creditors are threatening to cut them off. But, most distressing is the voice in his head. This is not a pretend voice, like a conscience - this is a real voice from a guy that says he was shot by two men and buried in the woods not far from Ruddy's hometown. Ruddy believes him, too. He keeps having dreams about being chased down and shot by two men he's never seen before.

So, Ruddy and the voice in his head set off to solve the murder, repo a truck, save the bar and get the girl (oh yeah - that's especially complicated)...

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man is a fun book. Putting together the pieces to figure out the plan behind the murder was interesting. Ruddy's repo cases were often funny and it was quite powerful when the reader learns the reason behind Ruddy's time in prison. None of this would work except for the fact that both Ruddy and the Alan (the voice in his head) are decent guys.

That being said, the book is just a little too busy, a little too crowded for one book. Cameron has another book and a novella in this series - I plan on listening to those as well.

This audiobook was exceptionally read by George K. Wilson. It was the perfect match between reading style and text.

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