"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, March 16, 2018

NIOURK by Stefan Wul and Oliver Vatine

Adapted from a French novel written in 1957 by Stefan Wul

Published in February of 2018 by Dark Horse Originals.

Set in the future, the Earth's ecosystem has been severely damaged by mankind. Very few people have survived the collapse of civilization and those that have live in a Stone Age society.

A shunned member of a tribal band acts out of desperate need to be accepted by the only group of humans he knows. Known as The Dark Child, he accidentally discovers some of the truth as to what happened and leads his people towards the ruined city of Niourk (New York) in search of better hunting. This is a long trip considering that they started in the dried out basin of what used to be the Caribbean Sea.

Along the way, he discovers more and more of the truth and soon becomes something more than he ever could have imagined...

Niourk is a beautifully illustrated book. The story itself has three main plot lines that show promise. Sadly, none of them are followed through with and the story goes into a disappointingly ridiculous direction. It felt like the author couldn't figure out what to do so he just finished it up with an idea out of left field just to finish it.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. The first 75% of the story is quite intriguing and the illustrations by Oliver Vatine are first-rate.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: NIOURK by Stefan Wul and Oliver Vatine.

Note: I received a free copy of this graphic novel through the Amazon Vine program in order to write an honest review.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


To be published by Basic Books on March 20, 2018

Lin Zhao was a political prisoner in China during the reign of Mao, from 1960 until her execution in 1968. She was imprisoned for criticizing the Communist Party for, among other things,  causing an immense amount of suffering for the rural poor during the Great Leap Forward campaign. 

Lin Zhao (1932-1968)
Lin Zhao's early life is a series of contradictions. Her family worked with the Nationalist (anti-Communist) government for a time, but switched sides. She attended a Christian school for a while and seemed devout in her faith, but then ran away from home to join the Communists. Throughout her life, she was a headstrong woman who developed a habit of speaking her mind no matter the consequences. She was a talented writer and often wrote highly symbolic poems that were critical of the Chinese Communist Party, in addition to letters, articles and essays.

When she was actively encouraged to offer constructive criticism of the Communist Party as part of the Hundred Flowers Movement, she did so. Sadly, those criticisms served as the basis of her arrest in 1960.

While she was in prison she was often beaten and treated roughly by her captors. She also returned to her Christian faith. Her criticisms of the party became much more pointed - often calling out Mao himself in letters that were never sent out of the prison. While she usually had access to ink, Lin Zhao often chose to write her letters with her own blood. She developed a way to squeeze out a little blood at a time and write with it before it coagulated.

Her letters were collected by her guards and kept in a file as evidence of her crimes. Later, years after her death, her writings were smuggled to her family. Many of them are now kept in Stanford University.

This was a challenging book to read - and not because of the topic. This book was often a dense, tedious read. If I hadn't had a couple of classes in college 30 years ago, I would have had little background as to the delicate situation that Lin Zao's family was trying to negotiate by going back and forth between the Nationalist and Communist governments. The book assumes that the reader has a solid handle on Chinese history from the 1930's through the 1960's.

Other times, the book seems to make random stabs 
into obscure corners in an attempt to give the book some context but it mostly fails. I left the book feeling like I got a glimpse of what was going on but, on the whole, it was mostly a missed opportunity.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 

Note: I received a preview copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Published in 2014 by HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Multicast performance
Duration: 2 hours, 5 minutes

The idea behind NPR's "Driveway Moments" series is that each of these stories is so good that if you were listening to them when they were originally broadcast on NPR you would stay in the car to hear the end of the story rather than turn off the car and head on in to the house.

That is a pretty high standard, when you think about it. The good news is that many of these stories are that good. I enjoyed the story of the couple that fell in love while eyeing one another on a commuter flight and a conversation with author John Green about reactions to his book The Fault in Our Stars. My favorite may have been the story in which a divorced couple fell back in love after the husband became ill with Alzheimers. He had literally forgotten the woman who came to visit him and re-discovered what he liked about her.

But, there were some real clunkers in the collection as well. One grew so tedious that I skipped the track. Another was the reverse of a love story - it was full of bitter double entendre comments from divorced parents to their children. It seemed very out of place.

On balance, it's a good collection and well worth the time of the listener.

I rate this collection 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: NPR Driveway Moments: Love Stories.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

RUNNING BLIND (Jack Reacher #4) by Lee Child

Originally published in book form in 2000.

Published by Penguin Audio
Read by Johnathan McClain
Duration: 13 hours, 45 minutes

Jack Reacher is a suspect in an FBI investigation of several bizarre murders of women that were involved in sexual harassment and/or rape investigations that he conducted while he served as a military policeman. But, as the investigation moves forward, it becomes clear that he is not the suspect. Instead, he is drawn into the case to serve as a liaison between the Army and the FBI so that they can solve the case before the serial killer strikes again.

This is one of the weaker entries into the strong Jack Reacher series. There is one really cool scene at the midway point book that I will not discuss because I hate spoilers but, on the whole, Running Blind just didn't have "it". With three stars, Running Blind just has too many leaps of logic, even for this Jack Reacher fan (this is my 15th Reacher book). Besides that, I figured out who did it about 4 hours into this 13+ hour audiobook.

I think this is the second Reacher audiobook that I have listened to that was read by Johnathan McClain. McClain's take on Reacher is interesting - he sounds less physically intimidating and sounds much more quick with the smart comments - sort of like the Tom Cruise movie version of Reacher. Some of the supporting characters were voiced in an over-the-top manner. For example, one character always yelled (in meetings, in small groups, one-on-one, wherever) and one character was always super-snarky. But, others were done very well.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. You will want to hear it if you are a fan of the series but I would not recommend starting the series with this book.

This audibook can be found on Amazon.com here: Running Blind by Lee Child.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


To be published in May of 2018 by Convergent Books.

The author, Austin Channing Brown
Let me address the title of the book for all of you that will get hung up on the word "whiteness."

Let me use a rough analogy to explain it.

I am an overweight person. I used to be even more overweight (I have lost 85 pounds). I weighed enough that I had to buy almost all of my clothes online or in special stores. Most major chains literally sold nothing that would fit me. Certain brands make it very clear that they refuse to make clothes for heavy people because they don't want them wearing their brand. Once, I had a salesperson yell at me from across her empty mall store when she saw me walk in that they didn't carry my size (I was looking for something for my daughter).

The normal (easy to find, available everywhere) clothing world was not made for me. I was living in a world designed for thinner people.

This is how the author, Austin Channing Brown, feels about modern America. It is designed for white people. Period. Everyone else makes large accommodations to the majority while white America makes small ones. For example, in media most television shows feature white characters with maybe a token non-white character. For example, just this month the Marvel movie Black Panther came out. It is the eighteenth Marvel movie. It is also the first one with a main character who is not a white man. 1 of 18 is not a very good ratio.

Brown grew up in White America in suburban parochial schools. She is not a stranger to the mostly white religious organizations that she has been hired to help with their diversity issues. But, too often, she has been hired as a token hire rather than a guide to how to truly embrace a different part of the body of Christ. It is not enough to get the numbers right.

I understand her first sentence of the book: "White people are exhausting." I am a white man who teaches at a majority minority school. The culture of the school is simply not mine (separated by race and at least one generation) and there are times when I leave school exhausted by the constant mental translating I have to do just to keep up. I understood her comment immediately.

There are weird things that Brown experiences that I also have experienced. For example, she has white people at work that want to touch her hair without permission - simply because they are curious about how it feels. I have that happen, too - on a semi-regular basis from my African American students. I had it happen the day after I read her a passage in the book in which she complains about it. But, I expect that kind of things from kids - they're impulsive and curious and that impulsivity and curiosity overwhelms proper social rules. She gets it from adults who should know better - that's truly inappropriate behavior.

At it's core this is a hard book full of hard teachings. I don't embrace all of them. I think that she takes offense at things that are not necessarily meant to offend. Sins of omission versus sins of commission, if you like. I try to teach my students and my own children to try to not to take offense if there was none intended. She addresses this in the book as well and calls it out as simple excuse-making. 
She may be right.  This I know - she has many more valid points than I would like to admit.

More than most anyone would like to admit.

The biggest and most successful argument she makes is that the church (not one specific denomination, but rather the whole of Christianity) should be the one place that is actively working for justice, not just grudging, half-hearted accommodation (when it is remembered at all).

It took me about 10 days to read this small book because I felt that I often just had to sit it aside for a while and let it digest. It has given me a lot to think about as I approach my own classes every day.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Note: I was provided an uncorrected proof pre-publication copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.

This book can be can be found on Amazon.com here: I'M STILL HERE: BLACK DIGNITY in a WORLD MADE for WHITENESS by Austin Channing Brown.

Monday, February 19, 2018

BLOOD SWEEP (A Posadas County Mystery) by Steven F. Havill

A Review of the Audiobook

Published by Books in Motion in 2015
Read by Beth Richmond
Duration: 11 hours, 40 minutes

This is my eleventh Posadas County mystery. I have been with Bill Gastner when he was on patrol, when he was being lowered into a mine to find a kidnapper, when he was fighting a man in a little plane and through a whole lot of extra-spicy burritos.

Sadly, Bill is a minor character in this book. I understand why - when the series started out he was already old for a sheriff. Now, he's retired and really can't go out and fight bad guys so much.

Estelle Reyes-Guzman and Bob Torres carry the load in this book. I enjoyed the Torres story line, but found the Reyes-Guzman story line to be poorly paced and exceptionally wordy (never a problem with Torres since he famously says as little as possible). The Reyes-Guzman story line features a former resident of a Mexican border town that has spent most of his adult life in prison. This character speaks English like a Shakespearean actor, using tons of fancy words like "beseech" in everyday conversation. No one uses "beseech" in everyday conversation, especially not people who speak English as their second language and must have learned it in a Mexican prison. The whole plot revolves around this character and he is simply not believable as he is presented. Plus, he talks waaay tooo much.

So, this ties my lowest score for a Posadas County mystery. Thank goodness, most of them are much better than this one. I will be visiting Posadas County again.

Beth Richmond read Blood Sweep and did a solid job with most of the characters. Two of her Spanish-speaking characters sounded so much alike that it was difficult to follow who was speaking when they spoke to one another.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Blood Sweep by Steven F. Havill.