"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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Saturday, November 18, 2017

PARADISE VALLEY: A NOVEL (Cassie Dewell #4) by C.J. Box



Published by Macmillan Audio in July of 2017
Read by Christina Delaine
Duration: 10 hours, 6 minutes
Unabridged

Cassie Dewell moved to North Dakota in her last book, one of the few experienced police officers in an oil boom town. The boom has mostly died down now, with the drop of petroleum prices but it is still a much busier place than it was before the boom. The local sheriff is pondering retirement and wants Cassie Dewell to replace her.

But, Dewell has other goals - and one of them is the pursuit of the serial killer known as the Lizard King. He is a long haul trucker who specializes in killing truck stop prostitutes (known as "lot lizards", thus the serial killer's nickname). He was also part of a conspiracy that resulted in the death of her mentor and partner, Cody Hoyt and nearly killed her.

Dewell has a plan to capture this serial killer - a plan that is not officially on the books with the department. But, when the trap is finally sprung, things go sideways in ways that no one could have imagined and a kicks of a string of events that change everything...

This book was full of surprises. Christina Delaine, the reader of the audiobook, was one of them. She had to cover a wide variety of characters, including one with a strong Minnesota accent, a young man with a profound speech impediment, a bombastic old man and more. Excellent job.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Paradise Valley by C.J. Box.

IS SCIENCE RACIST? (DEBATING RACE) by Jonathan Marks



Published by Polity in March of 2017.

If you have ever had the misfortune to run across one of the alt-right's psuedo-scientific webpages that discuss the genetics of race and how science proves one race is smarter/better/nicer/whatever than other races you will see the need for this book.

Unfortunately, an author I used to Tweet back and forth with a little used to re-Tweet some posts from one of these sites and I got my fill of them during one long evening. They are the internet's version of those young men marching in Charlottesville with the white polo shirts and khaki pants. Like those men, on the surface these sites were pleasant enough until you pay attention to what was being said.

They wrap themselves in pseudoscience that, unfortunately, is twisted around to sound reasonable. It is these types of people that Jonathan Marks is talking about when he notes:

"Every science has had its own set of ethical issues - chemistry and poison gas; physical anthropology and grave-robbing - but there is one question that only scientists working in human genetics and race have to grapple with. And that is: 'What is it about me that the Nazis like so much?'" (p. 25)

Marks explores the relationship between science and politics and how scientists have to be careful to guard that their work is not perverted into something evil. Of course, some scientists don't care about where their funding comes from just so long as the checks cash. Others are duped. As noted by the author, "Scientists think like everybody else, and are beset by the same kinds of aspirations, insecurities and disappointments as everybody else." (p. 66) In some cases, scientists with latent racial biases are themselves are victims of confirmation bias - "their presuppositions adversely affect the framing of the research, the collection and analyzing of the data, and the interpretation of the results." (p. 22)

To Marks' credit, he works very hard to make this book accessible to the layman, making reference to popular works such as Frankenstein and Jurassic Park to warn of the dangers of science unfettered by morality. His discussion of genetics wandered a little deeper into the deep end than I preferred a couple of times but, on the whole, this was a surprisingly brisk and informative read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Is Science Racist by Jonathan Marks.

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

JUST MOVE!: A NEW APPROACH to FITNESS after 50 by James P. Owen



Published in September of 2017 by National Geographic

The author, James P. Owen, was 70 and realized that he was horribly out of shape. By out of shape I do not mean that he was fat. I mean he was walking around like a stiff and brittle old man - more content to sit and watch the world go by rather than get up and be a part of it.

Rather than go to the gym and try to become buff, he decided that he needed to combat aging by becoming "functionally fit". Instead of bulging biceps he would pursue these 5 goals in an effort to be more mobile and become less likely to injure himself in his everyday life:


-Core stability and strength
-Flexibility
-Balance
-Muscular strength
-Cardiovascular endurance

And he succeeded. He claims that at age 75 he is the most fit shape of his life.

There is nothing really shocking in this book, but he gives tons of practical advice to make things happen more safely and more quickly, especially if you have a few extra bucks to pay for a membership to the local YMCA and have access to a personal trainer (including tips on how to pick out the right trainer for you).

But, he also includes a lot of activities for people that don't have that extra padding in their budget but still want to work on that extra padding around their middle.

I have gone through my own fitness metamorphosis in the last 18 months after having a diagnosis of being pre-diabetic. A diet change and an effort to walk a lot more and hit the gym (something I literally never did before) helped me drop more than 80 pounds and out of the pre-diabetes danger zone and, like the author, I feel better than I have in years. 


This book was an well-written affirmation of many of the principles that I have stumbled upon, such as making fitness a habit, making the goals simple and more about feeling better and being fit to make life more enjoyable rather than setting some sort of arbitrary goal of a certain weight or a certain pants size.

This book has an encouraging tone rather than a lecturing one.


I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Just Move!: A New Approach to Fitness after 50.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

RETROGRADE by Peter Cawdron



Published in September of 2017 by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A Mars colony has been established by four separate factions: China, Russia, America and Eurasia (Europe, India, Israel, Japan, and more). The groups work together, but not always smoothly but they are building a successful colony.

Suddenly, everything is thrown into a tailspin when the major world powers begin firing nuclear weapons at one another and 15 cities are obliterated - and each faction of the colony has suffered losses. And...there's little chance that there a re-supply ship coming any time soon.

The colonists have to figure out if they can trust one another despite the nuclear strikes back on Earth and they need to figure it out soon because Mars is a tough enough place to live when everything and everyone is working well, it's really tough when no one trusts one another.

And, it gets even tougher when they finally figure out what is really going on...

This is a throwback kind of sci-fi book with a lot of effort going into how a Martian colony would actually work. Sometimes that is great, sometimes it drags. On a positive note, there are lots of plot twists that move the story in unexpected ways.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: RETROGRADE by Peter Cawdron.

Note: I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

V-S DAY: A NOVEL of ALTERNATE HISTORY by Allen Steele



Published by Ace in 2014

Alternate histories always deal with a what if...? moment in history and how things might have been. In the case of V-S Day, the moment is what if Nazi Germany decided to throw the resources that it was throwing into a its buzz bomb program into an actual space program led by Wernher von Braun? The Germans are building a a primitive space shuttle like device that can take off from the Reich, circle the globe and drop bombs on New York City from a low earth orbit, far above the reach of America's anti-aircraft guns. And, it can do it again and again with no hope of a defense.

Fans of NASA know that in the real world, Wernher von Braun was brought back to America after World War II and helped develop America's space program. In this world, rocket pioneer Robert Goddard leads a team to develop an American space fighter "plane" to go up and take out the German space bomber.

Most of the book details the space race between the two powers, which was okay, but not nearly as good as the spy story of how the Allies received a set of the German plans. Sometimes the book sails along and sometimes it drags. Sadly, the climax of the book is undercut by the fact that the entire book is told as a flashback from 2013 and the final result is pretty obvious. 

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: V-S DAY: A NOVEL of ALTERNATE HISTORY.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MIKE TYSON SLEPT HERE by Chris Huntington



Published in 2011 by Boaz Publishing Company

First - a confession. I know the author of this book. However, the last time I spoke to him was most likely in December of 1989. We had one class together in high school and 3, maybe 4, classes together at the School of Education at Indiana University where we discussed movies, a mutual love of reading and Roy Orbison.

But, I've kept track of Chris as a writer in magazines and newspapers - mostly essays about his new family and his globe-trotting life teaching in all sorts of places, including ten years at a men's prison in Indiana - the subject of this book.

The book Mike Tyson Slept Here is set in and around the Plainfield Correctional Facility, where Mike Tyson served nearly three years for rape from 1992 to 1995. Tyson does not appear in the book, but he was its most famous resident, seeing as how he went in at the height of his career.

Mike Tyson Slept Here is not an autobiography, but there are semi-autobiographical elements to the book. The main character is Brant Gilmour, a new teacher who just got a job trying to help the prisoners earn their GEDs at the men's prison in Plainfield, Indiana - a suburb of Indianapolis. He meets another, older female teacher and they start dating.

Most of the book is about Brant, his girlfriend and their relationship, but not all of it. This book is really a collection of vignettes about several loosely connected characters that live in and around Indianapolis. Even though the plot was not a traditional story, the book was well-served by the dialogue. Dialogue is often difficult for writers, but it flows perfectly in this book. 


The stories flow easily as well. Even if I couldn't tell where it was going, I enjoyed the book for what it was - a series of stories well-told.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Mike Tyson Slept Here by Chris Huntington