"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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Monday, November 17, 2014

HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE: THE RISE and DECLINE of WESTERN THOUGHT and CULTURE (audiobook) by Francis A. Schaeffer

Originally published in 1976
Published by Christianaudio.com
Read by Kate Reading
Duration: 7 hours, 51 minutes

Presbyterian minister and philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live is a history of the West and a fairly sophisticated bit of Christian apologetics wrapped up in a fairly small package. At times this book rolls along at an enjoyable pace and is quite the listen, other times it is much more difficult. 

Here is a listing of the chapters:

File:Francis Schaeffer.jpg
Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984)
  • Chapter 1: Ancient Rome - Schaeffer compares Roman pagan beliefs with Christian beliefs and blames the pagan beliefs for the collapse of the Empire - they were not inclusive enough and the Greco-Roman gods were little more than bigger people with the same issues that all people have.
  • Chapter 2: The Middle Ages - Despite its reputation, the Middle Ages had positive points. Threads of Classical thought were re-discovered and fused to Christian beliefs.
  • Chapter 3: The Renaissance - Schaeffer offers up the Renaissance and the Reformation as competing thought processes about man and his relationship to God. The Renaissance is essentially the re-birth of Greco-Roman humanist thought with a Christian veneer.
  • Chapter 4: The Reformation - Explores the art and culture of The Reformation and compares them favorably to that of the Renaissance.
  • Chapter 5: The Reformation – Continued - Looks at the philosophy of the Reformation and how even non-Christian thinkers of the time were influenced by Christian thought.
  • Chapter 6: The Enlightenment - Human-centered thought leads directly to the excesses of the French Revolution.
  • Chapter 7: The Rise of Modern Science - Science's foundation came from confidence that God had created an orderly world that we could understand.
  • Chapter 8: The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science - Philosophy and art are symptoms of the thought processes that are now permeating science.
  • Chapter 9: Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology - Humanism creeps into theology.
  • Chapter 10: Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films - Schaeffer offers commentary on several "modern" works.
  • Chapter 11: Our Society - How the values of personal peace and affluence have worked their way into our society.
  • Chapter 12: Manipulation and the New Elite - Is an authoritarian state ruled by elites coming as a natural result of Humanist values.
  • Chapter 13: The Alternatives - Schaeffer makes the argument for a return to Christian values.

The audiobook is quite enjoyable until Chapter 8. I was not a fan of the discussion of all of the different philosophers. The commentary on current movies, art, music and literature are stilted seeing as how the book was originally published in 1976. There is no discussion of Heavy Metal, rap, hip-hop, Star Wars, the current trend towards super hero movies or celebrity pop culture authors like Stephen King. His discussion of modern science is similarly stilted. It's not his fault, it's just the reality of listening to a re-released book.

So, do I buy into what Schaeffer is arguing?

Yeah, mostly. Once you get past the fact that he is still talking about hippies it's still pretty solid.

Kate Reading's narration was neither good nor bad. She did not hurt the interesting parts and did not make the slower parts better. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on November 17, 2014.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

GOING SHOGUN (audiobook) by Ernie Lindsey



Audiobook version published in 2014
Performed by DJ Holte
Duration: 6 hours, 19 minutes.

Set in a future America with strict caste system, Going Shogun is a buddy story and a heist story with a bit of romance thrown in. 

Chris and Forklift are waiters at Wishful Thinking, a trendy restaurant that mixes odd combinations of flavors like gravy-flavored ice cubes, banana mustard and wintergreen tomato popsicles. The customers can't seem to stop coming in and business booms every night. But, Chris and Forklift (especially Chris) want to move up in in this strict caste system and they think they have developed the perfect plan - steal the recipes from their boss, sell them online and use their new found wealth to "ascend" and maybe take the hot waitress with them on the way up the social ladder.

But, this is more complicated than you might think. Everything, including the internet is tightly regulated so Chris and Forklift have to find a hacker to get them online before they steal the recipes and that is where the trouble starts. Unexpected trips, the surprise return of an old flame and a dead body make this a night that changes everything...

The world imagined by Ernie Lindsey is certainly an interesting twist on a science fiction staple - the ultra-stratified future society (imagine Brave New World but much sloppier, much less regimented). 

At first this story is confusing. Forklift has an odd style of speaking with a series of unique slang words and phrases and it took me the first two hours of a six hour audiobook experience just to get the hang of his personal way of communicating. It took me almost as long to get a strong feel for the structure of this future society. Because it took so long for me to get "up and running" I nearly didn't finish this story.
Audiobook narrator DJ Holte

But, I continued on because of the voice work of the reader, DJ Holte. I listen to a lot of audiobooks (this is my 274th audiobook review) and I don't remember every hearing Holte before. If he is new, I can only assume I will be hearing a lot more from him. If he has done a lot of voice work, it is a pity that I have missed him until now because he is gifted. The voices he created made vivid images of the characters in my mind - much more than any of the descriptions from the text.

The story got better once I started figuring everything out. It was worth the initial slog. I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a free download of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed on November 1, 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

CRAZY IS NORMAL: A CLASSROOM EXPOSE (A MEMOIR) by Lloyd Lofthouse

  An Honest Look at Urban Schools

Published in 2014

Throughout the 1994-95 school year Lloyd Lofthouse, a veteran high school English and Journalism teacher teaching in a rough "inner city" type of environment in California, kept a daily journal of his experiences. Finally, he worked them up into this book.

First, I think that I need to tell you that I am a 25 year teacher and I have spent 15 of those 25 years teaching in what some would euphemistically call "urban" schools. I also agree with Lofthouse's comments about so-called education reform and fads in education like the self-esteem movement.  For those reasons I found this book to be compelling - I simply flew right through it.


The book is mostly a set of journal entries with the occasional expanded commentary and, rarely, a reference to an article or a study about education. The way the book is set up is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The book rolls along day after day just like a real school year does - unrelenting,  seemingly unending yet with never enough time. Each class has its own distinct personality, some kids improve but most bad students just remain, sadly, bad students. Quite simply, he nails the day-to-day grind of teaching. 

But, the lack of elaboration on the school, its students, its staff hurts the book. Lofthouse leaves out almost all details about his family. When he mentions he has a wife I was shocked. When he mentions his son at the end of the book I was even more shocked. The home vs. work balancing act is a tough one for most teachers and deserves a lot of exploration. 

Lofthouse's commentary on district-level administration and the way they forget what it is like in the classroom is dead-on correct. I would have loved to have read what Lofthouse thought about some of the new trends in education like Common Core.

Lofthouse's confession that he found himself attracted to one of his students makes for uncomfortable reading. Thankfully, he never acted on those feelings but it leaves an taint on the book. 

Despite that, this book is one of the very few serious descriptions that I have read about education in the real world by a real teacher with real students over the long haul. That makes it worth reading.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 28, 2014


Monday, October 27, 2014

NPR DRIVEWAY MOMENTS: ALL ABOUT ANIMALS (audiobook)

  My daughters and I give it 5 stars

Published in 2007 by HighBridge Company
Multicast performance
Duration: approximately 1.5 hours

NPR has a series of audiobooks published through HighBridge Company called Driveway Moments with the added thought that these are "radio stories that won't let you go." These are designed to be the types of stories that you sit in the car in your driveway and continue to listen to after you've arrived home.


In this collection the stories are about animals. We've got cats, dogs, raising baby hummingbirds and letting them go (it brings a tear to the eye), a giant turtle in Vietnam, a drive through pig semen store, a parrot that talks with the voice of the storyteller's deceased mother's voice and a farm for retired racehorses. There is also a long story about how pets made it through the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. This is a tough story with lots of sad stories and great stories of re-uniting people and their animals. 

The collection ends with a touching tribute by frequent NPR contributor Daniel Pinkwater to his recently deceased dog. It is so touching that I have gotten a catch in my throat both times I have tried to describe it to my wife.

I listened to this collection with my two daughters (3rd and 9th grade) and it generated a pretty good discussion over the Hurricane Katrina story. The pig semen story went over the little one's head and the last story by Daniel Pinkerton touched us all.

The audio quality is very good since these stories were all broadcast over NPR. My kids did not appreciate NPR's offbeat musical interludes between stories but all three of us rated this collection 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on October 27, 2014.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

CODE BLOOD by Kurt Kamm

  The twisted tale of a paramedic, an albino with a vampire fetish and a blood researcher...

Published in 2012 by MCM Publishing

Code Blood is the story of three people whose lives are tied together in this thriller but barely interact throughout the book.


Photo by Werner Vermaak
Colt Lewis is a brand new paramedic in the Los Angeles area who is struggling with the emotional toll this sort of job can cause. He is an open young man who became a paramedic because he truly cares about people and wants to help them. But, he is struggling with the reality that some of the victims he helps just cannot be saved. He keeps on going back to his first run and the beautiful young woman who was found on the side of the road after having been hit by a hit and run driver. She died while Colt was reassuring her because her foot had been amputated in the accident. Strangely, the foot was never found and Colt starts to obsess about this woman, the tragic loss of such a young life and the total creepiness of the kind of person that would steal someone's foot.

Markus is that creep. He is an albino who lives a goth vampire lifestyle in which he not only dresses like a vampire, he also drinks blood and has developed a sexual fetish about blood. He is also in serious need of cash and he is running out of options. That is, until he meets a Chinese blood researcher named A Li. A Li has a rare blood type that Markus craves. He also knows that he can sell it for a lot of money to his vampire friends.

A Li is struggling in America. She is a minority in China (from near Tibet) and political repression has forced her to give up everything and dedicate herself to science so that her family can prosper back home.

One thing I enjoy about reading is that, if you are lucky, a book will take you someplace you have never been and teach you something new.These three characters are all part of a larger story that delves into all kinds of interesting new places. I learned about paramedic training and how many cars actually fall off of those twisting mountain roads around Los Angeles. I also learned about rare blood types, the city morgue, the underground market for body parts, real-life vampires and more. 

The story gets off to a pretty slow start but once it gets going and all of the pieces are in place it is quite good. Plus, it did not have the ending that I figured it would so it's always good to be surprised!

This book was sent to me at no charge in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5
Reviewed on October 23, 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

REPUBLIC: A NOVEL of AMERICA'S FUTURE (kindle) by Charles Sheehan-Miles


   Very well-written and guaranteed to make you think.

Originally published in 2007.
Approximately 346 pages.

Set in America's near future, Republic is a look at the authority of the federal government run amok in the name of national security. Imagine, if you would, the government's reaction to a series of timed bombings that target the Pentagon and the first responders that come to save as many of the victims as they can (as was common in the Iraq War) but instead of a foreign attacker, the culprit is a domestic terror group. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sweeps in and starts to get very nervous about every sort of domestic disturbance.

In this environment a profitable factory closes down in a small West Virginia town that depends on this employer for its very existence. The profitable factory closes because its holding company determined that it can make an even larger profit by relocating to Indonesia. When the newly unemployed American workers trespass and occupy the factory and resume production the DHS is called because, now, even labor disputes are a risk to national security.

When the federal building in West Virginia's capital city is bombed federal agents assume that it must be Muslim terrorists and start rounding up literally all Muslim males above the age of 14 in a neighborhood known as "Little Cairo". They are not arrested, just "detained". The West Virginia National Guard is supposed to assist in locking down the neighborhood but an idealistic officer is shocked at the gestapo tactics of the federal agents, intervenes and a firefight ensues, resulting the in the death of a guardsman and an agent.

More importantly, the tactics of DHS are exposed for all to see and a constitutional crisis starts when the federal government demands that the lead officer of the Guard unit be turned over for prosecution for the death of their agent. West Virginia's governor refuses to turn her over and a grassroots secession movement adds fuel to the fire that only gets bigger as a ham-fisted DHS raid and various federal pronouncements make the situation more and more tense and everyone prepares for a second Civil War...

I picked this book up three years ago on my kindle when it was temporarily offered free of charge but I never got around to reading it. On a whim I started reading it on my phone and I found that this was an absolutely compelling read. The characters are kind of stock characters but they are clearly drawn out. They really just a means to a larger discussion about the federal government's growing reach in to so many things and the militarization of situations that really just need common sense and some level-headed discussion.

The battle scenes in this book, especially those with the tanks fighting in the mountains in the winter, are strong (they ought to be, he is a Gulf War veteran and served in a tank unit) but the real thing that is impressive is that he works in a discussion of the proper role of DHS and just how much security is too much security and when does it become just another excuse for government to curtail rights throughout the book and it does not seem artificial or forced.

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on October 16, 2014