"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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Monday, July 16, 2018

ALL the DREAMS WE'VE DREAMED: A STORY of HOOPS and HANDGUNS on CHICAGO'S WEST SIDE (audiobook) by Rus Bradburd



Published in 2018 by Blackstone Audio.
Read by Donald Corren.
Duration: 8 hours, 38 minutes.
Unabridged.

Rus Bradburd's All the Dreams We've Dreamed is both a complicated story and a simple story of two Chicago men whose lives have revolved around the game of basketball. It's a story of a coach and a player. It's a story of connections between people and also a story of bureaucratic neglect. It's a story of remorse and shame and a story of pride of place and love for one's teammates and players. It's a story of love and a story of catastrophic violence. Mostly, because it is set in the free fire gun zone of Chicago's West Side, it is a tragedy.

The book centers on Marshall High School and its basketball program. Perhaps you have heard about the wave of gun violence that has swept through Chicago's South and West sides, earning it the nickname "Chi-raq" because it is reminiscent of Iraq during the bad old days of The Surge at the end of the Bush Administration. Marshall lies in that violent zone.

Marshall is an old school, well over 100 years old. It prides itself on being a family and its basketball programs, even with declining enrollments. Shawn Harrington exemplifies that sense of family. He is a graduate of the school, he went away for school and came back with his degree to be an aide in the special education department and to help with the boys basketball team. By all accounts, he was great at both things. He connected with his students and his players and went above and beyond for them because he believed in the power of the "Marshall Family".

Until one fateful day when Shawn Harrington was shot in a case of mistaken identity - another casualty in the ongoing tragedy. He leaned across the body of his daughter to protect her and in the process was shot in the back and left paralyzed.

This is where the author, Rus Bradburd comes in. Years before, Bradburd was an assistant basketball coach at New Mexico State University but he used to scout high school teams in Chicago. He recruited Harrington to play at New Mexico State and Harrington was successful - until he had a knee injury. Bradburd agreed to cut Harrington from the program - something he is not proud of. But, Harrington went to a smaller school, played ball and, most importantly, graduated.

Nevertheless, Bradburd felt bad about the way Harrington left New Mexico State and saw this as an opportunity to do the right thing and make amends. He began to call, to write, to cajole and talk to anyone about Shawn and his amazing spirit and his desire to continue his work with the kids at Marshall. Ironically, he couldn't continue as a special education aide because Marshall was not retrofitted with an elevator or ramps to get to the upper floors - a basic requirement of the Americans with Disability Act. No one at Chicago Public Schools sees this oversight as a problem so Harrington is left to fend for himself and maybe figure out what else he can do.

Harrington gets stuck in the bureaucratic maze of the Chicago Public Schools and the healthcare system (how do you get physical therapy that you need to go back to work when you have no money to pay for it because you don't have a job because you need to get to the physical therapy so you can go back to work?) and Bradburd does what he can to help. He bothers so many writers to write about Harrington that eventually one of them tells him to write the story himself - the genesis of this book.

But, the book becomes more than just Harrington's story. Harrington is not an isolated case in a city that had more than 4,000 shooting victims in 2016. That violence strikes Marshall again and again. Bradburd tells the stories of other players who were struck down. Over and over the mantra is for young people to get out of Chicago so they can have a chance. Harrington left - but he came back to help his Marshall Family and he paid the price.

Ultimately, the book is a tragedy. You know that the bureaucracy will eventually close Marshall. You know that the violence will continue. But, there is comfort knowing that good men like Shawn Harrington are out there, providing a powerful example and refusing to give up. And, if they can bring in enough friends like Rus Bradburd, maybe...

I was struck by this audiobook because I teach in an urban high school in Indianapolis. While our situation is not nearly as bad as Chicago's, we have our moments. For example, a year ago a former student of mine was paralyzed by a bullet shot at another student from my school. It is very common for my students to wear R.I.P. t-shirts with a picture of a young person who was killed. I think Bradburd did a solid job of describing how these neighborhoods have been weakened and how the charter school movement and foolish decisions by the Chicago Public Schools helped. It's not a pretty picture.

The audiobook was read by Donald Corren. He did a great job and I plowed through this audiobook in just four days. It was an excellent book and I rate it 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: ALL the DREAMS WE'VE DREAMED: A STORY of HOOPS and HANDGUNS on CHICAGO'S WEST SIDE by Rus Bradburd.

Friday, July 13, 2018

ONE SHOT (A Jack Reacher Novel) (audiobook) by Lee Child



Published by Brilliance Audio in 2005.
Read by Dick Hill.
Duration: 14 hours, 37 minutes.
Unabridged.

Lee Child
Technically, this is the ninth Jack Reacher book that Lee Child has published, but since Lee Child doesn't write the books "in order" there are two broad time periods that Jack Reacher novels occur in: 1) In the Army, 2) post-Army. This is post-army book. It is also the book that inspired the first Tom Cruise Jack Reacher movie, but if you have seen the movie you can read this book and have an entirely different experience. It inspired the movie, the movie didn't follow it too closely.

Reacher doesn't appear for the first hour and ten minutes of this audiobook. Instead, the readers are witness to a mass shooting in southern Indiana that draws Reacher from Florida because he knew the accused shooter in the Army. Once he arrives, Reacher immediately knows that something off and finds himself in a rare moral quandary. But, Reacher figures out how to proceed once it becomes obvious that someone really wants him to leave Indiana...

I have often wondered when Jack Reacher was going to have an adventure in my native Hoosier state - he goes through it as he wanders America, but never seems to stop. I can't tell if Lee Child, a Brit, actually visited Indiana to research this book - he certainly picks on the presence of the limestone quarries that run through southwest Indiana throughout the book. My guess is that this book is set in Evansville or a fictional hybrid of Evansville, Vincennes and Bedford.

So, how is the story? It's a pretty good mystery that takes a hard surprise turn in the first third of the book and had this reader wondering how all of the little pieces clicked into place until the last few minutes of the audiobook. In that sense, it was a success. But, it moved fairly slowly. This audiobook is 14+ hours long. Editing out an hour would have helped it move along nicely.

Dick Hill read the audiobook. He is my all-time favorite audiobook reader and he is the reason that I quit reading this series as books and only listen to it as audiobooks.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found in multiple formats on Amazon.com here: One Shot (A Jack Reacher Novel) by Lee Child.



Monday, July 9, 2018

SPEED GIRL: JANET GUTHRIE and the RACE that CHANGED SPORTS FOREVER (kindle) by Stephen Talty



Published by Amazon Publishing in 2017.

Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to qualify
for the Indy 500 in 1977.
Every racing fan has heard of Danica Patrick. She raced successfully for seven years in IndyCar, raced in 8 Indy 500s (with 6 top ten finishes) and 7 years in NASCAR (with less success). Long before Danica there was Janet Guthrie - a true pioneer in motorsports.

This short kindle book puts Guthrie's achievement in context in two ways. First, it details how truly startling it was to the drivers at the top levels of NASCAR and IndyCar for a woman to show up and try to add a little diversity to the field. Drivers that I always looked up to, like Richard Petty, said startlingly sexist comments about Guthrie.

The second way the book puts Guthrie's achievement in context is the more important one.  The author, Stephan Talty, describes how Guthrie worked her way up the ranks, tore apart engines, suspensions and body work and worked on her cars in her spare time as she gave up her personal life to go faster and faster in any car she could get her hands on. As a racing fan, this is the same story I have heard over and over again - which means she was what she always wanted to be - a racer. Not a fluke, not a curiosity - a racer.

I am a fan of the Indy 500. I've been to 32 straight Indy 500s and when I was 11 years old I got an autograph of Janet Guthrie in 1980 at a qualification day or practice for the Indy 500. Turns out that that was her last attempt to make the Indy 500 due to a lack of funding. Sponsors didn't know what to do with her and when there is no money, there is no car. There are times in a book like this that the truth is ugly, but it was good to read about the big names of yesteryear again, such as Foyt, Andretti and even Dick Simon.

The Kindle version of this book is enhanced with video built right into the page. It does little to advance the story, but it is fun. There is also an audiobook version of the book. They can be found on Amazon.com here: SPEED GIRL: JANET GUTHRIE and the RACE that CHANGED SPORTS FOREVER.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

THE DISAPPEARED (Joe Pickett #18) by C.J. Box



Published in 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Game Warden Joe Pickett and the new governor of Wyoming have a turbulent relationship at best. The previous governor used Joe as his own personal law enforcement officer from time-to-time. This wasn't because Joe was some sort of rogue cop - quite the opposite. He knew that Joe was a dogged investigator who had a talent for following clues where they led him - or at the very least stumbling around blind and stepping in the middle of the problem on accident. Sure, it had a real cost in damage to trucks (a tradition continued in this book), but Joe could be trusted to do the right thing.

The new governor found about Joe and has tried to use him to deal with political problems masked as law enforcement problems. Joe has refused and the new governor does not deal with rejection well.

However, this time there is a real-life law enforcement issue to deal with. A female British executive and media darling has disappeared after vacationing at a very high end dude ranch - the same ranch that employs Joe's oldest daughter as a wrangler (cowgirl guide for the rich and famous that want to experience a bit of cowboy life). The British executive checked out, drove away in her rental car and never arrived at the airport. She just vanished and the British press is having a field day. The fancy dude ranch is concerned that it will hurt their business and this has gotten the attention of the governor and his surly chief of staff.

So, Joe is off to investigate in the middle of winter and enters the very touristy world of dude ranches for the world's elite. But, there are other issues to deal with - the Governor's office is very impatient, Joe's daughter has a serious boyfriend at the ranch and Nate Romanowski is pestering him about eagles...

All Joe Pickett books are a worthy read for me - I've been reading them for eight years now, thanks to the recommendation in a comment left on one of my online reviews. Joe is like an old friend and this one is a tough read because Joe is off balance for the duration of the book. It is also not as satisfying a read because it is clearly part of a two-part series (or more). One set of problems are resolved only to stumble upon even more problems and I am not satisfied only because I want to know what is going to happen next (If you are a Marvel movie fan, you know the feeling - it's the one you had at the end of Infinity War).

So, I rate this one 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: THE DISAPPEARED (Joe Pickett #18) by C.J. Box.

P.S. Watch out for Nate Romanowski and his fish!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

SH*TSHOW: THE COUNTRY'S COLLAPSING and the RATINGS ARE GREAT (audiobook) by Charlie LeDuff



Published by Penguin Audio in May of 2018.
Read by the author, Charlie LeDuff.
Duration: 7 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged.

Charlie LeDuff has done a lot of things, but mostly he's been a reporter. He's worked all over the place, he won a Pulitzer Prize in New York City but lately he's settled down in Detroit. He told his irreverent version of the collapse of Detroit in Detroit: An American Autopsy. He takes that same vision outside of Detroit and talks about the rest of the country and finds that Detroit may be a mess, but it's hardly unique.

In 2013, LeDuff was offered a job at Fox News travelling the country and taking a look at regular Americans and their struggles in a segment called The Americans. He jumped at it and went all over the place. He went to New York City to look into topless women in Times Square (it's legal). He went to both of the Bundy family standoffs and spent most of his time talking to the hangers on that joined the family. He looked into why car factories in the South are not voting to unionize and into the fast and loose situation at the border (you will never forget the Jet Skis on the Rio Grande).

He went back home to Detroit to tell about the mayor and how his friends caught cushy contracts to tear down abandoned homes and then didn't tear them down. He also looked at the Flint, Michigan water situation and explains it better than anyone else I have heard try to explain it.

He covered the GOP Presidential Debates in 2016, but he was pulled from that story because he refused to take it seriously. LeDuff called it in 2013 before anyone else - America is struggling and would not be in the mood for business as usual in 2016, explaining the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

LeDuff's style is often that of an irreverent rant. He frequently adds in curse words to add some punch (as demonstrated by the title of this book), so if curse words are an issue for you, don't even think about reading this book. His storytelling style sometimes makes you wonder if he is off of his attention-deficit medication, what with the random interjections and the off-the-cuff remarks.

I have no idea if LeDuff votes Democrat or Republican but, as you listen, you realize that he has a larger point, no matter the topic and that point is that the little guy is getting the shaft over and over again while the guys at the top are helping each other get rich.

LeDuff's reading of his book was excellent. This book was so good that I wish it were twice as long and he had covered twice as many topics. LeDuff is always smart, always irreverent and always interesting.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found in multiple formats on Amazon.com here: SH*TSHOW: THE COUNTRY'S COLLAPSING and the RATINGS ARE GREAT  by Charlie LeDuff.


A SHORT HISTORY of the WORLD (audiobook) by Christopher Lascelles



Published by Tantor Audio in 2016.
Read by Guy Bethell.
Duration: 7 hours, 20 minutes.
Julius Caesar (100 B.C. to 44 B.C.)
Unabridged.

The entire history of the world is less than 7 and 1/2 hours? Yep, that's what Christopher Lascelles purports to offer in his A Short History of the World. He acknowledges that this is not a complete history - he never intended it to be. Instead, his aim is to connect some of the dots that the average reader may have picked up in history class, movies and History Channel documentaries (and hopefully spark a bit more interest).

Lascelles does succeed in hitting many of the high points and certainly does a better job at not being as Eurocentric as other short world histories have been, such as A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. Lascelles spends quite a bit of time discussing China, Japan, India and Mongolia. All that being said, there are entire civilizations that are ignored or get nothing more than a passing nod. That is always the problem when writing a history of the world - what do you leave in? What do you leave out?

England gets a bit more of the limelight than it deserves, in my opinion. Not way out of proportion, but a bit. That is to be expected, thought, since the author is from London.

Really, the only complaint I have about the book is its size limits it - but that is the entire point of the book - it is a SHORT history after all.

Guy Bethell read the audiobook and he did a good job. I blew right through the audiobook in 2 days. It was put together in an interesting and logical way.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found in multiple formats on Amazon.com here: A SHORT HISTORY of the WORLD by Christopher Lascelles.