"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
Eighteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1500 reviews.

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Monday, December 9, 2019

GONE TOMORROW (audiobook) (Jack Reacher #13) by Lee Child



Jack Reacher vs. The Patriot Act

Published by Random House Audio in 2009.
Read by Dick Hill.
Duration: 14 hours, 47 minutes.
Unabridged.


Jack Reacher is in New York City, riding the subway after taking in a late night show in a bar. He notices a woman who is exhibiting all of the signs of being a suicide bomber that he learned years ago while being trained in Israel. When Reacher intervenes, he gets way more than he bargained for and gets sucked into a complicated mess and discovers that the powers granted to the federal government by the Patriot Act are not to be trifled with.

The audiobook was read by multiple award-winning reader Dick Hill. He is my favorite reader of the Jack Reacher novels. But, even Dick Hill couldn't save some of the convoluted dialogue that comes from the villain's mouth as the book progresses. I was reminded of the famous line from Harrison Ford as he was filming Star Wars. He told George Lucas, " George! You can type this s***, but you sure can't say it!" 

The villain's lines are so convoluted, so wordy and so long-winded that I can't believe anyone would actually hang around to hear them delivered. There was no way that the author, Lee Child, actually read those lines out loud to see if they worked. I felt sorry for Dick Hill getting ambushed with them.

Nonetheless, the story was good enough to justify 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

THE TIPPING POINT: HOW LITTLE THINGS CAN MAKE a BIG DIFFERENCE (audiobook) by Malcolm Gladwell



Original edition published in 2000.
Updated edition published by Hachette Audio in 2006.
Read by the author, Malcolm Gladwell.
Duration: 8 hours, 34 minutes.
Unabridged. 



Paul Revere (1735-1818) on his famed midnight ride on April 18, 1775
Malcolm Gladwell's first book is about "tipping points" - that moment where an idea, a fad, a political candidate, a disease (or whatever) catches on and spreads like wildfire.

Gladwell looks into the human factors that contributes to spread of all of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph boils it down to three types of people that are needed. He details those personality types, describes why they are important and provides real world examples of those personality types. For example, he goes into a lot of detail into why Paul Revere was absolutely necessary for the success of his midnight ride. There was another rider, but he achieved little. Paul Revere, on the other hand, was wildly successful for a number of reasons related to how well-connected he was. His ride resulted in the Minutemen coming out to fight and the victory of the Minutemen over the British in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Without those early victories, there may not have been a Revolutionary War.

As with all social sciences, there is never a perfect answer to anything because human behavior is so hard to definitively quantify. But, this book is immensely interesting and there are lots of good things to think about. Plus, Gladwell's voice is quite pleasant to listen to.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE TIPPING POINT: HOW LITTLE THINGS CAN MAKE a BIG DIFFERENCE by Malcolm Gladwell.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

TURTLES ALL the WAY DOWN (audiobook) by John Green



Published in 2017 by Listening Library.
Read by Kate Rudd.
Duration: 7 hours, 12 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, John Green
High School students Aza and Daisy are best friends living in Indianapolis, Indiana. They are also investigating the mysterious disappearance of a billionaire who lives on the other side of the White River - the rich side of the river that doesn't flood.

Well, they investigate when they aren't going to school, eating at Applebee's, studying, working (Daisy) or keeping appointments with the therapist (Aza).

Aza has obsessive thoughts - they crowd out everything else when they come, and lately they've been coming at her hard and fast.

It turns out that Aza knows the son of the missing billionaire and when she and Daisy run into him while they are investigating, it seems like there might be a spark between this boy and Aza...

John Green is one of my favorite authors, which is weird because I have only read two of his books (this one and The Fault in Our Stars). But, I've seen multiple interviews with him since his adopted hometown is my adopted hometown - Indianapolis. I love the fact that he lives here to be an anonymous dad in the crowd. I also love the fact that he puts out entertaining educational videos with his brother and I love the way he conducts himself professionally. 


And, I love the fact that he wrote this book about a character with a mental illness. He wrote it because he shares a lot of the struggles that his character Aza has.

But, reading about Aza is exhausting. It is informative, but sometimes a struggle to get through this book.

Also, this book seemed like a weird mish-mash. It is partly a mystery, partly a romance, partly a coming-of-age friendship book and largely seeing the world through the eyes of a person with obsessive thoughts. But, the mystery in the story seems forced - very contrived.

A real positive, though, are his accurate descriptions of Indianapolis and its geography. There really is an Applebee's where he puts it in this story. The White River really is in trouble because of sewage and Indianapolis is currently building a giant sewer overflow tunnel to deal with it. Also, his Star Wars references are spot-on. And, Aza's mom is a teacher and she always seems to be grading papers. This teacher appreciates that bit of reality in a novel.

Still, despite all of this positives, this one gets just 3 stars out of 5 from me. 


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: TURTLES ALL the WAY DOWN by John Green.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

THE LIFE and TIMES of the THUNDERBOLT KID: A MEMOIR (audiobook) by Bill Bryson



Published in 2006 by Random House Audio.
Downtown Des Moines in the 1950s. 
Read by the author, Bill Bryson.
Duration: 7 hours, 39 minutes.
Unabridged.


Bill Bryson's memoir of life in 1950's Des Moines, Iowa is a wonderful trip into another time and another place with a gifted storyteller.

There is nothing particularly amazing about this story. It's not a coming-of-age story with a profound climax - it is just a heartwarming reminiscence of the way things used to be - the good and the bad. It is often laugh-out-loud funny and reminds me a lot of the works of Jean Shepherd, even though they are set 20 years later.  You know Jean Shepherd if you are a fan of the movie A Christmas Story.


The author, Bill Bryson read the story. His incongruous English accent is a bit weird for a boy from Des Moines. My understanding is that Bryson spent so many years in the United Kingdom that he lost his American accent. Nevertheless, he did a great job.

Highly recommended.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE LIFE and TIMES of the THUNDERBOLT KID: A MEMOIR by Bill Bryson.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

TALKING to STRANGERS: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT the PEOPLE WE DON'T KNOW (audiobook) by Malcolm Gladwell



Published in September of 2019 by Hachette Audio
Read by the author, Malcolm Gladwell

Duration: 8 hours, 42 minutes.
Unabridged


Malcolm Gladwell always writes an interesting book. When you listen to him as an audiobook, it can be frustrating as well because he throws so many ideas at you that you can't possibly write them all down (I couldn't if I wanted to anyway, I do a lot of my listening as I drive).

The general premise behind this book is that it is very hard for people to "read" other people - even people that we see every day. It is even harder for us to read strangers and even harder to read people from different cultures. The more different the culture, the harder to read.

Gladwell starts with the story of the death of Sandra Bland, an African American woman from Chicago who killed herself after a questionable arrest after a questionable traffic stop in Texas.

From there we wander far and wide - cold war espionage cases, policing strategies in Kansas City, Neville Chamberlin's meetings with Adolf Hitler, sociology experiments with participants trying to read facial expressions, judges who grant bail, Bernie Madoff, the affects of alcohol on judgment, famous authors who committed suicide...and more.

Eventually, Gladwell makes his point (some reviewers don't think he made it, but I think he did) - it just takes such a long, circuitous route to get there that, in the end, his final point is a bit underwhelming.

The audiobook was read by the author. He usually reads his audiobooks and does a good job. Lately, he has been doing a regular podcast and he brings the some of the techniques of podcasting to this audiobook. One of the best features is that he uses the actual recordings of people's voices as much as possible when quoting them. It is a great touch that I wish more authors used with their audiobooks.

Rating this audiobook is hard. I enjoyed almost all of it. It was very interesting, even compelling. But, the ending just was underwhelming as I already noted.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: TALKING to STRANGERS: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT the PEOPLE WE DON'T KNOW.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

THE MIST (audiobook) by Stephen King



Originally published in 1985 as part of the short story collection Skeleton Crew
Published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by Will Patton.
Duration: 5 hours, 19 minutes.
Unabridged.


This is technically a re-read for me - I read this story when it was originally published 30+ years ago. It is such a vivid, tightly written story that it has always stuck with me. In my mind, this is one of Stephen King's better works, even if it is one of his shorter ones.

The audiobook narrator, Will Patton
The story focuses on David Drayton, his wife and his son. Drayton has made a pretty good living as a commercial artist and is able to afford a home on a lake in Maine.

A particularly nasty summer storm has come through Maine in the middle of the night. Trees are down everywhere and, as a consequence, power lines and phone lines are down everywhere. It is important to note that this was written a long time before cell phones.

The radio stations are also down - especially those that broadcast from the direction of a strange, secretive military base. Everyone has heard rumors of the strange goings on there.
A strange fog bank - a mist - can be seen slowly rolling across the lake. It is weird, but Drayton can't worry about it - he has trees to clear and then supplies to pick up in town. He takes his son and they head out.

But, while they are in the town grocery store, the mist catches up with them and everything changes...

This short story (novella?) has clearly had some influence on current popular culture. There was a one season attempt to adapt this story on Spike TV, but I think Netflix's Stranger Things owes a giant debt to this story.

Veteran actor Will Patton read this audiobook. I think he has become the default choice for Stephen King audiobooks as of late and that is fine by me. He performs the books rather than just reading them. He adds to them quite a bit. I think he makes them better.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Mist by Stephen King

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher #24) (audiobook) by Lee Child

The author, Lee Child


Published by Random House Audio in October of 2019.
Read by Scott Brick.
Duration: 11 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged.


Jack Reacher is traveling by bus when he notices a sleeping old man with a bank envelope full of cash falling out of his pocket. He also notices that another man has noticed the money and clearly wants to steal it. When the old man and the potential thief get off of the bus in an unfamiliar city, Reacher follows and intervenes.

But, as always seems to happen, Reacher gets involved in something deeper. This time around it is really bad...

This was an entertaining audiobook. Scott Brick has replaced Dick Hill as the voice of Jack Reacher and I am still getting used to that because I am a major fan of Dick Hill. But, Scott Brick is growing on me.

This was a much bloodier Reacher novel than most. Reacher has never had a problem with violence, but in this novel he takes it to a new level. It seemed out of character to me.

Still, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher #24) (audiobook) by Lee Child.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

THE MIDNIGHT DOG of the REPO MAN (audiobook) by W. Bruce Cameron



Published by Macmillan Audio in 2014.
Read by George K. Wilson.
Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes.
Unabridged.

This short audiobook is a prequel to the book The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, a book by W. Bruce Cameron. Cameron is most famous for his book A Dog's Life.

This book is also about a dog, at least it sort of is. Really, it is the story of how Ruddy McCann got his basset hound. Ruddy is a decent man with a checkered past and a grinding sense of shame for what he did in the past. He is also a bar bouncer at his sister's bar at night and a repo man by day. A repo man repossesses cars when people stop making their payments.

Good story, but definitely not a stand-alone story.

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton



Published in 2004 by Books on Tape.
Read by Richard Allen.
Duration: 9 hours, 39 minutes.
Unabridged.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is most famous as a basketball player - in high school his team won 71 games in a row. He won three national championships in the three seasons he was allowed to play in college (freshmen had to play on a freshman team back then so his first season doesn't count). No one scored more career points in the NBA than Abdul-Jabbar. He is arguably the best basketball player ever.

Turns out that he is also a thoughtful, active man with an interest in social justice and history. That's where this book comes in. The 761st Tank Battalion was brought to his attention because, it turns out, he knew one of its members growing up - he just didn't know his story.

The problem is, no one really knew the story of these young men - and they should.

The 761st Tank Battalion was one of the lead elements of General Patton's push into Germany during the last months of World War II. They were sort of a hybrid unit that was spread out among infantry units, designed to work with infantry. This simple fact would have hurt their unit's fame if they had been an all-white unit - their actions were just tossed in with other unit's statistics they fought with for just a few days. But, when you toss in the obvious racism of the day (multiple citations were sent up the chain of command, only to be tossed in the trash or ignored. This was corrected in the 1990's by an independent commission), you can see why no one heard of these soldiers.

Abdul-Jabbar focuses on just a few soldiers in this unit in this history. Many of these men wanted to be fighter pilots when they joined up, but were told that African-Americans were not allowed to fly. But, they could be in tank units. So, an all African-American tank unit was created. Eventually, the unit ended up in Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) in Texas. They were trained and then never sent to either front. Instead, they became the decoy team that other units trained against. They pretended to be the Germans in practice maneuvers - over and over and over again for nearly TWO YEARS - much longer than white units.

After D-Day, Generals Patton, Bradley and Montgomery pushed the Germans across France and approached Alsace-Lorraine in France near the German border. It was tough on the tank units, though. Experienced, intact tank battalions were at a premium. They sent for the 761st and they fit the bill perfectly, even though Patton had no confidence in African-Americans as soldiers. He kept those thoughts to himself, though, and actually visited the 761st and spoke with them, saying:


"Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsofbitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down! They say it is patriotic to die for your country. Well, let’s see how many patriots we can make out of those German sonsofbitches."

The rest, as they say, is history.

This is an entertaining history, designed for the regular reader. The only real complaint I have with it is the audiobook reader, Richard Allen.  He mispronounces many military terms. There are many German and French cities and towns are named throughout the book and, to be honest, I have no idea how to say most of them. But, I do know some, and when the reader mispronounces the commonly known German and French name places, such as the Danube River, I know that there have to be lots of other problems.

To be fair to Richard Allen, it isn't his fault. 
Allen has since passed away, but he was a multiple award winning audiobook reader. He was brought in to read, not for his knowledge of foreign languages. The production team in the booth in the recording studio should have brought in someone to coach him how to say these place names. It's not that hard to find a French speaker and a German speaker - almost every local high school has teachers of both that could have coached him.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton.


OF MICE and MEN (audiobook) by John Steinbeck



Originally published in 1937.
Penguin Audio edition published in 2011.
Read by Gary Sinise.

Duration: 3 hours, 11 minutes.
Unabridged. 

The narrator, Gary Sinise, as the character George in the 1992 film
version of this novel. 
This is probably the 5th or 6th time that I have read this book. I reviewed it as a print book 10 years ago (click here to see that review).

Gary Sinise read this book and did a fabulous job, especially with the voices of Lennie and Crooks. He played George in one of the many movie adaptations of this novel in 1992.

This was my first time hearing this book as an audiobook and I was very impressed that it was an even more effective book when read aloud than in print.

This review of one of the most-read, most-celebrated novels in the English-speaking world will not include a plot synopsis - what's the point? Instead, let me say that this short novel has an amazingly tight plot. In this 3 hour and 11 minute story, nearly every scene, and most lines of dialogue are relevant to the climax of the story.

Foreshadowing abounds in the first half hour of the audiobook, almost all of the conversations in the bunkhouse point towards the dramatic scene at the end and the point to the theme of the little guy never getting a real shot to improve his lot in life. Even the title, Of Mice and Men, is a reference to the poem To a Mouse by Scottish poet Robert Burns that was written when he accidentally destroyed a mouse's nest while plowing at the beginning of winter. The mouse had done everything right, only to lose it all to events beyond its control. The poem contains this line:

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain


I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Of Mice and Men (audiobook) by John Steinbeck. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

OBVIOUSLY: STORIES from MY TIMELINE (audiobook) by Akilah Hughes



Published by Listening Library in September of 2019.
Read by the author, Akilah Hughes.
Duration: 4 hours, 58 minutes.
Unabridged. 


To be fair to Akilah Hughes, I had never heard of her before I heard her interview on NPR promoting this book. The interview was good enough that I got the book. If you are not familiar with her, she is a comedy writer and YouTuber with a pretty good following.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book - the part that talks about her early life. It was fun in tone and sometimes seriously funny, except for the story of her horrible 5th grade teacher. She tells her story in an episodic manner - by theme. Sometimes, the stories overlap and sometimes she (always confusingly, at first) tells them backwards, such as when she detailed her struggles with weight towards the end of the book.

But, when she makes her move to New York, the story changes its tone. It becomes a lot more about name dropping and telling stories about people she is angry with (personally and professionally, but mostly personally because she makes her professional life very personal). One of the most bizarre stories was the one in which she and a friend get into a friendship-killing fight over the relative talent of Rihanna. I like pop culture, but I have never been that into any single pop culture figure. I can't relate.

The audiobook was read by Akilah Hughes, which makes sense - she has a ton of practical acting and speaking experience. She did a good job as a reader.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. 4 stars for the first part, 2 stars for the last part for an average of 3 stars. It can be found on Amazon.com here: OBVIOUSLY: STORIES from MY TIMELINE by Akilah Hughes.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell



Museums, parking duty and the point of it all.

This book was originally published in 2017 by Abingdon Press.

I had a week off of school for fall break last week. During that week I had three experiences of a religious bent (beyond my weekly church attendance): 1) I read this book, 2) I helped park cars for my church's annual "Trunk or Treat" that we host for the community, 3) I visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I listed the activities in this order because that is the order of importance on a spiritual level. The Creation Museum is an impressive and beautiful 75,000 square foot facility that, to me, is just the wrong approach to Christianity. It is so bent on proving that every little sentence fragment in Genesis is accurate that it almost entirely misses the point of Christianity. I felt no love or comfort there. It reminded me of the passage from 1 Kings Chapter 19:

"
11-12 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
13When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”            -The Message translation

My second event was helping to park cars (it is a big event) with 4 other good guys from my church. We all come from different kinds of jobs, our family lives are all different, but there we were working together as a small part of a larger team to help provide a safe, free experience for a bunch of people we'd never met. That was good - not the profoundest experience and not the necessarily the most meaningful way to reach out as a Christian, but it was good.

My third event was this book. The older I get, the more I realize that the simplest teachings of the Gospels are the most profound. Those parables of Jesus are simple and offer the most teaching. The arguments about this and that fine point of theology are simply beyond the point. They are that big, cold museum that sucks up time and resources. They are the loud wind and the earthquake from the story of Elijah. They are noisy things that get the attention, but not the essence.

Gambrell says it simply on page 89 of his book:

"...often I am asked by pastors and student ministers to 'go deep.' I am told that their people need to be challenged with deeper truths. My response to them is always the same: there are no deeper truths than that God loves me for no good reason, and He forgives me completely and wants me to show that love to others. I will never get over God's amazing desire to redeem me, to make more of me than I could ever imagine, and that He intends to accomplish this, not by helping me with my little life but by actually living His life through me!"
Gambrell's message - don't focus on you and your problems. You will always
have them, but reaching out to others helps the other people and it helps you. I know in my career as a classroom teacher, the more I come at things as a servant and with a tone of forgiveness, generally the better things work. Do I always succeed? Not even close.

Gambrell acknowledges that failure will be all too common on page 206 (almost the very end of this short book):

"Now if, at the end of this book, you are thinking that this living-for-another thing is too hard to keep up, is too hard to maintain 24/7, then you are correct. To live the perfect Christian life of complete humility and servanthood is not difficult...it's impossible.

But we are called to be an example of His life and live in a way that points others to Jesus by our modeling of His character and love.
"



This short, easy to read book includes lots of questions that could be used for self-reflection or group discussion.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

I FIND YOUR LACK of FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS and the TRIUMPH of GEEK CULTURE (audiobook) by A.D. Jameson



Published in May of 2018 by Macmillan Audio.
Duration: 6 hours, 58 minutes.
Read by Holter Graham.
Unabridged.


A.D. Jameson is a student of cinema - not just science fiction and fantasy movies, but of cinema in general. I used the word "student" in the previous sentence carefully because he is not just a fan of movies, he studies the directors, the movements and the ideas behind the movies.


Photo by DWD
But, he is also a proud geek - a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature and movies. Like me, he was really into those genres in middle and high school, moved away from them for a while during and after college and then came back to them in a big way when the Star Wars "Special Edition" movies were released.

My own children do not believe me, but there was once a time when the mere sight of a Star Wars t-shirt or bumper sticker was worthy of comment. Now, they are everywhere. My family probably owns more than 20 Star Wars-related t-shirts alone.

A.D. Jameson explores how this happened by focusing on the world of cinema and television. He argues that Star Trek, not the original run on NBC but the re-run episodes running night after night, day after day until everyday, normal TV viewers got used to the idea of spaceships and aliens. When Star Trek was starting to fizzle out, Star Wars came in and made a big splash - the biggest splash in movie history up to that point. When the Star Wars phenomenon started to fade away, Star Trek came back with the movies and then with four different TV shows that spanned 18 years. Many of those shows aired every day (sometimes multiple times per day) because they were syndicated.

Star Wars came back with the troubled (but immensely successful) prequel series. X-Men movies started coming out - another troubled franchise, but it has been going on for 19 years! The Lord of the Rings movies and suddenly it seemed like every movie was a sci-fi, fantasy or a comic book movie.

As I mentioned, Jameson focuses on TV and especially cinema, spending a lot of time arguing that Star Wars fits perfectly well in with its peers from the time period like Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather. He makes a compelling argument, one that would undoubtedly be argued against by Martin Scorsese when you consider the ruckus he has kicked up with his comments about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I was interested in all of this exploration of cinema, the book title gives the reader the impression that "geek culture" was going to be explored in a meaningful way. Culture is more than movies. I assumed that the book was going to explore how we went from being a culture where sci-fi and fantasy were fringe movements in everyday life to the point where the truck in the picture I posted with this review is driven around in central Indiana, but it is largely unexplored.

His comments on Star Trek and its influence on culture as a beacon to where we might one day end up as a society (more open, more accepting) were quite good. It occurred to me that among my many behavioral role models are Jesus and Jean-Luc Picard - and those two don't clash with one another at all.

The audiobook was well-read by Holter Graham. He did such a good job at sounding like he was into the topic that I actually assumed that the author was self-narrating the book until I checked.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. I have to take off a star for mostly failing to address one of the themes mentioned in the title. Still, it is a good book. It can be found on Amazon.com here: I FIND YOUR LACK of FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS and the TRIUMPH of GEEK CULTURE by A.D. Jameson.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

TRIPWIRE (Jack Reacher #3) by Lee Child



First published in 1999.


Composition with Red Blue and Yellow 
by Piet Mondrian. Reacher's favorite piece of art,
according to this novel.
Tripwire is the third book in publishing order in the Jack Reacher series (the sixth in chronological order - as of right now).

Jack Reacher starts out in the Florida Keys. He is digging swimming pools by hand during the day, working as a bouncer in a strip club at night and drinking lots of bottled water. It is mindless work, but he is getting enjoying that aspect of it. Then, a man from New York City comes to the bar where he is drinking a bottled water and asks if anyone knows Jack Reacher.

Reacher lies and says he never heard of the guy.

Two more guys from New York City find Reacher at the strip club. They are different than the first guy - pushier and rougher.  Reacher has to get physical with them. When he finds the first guy dead on the street, he decides to head off to New York City to see if he can figure out who is looking for him.

What he finds, surprises him and takes him back in time in more than one way...

This is an early Reacher novel and it doesn't have the normal rhythms that you find later on (as of today there are 24 books and 18 short stories in the series). It's a good action novel, but it feels a little different than the rest of the series.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Tripwire by Lee Child

Friday, October 25, 2019

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman



Published by Dreamscape Media in 2014.
Read by George Newbern.
Duration: 9 hours, 9 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, Fredrick Backman
Ove (pronounced ooo-vah) is a 59 year old grump. His wife has passed away, he has no children, no pets and no job since he has been forced to retire. He keeps himself busy by keeping an eye on the neighborhood - he yells at the neighbor lady that lets her dog pee in front of his house, he yells at people who drive through the neighborhood (it has a parking area so that the entire area is pedestrian friendly), he yells at bureaucrats, bad drivers, hipsters, immigrants and...well, he just yells.

Ove has determined that the best thing about his life left when his wife passed away. He was filling in that hole in his life, at least a bit, with his work. But, since his forced retirement, he has nothing. So, he is planning his suicide to join his wife.

Then, a tough old homeless cat shows up.

After that, a hipster father with an immigrant wife and two little girls moves in across the way and backs the moving trailer right over Ove's mailbox - a trailer that shouldn't even have been there because the hipster was driving in the no driving area! Why can't people learn basic skills like backing up a trailer and reading signs?

I really hated the first hour of this audiobook. It faithfully tells the story but the reader/listener is missing so much of the back story that is was mostly confusing. There are a lot of flashbacks intermixed with the present-day story and the flashbacks really make Ove a human being that you are interested in.

By the time the I had gotten to the halfway point, I was pretty sure how the story was going to end - but I still had to hear it for it myself. It becomes quite the touching story.

The story was well-read by veteran actor George Newbern (he's one of those faces you recognize from a dozen different movies and shows but you have no idea what his name is). Newbern's long experience as a voice actor for cartoons and video games shows in this audibook. Well done.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Thursday, October 17, 2019

NIGHT (audiobook) by Elie Wiesel. Translation by Marion Wiesel.



Originally published in 1960.
New translation published in 2006.
Read by George Guidall.
Duration: 4 hours, 17 minutes.

Unabridged.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel's famed book Night is a standard, perhaps THE standard, that all Holocaust literature is judged by. Originally, this was written as an immense memoir in Yiddish, but during the process of translating the book to French, it was pared down to about one-fifth of its original size. The paring down resulted in a more literary work - a work that feels almost fictional because it is so selective as it tells the true story of how Elie Wiesel's childhood, his family, his community and his religious faith was destroyed by the Nazis.

Slave Laborers liberated by U.S. Army soldiers under the command
of General Patton. Photo taken by Private H. Miller.
Wiesel is in the picture. He is on the second row from the floor,
the seventh prisoner from the left (by the post)
The book begins with his little Jewish neighborhood in Romania that had been relatively unaffected by the war. But, as the Germans are retreating from the Soviets, they implement their Final Solution and start liquidating all of the Jewish communities while they still can. The Jews in Wiesel's neighborhood are divided into groups and loaded onto trains over the course of several days.

The trip, in cattle cars, is horrific. The camps are no better, of course. Wiesel and his father are separated from the women in his family at Auschwitz. They never see each other again. Wiesel and his father go from one work detail to another in different camps, slowly retreating away from the Soviet advance. Their only hope is to stay healthy enough to work so that they might be allowed to live until the end of the war...

I read this book because it is read by students in one of the English classes at the high school where I teach. I have never heard a student speak poorly of the book, which is itself a solid endorsement.

The audiobook was read by George Guidall, one of the most experienced audiobook readers of all time. Not only has he won two Audie Awards (the Oscar for audiobook readers), he has also read more than 1,200 audiobooks. Guidall, of course, was quite good in this presentation.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: NIGHT by Elie Wiesel.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

TIES that BIND (Amanda Jaffe #3) by Phillip Margolin



Originally published in 2003.

The most likely candidate to win the presidency is an Oregon Senator. He has a winning public personae, but he is a violent, horrible man in reality. He beats a high end prostitute to death simply because he enjoys inflicting violence. His people cover it up. Everyone is shocked when this Senator is found beaten to death. It looks like the prostitute's pimp killed him. When the pimp kills his court-appointed attorney in the lock up, no one will defend him until Amanda Jaffe is convinced to do it.

Once Amanda starts her investigation, it turns out that things are a lot worse than she thought...

I almost stopped reading this book after the first 50 pages or so. There are very few likable characters anywhere in this book. Everyone seems to be outright evil or compromised.  The only real positive was that the horrible Senator character died a violent death. Let's face it, that's not much of a positive.

But, I stuck with it and, eventually, this book turns into a solid page-turner. It was a welcome change of pace from the non-fiction I have been reading lately.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: TIES that BIND (Amanda Jaffe #3) by Phillip Margolin.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: THE HIDDEN FORCES THAT SHAPE OUR DECISIONS (audiobook) by Dan Ariely



Published in 2008 by HarperAudio.
Read by Simon Jones.
Duration: 7 hours, 22 minutes.

Unabridged.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist. This book looks at the assumption made by economists that people make rational decisions based on their input. Ariely delights in pointing out that oftentimes we don't make rational choices - we make irrational ones and we keep making the same types of irrational choices time after time after time.

For example, if you own a restaurant and you want to sell more of your most expensive dish, all you have to do is place an even more expensive meal on the menu. It could be that no one will ever buy that most expensive meal, but they will buy more of what used to be the most expensive meal because it now looks like a comparative bargain.

I enjoyed the commentary on the old marketing campaign called The Pepsi Challenge. In blind taste tests, Pepsi beat Coca-Cola by a wide margin. But, when the taste testers could see the cans of soda, Coca-Cola won by a wide margin. Why? Confirmation bias - taste testers liked Coca-Cola better because they expected to.


Ariely's points are good, but the time required to set up his explanations (in other words, the description of the experiments, how they tried to control for biases, etc.) were so long that they really hurt my enjoyment of the book. I understand that it is important to describe the experiments so that the reader can judge that it was done fairly, but it was, at times, quite tedious. I also think he used his best points at the beginning of the book as a hook to get you into the book but as the book went along, it got less interesting.

The audiobook was read by Simon Jones. He has an interesting and lively voice and made the tiresome descriptions of the experiments tolerable.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

It can be found on Amazon.com here: PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: THE HIDDEN FORCES THAT SHAPE OUR DECISIONS.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

INVENTING FREEDOM: HOW the ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES MADE the MODERN WORLD by Daniel Hannan



Published by Broadside Books (a division of HarperCollins) in 2013.

The author, Daniel Hannan.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Daniel Hannan is a prominent Conservative Party author and politician in the UK. His book Inventing Freedom is a celebration of the political ideas that are the foundation of what he calls the "Anglosphere".

Hannan's thesis is that the idea of government based on an evolving body of law (he probably would hate the fact that I used the word evolving, but that is what the English Common Law is) that values the rights of the individual before the rights of the state and its leaders is an English invention that has spread and amplified throughout the "Anglosphere". This type of government encourages capitalism due to its influence on the individual.

The Anglosphere consists of The United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, other former British colonies that comprise the Commonwealth. These include Kenya, South Africa, India and dozens of more countries.

The United States is included in the Anglosphere and holds a unique position in Hannan's book. He considers the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution to the be the epitome of Anglosphere political theory. He also notes that the United Kingdom learned many lessons from the loss of the American colonies at the end of the American Revolution. The Anglosphere's most influential country is the United States, despite not being a member of the Commonwealth.

The book starts out strong as it emphasizes the common traits of the Anglosphere and their origins in English history. I would give the first third of the book 5 stars. It hums along and offers a fascinating take on the historical development of democracy and capitalism. It includes a very strong look at the development of the English parliamentary system.

The middle of the book gets bogged down in the minutiae of struggles over the English throne (Bonnie Prince Charlie, Oliver Cromwell, various Irish uprisings). The history is slow-paced, often repetitive and, I think, surprisingly dismissive of Irish complaints over the centuries.

If the author is dismissive of the Irish, he is enamored with the United States - to a point. It is clear that he loves my country from afar. He loves the theory of America more than actual American history. He quotes historical facts that didn't really happen, such as his claim that the American word "hillbilly" comes as a reference to the Battle of Boyne and a victory by King William III in 1690. He claims that residents of Appalachia would gather and march in remembrance of the victory every July 12. I simply cannot imagine that this would ever happen. No one in Appalachia cares a wit about a dead English king enough to march around to celebrate his victory, certainly not after the American Revolution. Or maybe they were supposed to be mourning his victory. I don't know, I lost track of what king was fighting what pretender to the throne.  Besides, the first time this supposedly old word ever appeared in print was in 1898 - more than 200 years after the battle.

When it comes to the Boston Tea Party, he misses the point completely. He notes that the taxes on tea were actually lowered before the Boston Tea Party but perhaps he doesn't realize that the same legislative flurry that lowered taxes on tea also made it legal to only purchase from a single vendor that set an artificially high price. The government giveth and the government taketh away.

He studies the larger conflicts within the Anglosphere (the English Civil War, the American Revolution) but is surprisingly silent on the American Civil War - the bloodiest conflict in American history (equal to all of our other wars COMBINED).  This war has often been labeled as THE most important event in the history of the United States and the author labeled the United States as THE must important member of the Anglosphere at this time. I expected more than a few random comments.

In one of those comments he claims the Confederacy tried to save itself by asking Queen Victoria to extend her protectorate over the the rebellious states. I have been studying the American Civil War for 30 years and I have never heard this before. It doesn't make any sense. One of the cornerstones of the Confederacy was slavery and by the 1860's, the English navy had been actively seizing slave ships for 50 years in an active attempt to stop the Atlantic slave trade. Slavery was the main reason the English didn't recognize the Confederacy - the English public wouldn't let them, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation.

I strongly agree with the author on his enthusiasm for bringing India more closely into the Anglosphere. India is a stable democracy, has a commitment to multiculturalism and is becoming more capitalistic. Bringing 1 billion more people who share many of your values into closer political and economic cooperation can only be a plus. Sadly, the last two Presidents (Trump and Obama) have mostly ignored India.

So, the short version - the book starts out strong, gets bogged down in English dynastic struggles, gets repetitive and ignores most of American history after the Revolutionary War era. I agree with the thesis of the book, but it needed editing and a bit of fact-checking. All of that makes it tough to rate, but I am going to give the edge to the strong thesis and rate it 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: INVENTING FREEDOM: HOW the ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES MADE the MODERN WORLD.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

MARVEL'S AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: THANOS: TITAN CONSUMED (audiobook) by Barry Lyga



Published by Disney in 2018.
Read by Tom Taylorson.
Duration: 10 hours, 4 minutes.

Unabridged.

This book is a prequel to the record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe's Infinity War movies, telling the early life story of the villain - Thanos.

The story starts with the birth of Thanos on the planet Titan. Thanos is born deformed. His face is deformed, he is freakishly large and he is purple on a planet where people are born all sorts of colors, but not purple. Purple is the color of death.

And so starts the tragic story of Thanos...

Well, it's sort of tragic.

Thanos has a horrible early life but he is pretty horrible in his own ways, even without external prompting. The author, Barry Lyga does a commendable job of breathing life into this story and making Thanos a character that the reader alternately hates and pities. The journey from Thanos: the scorned child to Thanos: the Mad Titan and Destroyer of Worlds makes sense in this telling. I found myself wishing that Lyga had had a hand in the writing of the Star Wars prequels and had told the story of the conversion of Annakin Skywalker (Jedi Hero) of Darth Vader, the evil Sith Lord. George Lucas' story is most unsatisfying on that point.

This is an excellent sci-fi novel. It was made all the more enjoyable by the reader, Tom Taylorson. He created a whole universe of voices and characters with his voice. A first-rate talent.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here:   MARVEL'S AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: THANOS: TITAN CONSUMED.

Friday, September 6, 2019

BUZZ, STING, BITE: WHY WE NEED INSECTS (audiobook) by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson



Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in July of 2019.
Read by Kristin Millward.
Duration: 7 hours, 15 minutes.
Unabridged.


Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, a Norwegian ecologist, specializing in insects, has written an interesting, often funny and thought-provoking introduction to the world of insects.

She gives the reader lots of interesting trivia, such as the story of male bugs that die at the climactic moment of mating due to their genitals exploding. She also tells of plants that trick dung beetles into planting their stinky seeds for them, the importance of wood beetles to keeping soil nitrogen-rich and the super-long (and boring) lives of the 17-year cicada. None of these insects gets an in-depth look because this book is an introduction because you can't seriously expect any book to cover the hundreds of thousands of species of insects in any sort of depth

She looks at how insects could be helpful in the fight against pollution and could be managed to help limit the use of pesticides, but that is not the real value of the book.


Most importantly, she demonstrates the value of insects to the ecosystem. Or, as she puts it, insects could live without people, but people couldn't live without insects. She shows how the entire world ecosystem depends on millions of different species of insects pollinating plants, breaking down the dead plants and loosening up the soil for the new plants. Basically, no bugs = no plants. No plants = no people.

My favorite fact in the book: Every year spiders eat so many insects that their combined body weight is greater than the combined body weight of every human being on the planet. So...leave the spiders alone if you can.

The audiobook was read by Kristin Millward. Her VERY British accent was an interesting change of pace. She helped make the already lively text even more interesting.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars our of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: 
BUZZ, STING, BITE: WHY WE NEED INSECTS.

Monday, September 2, 2019

HEAD ON: A NOVEL of the NEAR FUTURE (Lock In #2) by John Scalzi



Published in 2018 by Tor.


In this near-future sci-fi novel, a horrible disease called Haden's Syndrome has struck, leaving many people stuck in bodies that simply won't obey the commands of their brains. The response was a technological blitz that created an online world for these people (called Hedens) accessed by a technological interface. Later, these interfaces were used to control androids called "threeps" to walk around in the real world. They can actually feel what the android feels.

And, someone figured out how to turn this into a sporting event. Two teams of threeps carrying medieval weapons line up on a football field. On each team one person is "it". The other team is supposed to go after the threep who is it, bash or cut his/her head off, pick it up and get it to the end zone for a score. It has all of the violence with none of the real world consequences because the threep pilot cannot be hurt by this.

Until one of the threep pilots dies, that is.

Chris Shane is an FBI agent who uses a threep. He and his partner, the immensely crusty Leslie Vann, are on the case to figure out how the player died when there's another death. And, that's just the beginning...

This is my first John Scalzi novel and I am a bit irritated. The book I read (the UK edition) didn't even tell me that this book was the second book in a three book series - a fact that I didn't even know until I looked at this book on Amazon before writing this review.

The mystery is pretty good. A mystery in the middle of a science fiction novel is pretty unique. The threep aspect of the story was interesting but ended up making Chris Shane a lot like a small-time superhero. Threeps can't be hurt, they are strong, they can't be killed and they have instant online access. On top of that, Hadens have the power to travel very quickly by simply logging out of a threep in one location and logging into one in another location. Yes, he has his version of kryptonite (his real-life body is pretty defenseless), but it takes some of the suspense of it.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: HEAD ON: A NOVEL of the NEAR FUTURE (Lock In #2) by John Scalzi.

THE DEATH of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR AFTERMATH (audiobook) by Larry Hama



Performed by a multicast.
Duration: 5 hours, 35 minutes.
Unabridged.


Set in the days after the conclusion of the superhero Civil War, this book deals with the aftermath of the assassination of Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) on his way to a courthouse to face a judge for not complying with a superhero registration policy. If you are only familiar with the Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War, this movie will be confusing. The movie is inspired by this comic book series, but does not follow it.

The superhero world (and the regular people, too) is mourning the murder of Captain America. In particular, Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier) is on the hunt for the killer. He is not alone. Falcon, Black Widow, Nick Fury and Sharon Carter are also looking. Turns out that even though Captain America is gone, many of his oldest enemies are still on the prowl...

I really enjoyed Civil War, but the follow up was just so-so. The big plot from the bad guys was unnecessarily complicated and was not made entirely clear in this adaptation (perhaps it was more clear in the book that this adaptation came from). To me, it seemed like the villains could have achieved one of there minor goals (influencing the American Presidential election) for less money by cutting back on minions and secret bases and just throwing a crapload of money  at politicians, like the Koch brothers and George Soros do.

The production was excellent. GraphicAudio always produces stories like old-fashioned radio plays. This one has more than 20 voice actors and lots of special effects but that wasn't enough to completely redeem this disappointing story.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE DEATH of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR AFTERMATH.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

LEADERSHIP: IN TURBULENT TIMES (audiobook) by Doris Kearns Goodwin



Published in 2018 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by Beau Bridges. David Morse, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders and the author.
Duration: 18 hours, 5 minutes.
The author, Doris Kearns Goodwin
Unabridged.

Doris Kearns Goodwin often is labeled with the title "presidential historian" and, really, that is a pretty accurate term for her. As a young historian, she worked personally with Lyndon Johnson on his presidential memoirs. She has written about both Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her book Team of Rivals is a modern classic and has redefined the popular image of the Lincoln administration.

In this book, she looks at various qualities of leadership that each of these very different men exhibited. She begins with interesting pre-presidential biographies of each of these men. She focuses on Lincoln's expressed desire to become a person that was worthy of the esteem of his community. Theodore Roosevelt's ceaseless energy and desire to experience new things led him to meet all sorts of people and learn about their concerns. FDR's efforts to recover from polio were above and beyond. Also, she focuses on his habit of hiding his own problems from the people around him. LBJ's relentless push to put connect himself to people in power is interesting - a road map to power, if you will. But, it is not particularly inspiring (that comes later on for LBJ).

If the book were just those early biographies, it would be an impressive book. But, it goes on to look at an individual theme (in the case of Theodore Roosevelt, a single crisis) that developed in each man's presidency.

With Lincoln, the theme is the end of slavery. With Theodore Roosevelt, the crisis is a national coal strike (May - October 1902) that threatened to literally freeze millions of people. With FDR, the crisis is the Great Depression and his willingness to try and discard and try again in order to alleviate the suffering. For LBJ, the focus is on his push to pass Civil Rights legislation in wake of President Kennedy's assassination and the political cost he suffered in doing so. She also comments on the Vietnam War being the tragic result of his singular focus on domestic policy.

She identifies individual leadership lessons as she goes along. I have no idea how many there are because I listened to it as an audiobook and was not able to write them down as I went along.

Speaking of the audiobook version, this audiobook is read by five different readers. The author reads the opening and closing. The sections on the Presidents are each read by a different award-winning actor. Beau Bridges was absolutely excellent as the reader for the LBJ section. I wish he'd read more audiobooks.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: LEADERSHIP: IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin.