"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
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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.


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


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


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.


Sunday, September 22, 2019


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


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


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.

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: 

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.


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

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

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.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A GREAT CIVIL WAR: A MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY, 1861-1865 by Russell F. Weigley

Published by Indiana University Press in 2000.

Russell F. Weigley (1930-2004) was a professor of military history at Temple University for 36 years. He wrote a whole bookshelf full of military histories, but only one book that focused exclusively on the Civil War (however, he was working on a multi-volume study of Gettysburg when he passed away). 

This is an excellent single volume history of the Civil War saddled with an unfortunate piece of art done in American primitive style that makes it look like it was illustrated by the author's elementary school-aged great-grandchild. I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover makes the book look like a children's book.

This is far from a children's book. 
No more than a page or two is spent on the issues that brought on the war and no more than a page is spent of Reconstruction, but this is a Civil War history for people who have read a lot of Civil War histories. It tells the same story as many histories (this will be the 112th history that I have reviewed on this blog, so I am pretty familiar with the genre), but it takes a much more comprehensive look at the war than most histories.
Engineers of the 8th New York State Militia  
from the National Archives.

Weigley doesn't spend a lot of time on individual battles (usually, just a page or two per battle) and certainly doesn't cover all of them. But, he does a good job of highlighting the main generals, the bigger battles and the political problems faced by both the Union and Confederate governments. He also explores important but usually overlooked areas like how the war was financed on both sides. Yeah, that can be boring, but someone had to buy the bullets, the uniforms and feed the soldiers and, in the end, the Confederacy ran out of that capacity.

I am rating this history 5 stars out of 5 despite its writing style. For example, here is a particularly egregious sentence on page 209 as part of a discussion of how the Union financed the war and reformed the banking system: "A system of national banks under Federal supervision, issuing bank notes secured by U.S. bonds and guaranteed by the Federal government, might strike down at last the state bank notes of bewildering variety and uncertain security that had plagued the Jacksonian conscience ever since Andrew Jackson himself had destroyed the Bank of the United States only to spawn an inadequately regulated congeries of state banks in its place." Nearly 70 words that should have been split into two or maybe three sentences.

But, it is an excellent history if you are willing to wade through the writing every once in a while.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: A GREAT CIVIL WAR: A MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY, 1861-1865.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

WORTH DYING FOR (JACK REACHER #15) (audiobook) by Lee Child

Published in 2010 by Random House Audio.
Read by Dick Hill.
Duration: 13 hours, 45 minutes.

Fresh off of the action in 61 Hours, Jack Reacher is hitching his way to Virginia. He is nursing his injuries from that adventure and has made it from South Dakota to a lonely hotel in rural Nebraska. When he is drinking coffee at the hotel bar the local drunk gets a call at the bar. Turns out he's also the local doctor and Reacher shames him into going to treat the woman who called to ask him to treat a bloody nose that won't stop bleeding.

Reacher suspects she's a victim of spousal abuse and it turns out he's correct. The doctor has been told not to treat her by her husband's family. They rule the area with an iron fist and maintain a crew of 10 former Nebraska Cornhusker college football players to make sure no one steps out of line.

Reacher steps out of line, though. He tracks down the abused woman's husband, takes out his bodyguard, breaks the husband's nose and heads back to his hotel room.

Reacher is warned: "You started a war. They want to finish it."

Turns out, the warning was correct.

This is my 21st review of a Jack Reacher book or short story. They go up and down. Lately, I've been on a streak of mediocre Reacher stories. I am happy to say that this one was pretty good. It's been padded with too much discussion and extras from time to time, but it was a solid story.

New readers to the series could jump in with this one and not really miss much. In this story, Reacher once again takes on the classic Western role of the drifter that comes into town and helps the locals get deal with some bad guys. It's not a new story (even for this series it is the most common theme), but it is a good one.

The audiobook was read by Dick Hill. Hill has recently retired, but I think that he really nails the Jack Reacher novels.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: WORTH DYING FOR (JACK REACHER #15) (audiobook) by Lee Child.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


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

Brandon T. Snider was stuck in a hard place when he was picked to write this book. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had just released Infinity War and there was no way that Snider was going to be allowed to release any spoilers for Endgame. In fact, there was really no way that he was going to be allowed to move anything forward in any meaningful way. The ABC TV show AGENTS of SHIELD has been dealing with this problem for years - how do you tell an interesting story when you are so constricted in what you can write about?

Well, in this case, he pretty much failed.

The story centers around two brothers who are MCU characters. No, not Loki and Thor. They are the Collector (featured in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie and played by Benicio del Toro) and the Grandmaster (featured in Thor: Ragnarok and played by Jeff Goldblum).

The book is set after Thor: Ragnarok and before Infinity War. The Collector is re-building after the disaster that happened when he was visited by the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Grandmaster has lost everything and is trying to start over again without letting his brother know how far he has fallen.

They decide that their best bet is to look for the Infinity Stones themselves. As they search, they are told the plots of the movies The AvengersThe Age of Ultron and The Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, the Grandmaster refers to the plot of Thor: Ragnarok

Sadly, these interludes are the best part of the book. Most of the rest of the book consists of the two brothers visiting one seedy location after another on the planetoid Nowhere and doing nothing much. They talk to each other in a passive-aggressive manner, they unite to argue with other people and they are forced to move on.

So, in summary, the best part of this book are the various re-tellings of MCU movies that you have undoubtedly seen. It is pretty clear that this book was a cash grab by Disney for fans desperate for anything Marvel related that might offer a clue to what happened after the events of Infinity War. Don't fall for it.

The audiobook was read by Tom Taylorson who had the unenviable task of trying to play a character played by Jeff Goldblum. Taylorson did a good job of catching the quirkiness of the Grandmaster but only Jeff Goldblum can capture the true spirit of Jeff Goldblum.

I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5.  It can be found on Amazon.com here: MARVEL'S AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: THE COSMIC QUEST: VOLUME 1: BEGINNING.

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by Robin Miles.
Duration: 6 hours, 45 minutes.


The notice put out just after the escape of Ona Judge. Note that
George Washington kept his name out of the notice for
political reasons. He was well aware of the irony of  the
man who led the fight for America's freedom hunting down
a slave who escaped for her personal freedom.
Ona (Oney) Judge was Martha Washington's personal body servant - the person that brushed her hair, sewed her clothing and generally made sure she was taken care of as she went through her day.

The Washingtons were living in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of government for the fledgling United States while Washington, D.C. was being designed and laid out. The problem with Philadelphia (for the Washingtons) is that it was in the middle of a change. Pennsylvania had been a slave state, but it was becoming a free state. In fact, Pennsylvania was taking the first steps towards becoming an abolitionist stronghold. Technically, the Washingtons could keep their slaves, but after six continuous months of residence in Philadelphia they were technically allowed to start the process to become free people.

George Washington and his lawyers worked out a rotation schedule so that none of his slaves would reside in Pennsylvania for no more than six months at a time. But, Ona Judge had learned a lot about freedom in Philadelphia because there were so many free African Americans that she would have interacted with. And, she became aware of the nascent beginnings of an Underground Railroad.

When Ona learned that she would be given away to Martha Washington's granddaughter as a wedding present, she decided it was time to escape. And, the President of the United States decided that he had to bring her back...

This is a true story, but for most people it is an unknown one.  I know that I just learned about Ona Judge a little more than a year ago. It is ironic to have the first President of the United States searching for a person that just wants to have her freedom.

The book's primary fault is one that would be hard to overcome, no matter the author. There is just not a lot of source material on Ona Judge. To fill in the blanks, the author paints a picture of what her life (and the lives of all so-called "house slaves" of the time) must have been like, including detailed descriptions of the type of work she must have done as a slave and as a free woman. But, too many sentences start with phrases like "probably", "must have", "could have" as the author discusses possible thoughts, feelings and reactions to the events of her life. It is a powerful book, but it is not always authoritative.

Still, I gladly recommend this book. I rate it 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: NEVER CAUGHT: THE WASHINGTONS' RELENTLESS PURSUIT of THEIR RUNAWAY SLAVE, ONA JUDGE.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

THE SHORT DROP (Gibson Vaughn #1) (audiobook) by Matthew FitzSimmons

Published by Brilliance Audio in 2015.
Read by James Patrick Cronin.

Duration: 11 hours, 54 minutes.

Gibson Vaughn is an unemployed computer whiz. This former Marine was a world-class hacker before he went into the Marine Corps. It would be more accurate to say that he was forced into the Marine Corps because he hacked into a Senator's computer and found documents showing that he was stealing his own campaign funds. But, it turns out that he wasn't and Vaughn was giving the choice of prison or the Marines.

The problem is, now that Vaughn is back in the civilian world the former Senator (now Vice President and leading candidate for President) has blacklisted him.

Vaughn gets a job offer that he can't turn down - a chance to use his computer skills to act on a new clue to find a girl who was abducted 10 years ago. But, there is a complication - this girl is the daughter of the Senator that he hacked...

The Short Drop has a complicated plot, but it flows well and the reader (listener in my case) has no problem following it along in all of its intricacies. It has lots of action and lots of twists and turns and I just blew right through it. James Patrick Cronin did a great job of reading this audiobook.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Published in 2018 by Beacon Press.
Read by Amy Landon.

Duration: 6 hours, 21 minutes.

Robin DiAngelo is a diversity trainer. She also happens to be white. She has noticed that it is very common for white participants to react very negatively during these training sessions, often acting very defensively and offering a lot of excuses. In this book, she looks at those excuses and lays out the refutations of those excuses.

The good:

This book offers a very useful definition of racism. Hint: it is not just people acting horribly to other groups of people, it is a whole cultural system that we absorb.

It also offers some practical advice about how to deal with your own prejudices.

The bad:

White Fragility is a repetitive book. It could have easily been edited down by one-third without a loss of any new material.

Another weakness is that it doesn't really offer a list of common racist behaviors that people complain about. For example, I have heard African-Americans complain about white people just reaching out and touching their hair, even petting it. I am sure it is out of harmless curiosity, but it's simply creepy behavior.


In the end, this is a solid place to start discussion.

I listened to this book as an audiobook. It was well-read by Amy Landon. I have no real complaints about her, but I actually recommend that you read it as a paper book so you can highlight areas important or more relevant to you and skip over some of the more repetitive areas.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: WHITE FRAGILITY: WHY IT'S SO HARD for WHITE PEOPLE to TALK ABOUT RACISM.

Monday, July 15, 2019

MURDER at GETTYSBURG (Miranda Lewis #2) by Leslie Wheeler

Published in 2007 by Worldwide Library (Worldwide Mystery).
Originally Published in 2005.

Historian Miranda Lewis has been invited to a Gettysburg re-enactment on the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3) by her old college roommate, Ginny. She accepts for two reasons - she wants to see her old friend and she has a serious crush on her friend's father, a retired judge and amateur historian who will also be there. She has been nursing this crush since she was 19 years old and he took her on a tour of the battlefield and taught her all about the battle.

Things get complicated, though, when Ginny's estranged husband Wiley shows up. He is a hardcore Civil War Confederate reenactor, the sort of man who starves himself to the point of being ill just to look more authentic. The sort of man who decorates his personal vehicle (called the "Battlemobile") with little plastic Civil War army men. Wiley has been gone on the reenactor circuit for a while, traveling from place to place and never checking back in with his family.

Even worse, Ginny's old college boyfriend comes to the reenactment looking for her. And, Wiley's friend Dred Davis is lingering around, with his menacing attitude.

But, when Wiley gets shot during the reenactment of Pickett's Charge and then dies of a heart attack things are just starting to get complicated...

Worldwide Mystery  is a big publishing house you have probably never heard of. They are in imprint of Harlequin (yes, the folks that sell the romance novels). When I used to work at a used book store we used to get a lot of these books in because they come in the mail - 2 per month. I have read more than my share of these books - some were really horrible, some were pretty good. But, they sure crank them out.

So, this mystery was not very good. It wasn't horrible, but it suffered from an amazing amount of characters. Every 20 pages or so, a new character was introduced with another subplot. So many subplots and so many characters that it was hard to keep track of them all. You have the historian with the daddy issue crush on a patronizing man at least 20 years older than her that she has maintained for all of these years without ever seeing the man in between, (*****Spoiler alerts for the rest of this paragraph*****) a gun-running operation, a guilt-ridden woman, 2 plots to recover lost love, a plot to foil lost love, multiple weird reenactors, nice guy that fixes cars (and his wife and his sun-bathing niece), a creepy guy that the protagonist sort of likes who likes to flash his EMT patch like he is a cop, a creepy cop and a cop that somehow doesn't arrest the confessed murderer because he wants to comfort the widow of the man he killed (yes, that is right) and somehow lets him take enough pills to kill himself instead. Explain that one back at the station.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: MURDER at GETTYSBURG (Miranda Lewis #2) by Leslie Wheeler.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

MILTON HERSHEY: MORE than CHOCOLATE: HEROES of HISTORY (audiobook) by Janet Benge and Geoff Benge

Published in 2015 by YWAM Publishing.
Read by Tim Gregory.
Duration: 4 hours, 55 minutes.

YWAM Publishing offers a series of biographies of Christian "heroes of history" aimed at home school students. The fact that this was part of series about "Christian" heroes was a surprise to me since this book didn't mention Hershey's faith at all. Nevertheless, this is an interesting and enjoyable biography of one of America's most successful businessmen, Milton Hershey (1857-1945).

This is a book showcasing the value of persistence. Starting with a failed attempt by his father in the oilfields of Pennsylvania in the late 1850's, the first half of this book is a series of business failures from Milton Hershey and his father, Henry.

Henry Hershey was more of a dreamer sort of entrepreneur - prone to rash decisions, excited by new technology and not very good on doing the follow up work to make sure that the venture succeeds. They traveled from Pennsylvania to Colorado to Louisiana, chasing the next big thing. Turns out that the next big thing was something that Milton Hershey learned from a baker in Colorado about how to make caramel that tastes better and stays fresh longer - milk.

So, Milton Hershey headed home to Pennsylvania and sets up his kitchen and everything just falls into place - except that it doesn't, at least not right away...

The stories of Hershey's struggles are by far more interesting than the story of his success. That being said, Hershey's commitment to charity once he became a success is extraordinary and worthy of note.

I did have one quibble. When it comes to the Hershey strike in 1937, the book doesn't really tell why some of the employees wanted to organize. Now, compared to most other places in the United States during the Great Depression, the workers in Hershey, Pennsylvania had it pretty well. Still, they had lost 1/3 of their hours per week and the workers that served as early union leaders were laid off, despite an agreement that they would not be.

The story is well told and well-read by the narrator, Tim Gregory. We listened to this book as a family on a vacation and found it interesting and were eager to start listening again as soon as we hit the highway.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: MILTON HERSHEY: MORE than CHOCOLATE: HEROES of HISTORY.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Published in 2018 by HarperAudio.
Read by the author, Helen Thomson.
Duration: 7 hours, 19 minutes.


The author and narrator, Helen Thomson
Helen Thomson is a science writer with a background in neurology. She was inspired by the story of the Jumping Frenchmen of Maine to set out to meet and interview ten people who literally experience the world differently than the rest of us.

Thomson does a solid job of explaining possible scientific explanations for each of these people's conditions and how those conditions may simply be extreme versions of a phenomenon that we all experience.

As in all collections (in this case, a collection of people), some are more interesting than others. For example, I found the story of the man who believed he was dead to be interesting but the story of the man who believed that he was a were-tiger was pretty lame all of the way around.

She also looks at a person who doesn't forget anything, a woman who gets lost everywhere, including in her own home and a man who had a radical personality shift after a head injury. The collection, on the whole, is worth exploring.

The audiobook was read by the author. She is a solid reader, but I would have chosen a professional reader instead.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: UNTHINKABLE: AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY THROUGH the WORLD'S STRANGEST BRAINS.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial -
replica of his boyhood farm.
Photo by DWD.

Published in 2008 by Indiana Historical Society Press.

Most know that Abraham Lincoln came from Springfield, Illinois. But, a lot of people are not aware that at age 7, Lincoln and his family moved to Indiana from Kentucky. Lincoln and his family stayed in Indiana until just after his 21st birthday.

In a four paragraph autobiographical sketch written in 1859, Lincoln devoted a little more than a paragraph to these years in Indiana, including this nice little sentence: "There I grew up."

All of the stories of Lincoln's childhood (reading by firelight, the legend of the rail splitter, his aversion to shedding blood of any sort, his kindness to animals and more) took place in Indiana. Hoosiers are happy to claim him.

The author, William E. Bartelt, worked for fifteen summers at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial as a ranger and historian and was the vice chair of the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. This book is the product of a lot of research and familiarity with the source material.

The first part of this biography goes through the autobiographical sketch mentioned in the second paragraph line-by-line and elaborates on them. It is by far the most interesting part of the book.

Most of the rest of the book is going through the notes of William Herndon (1818-1891), Lincoln's law partner when he was elected President. Very soon after Lincoln's assassination, Herndon decided to write a biography of his friend and set off to Indiana to find people that he grew up with.

Herndon's interview notes are published in this book. They are not particularly interesting reading. Here is a typical sample from page 128: "The Country is a heavy timbered one - farms are cleared and cut out of the forests. The woods - the timber is hickory - white oak, called buck-eye and and buck lands. The old farm now belongs to Jas Gentry - Son of Jas Gentry for whom, the old man the brother of Allen - Lincoln went to N. Orleans in 1828 or 29. John Heaven or Heavener now lives as tenant on the land: it an orchard on it, part of Which Abm Lincoln planted with his own hands..." 

I got to the point where I skimmed Herndon's notes and read Bartelt's summary that followed. So many of Herndon's interviews recycled the same information. I assume that he was asking the same questions of each person he interviewed and got a lot of the same answers over and over again.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. Solid work, but dry. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THERE I GREW UP: REMEMBERING ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S INDIANA YOUTH by William E. Bartelt.

Monday, July 1, 2019

SUPERMAN / BATMAN: FINEST WORLDS (Superman / Batman #8) (graphic novel) by Michael Green and Mike Johnson

Art by Ed Benes, Rafael Albuquerque, Rags Morales, and John Dell.
Published in 2010 by DC Comics.

There are three stories in this collection.

Story #1. "The Fathers"

The weakest of the three. A piece of Kryptonian technology is found in a farm field near Smallville. It comes to life for a few seconds and triggers a reaction in the Batcave. It turns out that the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel have a previously unknown connection...

I rate this story 3 stars out of 5.

Story #2. "Lil' Leaguers"

Worlds collide in this one. Smaller, more childlike versions of all of your favorite DC superheroes and supervillains enter the Superman / Batman world. Their world is literally smaller and weapons don't really hurt each other in that world. In fact, their universe is just a much more pleasant place on every level.

The page where Superman and Batman meet their miniature selves is quite amusing. Lil' Batman and big Batman do not get along and mayhem ensues. Soon, they have to work together to round up Lil' Lex Luthor as he leads an all-star team of small supervillains. They are interested in acquiring technology that will actually be effective back in their world.

I rate this story 5 stars out of 5. I would gladly read another story with the Lil' Justice League.

Story #3. "Superbat"

While fighting the Silver Banshee, Batman and Superman get blasted. Due to a magic amulet, Batman slowly gets Superman's powers as Superman slowly becomes a regular person. But, what does Batman do once he literally cannot be stopped?

Nightwing features prominently in this one. The art is also excellent in this story.

I rate this story 4 stars out of 5.


I enjoy this series. I very much like the "thought bubbles" that this series features. They are the internal monologue of both Batman and Superman as they think about one another. They are allies, maybe even friends. But, they certainly don't think the same way about many things.

There are three stories in this collection. I rated them 3 stars, 5 stars and 4 stars. 3 + 5 + 4 = 12. 12 stars divided by 3 stories = 4 stars.

I rate this collection 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: SUPERMAN / BATMAN: FINEST WORLDS (Superman / Batman #8).

SUPERMAN: THE COMING of the SUPERMEN (graphic novel) by Neal Adams

Published by DC Comics in 2016.
Art by Neal Adams.

A group of men dressed like Superman crash land in an older couple's Iowa cornfield. They then fly to Lex Luthor's corporate headquarters and engage in a fight against an invasion. It is Darkseid's soldiers coming through a red "tunnel" called a "boom tube". The boom tube allows people to travel from one planet to another instantaneously - like a tunnel between worlds.

But, these three new Supermen are not very good at fighting the bad guys are are fairly confused about how to use their super powers. Turns out they are three Kryptonians that have come to defend Earth from an invasion of Darkseid's troops led by his oldest son, the immortal Kalibak, in the hopes that Superman will go to Krypton to deal with a Darkseid invasion. 

Meanwhile, Superman is in the Middle East saving civilians in a war zone. Among those civilians are an orphan and his dog. Superman is stopped by a time-controlling alien that looks like a winged demon and told that he needs to take this boy and his dog home and take care of them.

So, Lois and Clark take this boy in and immediately farm him out to a nanny.

If you noticed the contradiction in the second paragraph (Superman, please defend Krypton from Darkseid's invasion while ignoring Darkseid's invasion of Earth 
led by an immortal thug that can rip down buildings with his bare hands) then that puts you ahead of the author and illustrator. 

This collection of six comics features A LOT of yelling (giant text that fills up chunks of the page), cursing from Superman, almost everybody getting punched in the face so hard that it knocks them out and great lines like this gem from Superman as he fights Kalibak: "RETURN THE BOY! Return the boy, you worthless animal! Nothing requires you. You make our existence ugly with your presence. Give me the boy or your life is forfeit.

The lesson here is that when Superman gets mad, he will kill and he will do it sounding like he is participating in a bad session of Shakespearean improv. I can excuse goofy lines in improv - it's off the top of your head. This mess was actually written out, proofread and inked in over a period of time. 

The drawings are actually not bad at all, but the layout is haphazard. Sometimes it goes all of the way across the two pages, sometimes it goes down the side of the page. It was not uncommon to have to re-read the pages just to figure out what order that it was supposed to be read.

This may very well be the worst graphic novel I have ever read. I rate it 1 star out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: SUPERMAN: THE COMING of the SUPERMEN by Neal Adams.

SOFT TARGET: A THRILLER (Ray Cruz #2) (audiobook) by Stephen Hunter

Published in 2011 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by Phil Gigante.
Duration: 7 hours, 56 minutes.

The premise of this book is pretty simple: The Bruce Willis movie Die Hard meets Minnesota's The Mall of America, except in this book it is called America: The Mall.

It's Black Friday, the biggest shopping day in the biggest shopping mall in America. Suddenly, Islamic terrorists throw off their disguises, shoot the mall Santa between the eyes and take a thousand people hostage.

Turns out that super tough retired Marine Ray Cruz is shopping in the mall and almost immediately sets out to start taking out the bad guys...

So, if the book had just followed that basic story line, it would have been better. Instead, it moves away from this compelling story (the "thriller" promised in the title). Instead, we get a lot of political wrangling with an up and coming politician-type leader of the Minnesota State Patrol, his subordinates and the FBI. This character, named Obobo, was clearly modeled on President Obama (bi-racial, father is from Kenya, extremely well-spoken, almost no experience for a man in his position) and it's obvious that the author is no fan. That's fine, I wasn't a fan, either. But, wow, this was not subtle. Also, this story line was mostly 2 hours of time-filler in this audibook. It did almost nothing and made no sense.

One last complaint - one of the bad guy's escape plans was so pathetic that I can't believe that anyone who had spent any time in America and witnessed a major media even would have ever considered it. It had no hope of success. He might as well have fired off flare guns while running out of the main entrance of the mall.

Phil Gigante read this audiobook. He is a seasoned audiobook pro and it showed - he did a great job with accents and female voices.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5. It gets 2 stars because I really liked a character named LaVelva.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Soft Target: A Thriller by Stephen Hunter

Sunday, June 30, 2019

FAITH and the FUTURE FORCE (graphic novel) by Jody Houser

Published in 2017 by Valiant Entertainment, LLC,
Art by Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Diego Bernard and Cary Nord.

Faith Herbert is a superhero (Zephyr) in hiding. She has been accused of a murder she did not commit in another series (she's a member of some sort of Justice League/Avengers type of group). She no longer acts as a superhero and her secret identity now has a secret identity. She is working in an office and trying not to get noticed.

Now, a note about this graphic novel. Before this book, I had never heard of Faith Herbert or this series. But, I was attracted to the front cover because of Faith. Faith is a woman of generous proportions - something I have never seen in any comic book. In fact, I can't think of a single superhero comic that features an overweight superhero without it being a joke (Mr. Incredible's gut doesn't slow him down, but it has been a sight gag from the very first trailer of the first movie). This got my attention because I am a man of generous proportions.

Secondly, when I opened up the book and thumbed through it I found multiple Doctor Who references. On the third page, a superhero in a typical full curve-hugging superhero outfit appears in Faith's office and says, "Come with me if you want to save history." 

Faith answers, "I've been preparing my whole life for this moment."

The hero responds, "Oh God, you're a Doctor Who fan aren't you? Of course."

Well, that was it - I was sold. Guess what? It turns out that Faith is not only a Doctor Who fan - she is also a Star Trek fan. What's not to love?

Back to the story...

Faith has been recruited to help stop a robot from the future that is traveling through time and destroying human history. If I tell any more, I will make spoilers.

The story is a bit confusing for at least the first half of the book, with all of the time traveling and Faith having things explained to her a little bit at a time on the fly . If you are a Doctor Who fan, you are used to this. And, like a great Doctor Who episode, it all comes together and has a clever ending.

The art is top notch in this book. It was quite fun.

I rate this graphic novel 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: FAITH and the FUTURE FORCE.


Published by Brilliance Audio in 2018.
Read by the author, Kevin Allison.

Duration: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

The author, Kevin Allison
Kevin and Ben are best friends and have been since first grade. They are both a little different than the other guys. Both are more interested in singing and acting than in sports. Both have active imaginations, a wide-ranging knowledge of movie and Broadway soundtracks and both have quirky senses of humor.

As they go through school together, they have sleep-overs, they start a theater club and they even write a play together that they perform in front of their Catholic school in Cincinnati.

Ben even teaches Kevin all about the birds and the bees in a three day tutorial on the playground during recess (Surprisingly solid info considering that it was based on what the older neighbor boys told him).

But, on the weekend before the beginning of seventh grade, everything changes when Kevin tells Ben his biggest secret...

This audiobook was brilliantly read by the author. Kevin Allison has a real talent for narration. The big secret is that Kevin is gay and the last half hour of the audiobook deals with the aftermath of that revelation.

My only complaint about this audiobook is that we don't hear more about these two friends as they move on into high school and beyond. I wish there had been a short epilogue - even a paragraph. But, this was still an enjoyable listen.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE TWO HENRYS: THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING COLLECTION (audiobook) by Kevin Allison.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

SING, UNBURIED, SING: A NOVEL (audiobook) by Jesmyn Ward

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.
Publishers Weekly Top 10 for 2017.

New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017.

Published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Chris Chalk and Rutina Wesley
Duration: 8 hours, 22 minutes.

Jojo lives in rural Mississippi on a small farm, but it is a complicated world. He is bi-racial. His white father (Michael) is in Parchman Farm, officially known as the Mississippi State Penitentiary. His African American mother is a frequent substance abuser and is in and out of his life so much that he and his toddler-aged sister just refer to her by her first name, Leonie. His little sister treats him much more as a parent than Leonie.

He lives with his African American grandparents (his grandmother is dying of cancer) and his white grandparents won't have anything to do with him because they are racists and cannot stand the idea that their son had mixed-race children. To make it all the more complicated, Michael's cousin murdered Leonie's brother and covered it up to be just a hunting accident.

Most of the book deals with the trip to Parchman Farm to pick up Michael on the day of his release. Jojo and his little sister Kayla are forced to go along with Leonie and her friend in addiction, Misty. Jojo's African American grandfather won't go because he served time there as a teenager for a crime he did not do. Plus, he is the only one that can take care of Jojo's grandmother.

The trip is a long one. It shouldn't have been but Leonie is in charge of things. Also, Jojo's little sister Kayla is sick and vomits often. Her "mother" mostly ignores her illness, conducts drug deals along the way and demonstrates her unworthiness as a parent. Once they pick up Michael, he shows that he is a marginally better parent (but that is not too hard).

While at Parchman, Jojo starts to see a ghost who seems to know a lot about grandfather...

This book should have been split into two books. The story of Jojo and his family was interesting, especially the relationship between Jojo and his grandfather. The mystic part of the story was not nearly as interesting as Jojo's life and his grandfather's history. That history could have been told without the introduction of ghosts. For me, it would have been much more effective without them.

What we really ended up here was a long story about Jojo's messy family situation, death and loss and a toddler that vomits all over everyone at one point or another. For me, this was a wasted opportunity.

There were three readers for this audiobook since the story is told from three different points of view: Jojo, Leonie and Richie (a ghost). The parts read for Jojo and Richie were excellently read. But, the parts read by Rutina Welsey for Leonie were excruciating. I will blame this entirely on the producer, not the voice actor. When she read, it sounded like she was pretending to be Eartha Kitt from the 1960's Batman series. Eartha Kitt played Catwoman with a sultry, purring voice. Now imagine a sultry, purring Eartha Kitt reading a text as a parody of Slam Poetry. It was tedious, making an already tedious character unbearable.

So, I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. This book won a ton of awards (some of them are listed above) and I cannot figure out why. For me, this was an uncomfortable mash-up of two different books forced to become one unwieldy mess that doesn't explore either idea to a satisfactory end.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Sing, Unburied, Sing.