"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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Saturday, February 23, 2019

SAG HARBOR: A NOVEL (audiobook) by Colson Whitehead



Published in 2009 by Random House Audio.
Narrated by Mirron Willis
Duration: 11 hours, 17 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, Colson Whitehead.
It is 1985. Benjie Cooper and his brother are spending the summer at the resort town of Sag Harbor, New York. This Long Island resort town is actually two resort towns - one white and one black. The Coopers are part of a very close-knit African American community of New York City professionals that started their part of Sag Harbor two generations earlier.

During the summers, families head out on the weekends and older kids are often left out in Sag Harbor for the summer. Benjie and his brother are in high school and a group of high school boys hang out together all summer. Benjie is desperate to be cool (being on Dungeons and Dragons-playing Star Wars fan doesn't help - take it from a kid who was both in high school at the same time).

They get summer jobs, they hit the beach, they look for girls, they try to get into concerts at local night clubs, they get BB guns and shoot each other, they explore, identify houses that were undoubtedly haunted, avoid doing laundry until way after it starts to smell and other typical teenage boy things. Also, they desperately want to figure out what makes girls tick.

...and that is pretty much the plot of the book. I listened to it as an audiobook, and Mirron Willis' narration was well done. But, there is no real plot to the book. There are hints of family strife that never are explained. There are hints that some of the boys go on to do great things and some end up in jail or worse. There's not even a "where are they now?" epilogue at the end of the book. It starts right after Memorial Day and ends at Labor Day - almost like the world's longest "What I did over the summer" essay.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Sag Harbor: A Novel by Colson Whitehead.

  

Thursday, February 21, 2019

AMERICAN INDIANS and the CIVIL WAR: OFFICIAL NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HANDBOOK by the National Park Service



Published in 2013 by Eastern National

Manuelito (c. 1818 - 1893)
One of the best things about visiting a National Park is visiting the book section of the gift shop. If you visit a Civil War-related site, the book sections are a rare treasure trove of high quality books all gathered in one place.

Nestled in among the books are a series of attractive books printed by Eastern National. Physically, they remind me of the old style of National Geographic. They are bound similarly and, most importantly, they are chock full of color photographs like National Geographics were.

The pictures are truly the strong point in this book, however. The text of the book is a series of essays written by different authors from the points of view of several different Native American groups. There is a lot of overlap and a lot of gaps because they are not edited together into a coherent narrative.


The perspective provided by the book is a welcome one, but the book would have been much strengthened by the inclusion of an essay focusing on the Indian policies of the Lincoln Administration and how it was or was not implemented while the primary focus was on the war that was sometimes being fought just a few miles from the White House.

I particularly enjoyed the essay on the Navajo by Peter Iverson. I found the stories of their leaders Barboncito and Manuelito fascinating.

I rate this compilation 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: AMERICAN INDIANS and the CIVIL WAR: OFFICIAL NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HANDBOOK.

Friday, February 15, 2019

BLACK KLANSMAN: RACE, HATE, and the UNDERCOVER INVESTIGATIONS of a LIFETIME (audiobook) by Ron Stallworth




Originally published in 2014.
Audiobook version published in 2018.
Read by the author, Ron Stallworth.
Duration: 5 hours, 50 minutes.
Unabridged.

Ron Stallworth, at the time the only African American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department (this was the 1970's), wrote a letter in response to a classified ad. It was looking for recruits to the Ku Klux Kan. Stallworth expressed his interest and thoughtlessly signed his own name, rather than an undercover name. Soon enough, the Klan leader called the number and Stallworth found himself being recruited.

Clearly, Stallworth couldn't show up in person so he created a little task force complete with a white undercover officer pretending to be Stallworth, when needed. Eventually, Stallworth had a membership card (!) and having frequent phone conversations with David Duke, the most famous KKK leader in the country.

The premise of the book was, sadly, more interesting than the follow through. The book was written in a very dry style, much like a "just the facts, ma'am" police report. It was easily understood, but it was easy to let my mind wander and not miss much. Some moments stand out, however. The phone conversation with David Duke telling Stallworth how he could ALWAYS identify African Americans on the phone was priceless, as was the time that Stallworth was assigned to be the bodyguard for Duke when he came to Colorado Springs to give a speech.

The author read the book, which was helpful in the sense that the listener could hear Stallworth's voice and understand how he fooled the KKK. But, Stallworth is not a particularly exciting reader. This is a great story, but it would have been better if Stallworth had read an introduction and had the rest of the book read by a professional.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here:  BLACK KLANSMAN: RACE, HATE, and the UNDERCOVER INVESTIGATIONS of a LIFETIME by Ron Stallworth.



Thursday, February 14, 2019

PAST TENSE: A JACK REACHER NOVEL by Lee Child (audiobook)



Published in 2018 by Random House Audio.
Read by Scott Brick.

Duration: 12 hours, 51 minutes.
Unabridged.

Jack Reacher is in New Hampshire and is working his way cross-country to San Diego. As normal, he is hitchhiking. He gets dropped off near the town where his father was born, Laconia. He has never been there and decides to check it out. His father has been dead for thirty years but he might find someone who remembers him.  The more  digs, the more he finds that this father's backstory doesn't quite jive with what he is discovering on the ground...

Meanwhile, a Canadian couple is travelling through New Hampshire on their way to New York City. They are carrying a mysterious cargo in the trunk of their rattletrap Honda. When the Honda dies in the parking lot of a lonely hotel, the owners of the hotel convince the couple to check in for the night and try to find a mechanic in the morning. But, something doesn't seem right...

This book had all of the pieces to make a perfectly good Jack Reacher novel - Reacher's mysterious family problems (a semi-constant theme throughout the series), Reacher rolling into town and finding a wrong that needs to be corrected and clever local people with brave hearts to help him.

But, this book became a tedious mess that just never gels into a consistent plot. It takes nearly 25% of the book for Reacher (or anyone) to get into any sort of action, and that was obviously a plotting device designed to make it difficult for Reacher to stay in town. Eventually, Reacher picks fights with three different groups of people in this small New Hampshire town and its nearby surroundings (there simply must be something in the water to cause all of these problems). Even though this sounds like a lot of action, it was surprisingly slow.

It was almost like there were pieces of three separate books laying around and Lee Child just mashed them together into this book. There are flashes of clever writing and good action, but there is simply too much of watching Jack Reacher perform a genealogical investigation throughout the book. This was a wasted opportunity.

This is the first audiobook in the post-Dick Hill era. Dick Hill read almost all of the previous 23 novels and the assorted short stories and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Scott Brick is a solid choice to replace Hill (Hill has retired from reading audiobooks). I am sure that my dislike of this book was not due to Scott Brick. It's too bad that his debut book was this dud.

So, this is my worst rating of a Jack Reacher novel - 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: PAST TENSE: A JACK REACHER NOVEL by Lee Child.

Friday, February 1, 2019

FLAWED DOGS: THE NOVEL: THE SHOCKING RAID on WESTMINSTER by Berkeley Breathed



Originally published in 2009.

I am a big fan of Berkeley Breathed and have been for 35+ years. I have multiple volumes of his Bloom County books, I enjoyed his movie Mars Needs Moms so much that I went out and bought it after I had rented it. I love his children's book Pete and Pickles.

This book, however, is a rare misfire.

To begin with, the book assumes that you read an earlier childrens book called Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound. This book is like a catalog of dogs that no one will adopt because of their flaws. The dogs from the first book are thrown into the Flawed Dogs: The Novel with little or no introduction - just a pack of dogs with names and skills and oddities that the reader had better remember. No character development, no real chance to get to know any of them. There was a whole dog that I had no idea was even in the book until he was shown in an illustration.

The main character of the book is a dachshund named Sam. Sam loves his human, a girl named Heidy who doesn't like dogs because her parents were killed by dogs in some sort of horrible accident that the book was never quite clear about. Sam is slated to participate in the Westminster dog show, but another dog is so jealous that he mutilates himself and sets Sam up so that it looks like he attacked a human baby. Heidy's uncle shoots Sam. But, Sam doesn't die. Instead, he ends up at the "Last Chance" Pound. That is the first half of the book.

Spoiler alert************

The second half of the book is very rushed and features Sam getting his foot in a badger trap, Sam getting hit by a car, Sam spending three years in a laboratory being mutilated for science and Sam being put into a dog fight by his second human owner to pay off a debt. Sam hatches a big, complicated plot (that was vague except for a gag that I have seen done on cartoons ranging from Donald Duck to Scooby Doo) to get even with the poodle that took him away from Heidy.

This book commits too many "sins" - it is a hurried, gruesome mess.

I do not dispute that all of the atrocities that happen to Sam happen to real dogs every day (except for being framed by a poodle). This book should have been a whole series of books with each book featuring Sam and perhaps a couple of new dogs from the "Last Chance" Pound confronting a new horrible thing that people do to dogs. Not light reading, but made informative and tolerable because they would 
feature the indomitable dachshund Sam coming to the rescue.

End spoiler alert************

I rate this book 1 star out of 5. If you must read it, it can be found on Amazon.com here: FLAWED DOGS: THE NOVEL: THE SHOCKING RAID on WESTMINSTER by Berkeley Breathed.