"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, March 28, 2019

GET on BOARD: THE STORY of the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Jim Haskins



Published in 1993 by Scholastic.

Levi Coffin House, a major stopping point of the
Underground Railroad
Jim Haskins' introduction to the Underground Railroad is aimed at grades 4-7. It is a solid little history of the origins of the abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad and slavery. It mostly focuses on the heroes of the abolitionist movement, but it does its best to try to work in a lot of individual stories of the Underground Railroad.

For example, I enjoyed the letter that Jermain Wesley Loguen wrote to his former owner (he had run away) when she demanded that he pay for himself. It was the perfect blend of snark and indignant refusal.

The longest biography in the book goes to Harriet Tubman with Frederick Douglass coming in a close second. That is appropriate since their stories are extraordinary. Haskins does a real solid job of introducing the two real-life people that the most famous African American characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin are based on and then reminding the reader of them when he discusses the novel and its impact.

However, it is not a perfect book. The pictures are, on the whole, very poor - much like a poor photocopy of a photo.

There is a problem when Haskins discusses Levi Coffin, who is sometimes called the President of the Underground Railroad as a testament to his commitment to the cause and the number of runaway slaves that he helped. Haskins makes it sound like Coffin's home is near Cincinnati (on the East Fork of the Ohio River - which doesn't exist, according to Google) but he discusses and shows a picture of his home in Fountain City. I have been to the Levi Coffin house many times in the last few years (they have a tour and a visitor's center -it's worth your time to visit) and I know that the Coffin family lived near Cincinnati at one point in time but then moved to Fountain City, Indiana. Google tells me that it is 79 miles from Cincinnati, which means that Haskins has confused the two locations.

But, on the whole, this is a nifty introduction to the Underground Railroad.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: GET on BOARD: THE STORY of the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Jim Haskins.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

ST. PAUL: THE APOSTLE WE LOVE to HATE (audiobook) by Karen Armstrong



Published in 2015 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by the author, Karen Armstrong.

Duration: 5 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged.

Karen Armstrong is a multiple award-winning author of more than 25 books, the great majority of them exploring religion. She is particularly interested in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. 
Born c. AD 5. Died c. AD 64-67

This book is aimed at the informed layman - not at other historians or religious experts. I read A LOT of history and have gone to church my entire life, but I can get lost in the weeds pretty quickly if too much professional jargon is used. Armstrong assumes a basic knowledge of the Christianity and of the New Testament. Nothing too complicated or deep and most of my Bible knowledge comes from Sunday school and small group Bible studies led by layman with a workbook. Armstrong takes care to explain things along the way because she is not out to impress the intellectuals - she has written a history for regular folks.

Paul has always been interesting to me. His writings have always seemed to me to be the first real attempt to move Jesus' teachings into a formal religion. There are times when I find his writings to be quite inspirational. At other times, he strikes me as obtuse and misogynistic. But, I wanted to get into the book to have a better understanding of what he was teaching and when he taught it.

The first thing that surprised me was the concept of Deutero-Pauline letters. Many scholars are now assuming that nearly half of the New Testament letters from Paul were not actually written by Paul, but by writers that came after him and used his name. This was a fairly common practice in Roman times - if you liked an author, you just borrowed his name. The evidence for this comes from analyzing the vocabulary used, the writing styles and changes in theology.

For me, this mostly cleared up one of my major frustrations with Paul - his inconsistencies. I say mostly because he still had some, but not nearly as many.

Her biography of Paul was interesting, but a bit skimpy since the audiobook was only a little over 5 hours long. But, it does hit the main points and I ended up feeling much more informed than I was before I started. I wish she had added more about his impact on the development of the Church over the nearly 2,000 years since his death.

This audiobook was read by the author. Sometimes, that can be a problem because being a great author is not the same thing as being a great audiobook reader. However, Armstrong has considerable experience with public speaking and her performance was quite good.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: ST. PAUL: THE APOSTLE WE LOVE to HATE (audiobook) by Karen Armstrong.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

THE BEATITUDES: FROM SLAVERY to CIVIL RIGHTS by Carole Boston Weatherford



Published in 2010 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Illustrated by Tim Ladwig.

Author Carole Boston Weatherford is a prolific writer for children. Usually, she writes books featuring African Americans on a wide variety of themes, including jazz, African American fathers, the Tuskegee Airmen, baseball, NASCAR and a lot of religious themes.

In this book, Weatherford tells the story of the African American struggle for equal rights through the prism of the Beatitudes, a sermon given by Jesus that is in the Book of Matthew. She begins with these words:

 

Matthew 5:3-12 King James Version

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

As the reader turns the pages they are treated to a two page spread of art and a few lines describing it. At the bottom of the page, almost like a continuous scroll, are Jesus' words.

Technically, this is a book intended for small children. But, I think it would be an amazing tool to use with older kids in a Bible study and applying it to everyday life. Also, it is a powerful reminder that faith played a big part in African American survival through the worst of times and moving the Civil Rights agenda forward. 


I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE BEATITUDES: FROM SLAVERY to CIVIL RIGHTS by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Monday, March 25, 2019

YOU WOULDN'T WANT to BE AN AMERICAN PIONEER! A WILDERNESS YOU'D RATHER NOT TAME by Jacqueline Morley



Illustrations by David Antram.
Published in 2002.


As a history teacher, I think just about all of history is fascinating - the cultural tidbits, the technology, the religious beliefs, the wars, the governments. It's all fascinating! But...convincing my students is another matter entirely. 

This series does an excellent job of looking at history from an interesting point of view and showing why it was tough. The art is accessible and just cartoonish enough to not be one of those boring illustrations that fill history books and plenty realistic enough that to clearly see and understand what is going on.


This series has dozens and dozens of books. This book is about the Oregon and tells all about the trials and tribulations that a pioneer might have come across - everything from river crossings, weather, Pawnees, high priced supplies, the death of the oxen and more.

Fantastic for a classroom library. Great for budding history buffs.


I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: YOU WOULDN'T WANT to BE AN AMERICAN PIONEER! A WILDERNESS YOU'D RATHER NOT TAME.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

SUICIDE RUN: THREE HARRY BOSCH STORIES (kindle) by Michael Connelly



Published by Little, Brown and Company in 2011.

LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is back on the case in these three short stories. Fans of the series know that Harry has had a long career in print and he had already had a long career before he started showing up in Michael Connelly's books. These stories are at varied points in his career, he has various partners and co-workers from throughout the series show up and he has various degrees of success in them.

Two of the stories are quite short - short enough that I was just starting to settle in for a good Harry Bosch story and they just...ended. The third is a pretty good story and just long enough that I found myself wishing that Connelly had fleshed it out a bit more into full book length.

I rate this collection 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Suicide Run: Three Harry Bosch Stories.

Friday, March 22, 2019

YOU LEARN BY LIVING: ELEVEN KEYS for a MORE FULFILLING LIFE (audiobook) by Eleanor Roosevelt



Originally published in 1960.

Published in December of 2018 by HarperAudio.

Read by Vivienne Leheny.
Duration: 5 hours, 29 minutes.
Unabridged. 


Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt, cousin of one president and wife of another became a celebrity and a political force to be reckoned with in her own right after the death of her husband in 1945.

She worked with the United Nations and wrote a regular newspaper column. Over her lifetime, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote more than 25 books, met thousands of people, visited dozens of countries and raised half a dozen children. All of that in addition to being First Lady for more than 12 years.

Eleanor's column was normally based on letters that were sent to her. A lot of those letters asked for her advice. This book is a distillation of the advice she had given over the years. It is written in a very approachable, simple manner and, as she notes at the end of her book, doesn't really teach anything new. Instead, there is a lot of practical advice and observations with a lot of personal anecdotes thrown in.

I enjoyed the book, but I have to rate it 4 stars out of 5 because there was nothing exceptional about it. Lots of good advice, lots of great stories, though. I recommend it, but I did not find it life-changing.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: YOU LEARN BY LIVING: ELEVEN KEYS for a MORE FULFILLING LIFE by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD (Highway 59 Mystery #1) by Attica Locke



Winner of the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Novel.
Published by Hachette Audio in 2017.
Read by JD Jackson.
Duration: 9 hours, 25 minutes.
Unabridged.

Darren Mathews is a rare thing - a black Texas Ranger. He is also suspended for getting involved in a situation with a man with Aryan Brotherhood ties that ended up murdered soon afterwards. 

A friend in the FBI tells him about another situation, way out in a small town on Highway 59 in East Texas at the edge of a bayou. Two bodies have been found in the bayou - one black and one white.

The first body was a black man - beaten nearly to death and then drowned in the bayou. The second was a white woman, found floating in the bayou a few days later.

So, Mathews heads off to this little town and starts nosing around with no authorization. He discovers a little cafe run by an elderly black woman on one end of town and a bar owned by her white neighbor on the other end of town - a bar that regularly plays host to the Aryan Brotherhood. In between them is a lot of history.

Mathews thinks he has the situation figured out before he even arrives but the more he digs, the more complicated everything gets...

This book won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Novel. The Edgar Award goes to the best mystery and the mystery in the story was quite good. The story itself was slow to develop, however. The pacing of the novel was sacrificed a bit in order to create more tone and mood in a book that was filled with tone and mood. 


The audiobook was read by JD Jackson. He voiced the characters with a multitude of unique voices and did quite a good job.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD (Highway 59 Mystery #1) by Attica Locke.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

DRAGONWORLD by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves



Originally published in 1979.
Illustrations by Joseph Zucker.

art from the book
Way back in 1985, I bought a paperback copy of this book at Viewpoint Books - a great store in Columbus, Indiana. I sold it to a used book store a few years later and I forgot all about it. A couple of years ago, I found a copy at a thrift store and I snatched it up, feeling like I had found a relic from my past. I remembered that I loved the beginning of the book and I loved the pictures (there are more than 80 pencil drawings throughout the book), but I couldn't remember anything else about it.

So, I finally got around to reading this book and I have determined that I did not finish the book 34 years ago. I remembered the first 30 pages or so but everything else was a surprise - and not a particularly good one (with the exception of the aforementioned drawings - they are quite excellent).

The book is set in a world with two continents separated by a narrow strait of very volatile water. The eastern continent, Simbala, is filled with people that are like Tolkien's rangers and people that are sort of like elves (but they are still people). They live in the woods and in the forests. They fly air ships, which are sort of like hot air balloons. They also dig deep mines (which is not like elves, I know, but this is barely touched on in the book). The western continent, Fandora, is full of people that are sort of like Tolkien's hobbits mixed with his dwarves. They are farmers, villagers and fishermen.

Fandora is horrified by the sudden violent death of two of its young people. It looks like both are attacked from above, so it is assumed that Simbalese air ships have crossed the strait and attacked them. The Fandoran villages unite and build a ragtag army to cross the sea.

*******Spoliers ahead**********

Meanwhile, a similar attack has hit the people of Simbala. This is where the story gets bogged down. Simbala has an elderly monarch and an extensive royal family but the king has done an unpopular thing (but, then again, maybe it's popular - it depends on the page). He has appointed a miner to be king. The miner is quick-thinking and acted to save the country from an attack by underground creatures (think hobgoblins from Lord of the Rings) and their wolf-things. There is a dramatic build-up to deal with some sort of problem with the mines, but it is dropped and never brought up again.

(still more spoilers)

The new king is named Hawkwind and he is an amazingly talented individual. Not only is he an excellent miner, he also had time to learn how to sword fight, how to hunt, how to track things in the wilderness, how to ride horses better than anyone, train that horse to fight alongside him, learn military tactics, learn military strategy, learn diplomacy, acquire a complete education of the lore of his kingdom, romance a gypsy princess and train a hawk to fly around and fight alongside him. No wonder he was made king! Imagine Aragon from Lord of the Rings but make him take a full job as a miner in his spare time.

(one last paragraph of spoilers)

Enter the dragons. Actually, they are coldrakes, which are like dragons, but dumb. Kind of like chimpanzees when compared to humans. There is a mixed breed dragon/coldrake (don't think too long about my previous comparison of humans and chimps) that is worried about the future of the coldrakes. He is moving them from the frigid north to the human-filled south (and he killed the children of Simbala and Fandora, causing the war). He is the most interesting character because he is doing bad things in a misguided effort to save his own kind. But, in the end, he is quickly dispatched.

*************End spoilers*********

By far, the best part of this book is the pictures.

The real problem of this book is that it should have been a trilogy. The situation in the mines could have been addressed. The war could have been more fleshed out. The dragon/coldrake issue could have been a book by itself. Plus, there's a hint of a sequel that never happened. 


I rate this book 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: DRAGONWORLD by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

THE BROTHERHOOD (PRECINCT 11 #1) by Jerry B. Jenkins



Published by christianaudio.com in 2011.
Read by Johnny Heller.
Duration: 9 hours, 8 minutes.
Unabridged.

Boone Drake is a young Chicago cop who seemingly has it all. He is married to his beautiful high school sweetheart. They have a healthy toddler son. His career is on the fast track. His family attends a big church and he helps run the athletic program.

But, a horrific home fire destroys this idyllic life. Jack loses his family and his faith as he slowly recovers. As Jack slowly rebuilds his personal life, will he still be able to move forward in his career?

************Caution: spoilers***********

This book is all about world building for the other two books in the series. We meet Drake and set up his tragic backstory. Sadly, the tragedy dominates the book. The descriptions of how his family died are quite graphic and go on for quite a while (there is an extensive hospital scene). It verges on the level of being grief porn. It just goes on and on and on.

The actual police part of the book has some very good moments, especially with the smaller day-to-day police work. But, the big culminating case was delivered a little too easily. This is really an up-and-down book.

Johnny Heller read the book. I generally enjoy Heller's narration and I enjoyed it this time as well. He is quite good at creating individual voices for the characters.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE BROTHERHOOD (PRECINCT 11 #1) by Jerry Jenkins.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

THE SUBTLE ART of NOT GIVING A F*CK: A COUNTERINTUITIVE APPROACH to LIVING a GOOD LIFE (audiobook) by Mark Manson



Published in 2016 by HarperAudio.
Read by Roger Wayne.
Duration: 5 hours, 17 minutes.
Unabridged.

Two things before we start:

1) I am not a reader of self-help books - I can't think of the last one I read. 

The author, Mark Manson
2) You simply cannot read this book if coarse language bothers you. I will follow the style of this book in this review.

Manson makes many points in the book, but two stuck out to me. He posits that many people are unhappy because they simply try to focus on too many things and can't do any of them well. In short, he says that you have to stop giving a f*ck about everything and figure out the very few things that you actually give a f*ck about and make them your priority.

One of his other points is similar, but worthy of mention. He points out that no matter where you go, there's a 500 pound bag of sh*t problems waiting for you. If you move to a new city, there will be a 500 pound bag of sh*t of problems. If you quit your job because you can't stand the 500 bag of sh*t in that place, you will find a different 500 pound bag of sh*t at your new job. If you break up with your girlfriend because you can't stand her sh*t, there will be another big bag of sh*t with your new girlfriend.

The secret to it all is that you find the 500 pound bag of sh*t you can deal with and stay there. Everyone has different sh*t that they can tolerate.

The book was well read by Roger Wayne. He sounded so confident and authentic in his reading that I actually assumed that the audiobook was read by the author.

So, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. There is a little too much filler for a full 5 stars, especially for a 5 hour audiobook. But, this is a worthy read.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: THE SUBTLE ART of NOT GIVING A F*CK by Mark Manson.