"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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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

STAR WARS: DARTH PLAGUEIS (audiobook) by James Luceno



Published by Random House Audio in 2012.
Read by Daniel Davis.
Duration: 14 hours, 45 minutes.
Unabridged.


This book came HIGHLY recommended to me from a massive Star Wars fan that I work with who has told me on multiple occasions that this was an amazing book.

If you loved the political intrigue of The Phantom Menace and loved the fact that it was basically the story of a trade dispute that got out of hand, you will LOVE this book.

Let's face it, the problem with this book is that it is very similar to The Phantom Menace - the book actually overlaps with the movie. The problem with this book is that Episode I is generally considered to be the worst of the 11 Star Wars movies and doesn't compare well with the TV shows, either. It's probably better than the Star Wars Holiday Special, but I haven't seen that since it first aired so I can't trust my judgment as a ten-year old viewer.

This book fills in all of the questions that you probably didn't have when you watched The Phantom Menace. Did you wonder why Naboo has a little yellow space fleet? Well, you get to hear all about it anyway. Or, did you want to hear about exactly how the podracing track on Tatooine was financed? Did you ever wonder why Chancellor Valorum of the Senate looked so defeated and tired when he was trying to get things worked out to help Naboo? Well, you will get to hear all about the dirty backroom politics of the leading families of the Republic.

Don't care about the finances of a race track? Well, too bad - you'll hear all about it and how taxation of tax-free trade routes made a lot of people mad. Turns out Darth Plagueis was a banker and he liked to finance race tracks in his bid to take over the galaxy and Palpatine was a politician and he liked to talk about tax policy - so you get to hear about both of them. Also, Plagueis trained Palpatine to be a Sith Lord, but you hear precious little about the actual training and much about their busy schedules as they try to work in training times.

The problem with the book, specifically, is this: a Star Wars book full of spaceships and Sith carrying light sabers gets bogged down in detailed discussion of political and financial intrigues. I liken the experience that are like being forced to watch a Senate hearing on trade policy on C-Span in a Disney Resort hotel room rather than actually leaving the room and going to see Disney World. This is a Star Wars book - turn off the C-Span and bring on the cool Star Wars stuff! This isn't a John Grisham book - and if it were, it would have been a very boring one.

Christopher Lee as Count Dooku.

The only reason this books gets 2 stars from me instead of 1 is because it does go and backfill a giant plot hole from Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones. In Episode 2, Count Dooku just shows up out of nowhere and starts breaking apart the Republic. This book gives the background for Count Dooku, at least. He is by far the most interesting character. It made me wish I had been listening to a Count Dooku book instead. 

Dry exposition. No real antagonist or struggle in this book. It reads more like a super-detailed Wookiepedia entry about Palpatine rather than an actual story. The author goes out of his way to name off as many characters, places and organizations as he can in the Star Wars universe in ridiculously long sentences/ I felt bad for the reader who had to just keep reading run-on sentence after run-on sentence filled with the most obscure English vocabulary words. It's like the author was typing away with a thesaurus open on his desk while trying to get in as many obscure character mentions as possible.

The reader, Daniel Davis, did a good job. He did a good job with all of the accents and established character voices from the movies. But, an excellent reading does not make up for a poor text.

Note: the audiobook does include music from Episdode IV. The music is generally used well. It also includes sound effects, but they are used less judiciously. Often the same sound effect is played over and over again in the background - just a little too loud.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: STAR WARS: DARTH PLAGUEIS (audiobook) by James Luceno.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

NAVAJO AUTUMN: NAVAJO NATION MYSTERY, BOOK 1 (audiobook) by R. Allen Chappell



Published in 2016 by Tantor Media.
Read by Kaipo Schwab.
Duration: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Unabridged.


A couple of years ago I requested my library order this audiobook. Honestly, I asked for it because I was looking to find a little bit of that Tony Hillerman magic in a new book series.

But, just because a book is set in the same place as another book series and has a similar theme to another book series doesn't mean it is anywhere near the quality of the other book series.

I finished this audiobook because the library paid for it because of me and I felt I owed it to them to give it an honest listen. Plus, it was short at just 3 hours and 45 minutes.

So, what was wrong with the book. Technically, nothing major. The mystery was okay, but not great - kind of like a real-life mystery. An Bureau of Indiana Affairs investigator from Washington, D.C. comes to the Navajo Reservation to look into some problems with some water rights contracts that Reservation leaders have signed. She is found dead at the side of a river on the Reservation. Want to guess who had her killed?

Well, the cops in the book accuse a habitual drunk without a violent record who just happened to pass out in his normal place - pretty close to where they found the body. Don't worry - there were no spoilers in the previous sentence - all of that happens in the first 10 minutes.

The book is simply too fast-paced and the reader also reads at a fairly quick pace. Easy to understand, but a tad too fast. Also, the mystery was pretty obvious. All of these things just add up to a subpar audiobook experience.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: NAVAJO AUTUMN: NAVAJO NATION MYSTERY, BOOK by R. Allen Chappell.

IN the FOOTSTEPS of ST. PAUL (audiobook) by Richard Rohr



Published in 2015 by Franciscan Media.
Read by the author, Richard Rohr.
Duration: 7 hours, 34 minutes.
Unabridged.


Richard Rohr is a Franciscan Friar from Kansas who comes at Christianity with a little bit of a different take than most. He would argue that it is a truly Franciscan take, and it might very well be. I would not know because I am not a Catholic - but I did find this work to be very intriguing. He does not approach the text from a purely Catholic point of view - he praises and criticizes typical interpretations from Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox perspectives.

This audiobook is actually a series of lectures given by Rohr as part of a tourist cruise of Greece. In reality, it should have been called "In the Footsteps of St. Paul and St. John" since they do make a stop at Patmos and see where St. John purportedly spent many years in exile. Nevertheless, Paul's writings and Rohr's take on them dominate the lectures.

One of the more interesting observations was his take on the Trinity. He takes seriously the Catholic view that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons and also one. He makes a powerful point that this is in itself one of the most important teachings of Christianity - the importance of relationships rather than just an orthodoxy checklist.

I found Rohr's style and take to be welcoming and enjoyable. Sometimes, he is a little repetitive, but that is to be expected when recording a series of lectures given over a week. I heard them all in the course of 3 days, so the repetition was more noticeable to me.

I don't know where I heard about Richard Rohr - I requested the audiobook be purchased from my library almost 3 years ago. I have no idea why I did. Just this month they purchased it and forwarded it to me and I am glad they did. It was a refreshing change of pace from my normal listens and I am very pleased to see that Rohr has lots and lots of other books for me to explore.

Note: This book is only available as an audiobook.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: IN the FOOTSTEPS of ST. PAUL (audiobook) by Richard Rohr.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

RESCUING the BIBLE from FUNDAMENTALISM: A BISHOP RETHINKS the MEANING of SCRIPTURE by John Shelby Spong



Originally published in 1991.

John Shelby Spong is the retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. He has written a series of books with themes similar to this one, but Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism is one of the earlier explorations into this topic. Seeing as how it is an early look, it is a little muddled.

Sprong makes a compelling argument that the entire Bible is not actually literal written history. This is an easy argument to make with some books. Jonah, for example, clearly has a point about people valuing things and/or revenge over other people.  This does not mean that the book does not have value - it is my favorite book in the Bible because of the points it makes, regardless of the value of the book as a history text.

Spong's embryonic thesis is that these stories had great value in their time period and had great meaning according to their world view but don't necessarily have to be real. He did not make this analogy, but I will. Compare them to Jesus' parables. No one insists that the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son were real people. Still, those stories are among the most powerful teachings of Jesus and are very instructive for Christians.

Spong argues that the insistence on revering every chapter and verse as unadulterated actual history weakens the overall Christian message because sometimes the verses contradict themselves. Many times, he nitpicks which, ironically, similarly weakens his overall message.

If Spong had stopped there, I'd have been completely with him. Spong goes onto a tear and goes after every possible miraculous event in the Bible on the grounds that...well, he's not really clear on that except that it is simply not possible that an All-Powerful God can do those things, I guess. There is a long leap between not being able to act and choosing not to and Spong does not recognize that distinction at all.

Spong proposes to replace all of the miraculous and the Fundamentalist view of the Bible with something else. The problem is that he's not really clear with what. He spends 90% of the book tearing it down and only 10% (including a summary chapter) is spent on the alternative.

So, for offering a vague, unclear alternative and for excessive nitpicking, I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Interesting perspective, poor follow through.  It can be found on Amazon.com here: RESCUING the BIBLE from FUNDAMENTALISM: A BISHOP RETHINKS the MEANING of SCRIPTURE by John Shelby Spong.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

HOLOCAUST: THE EVENTS and THEIR IMPACT on REAL PEOPLE by Angela Cluck Wood



Published in 2015 by DK Publishing. Originally published in 2008. 

DK Publishing consistently publishes strong "coffee table" type books. This book covers a more serious topic than most of their books, but it is immensely readable and compelling.

The book doesn't just cover the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but goes out of its way to include the other victims as well.

The text tells the basic history of how the Nazi party took control of Germany, started to implement their anti-Semitic agenda and eventually invaded their neighbors to start World War II. It also tells the story of a series individual Jewish victims as the timeline unfolds.


The book doesn't just cover the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but goes out of its way to include the other victims as well.

The liberation of Dachau in April of 1945. This picture appears
as a two-page spread in the book. 
The pictures are excellent, the text mostly consists of captions for the pictures or a couple of paragraphs that go with the theme of the page. Considering how disjointed this approach usually is in these sorts of books, this book kept a surprisingly coherent narrative.

There is a foreword by Steven Spielberg of just three paragraphs. It adds little to the book, but it is advertised on the front cover.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: HOLOCAUST: THE EVENTS and THEIR IMPACT on REAL PEOPLE by Angela Cluck Wood.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

THE NIGHT FIRE (Harry Bosch #22) Renee Ballard (#3) (Bosch and Ballard #2) Michael Connelly



Published by Hachette Audio in October of 2019.
Read by Titus Welliver and Christine Lakin.
Duration: 10 hours, 4 minutes.
Unabridged.


Michael Connelly has been publishing Harry Bosch since 1992. Harry Bosch started as a grumpy older detective and Connelly has decided to let him age (unlike, say, James Bond who has been basically the same age for almost 60 years). Bosch is now 70 years old and is long past being a LAPD police detective. 


The author, Michael Connelly
But, he's still on the hunt.

Renee Ballard is a police detective who has been relegated to "the late show" - better known as the nighttime Hollywood beat. It's a world of homeless camps, prostitutes, food trucks and party people going to and from the latest clubs. It's a punishment because she turned in a superior officer for sexual harassment and the old boys network believed the man rather than the woman.


This is the second time Ballard and Bosch have worked together. She has the power of the badge and the access to LAPD resources. He has experience and the freedom to work as a free agent - without the restrictions police sometimes have.

Typically, in a Harry Bosch novel there is a serious main mystery and one or two smaller, secondary mysteries. I am rating this book 3 stars out of 5 because all of the mysteries (there are 3) all feel like they should have been secondary mysteries. One of the mysteries lurks on the edges and is resolved in the same way. It could have easily been edited out. I think it would have been better without it. Maybe Connelly is laying the foundation for a future mystery...or maybe not.

The book was read by Titus Welliver and Christine Lakin. Welliver plays Harry Bosch on the Amazon Prime Video show Bosch. Welliver reads the chapters that are primarily about Bosch, Lakin reads the chapters primarily about Ballard. When they converse, each reads the lines of their respective characters. They were quite good.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

BEHIND the BLUE and GRAY: THE SOLDIER'S LIFE in the CIVIL WAR by Delia Ray



Published in 1991 by Scholastic.
93 pages of text. 
9 pages of a bibliography, a glossary, an index and picture credits.

A photo from the book of a Union hospital in Washington, D.C. 
Behind the Blue and Gray is a simple introduction to what the average Civil War soldier. I would recommend it for grades 5 and above.

However, saying it is for those grades does not mean an adult interested in starting to study the Civil War would not find this book interesting. It is similar to the introductory books that are published by the National Parks that you can find at Civil War battlefields.

The book follows the progress of a few Civil War soldiers as they enroll in their respective armies, set up camps, train, march and eventually fight. It also explores what happened to prisoners and the injured. At the end, it discussed the aftermath of the war and ends with a photo of elderly former Union and Confederate soldiers at a reunion gathering.

There is not a lot about women in the war as a topic, but there are a few pages about Native Americans and African Americans.

The big names of the war get a passing mention, but they are not the focus.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BEHIND the BLUE and GRAY: THE SOLDIER'S LIFE in the CIVIL WAR by Delia Ray.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR: THE FORGOTTEN STORY of ROBERT CARTER the FOUNDING FATHER WHO FREED HIS SLAVES by Andrew Levy



Published by Random House in 2005.

Robert Carter holds a unique place in American history. He was a massively successful plantation owner in the Revolutionary War generation. He knew and worked with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Virginia legislature. He was not particularly effective as a politician, but he was effective at something that all of the above failed at.

He freed his 450+ slaves while he was still alive and managed to keep his fortune and his property.

He did it over a series of years, but he did it. Thomas Jefferson thought that it couldn't be done and often wrote about the quandary he found himself in. A good student of American history will remember that Washington freed his slaves - but that was after the death of Martha Washington. Carter did it while he was alive.

Carter's motivations seem to have been a combination of religious ideals and political ideals, motivated by such things as the soaring rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence.

The problem is that history has forgotten Robert Carter. There is only one little historical marker that marks where he used to live but doesn't mention the emancipation of his slaves. One-fourth of the marker is about a tutor he brought in to teach his children. It's almost like everyone wanted to forget what Carter did with his slaves.

This book was a difficult read - partially due to the lack of information about Carter and partially because Andrew Levy tried to stretch that scant information out far enough to make a book. The book looks bigger than it really is - it has 195 pages of text and 105 pages of acknowledgments, notes, a bibliography and an index.

The book itself was not particularly well-written. I was immensely interested in this topic and it still felt like it was a slog.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR: THE FORGOTTEN STORY of ROBERT CARTER the FOUNDING FATHER WHO FREED HIS SLAVES by Andrew Levy.

Monday, December 9, 2019

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



Jack Reacher vs. The Patriot Act

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

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



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



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

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

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

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