"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, July 25, 2013

THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (Chet and Bernie #4) by

Published in 2011 by Atria Books

Chet and Bernie are private detectives. Well, Bernie is a private detective. Chet is his dog - a police dog (almost!) that failed to make it all of the way through his training. The story is told completely told from the perspective of Chet, the dog who pretty much understands human society, at least enough to tell the story. What he does know for sure is that he and Bernie are inseparable partners and they always have each others' back.
Spencer Quinn

In The Dog Who Knew Too Much Bernie is hard up for money again (Bernie can generate income but he likes to speculate in questionable investments) and he accepts what should be a simple job - pretend to be a woman's boyfriend while she goes to pick up her son at a summer camp in the mountains so that her ex-husband will finally understand that their romantic relationship is over. He quickly determines that this ex-husband has a violent past and is involved in shady business involving lots of money and makes a mental note that this case may be more than his client has described.

It turns out that there is more to this case, but it is not what he expected. When they arrive his client's son has gone missing - he disappeared during the night on an overnight hike with his bunk mates and his counselor. Bernie and Chet begin the search for the boy but he immediately finds an abandoned gold mine, rumors of meth labs and plenty of corrupt local officials. That's when things start to get interesting...

For those of us who live with a dog, this series rings true. Spencer Quinn should be commended for capturing a dog's take on human society, his go-go-go enthusiasm (including the many times Chet hears a dog barking and suddenly realizes that he is the one doing the barking) and his good and loyal nature. I liked the story, not so much for the mystery but, instead, for the characters. Chet and Bernie are like old friends to me and it was good to catch up a little bit.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on July 25, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TEST of FIRE (audiobook) by Ben Bova

Read by Dean Sluyter
Duration: 10 hours, 46 minutes
Published by Blackstone Audio in 2013

Sci-fi legend Ben Bova’s 1982 book Test of Fire is a look at a near-future Earth struck by a giant solar flare that literally destroys all life in Europe, Asia and Africa because that half of the planet that was facing the sun at the time. North America is partially devastated by a limited strike of nuclear missiles from Soviet Union. Central America and South America do not figure in the story.

Photo by Gregory H. Revera
The near future Earth has a lunar base (for mining) and a fleet of space shuttles that regularly take off and land on earth from very long runways. The lunar base survived the solar flare unscathed but faces the difficult challenge of how to provide for all of its needs with little or no support from Earth.

The lunar base is led by a council and that council is led by Daniel Morgan and his scheming wife. Morgan leads an expedition to Cape Canaveral for supplies and to look for survivors. He returns with both but is struck by the pitiful condition of the people he left behind. Civilization has all but ended for them and he wants to make sure that thousands of years of art, philosophy and science are not lost. He wants to work with the people on Earth but is overruled by the council due to the behind the scenes machinations of his wife. They want to write off the Earth and focus on keeping the lunar base alive.

While Morgan’s wife schemes and sleeps with powerful members of the council to get her way and betray her husband, Morgan decides to return to Earth on a mission to retrieve fissionable fuel to power the base’s nuclear plants (the moon lacks those elements). Morgan retrieves the fuel and refuses to return to the moon, even though his wife is pregnant. He is considered a traitor and for twenty years his son, Alec, is taught that his father betrayed the base.

Alec is trained to lead a mission to Earth to retrieve the fuel and to get even with his father who is believed to have set up a kingdom among the “barbarians,” as the survivors are called.  Alec brings superior technology, including laser cannons, but far inferior numbers, including a member of the council who may want to kill him and marry his mother. Even though the earth soldiers are at a disadvantage when it comes to weapons, they have the advantage when it comes earth’s gravity, heat, humidity and viruses.

While this book is based on a tremendous premise and is filled with characters that feel as though they belong in a Greek or even a Shakespearean tragedy, it never lives up to its promise, which is odd considering that the book is basically a revision of a book he wrote in the early 1970s called When the Sky Burned, making this the second draft of the same story. Despite the revision, too many characters, such as Alec’s mother (who dominates the first half of the book), just disappear from the story as it goes along. Also, very few of the characters are even likable. Daniel Morgan is presumed honorable, but he is inscrutable. His wife is plain evil. At first Alec is a sympathetic character, but early on in the book he rapes a female doctor while on a dinner date in her apartment. Personally, I found it hard to root for rapists. In the end, I just listened to see how Bova was going to end the book all the while wondering what David Weber would have done with it.

Dean Sluyter’s reading of Test of Fire certainly did not help my enjoyment of the book. It is not that Sluyter has a poor reading voice – to the contrary, he has excellent diction and a nice deep tone. But, he reads slowly and tends to get a little William Shatner-esque in long passages with odd pauses and breaks. There was not much differentiation between the male and female characters and most of the male characters sounded very similar. It may be that his reading style is better suited for non-fiction rather than fiction where listeners (at least this one listener) place a premium on a more dramatic reading performance.

Note: I received a download copy of this audiobook from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on July 24, 2013.

Monday, July 22, 2013

HISTORY of ROCK and ROLL 101: The TextVook by Dr. Vook, Ph.D and the Charles River Editors

Really Skimpy

Published in 2011 by Vook

The Beatles arriving in America in February of 1964
This tiny e-book comes in at 28 regular book pages according to Amazon. Let's face it, that is too small to really cover the history of rock and roll. The facts that are here are good and the book is written in a fairly interesting manner. I read the whole thing on my smart phone using my kindle app while waiting in line for a rental car. It's good for that sort of reading, but if you need anything comprehensive about the history of rock and roll this book is not what you need. In my opinion, it serves as little more than a general introduction with some broad concepts outlined and a few sentences about examples of each of these concepts.

I would recommend skipping this book and just cruising Wikipedia and taking advantage of their hyperlinks and perusing topics that interest you about rock and roll.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This e-book can be found on Amazon.com here: History of Rock and Roll.

Reviewed on July 22, 2013.

The Force is Middling in this One: And Other Ruminations from the Outskirts of the Empire by Robert Kroese

Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in 2010.

Entirely composed of a "best of" compilation of blog posts from the author's blog and tied together with quotes and thoughts from the Star Wars movies, The Force is Middling In This One is a fun bit of reading designed to be read exactly as it was written: in small doses. This book is perfectly constructed for reading while standing in line (which I did with my smart phone and my kindle app) or any other time when you just have about 5 minutes to read.

The topics are all over the place, covering topics such as Star Wars, motorcycle riding on the freeway, the author's brain and its lack of focus, the construction of an addition to his house, his life in the least livable city in the United States (Modesto, CA - and yes, it was named that by a survey), Home Improvement Store employees, why gophers are literally evil and a whole lot more. Nearly every posting is interrupted by a totally different very short thought called "From the Sock Drawer." 

Very few postings are political (he explains early on that he used to have a political blog but he literally alienated almost of his readers to the point that he stopped posting them. An exception to that is a posting called "Burn, Baby Burn!" about the folly of some environmentalists that was so on the point and explains why some programs will never work in a logical economics-based manner that I was ashamed that I hadn't thought of explaining things in this way before (I am a licensed econ teacher, after all).

I rate this collection 4 stars out of 5. 

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 
The Force is Middling in this One: And Other Ruminations from the Outskirts of the Empire

Reviewed on July 22, 2013. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Portrait of Jesus by Joseph F. Girzone

First Published in 1999.

Retired Catholic priest Joseph F. Girzone is most famous for his 1983 book Joshua (which also became a movie) which features Jesus coming to a modern-day American small town and the influence he has just be being himself - no great announcements, just Jesus being Jesus.

The author, Joseph F. Girzone
A Portrait of Jesus builds on that same idea but it looks at what the New Testament records about the life of Jesus and how he related to everyone around him. Girzone writes movingly about how Jesus preached compassion above all and he demonstrates it again and again in this book. His description of Jesus and his emphasis on relationships over law and the descriptions of how that worked then and how it can work now were profound when I first read them 10 years ago. I re-read the book after doing a deep cleaning of the book shelves. I was considering selling it to a used book store but I decided that the book was so powerful that I would keep it on the shelf and re-read it again in 10 years or so.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: A Portrait of Jesus by Joseph F. Girzone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taken (Elvis Cole #15) (Joe Pike #4) by Robert Crais

Published in 2012 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

I've been reading a lot of "assigned" reading lately. By assigned reading I mean books I agreed to review for publishers/authors or books that I read just to shrink my dreaded 4-milk-crates-full "to be read" pile. They were mostly good books, (some were great, even) but when I was at the local purveyor of books I saw this Elvis Cole novel I had to get it to read just for me because it was my idea in the first place because I am such a fan of this series.

Robert Crais
In Taken Elvis Cole is hired to find a missing college student. A widowed mother has received a call for a few hundred dollar ransom but she believes her daughter has ran off with "that boy" and is trying to scam her for money to go off and get married in Las Vegas.

Sadly, Cole proves her wrong. The girl and "that boy" have been kidnapped by bajadores - bad guys that kidnap illegal aliens coming into the United States in order to squeeze out a small ransom (or multiple small ransoms) from terrified family members who would be afraid to call the police. Sometimes the victims are released, sometimes they are killed when the money dries up.

Cole brings in his partner Joe Pike and soon enough they discover that this is going to get even more complicated and a lot more dangerous before it is over...

Robert Crais has organized this Elvis Cole book a bit differently. Usually he follows a straightforward timeline, but in this book he flashes back and forth, including characters and talking about events that have happened as though the reader already knows all about it. It was designed to whet the appetite of the reader. For example, on page 39 we find out that Elvis Cole will go missing and Joe Pike and a friend are searching for him in Pike's typical thorough and abrupt (and violent) manner. I didn't have a problem with this way of organizing the book, but if that kind of thing bugs you, then you will absolutely hate this book.

There is an ongoing theme in this book about Joe and Elvis and what they mean to one another. There are precious few words spoken on the topic, but there is something there. At one point Joe is looking for help to find Elvis and he calls a special forces-type associate. His friend insults Cole and then asks, "Why do you waste your time with that guy?"

Joe ignores the insult and the question and secures the help and does everything he can to rescue his friend. Elvis knows Joe will be coming, but will it be in time? The absolute faith in one another and the devotion to one another are clear but what does Joe Pike, who is like an island onto himself, get out of it?

I am of the opinion that Elvis Cole is Pike's link to the real world, such as it is. Cole is tough like Pike but he is different. Cole's world is a world with a pet cat (sort of), cartoon characters and a dirty car (because absolutely everything does not have to be stowed away perfectly. Really, it doesn't) and that difference is salve for Pike's soul in some sort of way.

This is not the best of the Elvis Cole novels (I would put L.A. Requiem and Hostage on that particular pedestal) , but I feel like I should grade them on a curve because there isn't a dud in the bunch that I have read so far.. This one is not an A+, merely an A. An excellent read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Taken by Robert Crais.

Reviewed on July 17, 2013

Odd Jobs by Ben Lieberman

Starts Out Strong But Changes As The Book Goes Along

Odd Jobs is the story of Kevin Davenport, a financially struggling college student who is working any job he can to pay for college. This summer he is working at Kosher World Meat Factory - it's a nasty job but it pays very well and it will only last a few weeks, right?

Kevin has to struggle because his family life was shattered years ago when his little sister and his father, a prosecutor, were ran over in a hit and run accident that was never solve. His mom never really recovered from the shock and Kevin is hustling to pay for college. But, he gets a bigger shock when he finds out that one of his connections at Kosher World helped kill his father. The more he digs the more he decides he will get his revenge no matter what.

*******Warning: SPOILER ALERT!********

At this point the book completely changes its tone. Rather than being a book about a scrappy lovable loser with some athletic talent and a funny personality, it becomes a dark revenge book in which the lovable loser sells his soul. He needs cash to get revenge so he sells drugs, he operates a sports betting operation (he becomes a bookie), hires guys to offer fake advice to milk gambling addicts with a sports betting service to get even more money. At this point, I wondered what his prosecutor father would have thought about his son breaking the laws and becoming like the organized crime figures that his father was killed for investigating. Way too much detail about dealing drugs and even more detail with lots of slang about the sports betting. I love sports but don't care anything about the betting scene.

So, if you believe a college student, his two stoner friends and his spunky girlfriend can engineer the fall of a mafia kingpin in just a few months, this is your book.

**************End of Spoilers*****************

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through the Amazon Vine program.

I rate this book 1 star out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Odd Jobs

Reviewed on July 17, 2013.

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!: The Best of "Not My Job" (audiobook) by NPR

Published by HighBridge Audio in 2009.
Performed by the guests and cast of Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
Duration: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.

If you have not discovered NPR's weekly radio show Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! then I pity you. This clever show is truly one of the funniest shows on radio or television or just about anywhere. This collection has 12 of the best visits from celebrity visits from 2001-2006.

Most of these are funny or at least interesting. Then Senator Barack Obama starts off the collection with possibly the funniest visit of the bunch (and I am not a fan of Mr. Obama, but funny is funny). Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan) and Tom and Ray Magliozzi (NPR's Car Talk) are also funny throughout their segments. 

This audiobook focuses on a part of the show - the "Not my job" segment. In this segment a celebrity is asked 3 questions about a topic about which they may not have any particular expertise  and if they get 2 of the 3 correct they win a prize for a listener. For example, Ken Jennings, most famous for winning the record number of games in a row on TV's Jeopardy but also known as a squeaky clean quiet guy, was asked about one night stands (since he was there for so many nights in a row on Jeopardy). Famous Hollywood nice guy Tom Hanks was asked questions about deceased Hollywood bad boys.

Solid listening entertainment even if the quality of the guests is a bit uneven.

I rate this audiobook 4 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed on July 17, 2013.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lovelock (Mayflower Trilogy #1) (audiobook) by Orson Scott Card and Kathryn H. Kidd

Performed by Emily Rankin
Duration: 11 hours, 44 minutes
Blackstone Audio

Prolific author Orson Scott Card has published dozens of books, a handful of plays, writes multiple newspaper columns, publishes an online magazine and even had a hand in the creation of several video games over the years. Oh, and just in case you haven’t heard, the movie version of his most famous novel, Ender’s Game is going to be released in November. So, in a way, Lovelock is a bit strange for such an ultra-prolific author. It was intended to be the first novel in a trilogy when it was written in 1994 but the rest of the books have never been written. Officially, according to Card’s website, the second book in the trilogy is called Rasputin, but it has been listed as “in progress” for almost 20 years. Lovelock was co-written with Kathryn H. Kidd, an author who mainly specializes in writing religious-based articles and books.

Lovelock is the name of a Capuchin monkey and this story is told in the first person from his point of view. He is named for James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis. Lovelock is a witness, a genetically engineered and highly trained Capuchin monkey assigned to chronicle the existence of his owner for posterity. His owner is Carol Jeanne Cocciolone, the chief gaiaoligist on the first ship leaving a near future Earth to colonize a distant world. Gaialogists will help to design the final environment of their new world as it is terraformed.

Capuchin monkeys are not the only witnesses, merely the top-of-the-line. They also use parrots and other animals. For example, Carol Jeanne’s husband, a family therapist, has a pig for a witness. The intelligence of these animals is enhanced to help them do their jobs better. The birds can speak and the monkeys can be taught to use sign language, for example. Lovelock speaks by writing or typing. He can read up to 2,000 words per minute and is quite the computer hacker. At the end of every day the video memory of what the witnesses saw is downloaded to a computer by way of a jack in the back of their skulls, tagged and cataloged.

The main theme of the book is supposed to be the struggles of Lovelock as he becomes more and more aware of the situation he is in. He is smarter than almost every human he meets but he is not allowed to communicate his thoughts (there is an exasperating lack of pencils and paper on this spaceship), his owner looks at him more as a machine than a thinking individual and he is not allowed to procreate or even think about procreation without receiving and immense amount of pain due to the extensive conditioning he received before his assignment. He realizes that he is merely a slave. There are repetitive long passages scattered throughout the book that emphasize every new insult and review the old ones as he attains a new awareness of his lowly position among humans and thinks about what he should do about it.

Too much of the book, way too much, is consumed by intense detailing of the ongoing family strife between Carol Jeanne Cocciolone, her husband and his parents, especially his mother. Many hours of this audiobook are consumed by a series ongoing fights between the manipulative mother-in-law, Carol Jeanne and the busybody women of the “village” they are assigned to on this spaceship. Snarky comments fly back and forth as the gossip flies. When this book was written, Melrose Place ruled television and this book reminded me too much of that show. Backstabbing, snide remarks, and catty comments abound. Dramatic arguments, secret affairs, divorces and even more happen with amazing speed while ongoing family arguments are repeated in scene after scene.  A great deal of this book, way too much of this book, has nothing to do with science fiction, but just chronicles Carol Jeanne’s dysfunctional family dynamics, much to the detriment of the story of Lovelock, the slave who has realized his situation and became a free person, at least he is when no one is looking.

For all of my complaints about the book the reader did a truly wonderful job. She did not read the book – she performed it! Emily Rankin covered male and female voices perfectly, including those of little children and an old man on his deathbed as well as foreign accents and a Southern busybody that sounded a whole lot like Paula Deen. Rankin took what she was given and turned in an impressive and notable performance.

Note: If you are offended by talk of masturbation, be warned that this book has some lengthy passages on the topic. As you may or may not be aware, Capuchin monkeys engage in this activity often and Lovelock is prohibited from this due to his conditioning (people are bothered when monkeys sit around and do that in the office, I suppose). Since he is denied it he becomes fixated on it and talks about quite often.

Note: I received a download copy of this audiobook from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Lovelock (Mayflower Trilogy #1).

Reviewed on July 14, 2013.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Suns of Liberty: Revolution: A Superhero Novel (Volume One) (kindle) by Michael Ivan Lowell

Published in March of 2013 as an e-book.

The Suns of Liberty series is set in a future America that has undergone a second Great Depression. This economic crisis resulted in a takeover of the American government by a coalition of businesses. These businesses have veto power over the government and through that power have de facto control of everything. They have brought America back from the brink of chaos but at the cost of most civil liberties. They have even outlawed the American flag because it symbolizes a time when freedoms led to chaos.

A mysterious armored superhero named Revolution works in Boston fighting crime and corruption. Sometimes he hacks into communication system and airs "commercials" that remind people of the way things used to be and the rights they used to have. No one knows anything about him, but he has inspired others to fight back as well. Some fight against the crime that has gone out of control in some areas, some push back against the government.

This story is mostly told through Paul Ward, a scientist who lost his child to street violence and, then, his wife to suicide. Ward quit his teaching job at Harvard to develop his own armored suit and fight crime. He has a connection inside the government that gives him inside information.

Paul Ward meets Revolution and eventually becomes an insider in his organization as Boston once again becomes the focus of an oppressive government and an angry citizenry that wants their freedom and is willing to fight to get it back...

I really enjoyed the political aspects of this book and I was enthralled until the half way point - the point where Paul Ward is introduced to Revolution's support system. It was too involved (it would make Bruce Wayne's and Tony Stark's organizations look pathetic in comparison). For me, that damaged the American Revolution theme that was being built. Rather than a true people's movement it seemed to be a technology-heavy movement of elites that was rarely helped by regular folks. To me, it undercut the first half of the book.

That being said, it was still quite entertaining and if you like stories where morality matters and, in the end, when it is all on the line the hero does what is right (even if he compromised himself earlier) no matter the cost and inspires others to stand up, well, this one is recommended for you.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Suns of Liberty: Revolution

Reviewed on July 7, 2013

Best Little Stories From the Civil War: More Than 100 True Stories by C. Brian Kelly with Ingrid Smyer

This is a review of the 3rd edition, released by Cumberland House in 2010. The 1st edition was released in 1994. The 2nd edition was released in 1998.

When I read Civil War histories I enjoy the standard, sweeping re-telling of the tale with the battles and the politics. But, I also enjoy those little nuggets of history that make the larger story more personal - stories like the general who chastised his men for hiding from a sniper and then immediately gets hit by that sniper and falls over dead. Or, the story of how Booker T. Washington picked his last name. Or, one of my favorites, the story of the 90 day recruit who was due to leave immediately after the First Battle of Bull Run - but Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman refused to hear about it and if he tried to leave he would shoot him "like a dog." That same day Lincoln came by to review the troops, the man complained that Sherman threatened him. Lincoln interrupted and told him in a loud stage whisper, "Well, if I were you and Colonel Sherman threatened to shoot, I would not trust him for, by Heaven, I believe he would do it."

Those nuggets are like the marshmallow pieces in Lucky Charms - they make the cereal more fun. If you compare those little stories in a standard history to the marshmallows in Lucky Charms, well than this book is almost all marshmallows, which is kinda fun.

Varina Howell Davis (1826-1906),
the  only First Lady of the Confederate States of America
Kelly notes in the introduction that these nuggets make the history more personal and can tell huge amounts about the larger story. Booker T. Washington's story tells about the condition of American slaves and how they wanted to demonstrate their new found independence. The story about Colonel Sherman demonstrates that Lincoln would support officers with backbone and the he was serious about creating an effective army. Also, it shows Lincoln's trademark sense of humor and how it was valuable in getting people to do what he needed them to do.

This book is a great read in short bursts. I read it on my kindle, but I read about half of it on my smart phone's kindle app while waiting in lines or while waiting on my daughters while we were out and about. The short chapters were perfect for that.

The exception to that are the comparatively lengthy biographies of Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Howell Davis in a section written by Ingrid Smyer called "The Civil War's Two First Ladies."

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Best Little Stories from the Civil War: More than 100 true stories

Reviewed on July 7, 2013.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Frozen In Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II (audiobook) by Mitchell Zuckoff

Published by HarperAudio in April of 2013
Read by the author
Duration: 8 hours, 57 minutes

Frozen In Time is an adventure story, a mystery story, a story of perseverance and a story of honor - all wrapped up in one audiobook by Mitchell Zuckoff.  To be more exact, it is really two stories. The first story is set in World War II, the second one is set in 2012.

During World War II American airplanes, men and supplies were ferried to Great Britain by flying from the United States to Canada to Greenland to Iceland and finally on to Scotland. But, Greenland proved to be consistently tough. Freak storms, horizons that seem to merge into the ice pack and thick fog are all common in one of the toughest environments in the world. To make it worse, Greenland is not just covered with ice, it is covered with moving glaciers. These glaciers make the ice rough and full of deep cuts in the ice caused by the glacier moving at different speeds. These cuts can go down hundreds of feet and can be covered by "ice bridges" that hide the drops but really can't hold any weight.

A Grumman Duck
In November of 1942 an American cargo plane crashed into this nightmare environment. A B-17 bomber was diverted to try to spot the cargo plane and it also crashed. Zuckoff tells the story of these men and how they managed to survive for months on the ice. Their story is pitiful and moving. The men who made one effort after another to save them and dropped supplies to them.  A Grumman Duck amphibious plane from the Coast Guard also went down in the rescue effort. That plane was never found  and its men were never recovered.

The second story in the book is the story of the 2012 attempt to find the Grumman Duck so that its men could be brought back to the United States and given a proper burial. Lining up the funding, getting the right equipment (including those last-second purchases), and the right crew (they have to be unique, the kind of person that gets excited about Greenland and says things like this: "I have never before worked in a place that can kill you in a second without batting an eye. It was great.").

The audiobook is read by the author, Mitchell Zuckoff. Zuckoff generally does a solid but unexceptional job of reading. The positive thing is that he knows what he wanted to be emphasized when it was read and his reading voice is better than some professional readers. But, sometimes Zuckoff's reading voice became a pleasant monotone that encouraged me to drift off a bit and I would have to rewind a few minutes to see what I had missed.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on July 4, 2013.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Terrible Beauty by D.W. St. John

This is the most truthful book about teaching that I have ever read. 

D.W. St. John's A Terrible Beauty has been rolling around for a while now. I read what must have been the original imprinting of the book back in 1998. The teacher who was the heart and soul of the 7th grade team at the inner-city middle school I taught at for 7 years found it at her local library, read it and passed it on to the rest of us to read. She liked it so much that when the local library wanted it back she reported it lost and paid for it so we could all read it (remember, this was in the days before Amazon.com was popular - heck, we just got a computer in our classrooms that year!)

What struck us all about the book was the fact that it spoke so much truth about teaching - the mindless meetings, the hovering parents that question every move and every grade on every assignment, the worthless parents that don't even raise their own offspring, the kids who do nothing but expect to be rescued, the kids who do everything you ask and just do so-so but love the class because they learned so much anyway (you just love those kids), overcrowded classes, mind-games from administrators, athletic directors covering for their stars, administrators that don't discipline (Kids sent right back to your classroom five minutes after they called you a motherf*****r because, you are told,  if you taught your class better that kid with a felony sheet as long as your arm would love to learn about French or math or whatever...) and on and on.

The reader is also allowed to see the power of a gifted teacher using a variety of strategies to reach kids and not only deal with the subject matter, but help that student as a person.

Is Dai O'Connel a good teacher? Fundamentally, he is - but he has giant flaws, the kinds of  flaws that will get your fired, and properly so. Mostly, he is the tool in the story that is used to talk about American education and he should only be viewed as such. He takes the reader on a huge tour of the problems and the joys experienced by teachers. This is the most truthful book about teaching that I have ever read.

He is targeted for firing by the central office of his school district because he fails too many of his students. The person sent to fire him is a too-young administrator who admired him from afar when she used to teach in his school years ago. They develop an improbable romance that, while sweet, is far-fetched.

All of that is window dressing, though. This is a book about teaching and the only thing that I want to know is if Mr. St. John would come back and address these same issues but also the climate of standardized testing the rules over everything nowadays (this book was written before No Child Left Behind changed everything, and not necessarily for the better).

I read this on my kindle and whoever scanned the print version of the book into its e-book format did a horrible job. There are numerous formatting and spelling errors caused by computer error.

I rate this admittedly flawed book 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on July 3, 2013