"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, June 29, 2017

WHY WE CAN'T WAIT by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Originally published in 1964.

This book is Martin Luther King's well-written defense of the Civil Rights Movement. As the title suggests, it is the argument detailing why African-Americans could no longer wait for the rights that they were guaranteed by the Constitution to be eventually given to them and the best way to do that was the application of nonviolent direct action. 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

The strongest part of the argument is the middle third - the entire text of his famed Letter from Birmingham Jail. I think Letter from Birmingham Jail is one of the most profound documents in American history. Its arguments pull from multiple points and authors in history, the very documents and history that white Americans prided themselves as the roots of their own country while King sat in a jail - and shows that those roots were being ignored in defense of the indefensible when it came to African-Americans. It is truly a brilliant piece of writing because it is shows America why it was wrong in its own words in simple, direct, respectful words, calling it to rise up to its own ideals.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Why We Can't Wait.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Published in 2015 by Scholastic 

Paul Beck's SOLDIER! looks at 15 examples of soldiers throughout history, starting with Imperial Roman infantry and ending with a U.S. Navy Seal. It is composed of 48 8.5 x 11 inch pages and includes a full-color tear-out poster of every soldier. 

Most descriptions are 4 pages, including a map where the soldiers would have operated. It also includes a full page drawing of the soldier with notes about the weight and length of their weapon(s). The third and fourth pages include more information about optional weapons, training or tools. 

The only complaint I have about the book is that it could have included a little more diversity. 12 of the 15 soldiers came from Europe or America. For example, the Aztec warriors that confronted Cortes had unique weapons and armor and would have been a great addition. 

That being said, the book was well-done. The pictures were interesting as were the factoids. This would be a good book for students from 4th to 8th grade.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: SOLDIER! DISCOVER 15 WARRIORS THROUGHOUT HISTORY by Paul Beck.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

PERSONAL (Jack Reacher #19) (audiobook) by Lee Child

Published by Random House Audio in 2014.
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 12 hours, 55 minutes

Jack Reacher gets brought back into military duty, but not officially this time. An extremely talented sniper has taken a shot at the President of France. The shot was taken from an extreme distance and was only stopped by a revolutionary bullet proof glass screen. The various intelligence agencies are sure that this was just a dry run for the G8 economic conference that is coming up soon in England in which several world leaders will be present.

Lee Child
There are four snipers capable of such a shot and 16 years ago Reacher put one of them in jail for murder when he was in the military police. A former boss of Reacher thinks that he has some sort of insight and he partners up with a young CIA / State Department operative and they are off to France. She is the brains, and he is the brawn, at least that's the way it is supposed to be.

But, once they start digging, Reacher starts to suspect that there is much more to this case than he has been told...

This was a middle-of-the-road story. The narration by Dick Hill was excellent, but the book had long bits of repetitive talking that just got tiresome, especially with Bennett, the British Intelligence agent. On top of that, the big bad guy made it feel like it was a video game like Double Dragon - the hero works his way up to the giant boss character. But, the plot twist in the end was just too much. This book should have been edited down to make it much better.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Personal by Lee Child.

Friday, June 23, 2017

GRAY MOUNTAIN (audiobook) by John Grisham

Published in 2014 by Random House Audio
Read by Catherine Taber
Duration: 14 hours, 46 minutes

John Grisham explores Appalachian coal country in this novel through the eyes of a young New York lawyer named Samantha Kofer. Kofer has just lost her job in real estate development law at literally the world's largest law firm in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. Her firm gives her the chance to work for a non-profit for a year without losing her insurance or her seniority and she ends up in the legal aid office in Brady - a tiny town in southwest Virginia in the heart of coal country.

As Kofer starts to work in the office she discovers the world of day-to-day law and how America's poor get bounced around in a legal system with all sorts of hidden rules. Turns out that she has a knack for it. She picks up a case with a coal miner suing for disability due to black lung and she discovers that Big Coal rules all in this region - and there's nothing anyone can do about it...

Like so many of John Grisham's books, the plot is merely the vehicle for Grisham to discuss an aspect of the law. The plot suffers but that's okay by me - I have learned a lot and been entertained as I went along. 

I learned a lot about modern coal mining (to be more accurate, they don't really mine so much as tear apart mountains in a process called "mountaintop removal") and my natural affinity for the union movement was strengthened. Too often, the rules are written by the companies and the government ends up enforcing things that hurt regular people. Without a union, most of these people have no one on their side.

Catherine Taber did a fantastic job of reading this book. Her accents were great and she did a great job with a variety of voices. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Gray Mountain by John Grisham.

Monday, June 19, 2017

SECOND SON: A JACK REACHER STORY (audiobook) (short story) by Lee Child

Published by Penguin Random House Audio
Read by Dick Hill
Duration: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Unabridged short story

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher series does not feel constrained to write his Jack Reacher books and short stories in any sort of chronological order - a fact that I find immensely interesting as a reader because it is so very unusual. 

Lee Child
In Second Son, Lee Child takes us all the way back to 1974. Jack Reacher is 13 years old and his father has just been transferred to Okinawa as a part of the U.S. Marines along with his mother and his slightly older brother Joe. 

Moving to a new place is always hard and Okinawa is no exception. Reacher must prove himself to the neighborhood bully, he meets a girl and he solves two mysteries. 

The story is fun, but 13 year old Reacher is way too smart for a middle school kid, even if he is Jack Reacher. But, the mysteries were fun. In fact, the whole story was fun, kind of like looking at old yearbook photos of someone you know from way back before you ever met them.

I am a big fan of the reader, Dick Hill. But, I think he is an exceptionally good fit for this series. I don't even bother to physically read the books now - not if Dick Hill is reading them to me.

I rate this audiobook short story 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook used to be offered as an individual short story, which is how I listened to it, but it is now part of a larger collection. Here are links to both on Amazon:

Second Son.

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Short Stories.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

WHAT YOU BREAK (Gus Murphy #2) (audiobook) by Reed Farrel Coleman

Published in 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Keith Szarabajka
Duration: 10 hours, 34 minutes

The Gus Murphy series is quickly becoming a favorite. Gus is a retired Long Island police officer who provides security and drives the shuttle van back for a tired hotel that pretends to be luxury but really isn't fooling anyone.

Gus retired because his college-aged son died of a heart failure playing a pick up basketball game and it simply destroyed his marriage and his interest in being a police officer. 

In the first book in this series, Gus was a complete mess. Since then, he has gotten his life back together again, in a manner of speaking. He has friends again, especially his friend Slava, a fellow employee from Eastern Europe with a hidden background as a soldier of secret police. Gus also has a love life and he's even bought a car. And, he's got a new case - looking into the murder of a millionaire's estranged granddaughter.

But, when his friend Slava gets mixed up with a shady-looking guest at the hotel and Eastern Europeans start dying in New York City, Gus starts to investigate out of fear for his friend. Soon enough, Gus has more trouble than he bargained for...

This was an excellent audiobook experience. The accents were wonderfully done and it was very enjoyable.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: What You Break.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

WILLIWAW! (audiobook) by Tom Bodett

Published in 2000 by Random House Audio
Read by the author, Tom Bodett.
Duration: 5 hours, 30 minutes

Thirteen year old September Crane and her 12 year old brother Ivan live on Bag Bay in Alaska, practically in the middle of nowhere - and they love it, mostly. They enjoy the interaction with nature, they know the bay and how to travel across it. They know how to get clams, how to put vegetables away for the winter and just about how to do everything else for themselves. 

They have to know because their father is a fisherman is often gone for a few weeks at a time. Their mother died on the bay, killed by a rare, powerful storm front called a williwaw, when they were much younger.

Their father trusts them to follow the rules and take care of themselves so long as they check in with him on the radio on a regular basis. But, when Ivan decides to splice into the charger for the radio to charge up his handheld video he blows up the whole rig and that's just the beginning of their troubles...

While this is certainly not the best of Tom Bodett's books, it was an enjoyable listen as an audiobook. The characters were likable and the relationship between the kids and their father felt authentic. Tom Bodett's voice is simply great for audiobooks. One of the best.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Williwaw! by Tom Bodett.

Monday, June 12, 2017

MAYFLOWER: A STORY of COURAGE, COMMUNITY and WAR (abridged audiobook) by Nathaniel Philbrick

Published in 2006 by Penguin Audio
Read by Edward Herrmann
Duration: 5 hours, 57 minutes

Everybody knows the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. Or, they think they do, anyway.

Nathaniel Philbrick's re-telling of this oft-misunderstood story is very approachable for the average reader. He begins with an explanation of the religious differences between the Puritans and the Church of England and how the politics of the day exacerbated the situation. 

Philbrick's re-telling of how the Pilgrims moved from England to Holland and eventually to the New World was very well done, as was the story of the first few seasons of Plymouth Plantation (Plymouth colony), starting in 1620. In fact, the book flowed very well throughout, even though it was abridged. Oftentimes, abridged books are clunky, but this one was not.

The story finishes with King Philip's War (1675-1676). This was a sad war. Wars are all sad, but this one was particularly brutal, complete with decapitations, mutilations, mass murder, and forced deportations into enslavement. On a per capita basis, it was the most devastating war in American history.

Veteran actor Edward Herrmann's (1943-2014) voice is perfect for reading history. He gives it a bit of gravitas but he is not too pompous. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This abridged audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War.

Friday, June 9, 2017

DIARY of a JACKWAGON by Tim Hawkins and John Driver

Published in 2015 by Thomas Nelson.

I am a giant fan of Tim Hawkins and have been ever since he used to run an infomercial on late night TV for his 2007 DVD Full Range of Motion.  I have tickets to go see him in concert at the end of July with my family. 

But, this book was mostly a re-hash of his routines - routines that I dearly love but not nearly as funny when I am reading them as they are when he delivers them. As I was reading, I kept thinking that these would be a whole lot more funny if he was saying them. Hawkins added extra material to support the stuff from his routines but the whole package ends up being just 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Diary of a Jackwagon by Tim Hawkins.

Monday, June 5, 2017

FORT SUMTER 1861 by Albert Castel

Originally published in 1976.
Reprinted and sold by Eastern Acorn Press through the National Park Service.

Something like 24 years ago I went with to Gettysburg with a wife and a friend for a weekend trip. On that trip I bought this little book. It sat on my shelf unread for more than 2 decades. No reason for that - I am an insatiable student of the war - I have reviewed 91 books on the subject before this one. But, it sat there unread until now.

This is a readable and quite thorough history of the events leading up the famous Firing upon Fort Sumter. The best feature of the small book (fifty 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages) is that it doesn't just tell about Fort Sumter, but also about Fort Pickens. The book details how Sumter was part of a larger policy. Most histories separate the two of them and that is a mistake.

The book also describes the duplicitous actions of Secretary of State William Seward throughout the affair. Seward seriously doubted the abilities of President Lincoln and tried to conduct his own private negotiations with South Carolina to end the crisis. On top of that, he countermanded some of Lincoln's own directives when it came to relieving Fort Sumter.   

The expected stuff is included as well - who fired the first shot, when the fort was surrendered and so on. This was a $1.25 well-spent 24 years ago. 

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Fort Sumter 1861 can be found on Amazon.com here.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

KILL YUAN (audiobook) by Peter Nealen

Published in May of 2017 by Peter Nealen, LLC
Read by Cody Parcell
Duration: 12 hours, 23 minutes

The Yuan in the title Kill Yuan is a Chinese Navy captain who has stolen his frigate and its crew and become a pirate leader in the South China Sea. For some reason, the government of China is not acting against him and the other governments in the area are not strong enough to move against a true military ship the size of a frigate (in the pirate world a frigate is much larger than most of their re-purposed ships). The United States has ignored this new pirate leader because its forces in the area are busy playing cat-and-mouse war games with the Chinese Navy.

Cut to Dan Tackett. He is a former member of the U.S. military who has done some independent work as well. But, he has stopped all of that because his wife has died in a car crash and he has to raise their two children. But, making the money he needs while repairing motorcycles is tough and he has to make it up with lots and lots of overtime, meaning that he is not actually raising his own children - he is leaving that up to the day care providers and he hates it. In the evening he is drowning the pain of the loss of his wife in plenty of alcohol.

Out of desperation Tackett looks online for some independent military contractor work and finds an offer that looks to good to be true: $50,000 per month! He decides to go for it, leaves his children with their grandparents and goes off in search of a fortune that will pay off his house and leave him able to raise his children.

Tackett arrives at the training facility in Florida with a number of recruits and discovers that it's training pace is unbelievably grueling, even though it's purpose is hidden. His true employer is also hidden and this might just be a problem once they are deployed...

I listened to the audiobook version of this book read by Cody Parcell. Parcell did a fine job of reading the book despite his consistent mispronunciation of the word "redoubt" (it is pronounced rah-doubt, not reed-out). His pacing was good and he did a great job with the Chinese accents.

While I like a good action book, I freely admit I am not really an avid reader of pure military adventures so this one was a little out of my normal reading zone. The section on training was excellent. The middle part of the book (when they are deployed) was also excellent. The last third of the book got a little too full of jargon for my tastes.  When the author started to refer to weapons by the letter number combinations (like M16 and AK47 but different number combinations I had never heard of because I have never served in the military) I just assumed they were rifles of some sort and went on with the experience. On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable listen. I listened to it very quickly, which is a great sign.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Kill Yuan by Peter Nealen.