"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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Monday, December 31, 2018


Published by Beacon Press in May of 2018.
Read by Ron Butler.
Duration: 11 hours, 17 minutes.


Howard Bryant's The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America and the Politics of Patriotism takes a hard look at athletes, particularly African-American athletes, using their position to make commentary of social issues. Bryant brings a wealth of experience as a sports writer for ESPN.com, ESPN the Magazine and NPR. 

Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics 
Bryant does not come at this topic as a person critical of athletes taking political stances. Rather, he is very much in favor of it since athletes have a very large soapbox that they can climb upon and shout from, if they chose to do so. Some have. Bryant speaks in great detail about Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and especially Muhammad Ali.

Bryant starts, oddly in my mind, with someone who was an athlete (played 15 games in the NFL in the 1920's for teams that no longer exist) but is almost entirely remembered for his singing and acting - Paul Robeson. Robeson was very outspoken (he spoke out so often that he was blacklisted by Hollywood and was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee), which fits the model of person that this book profiles, but he hardly fits the model of a professional athlete that the book is focusing on.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting and thought-provoking book. Bryant's thesis is that the norm has been for Black athletes to stand up for other African Americans, either symbolically like early boxers who literally fought against white men, or by speaking up. This is what Bryant calls "The Heritage".

Colin Kaepernick
For about 25 years, more or less, "The Heritage" went away - from roughly the 1970's through the early 2000's. Bryant insists that it starts with O.J. Simpson and follows right through Michael Jordan. The model is "go along and get rich". Keep the controversies quiet and make as much money as possible. I am sure it is more complicated than that. For example, the large legislative pieces were already passed by the time Simpson made it to the NFL so there were few "official" government policies to protest any longer - at least not like before when there were a smorgasbord of racist policies to protest. But, he makes his point well - where was Michael Jordan, the most famous African American of all (except for Michael Jackson) when the Rodney King beating, for example, took place? Or when a host of other similar racial incidents happened? Nowhere.

This brings us up to Colin Kaepernick. This is, without a doubt, the strongest part of the book. Bryant takes us back through the trauma of 9/11 and reminds the readers that lived through it how shocking it was for all of us and how so many police officers and firefighters died in that attack. He reminds us how sporting events became a way for everyone to share in the loss and honor those that died on that day through flag ceremonies and special songs (Yankee Stadium performs "God Bless America" during the 7th Inning Stretch, for example).

But, soon enough, those special healing moments became part of the routine - a routine paid for by the U.S. military. Those honor guards that present the flag? Paid for by the military 
with taxpayer money (they pay the teams to let them do it). Those special, tearjerker reunion moments where a soldier comes home and his or her child is surprised on the field? Paid for by the military with taxpayer money. Those "shout outs" on the Jumbotron from soldiers in the field that are rooting for the home team? Paid for by the military with taxpayer money. Special "honor the troops" days where dozens of soldiers have seats together at the game and the camera focuses on them a few times and they all wave and say, "Hi Mom!"? Paid for by the military with taxpayer money (it costs more for more camera shots).

These combined to give sporting events a hyper-patriotic, even nationalistic feel that was not there before.

Personal note: I have attended every Indy 500 since 1986. The hyper-patriotic feel has been there throughout that time because the Indy 500 has always been scheduled on Memorial Day Weekend. They have incorporated a playing of Taps, a flyover (they were one of the first to feature a flyover) at least two patriotic songs and had a group of soldiers there representing all of the branches of the military every year. But, when I went to the August 2017 NASCAR Bristol "night" race, it was just as patriotic, including going so far as to feature a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, the NFL games are just as reverent as the Indy 500, so much so that the Indy 500 pre-race activities are not nearly as distinctive as they used to be.

So, when Colin Kaepernick decided to protest - in a much less divisive way than Ali (who talked non-stop and even went to jail when he refused to serve in Vietnam, but was publicly mourned when he died) he was excoriated.

Specific criticisms: Bryant strays from sports into popular entertainment from time to time - but not consistent enough to make it a comparison of how African American athletes, musicians and actors approached race-related controversies, with the exception of Paul Robeson (noted above) but enough to muddy the waters. He even brought up the movie Rocky as being racist because it features a white boxer as the protagonist and a black boxer as the bad guy. There are two problems with this: 1) Apollo Creed is not really a bad guy in any meaningful sense. He is overconfident and symbolizes the establishment, while Rocky symbolizes the "little guy". But, he is remarkable for even giving Rocky the chance to fight in the first place and 2) Rocky was inspired by real-life the story of Chuck Wepner, a journeyman boxer who fought for the title Ali in 1975. When you hear Apollo Creed talk about himself he is clearly imitating Ali's style. Stallone saw the fight and then wrote the screenplay (he even settled a lawsuit with Wepner over using his story).

But, despite those criticisms, this was a remarkable book. Not always a fun book, but remarkable nonetheless and certainly an excellent ending to a solid year of reading.

The book was read by Ron Butler. His voice had a sense of authority and his pacing was excellent. He did a great job, even if he could not pronounce the name of the former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's name correctly.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE HERITAGE: BLACK ATHLETES, a DIVIDED AMERICA and the POLITICS of PATRIOTISM by Howard Bryant.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Published in 2011 by Gildan Media, LLC.
Read by Grover Gardner.
Duration: 14 hours, 9 minutes.

Carthage has forever been relegated to the second fiddle of the Ancient Mediterranean world - the last power to offer the Roman Republic any sort of serious threat. The also-ran that could have been what Rome became...if only.

But, unlike Rome, no one seems to know much about Carthage except for that they were a sea power, they had battle elephants and Hannibal crossed the Alps leading them in a war against Rome.

Dr. Miles' effort is a bit hamstrung from the lack of original sources from Carthage itself - it was looted and destroyed at the end of the Third Punic War. But, he is able to reconstruct a history based on the writings of other countries, including such sources as the Bible, Greek and Roman histories, temples, changes in religious thought architecture and coinage. 

I do appreciate how difficult this must have been, but this book often gets bogged down in multiple long discussions of the coinage (what is on the heads side, what is on the tails side, where the coins were minted, what their exact metallic content was) and other topics that are meant to be supporting of the main story but not the main story itself. I mean, it was like clockwork - 45 minutes has passed, it's time for another extended coinage discussion.

To be frank, the problem with this book is that it simply had no flow. It was often sidetracked into areas that padded its length without adding any additional understanding. It read like an academic text - like one of those textbooks that you HAD to read in school, not like a book that made you want to keep on reading it. I learned a lot, but it was a chore. Too bad, because I picked this one up because I was truly intrigued by the topic.

Award winning audiobook reader Grover Gardner read this audiobook. I generally like Gardner's work, but I was not fond of his folksy style with the academic style of the text. It clearly wasn't a deal breaker since I finished all 14 hours of the book, but I don't think it was a great editorial choice by the producer(s) of the audiobook.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: CARTHAGE MUST BE DESTROYED: THE RISE and FALL of an ANCIENT CIVILIZATION by Richard Miles.

MAKE ME (Jack Reacher #20) (audiobook) by Lee Child

Published in 2015 by Random House Audio.
Read by Dick Hill.

Duration: 14 hours, 3 minutes.

Photo by DWD
This is the 20th novel-length entry in the Jack Reacher series. But, readers of the series know that the books are not written in any particular order and there are a lot of short stories and novellas in the series as well. If you are trying to read everything in chronological order (from Reacher's point of view), this is entry number 37.

In the middle of the night, Jack Reacher gets off of a train bound for Chicago in an small town in Oklahoma named Mother's Rest. Yes, Mother's Rest. And, no, no one seems to know why it is named that.

He is immediately met by a former FBI agent turned private detective named Michelle Chang. She had initially confused him for an associate of hers that has gone missing in Mother's Rest. Reacher is intrigued by the situation (and the fact that no one in town seems to have any idea where the name came from) and starts to poke around a bit on his own. The reaction he gets convinces him that there is definitely something going on in this little town and it gets deeper and more dangerous than anyone had anticipated...

There are some things that are quite good about this book. For the first time, Jack Reacher actually has to admit to the reality that he is aging. There is a real detective story here and it is quite interesting. And, there is a look into the dark corners of the internet, which is also interesting. But, there are times when the story seems to be "paint by numbers", especially in the mandatory big fight scene. What would have been a 45 second fight is slowed down and over-analyzed to the point that it gets boring. It goes on and on and on. Also, the ending (no spoilers) was both stomach-turning and unsatisfying.

The audiobook was read by Dick Hill who was, in my mind, one of the best audiobook readers I have ever heard. I say "was" because he has since retired Hill has a special connection with this series and Lee Child's writing style, a topic he brings up in this interview about his retirement. Any problems in this book were not caused by the reader, but rather by the author who just needed to cut a 14 hour book down to a 11 or 12 hour book.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It was good to keep up with Jack Reacher but this was not up to the usual standards of the series.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: MAKE ME (Jack Reacher #20) by Lee Child.

THE WANTED: AN ELVIS COLE and JOE PIKE NOVEL (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #17) by Robert Crais

The Elvis Cole novels have been coming out for 30 years and this book would be a fine place for the series to end - not that I want it to end

Originally published in 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Robert Crais. Photo by Mark Coggins.
The Elvis Cole novels have been coming out for 30 years and this book would be a fine place for the series to end, especially considering the last 20 pages or so. Not that I want it to end - I will read them as long as Robert Crais wants to write them, but this book goes out of its way to include all of the hallmarks of an Elvis Cole novel, almost like it is going down a checklist one last time. Those items include:

1) Joe Pike is there and Joe Pike is scary, full of tech knowledge and lurks in dark places;

2) Elvis' car gets a special mention;
3) Elvis' cat is in several scenes and full of his special "charm";
4) Elvis shows off his culinary skills;
5) Elvis does his martial arts workout;
6) Elvis goes to his office (the early books always featured the office and its special decor);
7) Elvis and Joe reaffirm their bond multiple times;
8) Elvis and...Louisiana (no spoilers).

The book focuses on a case brought to Elvis by a worried mom. Her son is suddenly flush with cash and has a new group of friends that she barely knows but doesn't care for. She asks Elvis to find out what her son is doing. Elvis puts his considerable experience to use and figures it out soon enough. But...what he discovers is not good and he finds out that his client's son is in serious danger. There is a problem though - no can find him and Cole discovers a team of hit men are involved as well.

By far, the most interesting characters in the book are the two hit men (Harvey and Stemms). They function as a mirror image of Pike and Cole - they are just as smart, just as talented and their relationship is just as complicated.

This is a good book, just not a great one. I rate it 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: THE WANTED: AN ELVIS COLE and JOE PIKE NOVEL.

Friday, December 21, 2018

ANT-MAN: NATURAL ENEMY (audiobook) by Jason Starr

Published in 2015 by GraphicAudio
Performed by more than 25 voice actors.
Duration: Approximately 5 hours.

Scott Lang, better known to superhero fans as Ant-Man, has moved to New York City with his teenage daughter to take advantage of some job opportunities in the tech field. If you only know Ant-Man from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are a few differences in this book, but nothing that is insurmountable.

Scott Lang's criminal past comes back to haunt him when a former partner in crime breaks out of prison. People connected with his conviction are dying all across the country - and the FBI thinks that Scott Lang is next. Why? Because Lang testified against him in the plea deal that turned him away from a life of crime.

Lang knows that he doesn't really need police protection - after all, he is a superhero. But, he can't tell the FBI that.

Meanwhile, his daughter is having typical "mean girl" problems with a classmate when it occurs to her that she knows where her dad keeps his Ant-Man suit and she has the combination to the lock...

This book was a solid win for GraphicAudio. The last few superhero audiobooks of theirs that I have listened to have been too muddled and too hurried. This one had the pacing down just right and fell right in line with the "feel" of the Ant-Man movies (just set a few years later). It is funny, the characters are likable and the action is quite good. But, the final challenge for Ant-Man and its solution were a bit off for me.

I do enjoy GraphicAudio's old-fashioned radio play style. Each character is voiced by a separate actor with sound effects thrown in as well. The actor that played Tony Stark should get a special award for sounding exactly like Robert Downey, Jr.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: ANT-MAN: NATURAL ENEMY (audiobook) by Jason Starr.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

DARK SACRED NIGHT: A BALLARD and BOSCH NOVEL (audiobook) by Michael Connelly

Published by Little, Brown and Company in 2018.
Read by Christine Lakin and Titus Welliver
Duration: 10 hours, 39 minutes.


Harry Bosch is now long-retired from LAPD, but he continues his work as an unpaid reserve officer with the tiny San Fernando police department (see this linked video to see the author explain the situation). He is investigating a cold case murder of the leader of a gang based in San Fernando. Bosch is determined to solve it, even if most people would just let it go because of who was killed. His motto is "Everyone Counts or Nobody Counts" - even gang leaders.

But, he is also working on another, more personal case. In a previous book, Bosch broke up a prescription drug ring and met an addict who fell into addiction because she was self-medicating to kill the pain of her daughter's murder.

Meanwhile, LAPD Detective Renee Ballard continues her work as an overnight detective - part of the "Late Show". She finds Harry Bosch doing some unauthorized digging through LAPD filing cabinets looking for anything that can help. The case intrigues Ballard and she and Bosch decide to join forces.

But, as often happens, there is more to this case than anyone imagined. Mistakes will be made and some lines will be crossed that shouldn't be crossed...

I very much like the fact that Michael Connelly is letting Harry Bosch age. There are good and bad things to that - Bosch has tons of experience and knowledge, but he is losing a step. Ballard is an interesting character (much better in this book than in her first one) and she and Bosch make an interesting pairing. They are very similar people, despite their obvious differences.

The audiobook is read by Christine Lakin and Titus Welliver. Welliver plays Bosch in the Amazon TV show based on the Bosch novels and has been reading the Bosch audiobook as of late. In this book, he reads the chapters that are primarily Bosch-based and Lakin reads the chapters that primarily feature Ballard. The last chapter features a back and forth between the two readers that I liked a lot.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: DARK SACRED NIGHT: A BALLARD and BOSCH NOVEL by Michael Connelly.

Friday, December 14, 2018

A LIFE of JESUS by Shusaku Endo. Translated by Richard A. Schuchert

First published in 1973.

Denial of Peter by Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Shusaku Endo was a rare thing - a Christian from Japan. He also grew up mostly away from Japan (in China) and spent a considerable amount of his young adult life in France. When he was in Japan, he was different because of his religion. When he was in France, he was different because of his ethnicity.

This re-telling of the Jesus' life emphasizes this idea of being an outsider. Jesus is never want people want him to be. John the Baptist's followers want him to continue to teach like John the Baptist. His early followers want him to perform miracles all of the time. His later followers want him to overthrow the king and drive out the Romans. Meanwhile, Jesus is teaching lessons about love and forgiveness that no one seems to want to hear.

Endo's Jesus is a melancholy man - who wouldn't be when your main message is ignored and everyone wants to you be something you can't be?

Endo chooses to pass over most of the miracle stories of Jesus because he wrote this book for a Japanese audience and he is convinced that his native countrymen will not accept those stories and will reject the entire message because of them. This has been a point of contention with some critics.

Endo also makes some assumptions that are interesting, but not necessarily in the Gospels. For example, he writes an interesting take on the story of Peter denying Jesus three times on the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas. He looks at a few facts and makes a compelling (albeit completely circumstantial) argument that Peter didn't just deny Jesus, he went to the Temple leaders and made a deal with them that saved the lives of the disciples if they promised to only take Jesus. In effect, this makes them every bit as guilty as Judas and also makes them the very first people that were saved due Jesus' death on the cross. It has a compelling sense of completion and does explain why the disciples were not rounded up in the days following the crucifixion.

An interesting take on Jesus. Well worth the time to read it. 

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: A LIFE of JESUS by Shusaku Endo.

Friday, November 23, 2018

THE BLUE and the GRAY: THE CONFLICT BETWEEN NORTH and SOUTH by Martin F. Graham, Richard A. Sauers and George Skoch.

Published in 1997 by Publications International, LTD.

Union General Ambrose Burnside (1824-1881)
At first glance, this is a typical coffee table book about the Civil War. There are tons of them - I ought to know, I own several myself. They are all over-sized, hardback and full of great pictures. Most have lots of details about the battles and the strategies of the war and a little about topics such as the daily life of the soldier, medicine of the time, the use of spies or daily life in camp. This book is set up exactly in the reverse. It is all about those other topics, discusses the overall strategy and offers very little about the specifics of any actual battles. There are literally no battle maps.

But, that doesn't stop this from being a great book. It is a great book precisely because it doesn't treat those other topics as interesting filler - it treats them as topics that can stand alone and are worthy of exploration. 

Every page is colored either blue or gray. If it is a blue page, it discusses something about the Union, if it is gray, it discusses the Confederacy. Almost always, they go back and forth on the same theme, such as: Lincoln's Cabinet vs. Davis's Cabinet; manufacturing; the Union Strategy vs. the Confederate Strategy; the New York Draft Riots vs. the Richmond Bread Riots; Prison Camps; Uniforms; Northern Weapons Technology vs. Southern Weapons Technology; Newspapers on both sides; Artists on both sides; the two First Ladies; Spies; and how Reconstruction affected both sides. 

I particularly enjoyed the story of the Memphis Appeal, a successful newspaper that was forced to flee (printing press and all) from from advancing Union troops who wanted to shut it down. It fled from Memphis to Grenada, Mississippi to Jackson, Mississippi and then on to Atlanta. They fled to Montgomery, Alabama and were finally caught , after nearly three years of flight, in Columbus, Georgia after the war was over. The Union General the editor had a drink and within 6 months the paper was once again publishing in Memphis (with that same much-traveled press). 

I found this to be an exceptionally balanced and well-written collection. It is an excellent choice to give to a student of the Civil War or to keep in a classroom as a resource. Really, the only problem I saw was on a general map on page 111. My adopted hometown of Indianapolis is placed about 50 miles too far to the south.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE BLUE and the GRAY: THE CONFLICT BETWEEN NORTH and SOUTH.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Published in 2017 by HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books.
Read by Danny Campbell.
Duration: 8 hours, 8 minutes.

Finn Murphy is a long haul trucker, meaning he drives the trucks that you see on the interstate. Murphy doesn't just haul anything - he drives a moving truck. He packs, loads, hauls and unloads households - more than 3,000 of them by his estimation.

Finn Murphy's transportation for a promotional book tour.
Murphy tells about the generalities of driving a big truck, particularly a moving truck. He includes several entertaining stories about his life on the road. The listener (I heard this as an audiobook) gets a feel for the comings and goings of the truckers in the moving industry. His story of his first day as a mover is a classic "how can this get any worse" story.

I first heard about this book in an interview on NPR with Terry Gross. This is ironic because the author discusses how so many truckers listen to NPR because it is a truly national network and you can oftentimes drive from one station to another across the country and never miss a beat. And, I also enjoyed the fact that he mentioned how much he enjoyed listening to audiobooks as he drives since I listened to this book as an audiobook. By the way, it was read by Danny Campbell who did a great job. I had forgotten that the book was not read by the author himself because Campbell was so invested in telling the story like it really happened to him.

I enjoyed this book, but it falls a bit short of being a 5 star book. It was informative and usually very entertaining. But, sometimes it got a little slow. His complaints about Florida's topography were a bit tiresome. The story about the Colonel's wife also brought a much darker, somber tinge to the story that wasn't there before. That being said, this was a worthy and informative listen. A great on-the-road audiobook.

I rate this audibook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy.

Monday, November 19, 2018

THE FAULT in OUR STARS by John Green

Originally published in 2012.

I teach high school. This book exploded onto the scene 6 years ago. It was everywhere. Girls carried it around. Boys read it on the sly. Even if boys didn't read it, they knew the basics of the plot.

But, I had never gotten around to reading it. But, after hearing so much about John Green and his podcasts from my own high schooler and after seeing him on my adopted hometown's PBS station (same adopted hometown as John Green - Indianapolis) discuss books with Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, I finally decided to read this book.

And...it deserves all of the hype.

The kids sound like kids - exceptional ones to be sure, but they sound like kids. Kids who have been dealt a very bad hand in life and are still trying to figure out what it means to be a grown up, what it means to fall in love and what it means be alive. They are sarcastic, inexperienced and smart.

What kind of book is it? It's the kind of book where you laugh out loud on one page and cry one the next - literally.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Published by Penguin Audio in 2016.
Read by Sean Pratt.
Duration: 3 hours, 26 minutes.

This short book takes a fresh look at Christmas by going back to its roots. Keller correctly notes that Christmas is unique in that it is our most popular secular holiday and our most popular religious holiday. And, the secular holiday focuses on Christmas as a moment of hope - "Peace on Earth and Good Will Towards Men" can happen.

Keller asserts that the religious tradition of Christmas says just the opposite - mankind is irredeemable and God had to come to mankind and provide the way out of its mess - through Christ. He tells it with a lot of eloquence. 

The best part of the book, though, is the discussion of Jesus' pedigree in the Book of Matthew. Keller looks at why certain people were mentioned and why others were not. For example, "David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife" points out the fact that David (Israel's greatest hero) is an ancestor, but that he committed a horrible sin by betraying one of his best soldiers by having him killed so that he could take his wife. It also mentions a prostitute, a foreign woman and a wife who was married to her husband by trickery. It's a convoluted family line - not a line that a proud king would point to.

Sean Pratt read the book. I enjoyed his reading style - scholarly yet relaxed.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: 

FOLLOW the RIVER (audiobook) by James Alexander Thom

Published by Tantor Audio in 2010.
Book originally published in 1981 by Ballantine Books.
Read by David Drummond.
Duration: 16 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo by DWD
As the American frontier pushed ever-Westward during the Colonial Era, there were multiple major conflicts between the new White settlers and the various Indian groups. The last, and the biggest, was the war that Americans know as the French and Indian War (1754-1763). It was truly a global war involving not only France and England, but also a variety of countries around the world such as Prussia, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Russia and the Mughal Empire in India.

The war began as a power struggle between French and English colonists along with their Native American allies. Technically, a young Virginia militia leader named George Washington started the war when he tried to remove French Canadians who were building a trading post in what is now western Pennsylvania. The entire frontier was soon at war and little settlements on the extreme frontier, like Drapers Meadows, Virginia, were exposed - even if they had only the faintest idea there was a war going on.

In 1755, a group of Shawnee warriors attacked Drapers Meadows, a settlement of just a few families and killed or kidnapped about half of the inhabitants and took them to a large Shawnee town near the Ohio River in what is now northeastern Kentucky. One of the victims was Mary Draper Ingles (pronounced Ingalls) and this novel is the fictionalized story of her capture (along with her children), her life among the Shawnee and her escape with a fellow female captive who spoke mostly German. Mary had watched as she was taken to the Shawnee village and she realized that all she had to do was simply follow the river system back to her home. If only it were that simple. It turned into a 42 day walk back to an English frontier cabin across some of the roughest terrain in the Appalachians. They left in mid-October and arrived on December 1, 1755.

Their escape covered more than 500 miles and crossed an estimated 145 rivers or creeks, with little or no food. Oftentimes, they had to get soaked in water, climb cliffs or rockfalls and starved as they walked and the temperatures dropped. This terrain is difficult nowadays with modern equipment. Their accomplishment is astonishing when you consider their physical condition and almost complete lack of tools, equipment, nutrition and warm clothing. This book was thoroughly researched by the author who walked as much as their route as he possibly could. You can tell - the landscape is as much a character in the book as any single character.

This is an amazing book. It is not a happy book - how can it be when it is full of suffering, violence, death and tragedy? But, James Alexander Thom told the story so well that I felt like I was along for the whole tragic trip. It is sobering and compelling. It is all the more tragic when you consider that she left her children behind with the Shawnee because there was no way that they could survive this extremely difficult trek.

The audiobook was read by David Drummond. He does an excellent job with the accents throughout the book (the area was quite international considering how hard it was to get there) and the rest of the book overall. I do think it was a bit odd to chose a man to read the book considering that most of the dialogue of the book is spoken by women. A great deal of the book also deals with the internal thoughts of Mary.

This was a re-read for me, although it had been 26 years between readings. I remembered it as an excellent book and I am pleased to say that I still think it is excellent.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Follow the River by James Alexander Thom

Friday, November 16, 2018

THE RECKONING: A NOVEL (audiobook) by John Grisham

Could Have Been Something Special. Instead, This Book Is a Hot Mess.

Published by Random House Audio in October of 2018.
Read by Michael Beck.

Duration: 17 hours, 36 minutes.

American soldiers during the Bataan Death March in 1942.
Pete Banning was a decorated World War II veteran and had been home less than a year in 1946 when he took his pistol to town and shot and killed his church's minister. The question everyone had was why this Mississippi-born-and-bred hero would do such a thing.

This book features romance, betrayal, racial injustice, an execution by electric chair, hit-and-run guerrilla warfare against Imperial Japan, the Bataan Death March, two court cases, a family member committed to an insane asylum, a murder, a suicide, explosions, war crimes, a submarine sinking a ship and marital infidelity. The amazing thing is that, after all of that, this book is a tedious mess - something to be endured more than enjoyed.

The problem with this book is that Grisham spends hour after hour after hour giving excruciatingly detailed backstories all about the Banning's whirlwind romance of his wife, how his farm worked, his sister's pink house, a hotel in Memphis and the in-laws lackluster lives.

The World War II section of the book is actually quite good. But, it just doesn't fit in with the rest of the book and is actually not needed to make the rest of the book work. It's almost like Grisham had two books written - one a Southern Gothic mystery and the other a World War II action-adventure and he just stuck them together. Too bad - he writes a pretty good war story.

This book is a hot mess. As I am writing this review, this book is the #2 on Amazon's best-seller list and #3 on the New York Times list. The only reason that it is there is because of the author's name - not the quality of this book.

I listened to the audiobook, read by Michael Beck. Beck has a pleasing voice, but this book would work against any narrator. It desperately needed hours of text edited out of the book.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Reckoning by John Grisham.  My advice, pick another Grisham book to read - any other book.

Friday, October 26, 2018

CAPTAIN AMERICA: DARK DESIGNS (audiobook) by Stefan Petrucha

Published in 2016 by GraphicAudio.
Performed by a multiple performers.
Duration: approximately 6 hours.

S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors discover a dormant virus in Captain America's bloodstream while performing a newfangled ultra deep scan after an encounter with a different dangerous virus. This is not just any virus, it is an "extinction-level" virus, meaning it has the potential to wipe out the human race if it were to become an active virus.

So, Captain America is placed into a containment area so the virus won't kill off the world in case it goes active. But, giant old Nazi robots from World War II keep coming to life with Adolf Hitler's voice demanding to fight Captain America. If he doesn't show up to fight, they threaten to start killing nearby civilians. Iron Man shows up to help, but these robots are really just too much for one Avenger to handle and everyone else is busy, unreachable or just too unpredictable (you don't unleash Hulk into downtown Paris).

How can Captain America fight these robots when he is supposed to be under quarantine? What's making these robots come to life after all of these years? How long has Captain America been carrying this virus and where did he pick it up? Will S.H.I.E.L.D. be able to come up with a cure or will they have to put him into cryogenic stasis and hope for a cure in the future?

GraphicAudio's production values are always good - like an old-fashioned radio show. The actors are all good, but I especially enjoyed the performance of Richard Cutting, the actor that played Iron Man/Tony Stark. He sounds so much like Robert Downing, Jr.'s version from the Marvel movies that you would swear that Downing was performing the part himself.

The part of the story with Captain America having to be quarantined is intriguing, especially the ongoing debates with the epidemiologist that is brought in. But, the story of the Nazi "sleeper" robots is a re-hash of a previous story and, in the end, just suffers from some serious logic problems. Why would the Nazis design these robots to attack Captain America one at a time, like in a video game where the hero character fights increasingly difficult characters as he works his way up to the "big boss"? Also, the historian in me asks why Hitler wouldn't simply unleash all of these nearly unstoppable robots (I think that there are 7 of them in the two inter-related stories) onto Russian, British and American foot soldiers and take out tens of thousands of them in one fell swoop and just make Captain America a hero without an army to back him up?

Oh, well. Asking comic book stories to make sense kind of defeats the purpose of comic book stories.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: CAPTAIN AMERICA: DARK DESIGNS.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

THE SOUL of AMERICA: THE BATTLE for OUR BETTER ANGELS (audiobook) by Jon Meacham

Published in 2018 by Random House Audio.
Read by Fred Sanders and the author, Jon Meacham.

Duration: 10 hours, 55 minutes.

LBJ and MLK discussing Civil Rights strategy - 
Jon Meacham takes a look at Presidential leadership from the Civil War onward, particularly the power of the President to lead the country to "do the right thing" in a time of crisis. He has a particular focus with how the President deals with people who want to abuse the rights of others. Well, to be completely honest, Meacham does not have a complete clear thesis in this book and I am not 100% sure what his overall goal was. What it turned out to be was an interesting, rambling work that looked at several crisis points in American history and how the politicians, mostly presidents, responded.

He looked at Lincoln (the source of the title), Grant during Reconstruction and the rise of the KKK, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ. There is a little discussion of George W. Bush and there is an implied criticism of Donald Trump at times, especially when he discusses demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy. 

Meacham is much kinder towards Woodrow Wilson than most historians, when one considers how much he abused his authority during World War I (he acknowledges it and moves on). His look at LBJ was similarly friendly, but was much more interesting and inspiring because it focused on his work to get the Civil Rights legislation passed (and virtually ignored the Vietnam War).

The audiobook was read by Fred Sanders. He did a fine job, but I actually enjoyed the reading of the opening and closing thoughts by the author more.

So, to sum up, this was an enjoyable, if muddled book. Worthy of your time.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE SOUL of AMERICA: THE BATTLE for OUR BETTER ANGELS.


Published in 2018 by HarperAudio.
Read by the author, Rob Schenck.
Duration: 11 hours, 26 minutes.


Rob Schenck tells the story of his life as a story of three conversions. His first conversion was a conversion from Judaism to Christianity as a teenager. Soon after graduating high school he married and began to work to his certification to join the ministry. He first worked in a shelter for junkies but he found that to be a little too dangerous for his wife. Plus, he longed for something with a larger impact.

He became a pastor with a church but still felt that wasn't enough. He participated in joint missions in Mexico to help those that live in the garbage dumps and scrounge them for food and recyclables. After one of his trips he found that his twin brother (also a pastor) had become involved in Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion movement that encouraged protesters to block the entrances to abortion clinics and use non-violent resistance to stop women from getting an abortion. Eventually, the police would show up and start arresting people and it would become a big spectacle that would make the news.

Schenck was persuaded to attend a protest. This was his second conversion. He promised his wife that he wouldn't get arrested - he was just going to observe. But, the lure of the action was too much and he ended up getting arrested. He was hooked. He loved the idea of taking direct action in the name of the Lord.

He became a top figure in the anti-abortion movement. He confronted public figures for their support (twice he ended up being held for questioning for confronting Bill Clinton). He carried actual aborted fetuses to rallies to show people what they were really talking about when they discussed abortions. He became very familiar with the process of being arrested for the cause.

And the cause was also becoming an influential force in Republican politics.  Schenk worked with all the major players. At this time, he began to seriously study the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister who was placed in a concentration camp for his constant questioning of Nazi authorities. Eventually, he was executed by  the Nazis just days before the end of World War II. His studies of Bonhoeffer made him question what he was doing as a Christian.  He began to question the cozy relationship he had with the powers that be in Washington. His questions led him to conclude that his fellow evangelicals were wrong in their unlimited support of the NRA and gun rights, especially after two abortion providers were assassinated.

But, he was most moved by the reaction of several Amish families after a school shooting in an Amish school by a non-Amish man. This is a very powerful section of the book. He begins to openly question how one can be pro-life and pro-gun. Should Christians trust a pistol at their side more than the God who says they should "fear not" and trust only Him? How many other things had he not considered? This is his third conversion.

This third conversion made him look at the close relationship between church and the GOP that he had been advocating since Ronald Reagan first ran for President in 1980. Was the church selling its soul for access to political power? Were basic Christian tenets being forgotten for the opportunity to use the government's power rather than depend on God and his people? Was the price of access to the pinnacle of power too high, especially in the Age of Trump?

Costly Grace is an interesting trip down memory lane for me in a lot of ways. I very much remember Operation Rescue and the mass abortion clinic protests. I also happened to stumble upon a documentary made about him ("The Armor of Light") that struck me and made me do some thinking. Ironically, I didn't remember that he was the subject of this documentary until he described one of the scenes in this book.

Rob Schenck reads his own audiobook and does a good job with it. The book is a little slow at times, but I found the discussion of his third conversion to be well worth the wait. Easily the best part of the book. I know that Rob Schenck and I would not agree on everything, but I also know that it would be a respectful and meaningful discussion. Very thought-provoking book.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: COSTLY GRACE: AN EVANGELICAL MINISTER'S REDISCOVERY of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Published in 1998 by Enslow Publishers, Inc.

How many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln? NPR claims more than 15,000 - more than anyone except Jesus Christ. This book enters an already crowded field with only one distinct thing going for it - it is aimed at middle school students. That means, I need to review this book with that fact in mind.

To Somerlott's credit, he generally hits the reading level of middle school students and he does keep his focus on the threats to Lincoln and Lincoln's lackadaisical attitude towards his own personal security. It's not always gripping reading, but it is generally accurate and includes a lot of illustrations and some primary sources in special pull-out sections.

The only quibble I have with the book is the rather simplistic way it deals with Lincoln's attitude toward slavery and African American civil rights. Lincoln was politically liberal on this topic for his day, but the cherrypicked quote provided on page 18 makes Lincoln sound more like Martin Luther King than the man who had an ever-evolving opinion (more liberal) on racial matters.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION in AMERICAN HISTORY by Robert Somerlott.

Saturday, October 13, 2018


Published by David D. D'Aguanno in 2018.
Read by Travis Henry Carter.
Duration: 8 hours, 32 minutes.

Brett Cornell is a private detective in Rhode Island. He's big, he's fearless and he knows how to fight. He is full of smart comments, opinions about orange juice and is quite sure that he is the most amazing lover of all time. He is cunning. He is unscrupulous and will certainly pad his bill to eke out as much money as he possibly can from his clients. And, he's not much for education. 

Brett begins by running into a series of rough cops at a bar. These are violent officers who throw their weight around with everyone - especially with know-it-all loudmouths like Brett. Soon enough, Brett ends up being challenged to participate in a charity fight with the biggest bruiser cop of the bunch - except that everyone knows that this fight will be for real.

In the meantime, Brett has been hired to find a missing woman who is suspected of having run off to Florida with his client's husband. It's the middle of winter in Rhode Island - who wouldn't want to take a working vacation to Florida? But, things get more and more complicated the more Brett investigates...

The audiobook was read by Travis Henry Carter who delivered a fantastic performance. He performed lots of accents and male and female characters with a lot of skill.

However, I found Brett's long-winded expositions to be wearisome. He is a memorable character, but not one that I would ever choose to spend any time with. The book is told in first person and Brett takes a long time to tell any story. He can be amusing, especially in his profound ignorance (he thinks Tampa is in Arizona, for example), but he just plain old wore me out.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher so that I could write an honest review.


Published by Arcade Publishing in 2018.

Set on the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Grenada in 1765, Sugar Money is the story of two brothers. Lucien is thirteen years old and his older brother Emile is in his twenties and they are both slaves on Martinique. They are owned by a group of French monks who were forced off of Granada during the world-wide war commonly known as the French and Indian War in the United States. When the monks escaped Granada they left more than 40 slaves behind. Lucien and Emile are sent to Granada to organize an escape to Martinique - not an escape to freedom, just an escape to better working conditions and continued slavery.

The strength of this book is in it's descriptions. The descriptions of slave life on Granada and of the environs are top notch. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really pan out to be anything more than a "non-event" in my mind. There's a lot of build up for an underwhelming finish. Because of this, I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Sugar Money by Jane Harris.

Note: I was sent a free Advance Reading Copy of this book as a part of the Amazon Vine Program so that I could write an honest review.

Friday, October 12, 2018


Published by Random House Audio in 2018.
Read by the author, Jonah Goldberg.

Duration: 16 hours, 1 minute.

Jonah Goldberg, noted political commentator and an editor at the conservative political magazine National Review, takes a long time to set up his argument that modern West culture and its economic system, as it developed under the Enlightenment, is unique and worthy of preservation. He goes on an in-depth look at the conditions that brought about the Enlightenment and makes some reasonable conclusions - certainly nothing that was earth-shaking. But, he makes them in easily understandable terms because this is not a poli-sci or an economics textbook - this is the political version on an evangelistic tract trying to sell the citizens of The West, particularly Americans, that their political and economic culture is worthy of saving, even if it is imperfect.

Goldberg spends a great deal of time pointing out that the vast majority of human history has been the story of dictatorships (history in the formal sense, that is, the part that we have been able to record in written form in some way or another over the last 5,000 years or so). Some of those dictatorships have been formal dynasties, some mere military strongmen. He looks at why and how governments formed through the lens of both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes and notes how they were both correct, in their own ways. 

But, the modern West is really based on the ideas that Locke described and the Enlightenment movement used those ideas to re-think government and emphasize the rights of the individual, even if it inconveniences or irritates the majority. Sometimes these new political system were formally discussed and created (as in the United States Constitution) and sometimes as a matter of cultural evolution (which at least partially explains the British system). I particularly enjoyed his discussion of how the capitalist economic system and Western political models developed together.

Once he establishes why the Enlightenment was so unique, he then looks at several threats to American political culture in our current climate, paying special attention to Donald Trump. Jonah Goldberg, like me, is a "Never Trump" Republican (I call myself a "Republican in exile") who finds himself in a quandary in regards to Trump. While Goldberg and I don't always agree on why, we do both agree that Trump is not a valid choice and is certainly not a Republican. I will not distill his arguments here because he has made them known many times in his opinion pieces.

The audiobook was read by the author and he did a great job of making it a very lively reading, filling it with intonations and areas of special emphasis that only the author can give.

I found this to be an intriguing book, definitely one of the more enjoyable audiobooks I have listened to in the last two or three months. Highly Recommended.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here:  SUICIDE of THE WEST: HOW the REBIRTH of POPULISM, NATIONALISM, and IDENTITY POLITICS IS DESTROYING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY by Jonah Goldberg.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

DOUBLE TAP (Paul Madriani #8) by Steve Martini

Steve Martini
Originally published in 2005.


A controversial CEO of a tech company is murdered in her own home. The motive is not clear, but her former bodyguard who is also her former lover is arrested for the crime. He claims that he was framed. He is accused of stalking her, he claims he was re-hired off of the books and was actually protecting her because she felt like she was being followed.

Emiliano Ruiz's case was dropped by his original attorney, but Paul Madriani and Harry Hinds pick it up only to find that it looks like a slam-dunk case for the prosecutor. Ruiz's pistol is the murder weapon. He has no proof that he was re-hired to protect the victim and he knows everything about her security system.

But, there is something about the case that convinces Madriani and Hinds that there is more here than meets the eye...

My take:

This is a so-so legal thriller. It's all a little too clandestine for my tastes and its conclusion was a "gotcha" ending. But, the backstory of Madriani's uncle that suffered from PTSD from his service in the Korean War was very powerful - all the more so when you read the last chapter of the book.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Double Tap by Steve Martini.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

THE SECOND KOREAN WAR (audiobook) by Ted Halstead

Published in 2018 by Ted Halstead.
Read by Cody Banning.
Duration: 15 hours, 4 minutes.

Ted Halstead's The Second Korean War is a multi-country thriller in which North Korea tries a desperate gamble to force South Korea to submit to North Korean rule.

The book starts out on an military base on the far eastern part of Russia. North Korea has found out that Russia has a small nuclear "backpack" weapon (a battlefield nuke) dating from the early days of nuclear weapons that has been lost from the inventory over the years. North Korea acquires the weapon so that they can start a two-pronged effort to force South Korea to surrender and force the United States to withdraw from South Korea without fighting.

But, things don't go as smoothly as they hoped, people die and a Russian police detective starts putting things together. The question is, will he put things together fast enough?

The last thing I want to do is write out a bunch of spoilers, so I won't tell how everything breaks down. Some of the twists and turns were nicely done. I especially liked how the Russians were the good guys and honest brokers throughout. There's a lot of technology (radar-eluding planes, submarines) and geo-political intrigue in the vein of Tom Clancy. It's not as good as the best Tom Clancy, but that is a high bar. I found the North Korean plan for South Korea to be exceedingly implausible simply because of their hardheaded insistence on using a specific vehicle. I get it, the stereotype of military dictatorships is that they are ultra-orthodox and inflexible.

I listened to The Second Korean War as an audiobook. It was not a particularly good production. The reader, Cody Banning, has a clear voice. But, his rhythm is just not there. At times, it sounds like he is trying to imitate William Shatner, with odd long pauses at commas. According to my research, this is just his second audiobook, so that explains a few things. There's a lot of potential there.

The audiobook was poorly edited, though. Multiple times you can hear the reader clear his throat, shake papers and sometimes start over as he botched a line. Botched lines happen - but this is  Also, the editor/producer should have caught the fact that Banning mis-read the word "emphatically" as "empathically" throughout the book. This is my 467th audiobook review and this one stood out for its rather poor editing. Too bad.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5, despite the production/editing work. It was a unique take on a potential Korean conflict.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Second North Korean War by Ted Halstead.

Note: I was asked to give an honest review of this audibook by the publisher in exchange for a free download of the audiobook.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED (Longmire #3) (audiobook) by Craig Johnson

Published by Recorded Books in 2007.
Read by George Guidall
Duration: 8 hours, 42 minutes.

Walt Longmire is the Sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming and he is off to Philadelphia to visit his daughter Cady. This visit comes as part of a road trip with his friend Henry Standing Bear who is presenting some photos at a museum. To add some extra fun, Walt is going to meet up with his tough-talking deputy Vic's family, since she is also from Philadelphia. Turns out they are entrenched in the police department, from top to bottom.

But, before the visit really got started, Cady is pushed off of a balcony and suffers a head injury, leaving her in a coma. Walt and Henry start investigating and soon things start to get very complicated, very fast.

This is the third book in this series, but the first one that I have read or listened to. Normally, I don't join series midway, but I felt confident that I could start with this one because I had seen two season of the TV show based on the book series so at least I would know who the characters are. I wasn't lost, but I didn't particularly enjoy the Philadelphia-based "fish out of water" aspect of this book. It was okay, but not great.

The audiobook was read by George Guidall. He has long been recognized as one of the best in the audiobook business and he does a great job with this book. But, it was just a so-so book no matter who read it so I am going to have to rate it 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

MISSION: JIMMY STEWART and the FIGHT for EUROPE (audiobook) by Robert Matzen

Published in 2017 by Blackstone Audio.
Read by Peter Berkrot.
Duration: 11 hours, 45 minutes.

The chief mechanic of the B-24 Liberator Nine Yanks and a Jerk 
sticking his head out of the hole blown through the cockpit by a piece
of unexploded ordinance. Jimmy Stewart was in that cockpit on
that flight.
Just a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart was a new recruit in the U.S. Army angling for the chance to fly a bomber in combat. At the time, he was the reigning male actor in Hollywood, having recently received the Oscar for Best Actor.

But, deep down, Jimmy Stewart wanted to continue the family tradition of military service. The Army tried to divert Stewart to a non-combat role, aided by some string-pulling by his movie studio. But, Stewart pulled some strings of his own and eventually found himself training to fly bombers, despite the fact that he was easily at least ten years older than all of the other trainees.

Stewart and his men flew their bombers to England and joined the massive collection of planes involved in the bombing campaign in November of 1943. Stewart's age and extensive pre-war flying experience played a part in him becoming an leader of his squadron of B-24 Liberators. He felt the profound weight of the immense responsibility of leading his men. He was all too aware that a simple mistake on his part could kill dozens of men, including himself.

Maybe it was that sense of responsibility, maybe it was just dumb luck, but Stewart's men did much better than average when it came to getting there and back successfully, although it took a profound toll on Stewart. He visibly aged during those 16 months. He felt like he was losing even his nerve as the mission (and the close calls) added up. Despite his concern, he led larger and larger missions up to the end of the war.

Robert Matzen's three-pronged look at World War II in Europe mostly focuses on the early life and military service of famed Hollywood actor, but it also tells the story of German civilians that ended up being near a site bombed by Stewart and the story of another airman that went briefly interacted with Stewart on a shake-down run. His story, though, is used to show what could have happened to Jimmy Stewart since he is shot down over Europe and eventually is captured.

This was an interesting audiobook. Peter Berkrot was the narrator and when it comes to narrating the danger and drama of a bombing run of Nazi Germany, there is literally no one better. Berkrot's pacing and dramatic delivery are perfect. But, the problem is that Berkrot never turns that dramatic style of reading down - everything is equally dramatic, including very mundane things like the descriptions of Stewart's childhood. So, it becomes sort of a mixed bag.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: MISSION: JIMMY STEWART and the FIGHT for EUROPE by Robert Matzen.