"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
Twenty years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1,600 reviews.

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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.