"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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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

STAR WARS: DARTH PLAGUEIS (audiobook) by James Luceno



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Lee as Count Dooku.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 26, 2019

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

Note: This book is only available as an audiobook.

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

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



Originally published in 1991.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 14, 2019

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



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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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



Published by Random House in 2005.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2019

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



Jack Reacher vs. The Patriot Act

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

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



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



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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 30, 2019

TURTLES ALL the WAY DOWN (audiobook) by John Green



Published in 2017 by Listening Library.
Read by Kate Rudd.
Duration: 7 hours, 12 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, John Green
High School students Aza and Daisy are best friends living in Indianapolis, Indiana. They are also investigating the mysterious disappearance of a billionaire who lives on the other side of the White River - the rich side of the river that doesn't flood.

Well, they investigate when they aren't going to school, eating at Applebee's, studying, working (Daisy) or keeping appointments with the therapist (Aza).

Aza has obsessive thoughts - they crowd out everything else when they come, and lately they've been coming at her hard and fast.

It turns out that Aza knows the son of the missing billionaire and when she and Daisy run into him while they are investigating, it seems like there might be a spark between this boy and Aza...

John Green is one of my favorite authors, which is weird because I have only read two of his books (this one and The Fault in Our Stars). But, I've seen multiple interviews with him since his adopted hometown is my adopted hometown - Indianapolis. I love the fact that he lives here to be an anonymous dad in the crowd. I also love the fact that he puts out entertaining educational videos with his brother and I love the way he conducts himself professionally. 


And, I love the fact that he wrote this book about a character with a mental illness. He wrote it because he shares a lot of the struggles that his character Aza has.

But, reading about Aza is exhausting. It is informative, but sometimes a struggle to get through this book.

Also, this book seemed like a weird mish-mash. It is partly a mystery, partly a romance, partly a coming-of-age friendship book and largely seeing the world through the eyes of a person with obsessive thoughts. But, the mystery in the story seems forced - very contrived.

A real positive, though, are his accurate descriptions of Indianapolis and its geography. There really is an Applebee's where he puts it in this story. The White River really is in trouble because of sewage and Indianapolis is currently building a giant sewer overflow tunnel to deal with it. Also, his Star Wars references are spot-on. And, Aza's mom is a teacher and she always seems to be grading papers. This teacher appreciates that bit of reality in a novel.

Still, despite all of this positives, this one gets just 3 stars out of 5 from me. 


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: TURTLES ALL the WAY DOWN by John Green.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

THE LIFE and TIMES of the THUNDERBOLT KID: A MEMOIR (audiobook) by Bill Bryson



Published in 2006 by Random House Audio.
Downtown Des Moines in the 1950s. 
Read by the author, Bill Bryson.
Duration: 7 hours, 39 minutes.
Unabridged.


Bill Bryson's memoir of life in 1950's Des Moines, Iowa is a wonderful trip into another time and another place with a gifted storyteller.

There is nothing particularly amazing about this story. It's not a coming-of-age story with a profound climax - it is just a heartwarming reminiscence of the way things used to be - the good and the bad. It is often laugh-out-loud funny and reminds me a lot of the works of Jean Shepherd, even though they are set 20 years later.  You know Jean Shepherd if you are a fan of the movie A Christmas Story.


The author, Bill Bryson read the story. His incongruous English accent is a bit weird for a boy from Des Moines. My understanding is that Bryson spent so many years in the United Kingdom that he lost his American accent. Nevertheless, he did a great job.

Highly recommended.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE LIFE and TIMES of the THUNDERBOLT KID: A MEMOIR by Bill Bryson.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

TALKING to STRANGERS: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT the PEOPLE WE DON'T KNOW (audiobook) by Malcolm Gladwell



Published in September of 2019 by Hachette Audio
Read by the author, Malcolm Gladwell

Duration: 8 hours, 42 minutes.
Unabridged


Malcolm Gladwell always writes an interesting book. When you listen to him as an audiobook, it can be frustrating as well because he throws so many ideas at you that you can't possibly write them all down (I couldn't if I wanted to anyway, I do a lot of my listening as I drive).

The general premise behind this book is that it is very hard for people to "read" other people - even people that we see every day. It is even harder for us to read strangers and even harder to read people from different cultures. The more different the culture, the harder to read.

Gladwell starts with the story of the death of Sandra Bland, an African American woman from Chicago who killed herself after a questionable arrest after a questionable traffic stop in Texas.

From there we wander far and wide - cold war espionage cases, policing strategies in Kansas City, Neville Chamberlin's meetings with Adolf Hitler, sociology experiments with participants trying to read facial expressions, judges who grant bail, Bernie Madoff, the affects of alcohol on judgment, famous authors who committed suicide...and more.

Eventually, Gladwell makes his point (some reviewers don't think he made it, but I think he did) - it just takes such a long, circuitous route to get there that, in the end, his final point is a bit underwhelming.

The audiobook was read by the author. He usually reads his audiobooks and does a good job. Lately, he has been doing a regular podcast and he brings the some of the techniques of podcasting to this audiobook. One of the best features is that he uses the actual recordings of people's voices as much as possible when quoting them. It is a great touch that I wish more authors used with their audiobooks.

Rating this audiobook is hard. I enjoyed almost all of it. It was very interesting, even compelling. But, the ending just was underwhelming as I already noted.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: TALKING to STRANGERS: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT the PEOPLE WE DON'T KNOW.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

THE MIST (audiobook) by Stephen King



Originally published in 1985 as part of the short story collection Skeleton Crew
Published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by Will Patton.
Duration: 5 hours, 19 minutes.
Unabridged.


This is technically a re-read for me - I read this story when it was originally published 30+ years ago. It is such a vivid, tightly written story that it has always stuck with me. In my mind, this is one of Stephen King's better works, even if it is one of his shorter ones.

The audiobook narrator, Will Patton
The story focuses on David Drayton, his wife and his son. Drayton has made a pretty good living as a commercial artist and is able to afford a home on a lake in Maine.

A particularly nasty summer storm has come through Maine in the middle of the night. Trees are down everywhere and, as a consequence, power lines and phone lines are down everywhere. It is important to note that this was written a long time before cell phones.

The radio stations are also down - especially those that broadcast from the direction of a strange, secretive military base. Everyone has heard rumors of the strange goings on there.
A strange fog bank - a mist - can be seen slowly rolling across the lake. It is weird, but Drayton can't worry about it - he has trees to clear and then supplies to pick up in town. He takes his son and they head out.

But, while they are in the town grocery store, the mist catches up with them and everything changes...

This short story (novella?) has clearly had some influence on current popular culture. There was a one season attempt to adapt this story on Spike TV, but I think Netflix's Stranger Things owes a giant debt to this story.

Veteran actor Will Patton read this audiobook. I think he has become the default choice for Stephen King audiobooks as of late and that is fine by me. He performs the books rather than just reading them. He adds to them quite a bit. I think he makes them better.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Mist by Stephen King

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher #24) (audiobook) by Lee Child

The author, Lee Child


Published by Random House Audio in October of 2019.
Read by Scott Brick.
Duration: 11 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged.


Jack Reacher is traveling by bus when he notices a sleeping old man with a bank envelope full of cash falling out of his pocket. He also notices that another man has noticed the money and clearly wants to steal it. When the old man and the potential thief get off of the bus in an unfamiliar city, Reacher follows and intervenes.

But, as always seems to happen, Reacher gets involved in something deeper. This time around it is really bad...

This was an entertaining audiobook. Scott Brick has replaced Dick Hill as the voice of Jack Reacher and I am still getting used to that because I am a major fan of Dick Hill. But, Scott Brick is growing on me.

This was a much bloodier Reacher novel than most. Reacher has never had a problem with violence, but in this novel he takes it to a new level. It seemed out of character to me.

Still, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher #24) (audiobook) by Lee Child.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

THE MIDNIGHT DOG of the REPO MAN (audiobook) by W. Bruce Cameron



Published by Macmillan Audio in 2014.
Read by George K. Wilson.
Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes.
Unabridged.

This short audiobook is a prequel to the book The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, a book by W. Bruce Cameron. Cameron is most famous for his book A Dog's Life.

This book is also about a dog, at least it sort of is. Really, it is the story of how Ruddy McCann got his basset hound. Ruddy is a decent man with a checkered past and a grinding sense of shame for what he did in the past. He is also a bar bouncer at his sister's bar at night and a repo man by day. A repo man repossesses cars when people stop making their payments.

Good story, but definitely not a stand-alone story.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Midnight Dog of the Repo Man.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton



Published in 2004 by Books on Tape.
Read by Richard Allen.
Duration: 9 hours, 39 minutes.
Unabridged.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is most famous as a basketball player - in high school his team won 71 games in a row. He won three national championships in the three seasons he was allowed to play in college (freshmen had to play on a freshman team back then so his first season doesn't count). No one scored more career points in the NBA than Abdul-Jabbar. He is arguably the best basketball player ever.

Turns out that he is also a thoughtful, active man with an interest in social justice and history. That's where this book comes in. The 761st Tank Battalion was brought to his attention because, it turns out, he knew one of its members growing up - he just didn't know his story.

The problem is, no one really knew the story of these young men - and they should.

The 761st Tank Battalion was one of the lead elements of General Patton's push into Germany during the last months of World War II. They were sort of a hybrid unit that was spread out among infantry units, designed to work with infantry. This simple fact would have hurt their unit's fame if they had been an all-white unit - their actions were just tossed in with other unit's statistics they fought with for just a few days. But, when you toss in the obvious racism of the day (multiple citations were sent up the chain of command, only to be tossed in the trash or ignored. This was corrected in the 1990's by an independent commission), you can see why no one heard of these soldiers.

Abdul-Jabbar focuses on just a few soldiers in this unit in this history. Many of these men wanted to be fighter pilots when they joined up, but were told that African-Americans were not allowed to fly. But, they could be in tank units. So, an all African-American tank unit was created. Eventually, the unit ended up in Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) in Texas. They were trained and then never sent to either front. Instead, they became the decoy team that other units trained against. They pretended to be the Germans in practice maneuvers - over and over and over again for nearly TWO YEARS - much longer than white units.

After D-Day, Generals Patton, Bradley and Montgomery pushed the Germans across France and approached Alsace-Lorraine in France near the German border. It was tough on the tank units, though. Experienced, intact tank battalions were at a premium. They sent for the 761st and they fit the bill perfectly, even though Patton had no confidence in African-Americans as soldiers. He kept those thoughts to himself, though, and actually visited the 761st and spoke with them, saying:


"Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsofbitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down! They say it is patriotic to die for your country. Well, let’s see how many patriots we can make out of those German sonsofbitches."

The rest, as they say, is history.

This is an entertaining history, designed for the regular reader. The only real complaint I have with it is the audiobook reader, Richard Allen.  He mispronounces many military terms. There are many German and French cities and towns are named throughout the book and, to be honest, I have no idea how to say most of them. But, I do know some, and when the reader mispronounces the commonly known German and French name places, such as the Danube River, I know that there have to be lots of other problems.

To be fair to Richard Allen, it isn't his fault. 
Allen has since passed away, but he was a multiple award winning audiobook reader. He was brought in to read, not for his knowledge of foreign languages. The production team in the booth in the recording studio should have brought in someone to coach him how to say these place names. It's not that hard to find a French speaker and a German speaker - almost every local high school has teachers of both that could have coached him.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton.


OF MICE and MEN (audiobook) by John Steinbeck



Originally published in 1937.
Penguin Audio edition published in 2011.
Read by Gary Sinise.

Duration: 3 hours, 11 minutes.
Unabridged. 

The narrator, Gary Sinise, as the character George in the 1992 film
version of this novel. 
This is probably the 5th or 6th time that I have read this book. I reviewed it as a print book 10 years ago (click here to see that review).

Gary Sinise read this book and did a fabulous job, especially with the voices of Lennie and Crooks. He played George in one of the many movie adaptations of this novel in 1992.

This was my first time hearing this book as an audiobook and I was very impressed that it was an even more effective book when read aloud than in print.

This review of one of the most-read, most-celebrated novels in the English-speaking world will not include a plot synopsis - what's the point? Instead, let me say that this short novel has an amazingly tight plot. In this 3 hour and 11 minute story, nearly every scene, and most lines of dialogue are relevant to the climax of the story.

Foreshadowing abounds in the first half hour of the audiobook, almost all of the conversations in the bunkhouse point towards the dramatic scene at the end and the point to the theme of the little guy never getting a real shot to improve his lot in life. Even the title, Of Mice and Men, is a reference to the poem To a Mouse by Scottish poet Robert Burns that was written when he accidentally destroyed a mouse's nest while plowing at the beginning of winter. The mouse had done everything right, only to lose it all to events beyond its control. The poem contains this line:

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain


I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Of Mice and Men (audiobook) by John Steinbeck. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

OBVIOUSLY: STORIES from MY TIMELINE (audiobook) by Akilah Hughes



Published by Listening Library in September of 2019.
Read by the author, Akilah Hughes.
Duration: 4 hours, 58 minutes.
Unabridged. 


To be fair to Akilah Hughes, I had never heard of her before I heard her interview on NPR promoting this book. The interview was good enough that I got the book. If you are not familiar with her, she is a comedy writer and YouTuber with a pretty good following.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book - the part that talks about her early life. It was fun in tone and sometimes seriously funny, except for the story of her horrible 5th grade teacher. She tells her story in an episodic manner - by theme. Sometimes, the stories overlap and sometimes she (always confusingly, at first) tells them backwards, such as when she detailed her struggles with weight towards the end of the book.

But, when she makes her move to New York, the story changes its tone. It becomes a lot more about name dropping and telling stories about people she is angry with (personally and professionally, but mostly personally because she makes her professional life very personal). One of the most bizarre stories was the one in which she and a friend get into a friendship-killing fight over the relative talent of Rihanna. I like pop culture, but I have never been that into any single pop culture figure. I can't relate.

The audiobook was read by Akilah Hughes, which makes sense - she has a ton of practical acting and speaking experience. She did a good job as a reader.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. 4 stars for the first part, 2 stars for the last part for an average of 3 stars. It can be found on Amazon.com here: OBVIOUSLY: STORIES from MY TIMELINE by Akilah Hughes.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell



Museums, parking duty and the point of it all.

This book was originally published in 2017 by Abingdon Press.

I had a week off of school for fall break last week. During that week I had three experiences of a religious bent (beyond my weekly church attendance): 1) I read this book, 2) I helped park cars for my church's annual "Trunk or Treat" that we host for the community, 3) I visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I listed the activities in this order because that is the order of importance on a spiritual level. The Creation Museum is an impressive and beautiful 75,000 square foot facility that, to me, is just the wrong approach to Christianity. It is so bent on proving that every little sentence fragment in Genesis is accurate that it almost entirely misses the point of Christianity. I felt no love or comfort there. It reminded me of the passage from 1 Kings Chapter 19:

"
11-12 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
13When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”            -The Message translation

My second event was helping to park cars (it is a big event) with 4 other good guys from my church. We all come from different kinds of jobs, our family lives are all different, but there we were working together as a small part of a larger team to help provide a safe, free experience for a bunch of people we'd never met. That was good - not the profoundest experience and not the necessarily the most meaningful way to reach out as a Christian, but it was good.

My third event was this book. The older I get, the more I realize that the simplest teachings of the Gospels are the most profound. Those parables of Jesus are simple and offer the most teaching. The arguments about this and that fine point of theology are simply beyond the point. They are that big, cold museum that sucks up time and resources. They are the loud wind and the earthquake from the story of Elijah. They are noisy things that get the attention, but not the essence.

Gambrell says it simply on page 89 of his book:

"...often I am asked by pastors and student ministers to 'go deep.' I am told that their people need to be challenged with deeper truths. My response to them is always the same: there are no deeper truths than that God loves me for no good reason, and He forgives me completely and wants me to show that love to others. I will never get over God's amazing desire to redeem me, to make more of me than I could ever imagine, and that He intends to accomplish this, not by helping me with my little life but by actually living His life through me!"
Gambrell's message - don't focus on you and your problems. You will always
have them, but reaching out to others helps the other people and it helps you. I know in my career as a classroom teacher, the more I come at things as a servant and with a tone of forgiveness, generally the better things work. Do I always succeed? Not even close.

Gambrell acknowledges that failure will be all too common on page 206 (almost the very end of this short book):

"Now if, at the end of this book, you are thinking that this living-for-another thing is too hard to keep up, is too hard to maintain 24/7, then you are correct. To live the perfect Christian life of complete humility and servanthood is not difficult...it's impossible.

But we are called to be an example of His life and live in a way that points others to Jesus by our modeling of His character and love.
"



This short, easy to read book includes lots of questions that could be used for self-reflection or group discussion.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

I FIND YOUR LACK of FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS and the TRIUMPH of GEEK CULTURE (audiobook) by A.D. Jameson



Published in May of 2018 by Macmillan Audio.
Duration: 6 hours, 58 minutes.
Read by Holter Graham.
Unabridged.


A.D. Jameson is a student of cinema - not just science fiction and fantasy movies, but of cinema in general. I used the word "student" in the previous sentence carefully because he is not just a fan of movies, he studies the directors, the movements and the ideas behind the movies.


Photo by DWD
But, he is also a proud geek - a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature and movies. Like me, he was really into those genres in middle and high school, moved away from them for a while during and after college and then came back to them in a big way when the Star Wars "Special Edition" movies were released.

My own children do not believe me, but there was once a time when the mere sight of a Star Wars t-shirt or bumper sticker was worthy of comment. Now, they are everywhere. My family probably owns more than 20 Star Wars-related t-shirts alone.

A.D. Jameson explores how this happened by focusing on the world of cinema and television. He argues that Star Trek, not the original run on NBC but the re-run episodes running night after night, day after day until everyday, normal TV viewers got used to the idea of spaceships and aliens. When Star Trek was starting to fizzle out, Star Wars came in and made a big splash - the biggest splash in movie history up to that point. When the Star Wars phenomenon started to fade away, Star Trek came back with the movies and then with four different TV shows that spanned 18 years. Many of those shows aired every day (sometimes multiple times per day) because they were syndicated.

Star Wars came back with the troubled (but immensely successful) prequel series. X-Men movies started coming out - another troubled franchise, but it has been going on for 19 years! The Lord of the Rings movies and suddenly it seemed like every movie was a sci-fi, fantasy or a comic book movie.

As I mentioned, Jameson focuses on TV and especially cinema, spending a lot of time arguing that Star Wars fits perfectly well in with its peers from the time period like Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather. He makes a compelling argument, one that would undoubtedly be argued against by Martin Scorsese when you consider the ruckus he has kicked up with his comments about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I was interested in all of this exploration of cinema, the book title gives the reader the impression that "geek culture" was going to be explored in a meaningful way. Culture is more than movies. I assumed that the book was going to explore how we went from being a culture where sci-fi and fantasy were fringe movements in everyday life to the point where the truck in the picture I posted with this review is driven around in central Indiana, but it is largely unexplored.

His comments on Star Trek and its influence on culture as a beacon to where we might one day end up as a society (more open, more accepting) were quite good. It occurred to me that among my many behavioral role models are Jesus and Jean-Luc Picard - and those two don't clash with one another at all.

The audiobook was well-read by Holter Graham. He did such a good job at sounding like he was into the topic that I actually assumed that the author was self-narrating the book until I checked.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. I have to take off a star for mostly failing to address one of the themes mentioned in the title. Still, it is a good book. It can be found on Amazon.com here: I FIND YOUR LACK of FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS and the TRIUMPH of GEEK CULTURE by A.D. Jameson.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

TRIPWIRE (Jack Reacher #3) by Lee Child



First published in 1999.


Composition with Red Blue and Yellow 
by Piet Mondrian. Reacher's favorite piece of art,
according to this novel.
Tripwire is the third book in publishing order in the Jack Reacher series (the sixth in chronological order - as of right now).

Jack Reacher starts out in the Florida Keys. He is digging swimming pools by hand during the day, working as a bouncer in a strip club at night and drinking lots of bottled water. It is mindless work, but he is getting enjoying that aspect of it. Then, a man from New York City comes to the bar where he is drinking a bottled water and asks if anyone knows Jack Reacher.

Reacher lies and says he never heard of the guy.

Two more guys from New York City find Reacher at the strip club. They are different than the first guy - pushier and rougher.  Reacher has to get physical with them. When he finds the first guy dead on the street, he decides to head off to New York City to see if he can figure out who is looking for him.

What he finds, surprises him and takes him back in time in more than one way...

This is an early Reacher novel and it doesn't have the normal rhythms that you find later on (as of today there are 24 books and 18 short stories in the series). It's a good action novel, but it feels a little different than the rest of the series.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Tripwire by Lee Child

Friday, October 25, 2019

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman



Published by Dreamscape Media in 2014.
Read by George Newbern.
Duration: 9 hours, 9 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, Fredrick Backman
Ove (pronounced ooo-vah) is a 59 year old grump. His wife has passed away, he has no children, no pets and no job since he has been forced to retire. He keeps himself busy by keeping an eye on the neighborhood - he yells at the neighbor lady that lets her dog pee in front of his house, he yells at people who drive through the neighborhood (it has a parking area so that the entire area is pedestrian friendly), he yells at bureaucrats, bad drivers, hipsters, immigrants and...well, he just yells.

Ove has determined that the best thing about his life left when his wife passed away. He was filling in that hole in his life, at least a bit, with his work. But, since his forced retirement, he has nothing. So, he is planning his suicide to join his wife.

Then, a tough old homeless cat shows up.

After that, a hipster father with an immigrant wife and two little girls moves in across the way and backs the moving trailer right over Ove's mailbox - a trailer that shouldn't even have been there because the hipster was driving in the no driving area! Why can't people learn basic skills like backing up a trailer and reading signs?

I really hated the first hour of this audiobook. It faithfully tells the story but the reader/listener is missing so much of the back story that is was mostly confusing. There are a lot of flashbacks intermixed with the present-day story and the flashbacks really make Ove a human being that you are interested in.

By the time the I had gotten to the halfway point, I was pretty sure how the story was going to end - but I still had to hear it for it myself. It becomes quite the touching story.

The story was well-read by veteran actor George Newbern (he's one of those faces you recognize from a dozen different movies and shows but you have no idea what his name is). Newbern's long experience as a voice actor for cartoons and video games shows in this audibook. Well done.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Thursday, October 17, 2019

NIGHT (audiobook) by Elie Wiesel. Translation by Marion Wiesel.



Originally published in 1960.
New translation published in 2006.
Read by George Guidall.
Duration: 4 hours, 17 minutes.

Unabridged.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel's famed book Night is a standard, perhaps THE standard, that all Holocaust literature is judged by. Originally, this was written as an immense memoir in Yiddish, but during the process of translating the book to French, it was pared down to about one-fifth of its original size. The paring down resulted in a more literary work - a work that feels almost fictional because it is so selective as it tells the true story of how Elie Wiesel's childhood, his family, his community and his religious faith was destroyed by the Nazis.

Slave Laborers liberated by U.S. Army soldiers under the command
of General Patton. Photo taken by Private H. Miller.
Wiesel is in the picture. He is on the second row from the floor,
the seventh prisoner from the left (by the post)
The book begins with his little Jewish neighborhood in Romania that had been relatively unaffected by the war. But, as the Germans are retreating from the Soviets, they implement their Final Solution and start liquidating all of the Jewish communities while they still can. The Jews in Wiesel's neighborhood are divided into groups and loaded onto trains over the course of several days.

The trip, in cattle cars, is horrific. The camps are no better, of course. Wiesel and his father are separated from the women in his family at Auschwitz. They never see each other again. Wiesel and his father go from one work detail to another in different camps, slowly retreating away from the Soviet advance. Their only hope is to stay healthy enough to work so that they might be allowed to live until the end of the war...

I read this book because it is read by students in one of the English classes at the high school where I teach. I have never heard a student speak poorly of the book, which is itself a solid endorsement.

The audiobook was read by George Guidall, one of the most experienced audiobook readers of all time. Not only has he won two Audie Awards (the Oscar for audiobook readers), he has also read more than 1,200 audiobooks. Guidall, of course, was quite good in this presentation.

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