"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
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

MARTIN LUTHER: IN HIS OWN WORDS (audiobook) by Martin Luther

Published in 2009 by Christian Audio
Read by David Cochran Heath
Duration: 2 hours, 26 minutes

This collection of Martin Luther's writings has a great strength in that it lets Martin Luther speak for himself with no other author offering interpretations. However, this is also its weakness since some of these documents could have used a bit of explanation. 

Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Considering that these texts are around 500 years old, most are surprisingly accessible. The editors chose to include the Ten Commandments section from Luther's Small Catechism that was easy to understand with no additional explanation necessary.

However, it would have been helpful to have some sort of introduction to the opening text - Luther's 95 Theses. I am both a lifelong Lutheran and a history teacher and even I found the straight through reading of all 95 theses to be more than a bit dry.  

The most powerful text is a sermon on Confession and the Lord's Supper. Luther does a lot of build up that can be a bit much, but when he got to his point I found it to be quite powerful and relevant to my everyday life - even nearly 500 years after it  was written.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: MARTIN LUTHER: IN HIS OWN WORDS (audiobook) by Martin Luther.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

THE HOTEL TITO: A NOVEL (audiobook) by Ivana Bodrozic. Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac

Published in 2017 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Eileen Stevens.
Duration: 5 hours, 27 minutes.

A tank destroyed by the Croats in 1992.
The novel follows the family of a 9 year old Croatian girl as her family is displaced by war in the former Yugoslavia. In 1991, Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia and fought a 4 year war, mostly against the Serbs. The family has fled from Vukovar, a city on the border with Serbia. The father has stayed behind to defend their city and the family ends up in a hotel that has been re-purposed to house refugees.

The story follows the girl as she and her friends go to school and try, unsuccessfully, to blend in with the local children, the activities and pranks they participate in at the refugee camp/hotel and their long wait for an apartment or a house that they can call their very own. Most importantly, they await any word on their father who was part of a spirited, but ultimately failed defense of Vukovar.

The Hotel Tito sheds some light on a mostly forgotten bit of history, but only a little bit of light. I learned much more about the war and about Croatia researching this review than I did listening to this audiobook. There is precious little context and most of the action is told from a detached point of view of a child so the reader/listener has almost no chance to learn much about the situation. I felt as confused as the child must have, but I am not sure if that was the intention since the story continually mentions cities, generals and politicians.

The problem, I am sure, is that this book was intended to be read by people who have a great deal of familiarity with the events of the 1991-1995 war. Unfortunately, I remember only the vaguest of outlines about what went on during the war. If you are clueless about this war, skip this book (or do a lot of pre-reading research).

The book was translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac and I thought she did a superior job of translation. I am a Spanish teacher and know nothing about Croatian. But, I do know how hard it is to translate colloquialisms into other languages and Elias-Bursac included a lot of them as she attempted to make this text more approachable.

Eileen Stevens read the audiobook. None of my complaints about this book stem from her reading - it was quite good.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Hotel Tito.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program so that I might write an honest review.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


Published in 2018 by Grand Central Publishing

Jim "Zig" Zigarowski works at Dover Air Force Base. Dover is where many of America's soldiers who have died are brought back to America. Zig is a mortician - the best on the base. He skillfully prepares all but the most damaged bodies for open casket funerals. No one beats his sense of dedication because no one else is dealing with his own personal grief by throwing themselves into their work to try to help others with their grief like Zig does.

One day, Zig notes that the name of an incoming body from a plane crash in Alasksa: Nola Brown, a soldier he knew as a girl in his daughter's Girl Scout troop. When he goes to prepare the body he discovers that this is not the same person. And, once he starts to look into things, he quickly finds that no one wants him to find out anything about Nola Brown and are willing to make sure that he doesn't...

The setting of this book was informative and interesting. But, the thriller aspect felt like it was rushed. There are some intriguing twists to the conspiracy that Zig uncovers, but it gets hokey and forced. For example, the inclusion of a bad guy with a special claw weapon that shoots electricity into its victims was more like a kid's comic book character than a story aimed at grown-ups.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer.

Note: I received a pre-publication copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program so that I could write an honest review.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

DEAR BOB and SUE: ONE COUPLE'S JOURNEY THROUGH the NATIONAL PARKS (audiobook) by Matt Smith and Karen Smith

Published by Tantor Audio in 2017.
Read by David Colacci and Susan Ericksen
Duration: 14 hours, 48 minutes

Matt and Karen Smith decided to visit every National Park in the U.S. National Park System. They decided to only visit the 58 sites that are actually named "National Park". This is important because there are over 400 sites in the park system that have titles like National Monument, National Lakeshore and National Recreational Area - so many that it is doubtful that any one person has been to them all. As if to prove this point, just after the Smiths published the first edition to this book, a new National Park was added to they system and they had to go visit it and update their own book just to keep their own record intact. 

The book is written as a series of e-mails back to their sometimes traveling partners Bob and Sue. Bob and Sue never actually accompany them on one of these trips. They alternate back and forth narrating their adventures in the order that they visited them. 

By necessity, the visits to each of these parks is merely a cursory visit and not detailed description of the park. When you do the math, it works out in this audiobook to about 15 minutes per park, minus stories of their travels to and from the parks. Some get more than that - the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns come to mind. 

Have you ever traveled with another couple? Even if you are best friends, there will be times when you are sick of them and their way of doing things. While I generally found the book to be interesting, there were times that I grew weary of traveling with the Smiths and I put the audiobook on hold for a while, like the time when Karen Smith rinses mud and horse manure off of her hiking boots in the hotel shower and then complains that the shower drain runs slow. Sometimes, their snide comments got a little old but, in the end, I enjoyed this trip through all of the parks. It made me want to get back on the road with the family and start seeing more of the country again.

The audiobook was read by David Colacci and Susan Ericksen. I thought they did a very convincing job as the voices of these two travelers.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: DEAR BOB and SUE: ONE COUPLE'S JOURNEY THROUGH the NATIONAL PARKS.

Monday, April 23, 2018


Published in 2018 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Fiona Hardingham and Ralph Lister
Duration: 10 hours, 3 minutes

Jennifer Dorey is a reporter on the small island of Guernsey in the English Channel. It is very close to France and, in a lot of ways, it is a unique mixture of cultures. Dorey is not like a lot of people in this little insular island society - she has left the island and been a successful reporter in London, but she has returned to the island to start over due to some horrible, mysterious event.

Everything is going well on Guernsey until a young woman is found drowned. At first it seems like a suicide, but Dorey starts to ask questions and everyone except one police officer who is about to retire thinks that she should just leave well enough alone...

This is a moody work, much influenced by both the fairly recent and the ancient history of the island. It works in a lot of local landmarks like the "fairy ring" which has the aura of an ancient landmark but is really fairly modern. 

This is the first book in what is anticipated to be a series so it does a fair amount of "world building", which slows down this first story quite a bit, but it will pay off in future books. Speaking of future books, I will be on the look out for more Jennifer Dorey books. 

The audiobook was read by two readers. Fiona Hardingham read the chapters that were primarily about female characters, Ralph Lister read the chapters primarily about male characters. It was an interesting choice, but I think it worked quite well. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Devil's Claw by Lara Dearman

Sunday, April 22, 2018

JANESVILLE: AN AMERICAN STORY (audiobook) by Amy Goldstein

Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in 2017.
Read by Joy Osmanski
Duration: 10 hours, 1 minute

Amy Goldstein tells the story of Janesville, Wisconsin after its large General Motors SUV plant closed and thousands of employees lost their jobs. On its surface, this book has the potential of being one of the most boring books that you have ever read. But, Goldstein has a real talent when it comes to storytelling and makes this story very compelling.

With the beginnings of the Great Recession, General Motors found itself in serious trouble. They had invested in manufacturing large, expensive, gas-guzzling SUV's when the price of gas was more then $4/gallon and the credit market was getting so tight that it was hard for people to qualify for loans for a $40,000 SUV.

When GM closed this plant it caused an economic shockwave to tear through the community, closing most of the other factories in town that supplied the GM facility. Housing prices fell with the housing bubble and fell even more as people tried to sell their homes and move away.

But, most didn't move away - most had a strong sense that Janesville was home and it was important to stay and try to make a go of it no matter what. Some transferred to other GM plants in other states and left their families behind and returned to Janesville on the weekends. Others tried to retrain for new jobs with the help of government grants only to discover that there weren't a lot of jobs out there, no matter how well trained you were. Others just picked up as many hours as they could in as many part time jobs as possible and GM buyout plan.

Some families make it work. Others struggle mightily and come up a little short. Some just disintegrate and a few parents literally leave their children to fend for themselves while they move out and start over - a shocking development for a town that prides itself on its family connections, generosity and industriousness.

Goldstein tells the story with much sympathy. She keeps her politics out of the story for the most part (tough to do when 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan  is Janesville's local political star and his run for VP comes right in the middle of this story).

Janesville: An American Story goes nicely with two other books that I have listened to in the last 15 months: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Something is clearly not working for the American working class.

I rate this audibook an enthusiastic 5 stars out of 5. It was read well by Joy Osmanski - she helped make this story come alive.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Janesville: An American Story.