Book Review: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Author: Ray Bradbury
Title: Dandelion Wine
Narrator: Stephen Hoye
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc., 2010 [Originally published in 1957]
Other Books I’ve Read By the Same Author:


I read Dandelion Wine 30+ years ago and it swiftly became one of my all-time favorite books.  However, there’s actually very little I remember of the book. My main memory is the scene where the main character’s grandfather is indignant when someone tries to convince him to get a lawn where dandelions won’t grow, and thus lose the main ingredient in the titular beverage (By the way, since this book is set in 1928, does making dandelion wine violate the Volstead Act?).

This book is a more personal work for Ray Bradbury, based on his childhood memories of summers in his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois (which he calls “Green Town”). Bradbury admits in the introduction that Waukegan is an unattractive, industrial city but for a child it was full of wonders, something the jibes with my own experience of growing up in a mundane Connecticut suburb.  The main characters of the book are 12-year-old Douglas, his younger brother Tom, and their friend Charlie.  But it’s not a novel as much as it is an interconnected collection of short stories, several of which don’t involve the children at all.

The book is not science fiction or horror as it typical of Bradbury’s work, but contains aspects of these things.  Douglas finds magic in the feeling of being alive in the summer and an elderly neighbor is considered a “time machine” because of the stories he can tell.  While rooted in childhood, this book is very much an adult’s perspective on ideas of mortality.  An elderly woman is convinced by children who believe she was never young to let go of her memories, while Douglas’ great grandmother predicts the hour of her death.  There’s also the horror of a serial killer known as The Lonely One stalking the town.

Bradbury’s work is filled with nostalgia and poetic language, but it is not divorced from cold reality.  It embraces the magic of every day life while not shying away from the fact that one day everyone will die.  Through all the change, there are always things that will remain the same.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Boom! by Mark Haddon

Author: Mark Haddon 
Title: Boom!
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt
Publication Info: Listening Library (2010)
Other Books Read by the Same Author:


Recommended books:


Book Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Title: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Narrator: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Publication Info: W. W. Norton & Company (2017)
Other Books I’ve Read By the Same Author:


As the title says, Neil deGrasse Tyson breaks down big questions of the universe into a quick and comprehensible book. Topics include the Big Bang, dark matter and dark energy, and exoplanets.  For me this is a bit of a review of the awe-inspiring cosmology course I took in college.  Of course, I never fully understood it all back than so learning it again never hurts.  Tyson is probably the most well-known living public scientist, and his writing style (and narration on the audiobook) makes for an engaging book on complex topics.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism by Bernie Sanders and John Nichols

Author: Bernie Sanders and John Nichols
Title: It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism
Narrator: Bernie Sanders
Publication Info:  Crown (2023)

The latest book from America’s beloved socialist grandpa has a provocative title.  So I was a little disappointed when a good chunk of the book was a memoir of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, helping to get Joe Biden elected, and a frustrating two years where the Democratic party failed to take advantage of their congressional majority to advance a progressive agenda.  Basically it’s a sequel to Our Revolution.  Mind you, I have great memories of attending a Sanders’ presidential rally on Boston Common, which was the last big crowd I stood in before the pandemic started.

But the title implied that this was going to be more of an analysis of what is going wrong in our country/world and how to fix it.  And it does get down to it eventually with a good synthesis on how the corporate and wealthy elites have created intense economic inequality.  The solutions, of course, are the many proposals that he and others have been putting forward, many based on what has worked in other nations as well as in the United States past.  It’s all very well-written, but also not anything particularly new to me, as I’m the choir to Bernie’s preacher.  I’m not sure if their is an audience who is not aware of these solutions already who would be receptive to hearing it from Senator Sanders (because believe it or not,  our beloved socialist grandpa is not loved by all).  But if there is, this would be a good primer for them!

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2



Book Review: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

Author: Eric Idle
Title: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography
Narrator: Eric Idle
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2018

Eric Idle makes it clear that the purpose of a celebrity memoir is to drop the names of all the famous people one ever knew and the trouble one got into with them. At least he tells it in an entertaining way, especially since he narrates the audiobook.

Recommended books:

  • So, Anyway… by John Cleese
  • The First 20 Years of Monty Python by Kim “Howard” Johnson
  • The Life of Python : And Now for Something Completely Different by George Perry
  • Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years by Michael Palin
  • Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule

Author: Charles Soule
Title: Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: New York : Random House Audio, 2021.

This is the first in a series of books set in the Star Wars galaxy two centuries before the time period seen in the films.  The Galactic Republic has ushered in an era of peace and prosperity and is expanding into the territories of the Outer Rim.  The book begins with a bang as a freighter called the Legacy Run breaks apart in hyperspace with pieces emerging throughout the galaxy and threatening to destroy the Hetzal system.  Several Jedi arrive to not only attempt to stop the annihilation of planets but save passengers still trapped in the fragmented compartments of the ship.

The crisis leads to the closing of hyperspace lanes which are necessary to connecting the various far flung planetary systems threatens the stability of the Republic.  A group of marauders known as the Nihil take advantage of the crisis. Marchion Ro, known as the Eye of the Nihil, has found a unique way to navigate paths through hyperspace, allowing the raiders to continue their attacks.  But Ro has even bigger plans to consolidate his power that the leaders of the Nihil are unaware of, including facing off with the Jedi.

It’s refreshing to have a piece of Star Wars media that is completely unconnected from the Skywalker Saga (although Yoda is mentioned).  That being said, there are a lot of new characters in this book and I don’t think I ever got a handle on the significant characteristics of each one.  I do like that the Jedi seem more independent from the Republic than they were in the prequel movies, and also a bit more mysterious.  My favorite character is Burryaga Agaburry, a sensitive Wookiee padawan.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Malaysia

Author: Zen Cho
Title: Black Water Sister
Narrator: Catherine Ho
Publication Info: [Prince Frederick] : Recorded Books Incorporated, 2021.

Jessamyn Teoh, a recent college graduate who grew up in the United States after her family emigrated there from Malaysia during her early childhood, faces an uncertain future.  She is moving back to Malaysia with her parents where she has to adjust to an unfamiliar culture, find work, and maintain a long-distance relationship with her girlfriend while hiding that she’s lesbian from her parents.  Things grow more complicated when Jess begins hearing the voice of her deceased grandmother Ah Ma.  Soon Jess finds herself plunged into an adventure featuring a powerful real estate developer, gangsters, and gods.  To put things right, and to find justice for Ah Ma, Jess must become a medium for a vengeful goddess known as Black Water Sister.

Black Water Sister is a unique novel that blends elements of fantasy, mystery, and fish out of water story to tell a story of contemporary Malaysia.  Facets of Malaysian culture such as tradition, religion, and family are woven into the narrative.  Unfortunately for Jess (and others like her), homophobia is also a part of the Malaysian culture.  It’s an interesting and well-written story that I enjoyed.
Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Wales

Author: How Green Was My Valley
Title: Richard Llewellyn
Narrator: Ralph Cosham
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2011. [originally published in 1939]

This novel is a coming-of-age story set in the Welsh coal mining region of the late 19th century that blends sentimental nostalgia with gritty reality.  The narrator is Huw Morgan, the 8th of 9 children and the youngest son in a family of coal miners.  An accident in Huw’s childhood makes him unable to walk for several years and during that time he develops a passion for reading that leads to him going on to higher levels of education than the rest of his family.

Through the novel Huw observes the conflicts between the miners and the companies that own the mines that leads to union organizing and strikes.  Huw’s father Gwilym and some of his brothers are opposed to activism while other brother are labor organizers.  Over time the declining fortunes in the valley lead to Huw’s siblings leaving Wales to try their luck elsewhere.  Huw also observes the environmental degradation to the valley by the mining operations.  The novel also deals with gossip and scandals in the valley such as affairs and unplanned pregnancy.  While Gwilym supports Huw’s education, his mother Beth is firmly against it, especially when Huw’s teacher only speaks in English and discriminates against the Welsh.

There are apparently a whole series of books about Huw Morgan, but I think I’ve had my fill of Huw.  The style of writing is too old-fashioned for my taste although I can see why it’s considered a classic novel.  I once watched the film adaptation of How Green Was My Valley as a teenager (mainly because I had a crush on Maureen O’Hara) but I don’t remember it at all.  I will have to rewatch the movie and see how faithful it is to the book.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

Around the World for a Good Book selection for the United States Virgin Islands

Author: Tiphanie Yanique
Title: Land of Love and Drowning
Narrator: Cherise Boothe, Korey Jackson, Rachel Leslie, and Myra Lucretia Taylor
Publication Info: Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books, [2014]

This historical novel is a multi-generational saga about the Bradshaw family of the United States Virgin Islands.  The story begins in 1917 with the transfer of the islands from Denmark to the United States and the ongoing theme of the narrative is how the Virgin Islands are American but treated as something tangential.  Events withing the story include the enlistment of V.I. men to World War II and the Korean War, the rise of tourism and resort hotels, Hollywood using the islands as a filming locale, and the Civil Rights movement which inspires a movement to occupy the beaches that are being privatized by white American property owners and hotels.

The Bradshaw’s story starts with Owen Arthur Bradshaw, a ship’s captain, and his wife Antoinette, who are part of highly-respectable family on St. Thomas.  They have two daughters, Eona and Anette.  Owen also  fathers a son named Jacob Esau with his mistress. When their parents die (Owen in a traumatic shipwreck), Eona is forced to put aside her desires to raise Anette.  The novel alternates among the three children’s points of view as it follows their story up until the 1970s.  Yanique’s writing feels inspired by Toni Morrison and has touches of magical realism.  There’s also a lot of incest, both knowing and unknowing.

There are parts of this book that are very interesting but also some parts I found quite absurd (the Hollywood movie ends up being a pornographic film, in the 1950s?) and other times that I just wished that Yanique would get on with the story instead of circling around a point.  So, consider this a mixed review.

Recommended books:

  • Tar Baby by Toni Morrison
  • Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
  • Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Author: Sarah Gailey
Title: Upright Women Wanted
Narrator: Romy Nordlinger
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2020)

This novella has a western vibe while actually set in a dystopian future in which the United States has crumbled under autocratic rule that discriminates against LGBTQ people (ok, maybe not so far in the future?).  Esther hides in a wagon belonging to The Librarians after the execution of her lover Beatriz.  The Librarians officially travel the southwest distributing “approved” reading material but in fact are gun-slinging lesbian women and enby people with ties to pockets of resistance. It seems like a very short story for all of its ambition, but has some great moments, and can be disarmingly sweet and hopeful.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***