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Cheaper by the Dozen
Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

A Dance with Dragons

A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin Another exhausting but rewarding read from GRR Martin. I really have to commit to the enormity of these books before I dive in, but the Ice and Fire series is worth that commitment. I enjoy the story and the characters, and my previous review of the first book in the series applies here too. Can't wait for the next to come out!

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling I wanted to finish this, but I just couldn't bring myself to go back to it. Maybe one day...

My trouble with the book was that, though the writing was lovely and Rowling-esque (very direct narration, cleverly drawn characters), the characters were so disagreeable that I just couldn't be drawn into the story.

I got about halfway through the book before I realized that there was not one sympathetic character in the entire story. And there are LOT of characters, which is one reason it took me so long to decide not to finish. It took several chapters for me to sort out the names and characters.

Anyway, I love Rowling's writing, and I wanted to read her adult-aimed fiction. Maybe I will get back to it when I don't have a lot of other books in the stack calling my name.

How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In - Louise Penny This was an enjoyable, light read. I like Louise Penny's Gamache series, and this one is slightly darker than some of the others I've read. But the intrigue keeps up to the end, and the setting in rural Quebec is always nice. Makes me wish I lived in a rural village myself.


Chomp - Carl Hiaasen Just like Hiaasen's other children's fiction, this one is charming hilarious. The young protagonists are smart and funny, just like you would expect from Hiaasen. And they find themselves combating adults as they support nature, just like in his other books. But the journey is so charming that you can't help but enjoy the ride. I mean, with main characters named Tuna and Wahoo (female and male, respectively), how could this book not be charming and funny?

And even though Tuna and Wahoo have to deal with some pretty unfunny situations (child abuse, for one), they do it with grace and humor, as you would expect.

Fire On The Horizon: The Untold Story Of The Gulf Oil Disaster

Fire On The Horizon: The Untold Story Of The Gulf Oil Disaster - John Konrad, Tom Shroder I read this because, although I have been surrounded by news of the BP oil spill due to my location in Louisiana, I have never read a start to finish account of the whys and hows of this disaster.

It was very readable, and was a very thorough start-to-finish account, starting with the building of the Horizon rig in Korea, and continuing up through the explosions and rescue of the survivors. The epilogue finishes off the biographies of a few of the main characters in the book.

The end of the book is in fact the only bad thing about it. The book ends oddly and abruptly, as though the last chapter was submitted at the very print deadline, and there was no time to add any more.

Anyway, recommended if you're looking for a quick, readable account of the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Broken Harbor

Broken Harbor  - Tana French Well, just like all her other books, this one was great. On the book jacket, one of the review said something like this author writes literature disguised as crime fiction, and I'd have to agree. Just like in her other books in the Dublin Murder Squad series, the most intense action is on the inside of the characters, both the good guys and the bad guys (I won't be more specific here).

Unlike most crime fiction, I found myself thinking about this story and its ending for several days (still thinking, actually).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman Just lovely! The writing is light and eerie, the story is a little dark, and a little sweet, just like classic Gaiman. I really liked it very much!

Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore - Philip Gabriel, Haruki Murakami Lovely writing, but I seriously just couldn't make it through. The Oedipus narrative just seemed so tired and trite that I couldn't engage with the primary device of the book.

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris After the slightly less funny collection When You Are Engulfed in Flames, (not that it's bad to be slightly less funny!), this one is back to the generally wacky outlook on life that I love from Sedaris.

I admit to kind of skipping over the shorter pieces that are more overtly fiction than his usual memoir-ish fiction. But the piece about taxidermy, the one set in Australia, and the one about his colonoscopy are the teary-eyed laugh essays that I love.

I liked the slightly more serious and touching direction of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, but it seems like this collection aims for the hilarity of Barrel Fever and the earlier collections, but doesn't quite hit the mark.

Recommended for Sedaris fans, but for new Sedaris readers, maybe the earlier works will give a better taste of his wacky humor.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - Erik Larson This was a really readable history of the handful of years leading up to Hitler's seizure of power in pre-WWII Germany.

It's from the perspective of the American ambassador to Germany, who was of course station in Berlin, so he and his family had the unique point of view of a fairly privileged position as Berlin and Germany itself descended into the madness that allowed Germany's power grabs.

The book is in the style of Devil in the White City, Larson's previous hit, which is a sort of narrative telling of history. He bases his work on letters, and largely on the diaries of the ambassador's 20-something daughter, who came along to Berlin.

The whole thing is fascinating in a sort of gruesome way, watching Berlin fall under the spell of militarism and nationalism as Hitler slowly chipped away at any resistance. After the first few months of their residency, the Americans had no delusions about what was happening, nor, it seems, did many of the city's literary/artistic citizens. There was resistance from the very beginning, but, to the ambassador's frustration, the reaction from the United States was tepid at best, racist at worst.

Anyway, this is a good introduction to the prewar years in Germany. Recommended!

What Came Before He Shot Her

What Came Before He Shot Her - Elizabeth  George I tried to read this, but despite being billed as part of the Inspector Lynley series, this isn't really about the characters and story arc of Lynley. It's only tangentially related, and is depressing as hell.

Of course, the exploration of the social reasons that a young boy turns to crime is an important topic. But I wasn't expecting it in a mystery novel series. So, I struggled for a bit, but gave up. I was wanting a light read on an airplane, and this did not fit the bill.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright Fascinating, head-shaking, and very readable, in a nutshell. Beyond that, the author seems as though he's bending over backwards to be even-handed in this book, even though I'm sure he's been on the receiving end of what the church of Scientology dishes out to anyone who says anything negative about them (stalking, harassment, slander, etc).

As has been mentioned, the book is an expansion of Wright's article on Paul Haggis (former Scientologist) in the New Yorker, so the evidence leans on Haggis's interviews a lot. But the background on Hubbard is truly fascinating. I had always pictured him as kind of laughing in his sleeve about all the crazy stuff he came up with as a cosmology for the Scientologists, as he milked more and more money out of the believers. But according to Wright's read of Hubbard, he (Hubbard) was also a true believer, at least in the later part of his life.

I found Wright's analysis of church vs. cult very interesting and even-handed too, as well as his discussion of whether the organization engages in human trafficking with its Sea Org members (the somewhat-sequestered clergy who do all the grunt work).

This is, of course, where Scientology's greatest criticism is: the abusive practices against its most dedicated members, and the resulting difficulty in "escaping" the church, which is what leads journalists to use the word "cult" in describing the organization.

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica - Sara Wheeler I enjoyed this book a lot, though the occasional scientific diversions sometimes distracted from the narrative.

The author is a great writer, with lots of colorful and descriptive tools in her arsenal. I enjoyed the fact that she wove historical anecdotes and scientific concepts into the book. The main scientific thrust of this book is the effect that climate change is having on Antarctica, which is awful but true. Still, I felt that was a bit too much of a focus.

But when she's writing about the people who live and work in Antarctica, and about the historical figures who have been a part of the story, the book is fascinating.

I really recommend it!

In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed

In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed - Carl Honoré, Carl Honoré I enjoyed the main point of this book, which, as the title makes clear, is about the need for humans to slow down and enjoy life.

The problem I had with the book is that throughout, the whole thing feels dated. Not only in his specific examples of technology (this was published before the iphone, for example), but in his general conviction that this is a "worldwide movement," which it may be, but I've never seen it outside this particular book.

Each chapter is devoted to one facet of human existence that we could slow down: food, sex, child-raising, etc. And in each of these, I agree that there are probably some people out there who are interested in making these things slower. But the only part of the book that I think actually constitutes a "movement" is the Slow Food movement, which has managed to penetrate into general cultural consciousness.

Anyway, I found that dated nature of the book distracting, and it really felt as though I were reading something that was a product of its time, even though that time was less than 10 years ago (!). It really felt as though it was written in the 1990s.

The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are

The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are - Henry Petroski I agree with the other reviewers who said that this book has a lot of fascinating information, but I couldn't enjoy it because the writing is so dry and stodgy.

Bad Monkey

Bad Monkey - Carl Hiaasen Another madcap Florida novel from Hiaasen. I think that I actually laughed so hard I was crying at some points in this book, especially any scene featuring the monkey.