Book Reviews

Here are some book reviews I wrote on over the years. Many of these were audiobooks from Audible.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss (5 stars)
I’m normally a non-fiction reader and have tried with mixed success to get into fantasy and/or science fiction. I can’t remember the last time I found a story this absorbing.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt (5 stars)
I think this book changed my life a bit. I want to read it again.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (5 stars)
I wish this book were around when I was in high school, trying to figure out why social events exhausted me while everyone else seemed to be energized by them. I listened to the audiobook over several walks and bike rides and seemed to gain confidence in my introversion with each listen. I’ve always felt I needed to overcome the way I am, but this book is helping me appreciate the many benefits of an introvert’s mind. Why, I might even start looking down on extroverts for a change.

The Next Decade: What the World Will Look Like by George Friedman (5 stars)
I’m not smart enough to give a useful review, but I feel smarter about geopolitics after reading this book. Fascinating stuff. It provides a framework I previously lacked for better understanding world events and particularly the United States’ role.

Epiphanies & Elegies: Very Short Stories by Brian Doyle (5 stars)
I came across this book by chance in the library. I can’t come up with anything more eloquent than “I really like this book”. It has inspired me to focus more on the small everyday things. There is meaning in the smallest event. Subjects in the book range from a bird stuck inside an airport, to kids always going to Mom’s side of the bed for comfort, to thoughts about the deceased, to girls at a soccer game comforting their goalie. It’s poetry for people who didn’t think they liked poetry.

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman (5 stars)
I bet this guy dominates in games like Risk and Diplomacy and Settlers of Catan. I was surprised to be fascinated by this book. This stuff normally bores me to tears. But, I guess it’s like Economics and I like macro and loathe micro. I hope I remember to pull this book out again in 40 years and see how he did.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (5 stars)

I listened to the audiobook on a daily walk. Some days I came home furious. Others freaked out by sharks. Others grateful. And once tearful. What an amazing story. I already knew I liked the author from Seabiscuit. This is better. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Ireland by Frank Delaney (5 stars)
It’s rare that I still think of a book years after reading it. Actually, this one was an audiobook which I listened to over several weeks while walking to and from work in downtown Seattle. I can still remember which street corner I was on when certain events occurred in the book. I frequently think of the part where Ronan realizes he has never been required to control his temper — because his family always gave in to his wishes — and it is now raging out of control, which scares him to death. (At least that’s what I remember — like I said, it has been years). I highly recommend this book, especially the audio version which is read by the author.

The Life and Works of Franz Schubert (Life & Works) by Jeremy Siepmann (5 stars)
This whole series is excellent. Schubert was an interesting guy and I’m frequently drawn to his music.

The Story of Music by Howard Goodall (5 stars)
Great audiobook. I only wish it included song clips. I like the author’s style – he took me back to my Humanities 101 class where I was first exposed to a sweeping overview of musical history. Now I have an even longer list of musical things to explore. I like that Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles received special mention.

Mozart with 2 CDs: His Life & Music (Naxos Books) by Jeremy Siepmann (5 stars)
This is the third I’ve listened to in this series. They are all excellent with a good mix of interesting biography and music excerpts. I’m coming to find out that you apparently can’t be a musical genius unless you have a very troubled relationship with your father.

Joseph Haydn: His Life and Works by Jeremy Siepmann (5 stars)
This is a great series and you might be able to get it for free from your library (if they use Overdrive). It’s biography mixed with music. And you get to find out what happened to Haydn’s skull after he died.

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck (5 stars)
This story will haunt me for a long time. Highly recommended.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (5 stars)
This was the bedtime story for my girls over the past few weeks. I’m glad that they’re old enough now that I enjoy the books we read as much as they do.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt (5 stars)
This was a great audiobook to listen to as I weaved in and out of traffic on my bicycle. I learned not to make eye contact at intersections in Mexico City. And that 1 out of 10 traffic fatalities happen in New Delhi. The only thing I wish it had was a chapter explaining Utah drivers. But it did mention that the Ford F-350 presents a 7 times greater risk to other cars than a minivan does — stats that surely came out of Utah.

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill (4 stars)
I love this series. It takes me back to Humanities 101 in college, taught by an engaging professor who had figured out over time how to make ancient history fascinating to punk kids these days. Cahill is kind of a perv – if there’s an opportunity to highlight the suggestive parts of a painting or hint that some old sculptor might have been a sexual deviant, he’ll take it. But just roll your eyes like you would in class and keep reading. The best in the series, in my opinion, is How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Think like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt (4 stars)
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed their first book, Freakonomics. This one is short and interesting and somewhat “more of the same” (so I recommended waiting a few years between books like I did). The audiobook has a few Freakonomics Radio podcast episodes (on commitment devices and tipping) at the end, which I found really entertaining. Great, now I have another podcast to not have enough time for.

The Road to Character by David Brooks (4 stars)
I loved the introduction and conclusion. Lost interest in the middle. But definitely read the start and finish. Shook me up a bit. Full review here.

The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do by Clotaire Rapaille (4 stars)
Very interesting. I’m still a little bothered by the section about Nestle realizing coffee had no cultural significance for the Japanese, so they introduced a bunch of coffee-flavored treats for kids to get the next generation to find coffee meaningful. Weaselly marketers. Good thing I never fall for things like that. Right?

I enjoyed the last section on how Americans and Europeans see each other and themselves.

Even if you don’t agree with his codes, it makes you think about what things like weight, love, work, food, shopping, and money really mean to you and others.

Introducing Overcoming Phobias: A Practical Guide by Patricia Furness-Smith (4 stars)
I picked this up at the library on a whim — I liked the cover — and ended up really enjoying it. If you’re prone to phobias, I recommend skipping the first 50 pages, which are likely to just give you new things to be phobic about.

The section called “The Brain and Fear” is excellent – it describes how the different parts of the brain interact and sometimes end up making you freak out about non-issues. This is also useful information for better understanding addictions and other undesired behaviors.

I (mostly) liked the informal writing style and I was surprised at the quality of information in a book that practically hides the author’s name on the cover.

Space Boy by Orson Scott Card (4 stars)
Fun, mindless, weird.

Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled But Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary by Craig Harline (4 stars)
I enjoyed it but kind of lost interest halfway through. It brought back a lot of mission memories and gave me some ideas for the memoir I should someday write.

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (Christ the Lord, #2) by Anne Rice (4 stars)
I think I liked Out of Egypt better, but this was interesting enough. Her take on Satan tempting Christ was the highlight for me — very thought-provoking. The Abigail story didn’t do much for me.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (4 stars)
I remember reading the famous 1991 Time article in high school and being creeped out by it — the author was threatened and harassed by the church in an attempt to keep the article from being published. I’ve seen a few “personality test” offers in Seattle, but I didn’t know much else about the Church of Scientology.

This book is a thorough review of the church’s doctrine, the founder’s life and teachings, and recent history. I felt like the author did a good job of trying to maintain impartiality (“So-and-so claimed that such-and-such leader physically assaulted him” – footnote: “The Church denies that such-and-such leader ever assaulted anyone”) but you can tell he finds Scientology (and maybe religion in general) to be dangerous, abusive, and generally a bad idea.

Oh, and there are lots of f-bombs — I guess they’re a church of potty mouths.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Christ the Lord, #1) by Anne Rice (4 stars)
I liked it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it kept my attention and provoked some thought. I particularly enjoyed the author’s note at the end of the book, discussing her conversion and desire to better understand the life of Christ. She has interesting things to say about the field of Bible scholarship and the many books trying to convince us how to think about Christ and Christianity. The recommended reading list at the end of the book should keep me busy for a while.

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin (4 stars)
The audiobook is a long one but it covers a lot of ground and kept my attention. Topics include how interstates are numbered, making logical medical decisions, the horrific side effects of prostate cancer surgery, the history of filing cabinets, junk drawers, and the value of old-fashioned notepads. A couple of sections seemed a little repetitive – like maybe they were overlapping essays that hadn’t been cleaned up. I found some of his advice useful, but a lot of it impractical (e.g., buy extra reading glasses so you can have one set in each room.) I learned some things.

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories by Richard Matheson (4 stars)
Sometimes I get in a Twilight Zone mood. I don’t know how many of these short stories became Twilight Zone episodes, but most of them have that sort of feel. I didn’t love all of them — and I finished one of them without having any idea what just happened — but overall they’re entertaining and creepy and fun. I like that the audiobook has multiple readers — Yuri Rasovsky is pretty tough to follow at 2x speed.

Oh, and go listen to the I Am Legend audiobook — all-time favorite.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (4 stars)
This is about Small beating Big by refusing to play by Big’s rules. It’s also about the value of adversity. I’m a Mormon and Mormons looooove adversity. If we don’t have enough in our own life, we adopt the adversity of others. Or we magnify first world problems. We believe life’s about learning and adversity is one of the best teachers. So, it’s interesting and even validating to read about it from someone outside the culture. I didn’t find this as compelling as Blink or Outliers, but it’s still an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

The Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck (4 stars)
What a weird, entertaining, thought-provoking, funny book! I loved it. I think small-town Mormons will be best able to relate to the characters. The author seemed to capture every tangent “doctrine” I remember hearing presented as fact in Sunday School. And I had nearly forgotten how much speculation about modern-day Gadianton Robbers entered those conversations. I still like A Short Stay in Hell best, but this was a fun read.

10 Great Souls I Want to Meet in Heaven by S. Michael Wilcox (4 stars)
A great read. My favorite chapter was on Joan of Arc.

The Positive Dog by Jon Gordon (4 stars)
I don’t think you’re allowed to say anything negative about a book on positivity. I thought it was entertaining and worth the 90-minute listen. I have to remind myself to do things that come naturally to my wife.

The Best Beatles Book Ever by Paul Charles (4 stars)
I found this book at the library and was intrigued because it looked like it was published from home. It was a fun, quick, opinionated history of The Beatles and their music. The writing is informal and the author covered a lot of interesting facts I hadn’t heard before. He was very comfortable telling the reader which songs and albums are best. He spent a lot of time defending their manager Brian Epstein – I didn’t realize he needed so much defending. Worth the short read.

The Hard Way (Jack Reacher, #10) by Lee Child (4 stars)
This was my first Lee Child novel, after a couple of friends recommended him. I liked it. In a lot of books my interest wanes in the middle and I start thinking about what I can read next. Not in this one.

Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg (4 stars)
It’s not a light read, but I found it interesting. I thought I’d come away with some tips for reducing jet lag, etc. But it’s more about *why* things happen as we respect our internal clock less and less. The author uses anecdotes, mostly fictionalized, to illustrate many of the concepts, making them more memorable in the process.

A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted by Will Bowen (4 stars)
This was more insightful and less fluffy than I expected. I plan to take the 21-day challenge as soon as I have a 3-week stretch with no air travel planned. 🙂

Mr. Monster (John Cleaver, #2) by Dan Wells (4 stars)
It took a while to draw me in. It felt repetitive of the first in the series. But a little over halfway through I was hooked and I finished it up in a day. It’s creepy, disturbing, and fun. I also appreciate that it contains no profanity or sex, which too many authors rely on anymore.

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry (4 stars)
I read this to the kids at bedtime. They were medium interested but admitted by the end that it was entertaining. Our favorite part was the glossary at the end and a really fun pun on the last page (having to do with Ruth).

The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t–and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Dan Gardner (4 stars)
This was a great read during an election year. We are the healthiest, wealthiest, longest-living folks in history. Yet we live in the Age of Worry. We remember the past as more certain and less scary than it actually was, imagining our futures the bleakest of any who have lived before us. This book covers a lot of the tricks our mind plays and how advertisers, politicians, and alarm system salesmen exploit them.

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston (4 stars)
A great book to read out loud in a doctor’s waiting room. Morbidly interesting. I was inspired to read this by the iPhone game, Plague, Inc. Got a little slow in the middle. Burned my ears with a few f-bombs, but I guess if you slice your hand dissecting a monkey infected with a deadly virus that made its organs melt you’re allowed a few swears.

The Book of Mormon: A Biography by Paul C. Gutjahr (4 stars)
A quick read, and a great summary of the history of The Book of Mormon (the book itself, not the history of the people described in it), including its revisions, illustrations (including Teichert and Friberg), pageants, scholarship (Hugh Nibley and FARMS, etc.), movies, plays, adjustments in missionary focus, and even action figures and comic books. I found the overview of Joseph Smith’s life and early Church history to be interesting and I learned a few things.

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz (4 stars)
It took me a couple of weeks to get into it, but I ended up hitting that stride where I wanted to know what happened next. His sense of humor isn’t exactly my style, but it was ok funny (more nyuck nyuck than a real laugh). There were some fun twists and turns I didn’t anticipate. All in all a fun read.

The Good Guy by Dean Koontz (4 stars)
It’s not very often that a book trumps sleep for me. This was super entertaining, made me paranoid, and got my heart racing. I don’t know if I loved the ending – it was a little too James Bond bad-guy-fills-in-all-the-missing-details. But I can’t really think of a better ending, so I’ll take it.

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker (4 stars)
I think I’m a slightly more informed consumer after reading this book. And now I finally know the history of Hello Kitty.

Just a heads up if you ever find yourself being interviewed by the author — if you use the F-word you are practically guaranteed to get quoted in his next book.

The Hobbit (Middle-Earth Universe) by J.R.R. Tolkien (4 stars)
The last time I read this was in junior high. I thought it had more Gollum in it than it actually does. I read this to my girls and they said it was “adventury and not-making-sensy”. My younger daughter did develop a crush on Gollum in the process, though. We’re looking forward to the movie next year.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (4 stars)
I finally learned the story behind aluminum vs. aluminium!

A mostly-entertaining listen (audiobook) that makes me wish I’d listened better in my science classes. The author has been on RadioLab a time or two and covers some interesting stories related to elements on the periodic table, as well as some history of the table itself.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (4 stars)
I don’t know if “like” is the right word for how I felt about this book, but it was one of those reads (listens) I felt compelled to bring up in many conversations over the past couple of weeks. About halfway through I thought my review was going to be “CEOs, world leaders, and everyone on Wall Street are psychopaths. There, I saved you several hours.” But that wasn’t where the book was actually headed. It was ambiguous, interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining. Reader beware: Contains a fair number of F bombs and uncomfortably explicit descriptions.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner (4 stars)
I didn’t know much about John Wesley Powell before reading this book. Interesting dude. I like the author’s style. The book covers a lot of areas I’m interested in, including Jacob Hamblin (brief mention of “Jacob’s Lake”), Mormon pioneers, and several National Parks in Utah and Arizona.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick (4 stars)
Loved it. Kept me entertained on a couple of very long flights. Left me a little bewildered.

Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith by Michael R. Ash (4 stars)
Good stuff. Nothing that would convince a true skeptic, but plenty to remind a believer that the skeptics have a lot of ‘splaining to do before they can write off Joseph Smith. I flew through the first 2/3 of the book and found it really fascinating. The final 1/3 has dragged for me — the final sections are longer and don’t feel as compelling. All in all, thought, a quick and interesting read.

The Kolob Theorem: A Mormon’s View of God’s Starry Universe by Lynn M. Hilton (4 stars)
I gave it 4 stars for entertainment value. This book took me back to my scouting days, talking eternity with the adults and generally freaking myself out about something never ending.

The author’s speculations appeal to me in general. I’m a bit suspicious that all the scientific (and most of the other) sources in the bibliography were published before I was born. Maybe that’s no big deal, but it makes me wonder if he had difficulty finding support in more recent scientific publications.

I don’t think the book will change my life, but it’s a good, thought-provoking read that may or may not jive with reality.

I’m going to go look at the stars.

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy (4 stars)
Fascinating. Dragged a bit at times (I was listening to the audiobook) but I feel I understand the company a lot better now, as well as many of the issues in technology, copyright, and privacy today.

True Grit by Charles Portis (4 stars)
The narrator for the audiobook is perfect. Great story, fun listen.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (4 stars)
As a kid (and into high school) I was really creeped out by the Cold War. I was scared to death by Red Dawn and Sting’s song about hoping Russians love their children, too. This book, written in 1959, brought back a lot of those memories, but I was still able to sleep last night. It’s a great read and made me think about how I’d do in a major catastrophe (answer is “not well”).

I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard by Tom Reynolds (4 stars)
Pretty funny stuff. He covers a lot of the songs that creeped me out in high school. You can tell he wasn’t passionate about several of the songs and those chapters are formulaic, but when he finds one that drives him crazy it’s a great read. If you’re an aspiring songwriter and sensitive about how others will think about your music, skip this one.

The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt (4 stars)
I’m not much of a reviewer, but I just finished this book and wanted to put in a good word for it. If nothing else, it’s an entertaining summary of the ongoing debate between believers and non.

I wish the book cover were different — it makes it look like a teen angst book or something racier.

I was a little bothered by the narrator at first — it made me realize how difficult it was for Lewis to make Screwtape so believable — but she grew on me and made more sense when I realized her situation and the reason for her zeal.

If you’re an atheist, I assume the book will only annoy you. If you’re something else, you’ll probably find some useful or at least interesting ideas in it. I quite enjoyed it.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot, #4) by Agatha Christie (4 stars)
I’ve never been much of a fan of murder mysteries or even the game or movie Clue. But I didn’t want to go through life without reading at least one Agatha Christie novel. I was far from disappointed. The tension and suspicion builds and builds. The author’s observations on human nature are clever. And I love how Poirot speaks English that sounds like a direct translation from French, including idiomatic expressions that don’t make sense in English.

I’m proud to say I guessed the real murderer before the end, but it was pure pleasure to watch it play out in the last two chapters. (Since you end up suspecting everyone, I suppose you’d feel like you guessed right at some point no matter who it ends up being.) The effect was heightened when Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor came on the iPod as I finished the book.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (3 stars)
I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Loved the beginning, maybe the first half. Unnecessary f-bombs (even if I try to imagine them in German) bother me more than they should. And a couple of scenes were thrown in there to show the grit of war, I guess, but they didn’t do much for me. I see all these reviews going on about “the prose”. I’m not sure what that means, but the audiobook did sound nice. I didn’t have a feeling of satisfaction at the end. No thoughts of “well, that was a good idea”. Another couple of weeks and the book will be out of my mind forever.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (3 stars)
I read this to my daughters at bedtime over a few weeks. It was ok. I asked them both what they would rate it and they said “3 stars”. The ending is interesting enough, but the rest of the book kind of feels like “Here’s a not-very-interesting story to distract you from the ending I’m really excited about.” The payoff wasn’t quite worth it. Or maybe I’m just a bad narrator.

Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson (3 stars)
It’s no I Am Legend but it was entertaining enough. Too much romance, not enough time travel.

Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog: 98 Essential Tips and Techniques by Cesar Millan (3 stars)
I made my beagle puppy listen to this audiobook and he still chews up my stuff, poops where he’s not supposed to, and digs up my yard.

Managing for People Who Hate Managing: Be a Success By Being Yourself by Devora Zack (3 stars)
It was ok. The author has a goofy grandpa sense of humor that is sometimes funny and sometimes tiring. I learned a few things. It’s mostly about thinkers vs. feelers (Myers-Briggs) with a chapter on introverts and extroverts.

Because I Said So! : The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings (3 stars)
This would probably work better as a weekly podcast or something. Gave up.

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman (3 stars)
I thought it was pretty ok. It would have been better as a pamphlet.

The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2) by Patrick Rothfuss (3 stars)
I finally finished it! I completely lost interest about 2/3 of the way through and set the book aside for several months. I picked it back up during a recent long flight. I caught little glimpses of what made me love the first book, but it’s just too dang long. I remember reading that the author expressed gratitude to his editor or publisher for allowing such a long book, but it’s gratitude I don’t share. In particular, I thought the middle section – lost in the forest frolicking ad nauseam with some sort of fairy goddess (I forget now) – was just miserably boring. Maybe I would have liked it when I was 15. I’ll probably still read the third book when it comes out, but I won’t be waiting with bated breath.Â

To Heaven and Back: The True Story of a Doctor’s Extraordinary Walk with God by Mary C. Neal (3 stars)
I’ve always been a sucker for near-death experience accounts. This one was ok. I think it could have been better as a 10-pager. There’s lots of biographical filler that wasn’t too interesting. One sentence that struck me early on as evidence she was kind of rushing the narrative and throwing in some trite statements without really thinking them through was: “It has taken many years to realize that when everything seems difficult and feels as though you are swimming upstream it is usually because you are not following the direction of God’s will. When you are doing God’s will, everything seems to happen without much effort or many obstacles.” I don’t think this is true – think of the life of Christ or the Exodus or the Mormon Pioneers or Job – nor does her own story seem to support it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (3 stars)
This is a great book that I didn’t like.

Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: The Book of Mnemonic Devices by Rod L. Evans (3 stars)
It looked more interesting than it was. I didn’t finish it.

Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas, #1) by Dean Koontz (3 stars)
It was fairly entertaining and Odd is an interesting enough character. Contained some grossness for grossness’ sake. Left me feeling empty, wondering if I’d spent that time well.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (3 stars)
I’m not a war buff. I’ve tried off and on to “get into” the Civil War. Joss Whedon mentioned that this book was partial inspiration for the Firefly series, so I added it to my queue a few years back and finally got to it. It’s a very human story — historical fiction — rather than a bunch of talk of military strategy and stats. It mostly kept my interest. It’s also the basis for the Gettysburg series, which I’m going to watch soon. Sorry I can’t think of much else to say about it.

Silver Canyon by Louis L’Amour (3 stars)
Mmm. . . it was ok. I’m not particularly a fan of Westerns, but I wanted to read one to see what I was missing out on. I found it pretty cliche, but then I figured Louis L’Amour probably came up with the original material that everyone else turned into cliches. The fist fights and main plot were enjoyable, the romantic subplot much less so. I guess I find it hard to believe that rootin’ tootin’ cowboys would fall in love at first site and get all mushy and want to settle down.

Paul Simon: A Life by Marc Eliot (3 stars)
A decent overview of Paul Simon’s life. I was sometimes confused why the author would provide so much detail in some areas and gloss over others, but I guess those are the choices you have to make as a biographer. The focus on the music made it easy to place events in the timeline based on which album was being worked on at the time. Not the best biography I’ve ever read, but not the worst either. It kept my interest, but would probably be a dull read for someone less interested in the musician.

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary (Fablehaven, #4) by Brandon Mull (3 stars)
Finished reading this to the kids. Took a long time and we all lost track of who was who (“wasn’t he dead?”) Fairly entertaining, but I think we need a break before the next one.

I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert (3 stars)
Medium funny. Not as good as his show used to be.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (3 stars)
I finished it! This book demands more concentration than I was able to give it. I spent much of the time pretty much lost, but it was still mildly enjoyable. The author has obviously put a lot of thought into it — the footnotes are extensive and are often the most entertaining things on the page. The characters are interesting if too numerous. The ending was unsatisfying to me, especially after such a time investment. I’ll watch the movie if they ever make one.

Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain (3 stars)
Read this one a long time ago. I think I liked it but lost interest when he went on too long about how our musical taste came from when our ancestors were fish.

Watchers by Dean Koontz (2 stars)
I’m still trying to decide if I like Dean Koontz. I keep giving him another try because there are days when I really get into the story. But I gave up on this one when the library loan expired.

I was drawn to Koontz in the first place because he can do engaging horror/suspense without relying on sex and profanity — well, this one must have been written before he decided on that policy. The author uses crass dialogue and f-bombs to help you identify the bad guys. I’m half offended by the language itself and half because it’s so awkwardly implemented that I can’t imagine a real bad guy talking like that.

Aside from that, I lost interest in the whole story about halfway through. I realized I don’t care about the budding relationship between the crushingly shy spinster who happens to be a knockout once she comes out of her shell and her troubled but kind, patient, and sensitive beau. For a while I wanted to find out just how smart that crazy smart dog is, but not enough to keep reading. And I guess I’ll never really know what The Beast is, other than the evil counterpart to Wonderdog — maybe it’s like the Dark Crystal where the evil one and the good one join bodies and become celestial beings. 🙂

Anyway, time for me to find a different author.

What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz (2 stars)
I kind of liked the main idea, although I was disappointed with how the author decided to emphasize (and re-emphasize) the evilness of the bad guy. One of the reasons I read Koontz over King is he’s relatively clean in language and sex, but not so much in this book. That’s fine to paint the bad guy as a pervert, but do we need constant and repetitive creepster reminders? As others have mentioned, the character dialogue is kind of annoying, especially the precocious pre-teens who banter like 30-year-olds.

There were things happening near the end (Willard?!) that made me think the author was losing track of how he was going to pull it all together, or maybe just rushing to meet a deadline. The otherwise well-executed build-up to the ending makes the actual ending all the more disappointing.

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1) by Pittacus Lore (2 stars)
I read this to my 13 and 14 year old daughters at bedtime. Even they thought it was cheesy and cliché. It was fun for a while to critique the writing and groan at the romantic subplot, but we finally gave up about halfway through and read the synopsis on Wikipedia. Among the plot components that bothered us: alien teen repeatedly risks discovery and the annihilation of his species to impress a girl he just met, way too much borrowing from Superman, and Sarah tracing John’s eyebrows before a kiss. Oh, and it has a bunch of swearing that feels like the authors wanted to be hip with the youngsters.

Before the Frost (Linda Wallander #1) by Henning Mankell (2 stars)
I made it about halfway through the audiobook and then realized I just don’t care what happens to any of these characters. Maybe I should have started with an earlier story.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman (2 stars)
I heard a few of these on RadioLab and had high expectations for the book. They were not met. A few of the vignettes were interesting, but I think a group of school kids could come up with more interesting afterlives on the whole. Has someone already done a book like that?

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo (2 stars)
I have a bad attitude about this book. I believe in Heaven. I think there’s something to near-death experiences. But I have real problems with this book. It feels too much like the book one would write to validate one’s own narrow religious understanding.

The heaven described in this book has very few surprises. Angels have wings of various sizes, wear sashes, and use real swords to keep Satan out. Oh, and its only inhabitants are those who have been saved in a specific Protestant way, accepting Jesus into their heart. They can’t even take the kid to funerals after his experience unless they are sure that the recently deceased was “saved”. Otherwise, he will freak out that they will not be going to Heaven.

If they make this into a movie, most of the action will be the little boy walking into a room, dropping a verbal bomb shell about something or someone he saw in Heaven, and then running out to play like it’s no big deal.

Maybe part of my problem is with the narrator of the audiobook. His attempts at a four-year-old voice make each statement even less believable.

I forced myself to finish the book, which is a bad habit I have. I don’t mean to belittle the family’s experience. I think it’s possible that something dramatic did happen. And maybe the only way we can interpret an experience beyond this world is through the lens of our own specific religious beliefs. But this book seems to try too hard to validate individual interpretations of scripture and other doctrinal beliefs. Or maybe it’s a pearl and I’m swine.

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven, #3) by Brandon Mull (2 stars)
My oldest is 12, but I still read to the kids every night. We liked the first two of this series, but this one (the 3rd) was pretty painful. A real yawner. We’re all glad it’s over. We’ll give the series a break for a while and think about finishing it up later.

Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem: Twelve Keys to Finding Peace by Ester Rasband (0 stars)
Blech. I stopped after two chapters, unable to risk reading another account of the author putting others in their place during a lesson or conference or whatever. I think she might have too much self-esteem about how much better than everyone else she understands self-esteem.

The Essential Dalai Lama: His Important Teachings by Dalai Lama XIV (Gave Up)
The first several chapters were very accessible and thought-provoking. The rest of the chapters are probably thought-provoking, but they started to use so much Buddhist terminology I may as well have been reading a foreign language. I’ll come back to the book after Buddhism For Dummies.

And, to be thorough, here are some more books I rated 5 stars but haven’t reviewed (yet) –

The Princes of Ireland (The Dublin Saga, #1) Edward Rutherfurd
Rick Steves Ireland 2015 Rick Steves
Around The World In 80 Days Jules Verne
Teachings of the Book of Mormon Hugh Nibley
Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley Hugh Nibley
Of All Things!: A Nibley Quote Book Hugh Nibley
Rick Steves’ Great Britain & Ireland 1998 (Rick Steves’ Country Guides) Rick Steves
The Bourne Ultimatum (Jason Bourne, #3) Robert Ludlum
Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet, #1) Orson Scott Card
Paris (DK Eyewitness Travel) Alan Tillier
Langenscheidt Lilliput Dictionary, English/French Langenscheidt
My First Spanish Word Book / Mi Primer Libro De Palabras EnEspanol Angela Wilkes
Month-By-Month Gardening in the South: What to Do and When to Do It Don Hastings
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? Dr. Seuss
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book Ben Cohen
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Lynne Truss
Rick Steves’ Spain 2005 (Rick Steves’ Country Guides) Rick Steves
The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life Armand M. Nicholi Jr.
Library of Piano Classics: Piano Solo Hal Leonard Publishing Company
Library of Piano Classics 2: Piano Solo Amy Appleby
The Ultimate Song Pages Guitar — A to Z, Vol 1: 230 Songs Alfred A. Knopf Publishing Company, Inc.
Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life Gretchen Rubin
The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill Winston S. Churchill
The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero William Kalush
Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook Andrew Doughty
Nikon D40/D40x Digital Field Guide David D. Busch
Llama Llama Misses Mama Anna Dewdney
The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Joy of Piano Duets: Familiar Melodies in Easy Arrangements for One Piano Four Hands Denes Agay
The Joy Of Boogie And Blues Denes Agay
The Elton John Keyboard Book Elton John
2013 Daily Calendar: F in Exams Richard Benson
Les Misérables Victor Hugo
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings Shel Silverstein
Crap Taxidermy Kat Su
Peace on Earth: The Christmas Truce of 1914 David Boyle
Steppenwolf Hermann Hesse
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It Kelly McGonigal
Understanding Isaiah Donald W. Parry
Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament: An Illustrated Reference for Latter-Day Saints Richard Neitzel Holzapfel
Uncle John’s Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader Bathroom Readers’ Institute
Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis
Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader Bathroom Readers’ Institute
The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text Royal Skousen
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot
All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience Neal A. Maxwell
The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis
Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844 John W. Welch
The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning Jonathan Sacks
The Giver (The Giver, #1) Lois Lowry
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World Mark         Williams
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7) C.S. Lewis
I Am Legend and Other Stories Richard Matheson
Seabiscuit: An American Legend Laura Hillenbrand
Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt, #1) Frank McCourt
The Little Brute Family Russell Hoban
Collected Stories, Vol. 1 Richard Matheson
Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Mary Roach
How the Irish Saved Civilization Thomas Cahill
A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson
John Adams David McCullough
Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier Stephen E. Ambrose
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White
Minority Report and Other Stories Philip K. Dick
Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning Viktor E. Frankl
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Wee Willie Winkie Rudyard Kipling
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science Atul Gawande
Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear: Three Tragedies William Shakespeare
An Adventure Of English Melvyn Bragg
Merchant Of Venice And Twelfth Night And Taming Of Shrew And Writing About: Literature William Shakespeare
Collected Works Of George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw
The Lessons of History Will Durant
The Life and Works of Chopin Jeremy Siepmann
Best Science Fiction Stories of H. G. Wells H.G. Wells
Guitar: An American Life Tim Brookes
Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus Thomas Cahill
Pygmalion And Other Plays George Bernard Shaw
Reaching for the Invisible God Study Guide Philip Yancey
Beethoven: His Life & Music [With CD] Jeremy Siepmann
Writers of Ireland Frank Delaney
Bloodlines: Richard Matheson’s Dracula, I Am Legend & Other Vampire Stories Richard Matheson
Rumors of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing? Philip Yancey
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present Jacques Barzun
Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky


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