Blog Archives

Deadly Innocence (Scott Burnside, Alan Cairns)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I don’t usually read true crime. I found this interesting, but deeply disturbing and a little too graphic (in terms of describing the rape and murder scenes). Any time there was dialogue, I kept wondering how the authors would know what the dialogue had been (except when things had been videotaped… though I understand you have to take a little creative license), and there were times when I found the descriptions distracting (i.e. Paul approached Karla like “a hungry raptor”); when there are already so many true, graphic, dramatic things such language felt… distracting. Still, it was interesting, and I believe it is well regarded within the genre and about this case in particular.

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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book is full of well written prose that gives opinions and examples on a variety of things that go into “good writing:” everything from characterization and choice of first vs. third person narration to the placement of essayists in the literary hierarchy. The story also details the almost lifetime of friendship between Kidder and Todd in a very interesting, introspective way. I didn’t always agree with the “advice,” and found some of the example they chose to be somewhat contradictory to the points they were making, but still, it was well written, interesting, and kind of like a collapsed recommended-reading list (in that they were often quoting from other books, some of which I had never heard of, but now want to look up).

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Dickens’ London (Peter Clark)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
If you’re a Dickens enthusiast, this is actually kind of interesting… very, very dense (despite the pictures) and with lots and lots of references to Dickens’ life and works. The book is organized via a series of “walks” and oscillates between quotes from Dickens’ works and brief historical notes about particular buildings, when they were constructed (and with what intentions), as well as how researchers deduced how Dickens’ fictional places corresponded with real geographical places (largely through letters Dickens had written and based on what travels Dickens had taken while writing).

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The Housing Trap: How Buyers Are Captured And Abused And How To Defend Yourself (Patrick Killelea)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
While there are some interesting things in this book, and parts of it are educational (at least to me, since I have never before read things about mortgages, buying houses, various associations of realtors, etc), it is more of a rant than a traditional book. For every piece of interesting information and/or analysis, there are lots and lots of rants about how realtors are basically evil, debt is the new form of slavery, etc, as well as a healthy dose of misogyny… which is a shame, since the interesting parts were actually educational.

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Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life (John Wooden and Jay Carty)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is half mini-Coach Wooden life lessons, combined with spiritual guidance from a pastor… with space for you, the reader, to journal in between about how you’re going to follow a particular piece of advice: how you’re going to apply the concept of industriousness, what the Bible teaches us about hard work, etc. I found both sections (from both Coach Wooden and Pastor Carty) to just be too brief; nothing really delves beyond the surface, and so it wasn’t really the book for me. (Also, if you’re looking for a more Wooden-centric book, this isn’t really it — it’s more spiritual/Biblical than about Wooden’s system.)

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The Baby Names Almanac 2013 (Emily Larson)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though it’s a fairly detailed list of names and brief descriptions of their meanings, there isn’t really much else this book offers (though then again, it’s called a baby names almanac, so it really, what I was I expecting?) It’s not a complete list (though again, that would be hard), and can be a good starting point for parents trying to pick a name, but in many ways, I think internet lists or even census lists will be just as informative…

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Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America (Tanner Colby)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Generally well written and interesting, this book is half-history, half-narrative: it starts really with the idea of how busing came about, takes us through White Flight, and quickly brings us to modern day, where we are more equal… but still not truly integrated. While the subject matter is interesting and Colby’s writing is clear, the book sometimes meanders into interviews and narratives in a way that makes you lose forward momentum. Despite being very interested in the topic and the book in general, I put it down several times, and found myself skimming near the end…

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Crash: A Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude (Carolyn Roy-Bornstein)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Just as it was a difficult book to read, this is a tough review to write. In terms of the story being presented: a mother who was a nurse and is now a doctor  is trying to learn how to care for her son after a horrific car accident that kills his girlfriend and leaves him with a head injury that changes his personality and memory… it’s compelling and moving. Of course it’s compelling and moving. On the other hand, the writing felt uneven to me: there are sections that are beautifully sparse and sympathetically drawn, and there are other times when it almost feels as though she’s sharing her worst memories just to share them  (one particular example of a newborn she treated, though she knew the baby was dying comes to mind). Parts of it do come off a little holier-than-thou, which is tough, because so much of the novel is meant to be her struggling to care for her son (and her son telling her she’s a bad doctor) as a mother as opposed to as a doctor/former nurse. The story is compelling, but the writing and the pacing made it much harder for me to relate to the people.
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What Teachers Make (Taylor Mali)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though I’m usually not a fan of poetry, the poem “What Teachers Make” is a fairly famous one which has been circulated for years and years now. This book, meant in some ways to be a more detailed followup to that, feels watered down and derivative, like finishing the Harry Potter series and then reading a book on the architecture of Hogwarts, or, well.. you get the idea. Some things neither need nor benefit from sequels and second acts. Told as a series of best memories/lessons learned, the collection felt outdated and kind of like Mali’s take on Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul…not terribly written, but not terribly interesting, informative, or inspiring.
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The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business (Ryan Tate)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This was a quick and fun read, though, like many other business novels, I’m not sure how much of what I learned is applicable to real life/my business as opposed to just interesting trivia/anecdotes. Tate interviewed and researched not just the history of 20% time, but shares with us the process by which some 20% projects have transformed a company’s mission/history/etc (e.g. how a Google engineer invented Gmail, which then required AdSense to fund it, etc). I found it to be enjoyable and interesting, though again, I’m not terribly certain how well it fulfills my “I’ve learned something new from this nonfiction book” requirement.
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