July 2007: Book Reviews

This is an archive of my shorter book reviews and notes, which historically have been posted over at the 50 Book Challenge on LiveJournal, but which I’m starting to move over here. I’m posting them with altered date-stamps, but they might show up in my LiveJournal cross-post anyway. Bear with me, please.

Note: Many of these books also have full reviews available in the book review podcast (RSS).


An emotionally gripping novel about a young man growing up in Afghanistan and the terrible burden of guilt he harbors. What I liked about this book was the immense symmetry in it– if you knew where to look, everything was anticipated by something else.


I wasn’t disappointed in this book, but I think there were some things missing. For example, I would have liked a bit more on “how to do something with this tiny amount of yarn you have spun” or “how to achieve this particular effect by adapting your handspun for knitting.” I did get some of that, but I think I wanted something meatier. Certainly, I would have preferred more on spinning to knit, and maybe less on “here are some nifty patterns!” because, really, the patterns are just as applicable to any knitting book, you know?


A great resource for anyone venturing into the world of knitting! The book tells you how to figure out your gauge, then how to use that gauge to make hats, sweaters, mittens, gloves, vests, and (most importantly to me) socks! Reading it is like the difference between reading a book of recipes and a book that actually tells you how to cook.

Halfway through the year and I’m at 50 books. Looks like this year is going to be a 100-book year for me! YAY!


First, let me point out that I’ve seen the last 10 minutes of the movie, which meant that the Big Reveal in this book was utterly ruined for me. Having said that, I could find very little sympathetic about the protagonist, who seems to me to be not only a completely unreliable narrator (something I usually love), but also a sociopath with little or no remore for his actions, something I abhor in my protagonists. I am glad I forced myself to finish the book, but I doubt I’ll be reading anything by this author again, no matter how much my friends cajole me.


A non-fiction account of the overwhelming-ness of juvenile criminal court, primarily in LA, but using LA as a case-study for the rest of the US. This book was distressing, disturbing, and detailed. It didn’t successfully reach me with its call to action, but it did reinforce my conviction that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed. I’m a big fan of the TV series Judging Amy, and I can see where a large number of plotlines, stories, and events from that series were obviously drawn from events depicted in this book (which predates the TV series by a couple of years). Good book. Did not make me think the narrator was a psychopath.


My Bad starts out with an introduction to its contents– it’s an examination of the half-hearted and insincere apologies that public persons have managed to cough up in the last twenty five years or so. The book then goes on to catalogue each apology, with a comment about its context following the apology itself. Make no mistake: the authors are politically biased, although they shove Democratic politicians’ apologies in there with equal force, they are more harsh in their commentary on Republicans. The apologies are organized largely by the context of the speaker– radio personalities’ apologies are together, as are politicians’ (which provides the largest section, as well as the most repetitive, as the politicians are limited to a very small set of weasel words they can use to mollify without actually accepting blame or responsibility.)

What I liked about this book was that they didn’t pull too many punches– often they quoted the exact word or phrase that the apologist used originally, so readers could decide for themselves if, for instance, radio host David Gold ‘used inappropriate words in describing [his] concerns” when he said that eighteen illegal immigrants who suffocated in a boxcar got what they deserved.

What I wished this book did more was provide genuine commentary and analysis. What we need in this book is a deeper understanding of why “I apologize if I hurt anybody’s feelings” is a completely insufficient apology, for example, for not respecting the Martin Luther King holiday because “We do enough for these people and they’re still not happy. We gave them the right to vote and all that stuff.” (Mathew Panak from Ohio). It would be nice to see an analysis of why weasel words and “I’m sorry if my words hurt you” types of apologies fall so utterly, completely insincerely.

The book contains only one apology from George W. Bush. It contains a couple from the Clintons, and closes with Bill Clinton’s apology at a prayer meeting– an apology the authors feel was sincere enough to warrant the comment “Now that’s an apology.” I tend to think it’s only an apology because they quoted the entire passage in context, but you can tell from the outset that the authors have a political viewpoint, so I can overlook the slant a bit.

I’d give this a B. It’s a fun book. I wouldn’t pay full price for it, but it’s a good one to have around. Also, it makes an excellent bathroom reader, as each apology+comment is typically less than half a page long.


Fifth in the Stephanie Plum series. I wonder if I’m ever going to get tired of these? Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I probably wouldn’t give it an A, simply because a book needs to do more than entertain to really hit the “A” level in my personal, completely subjective grading system. However, I love that Stephanie’s world has moved forward from the 1980’s to the 1990’s, seemingly without taking much time at all.


I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook. It is a very flowery book, with tons of over-description decorating it everywhere. Normally, I would find the style irritating. In audio format, however, it’s not quite as bad. I listened to it while driving and, more often, while knitting. It’s definitely a good “while knitting” book. Your eyes are already engaged in something treat-ful, and then your ears start passing all this flowery imagery to your brain, so it basically gives you an overdescription high.

As for the content of the book, I sort of liked it. I think I was looking for something a little different than these very sad lives orbiting each other, each person unaware of the pain the others are in. I never found any emotional honesty between the main characters (the people who actually had agency to change). For that reason, I would label this as a family tragedy.

Also, a character is introduced about 3/4 of the way through the book, someone who seems to be important as a catalyst to change, but who, in the end, does nothing and quietly disappears without any further word about how her story (which eerily parallels another character’s story) ends.

I give this one a B as well. It’s good, but has some flaws that make it less than excellent.