Friday, January 1, 2016

The Last Book Report of 2015, #114 to 130

But first, some of my book stats according to Good Reads!

For 2015 I read 130 books.

For comparison here are my book total for the last few years:
  • 2011: 50
  • 2012: 120
  • 2013: 121
  • 2014: 97
That totals 45,140 pages with an average book length of 350 pages.

The shortest book was Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe at 64 pages. The longest book was Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett at 1,098 pages.

My average rating was 3.9 (out of 5).

My 2015 reading goal was 100 books. Good Reads says, "You read 130 out of 100 books. Congratulations! You're really good at reading and probably a lot of other things, too!"

Darn tootin'! (Although with this much reading going on it's no wonder my housework chores go unheeded.)

  • It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
    • A fun little confection of a book. A quick read and gossipy good fun.
    • Some of the included couples include Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb, Nero and Poppaea, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher,  and Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.
  • Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean
    • I'm not sure why I decided to read this book but I am very glad I did.
    • Most of us born in the 1960s had probably heard of Rin Tin Tin as children but we were all raised on the Lassie TV shows. The TV show featuring "Rinty" was no longer airing by the time we were watching Lassie episodes.
    • Rinty was a German shepherd, a breed that first existed only in the late 1890s. He was born in France during the last days of World War I and brought to the United States by a man named Lee Duncan.
    • Lee eventually got the dog into films and Rin Tin Tin was a huge star. The dog died in 1932 and was succeeded by other German shepherds who were never as good actors as the original.
    • It was interesting learning about how the breed came to be (in Germany, naturally) and how dogs in America became pets rather than just treated as working dogs.
  • Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
    • This was a tough read --- so many awful things happen right from the first pages --- but it was an amazing book.
    • Ravensbruck was located in the north of Germany and ended up in East Germany after World War II so it was behind the Iron Curtain for decades, meaning it has been lesser known than the more infamous concentration camps.
    • The author was able to interview some survivors and had access to Russian archives which completes quite a horrendous narrative.
    • Ravensbruck started out as a camp for political prisoners and most of its inmates weren't Jewish. It also did not start out as a death camp (those to be executed were taken to other camps) but it became one by the end. 
    • This was one of the camps where "medical" experiments were performed, especially on the Polish women. Abortions were performed on incoming prisoners and if a baby was born it did not live long.
    • Local German women acted as guards. A German town was located quite nearby, within view across a lake. Many prisoners were used as slave labor in a Siemens factory built on the camp land. 
    • You read something like this and become angry that people can act so inhumanely towards others. And yet it happens over and over again in history.
      • And then you have the women who rebelled like the Russian women who refused to work making munitions to be used against their countyr and suffered as a result.
      • The Russian soldiers (including the women) were expected to fight to the death in war and to be taken prisoner was considered a failure according to Joseph Stalin. When some of the women returned home to the USSR they were suspected of becoming spies and many were sentenced to prison in Siberia too. Crazy. But the women were inspiring.
    • Obviously this is not a book for everyone but for those interested it is utterly fascinating.
  • Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Lawson
    • Apparently at Rosemary's birth in 1918 the doctor was late (tending to influenza victims in Boston) and the nurse was afraid to deliver the baby alone. She had Rose Kennedy basically keep her legs closed for two hours until the doctor arrived even though the baby was already in the birth canal. This probably caused some brain damage in poor Rosemary because she ended up "slow" compared to her 8 brothers and sisters. She was the most beautiful of the sisters too.
    • Her IQ was apparently between 60 and 70. She was mentally disabled in a time when that was an embarrassment for a family, especially the parents who had aspirations for their children.
    • In 1941 her father Joe Kennedy arranged for a lobotomy to be performed. It went terribly wrong and she was worse than before. She was placed in a care facility in Wisconsin for the rest of her long life (she died in 2005 at age 86).
    • Interestingly she was the first Kennedy sibling to die of natural causes (two assassinations and two plane crashes took Jack, Bobby, Kathleen and Joe Jr).
    • The author seems to have little sympathy for Rose and Joe Kennedy. Joe is obviously unsympathetic but one is surprised at Rose's reaction to her daughter.
    • The real hero of the story is younger sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She took up the management of care of her sister and ultimately founded the Special Olympics. I think Eunice was the smartest of the siblings. SHE should have been president, not necessarily one of her brothers! But Ted Kennedy was also a champion for the rights of the disabled in his Senate career.
    • The book was quite good focusing on Rosemary. Poor girl would have been so much better off in today's world where all sorts of programs exist for mentally challenged children.
  • We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines
    • Interesting book covering the films and their production and impact. It suffers from a lack of interviews with Michael J. Fox and Crispin Glover which makes it somewhat incomplete.
    • I haven't seen the movies in years. They aren't currently streaming on Netflix or Prime but the library has them so perhaps I will have a little film festival in the next month or two.
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
    • Sarah Vowell writes snarky histories that are fun and entertaining to read. This one is about the Marquis de Lafayette, the 19-year-old Frenchman who came to America to fight with George Washington and the gang in the American Revolutionary War.
    • Lafayette was a HUGE hero to early Americans. One fun fact on the book jacket is this: In 1824, when Lafayette visited the United States, 80,000 people cheered as he sailed into the New York Harbor. New York's population was only 120,000. 
    • The French recognized the United States as a separate country which helped the revolution succeed (also leading to the revolution in France partly due to the debt incurred in support of the Americans).
    • I am fairly well-read in history but apparently not so much about the American Revolution. I know the start (Boston Tea Party, Sons of Liberty, Boston Massacre, Concord & Lexington, Declaration of Independence, etc...) but very little about the specific battles (although Diana Gabaldon is slowly covering much of this ground with Jamie and Claire in her Outlander novels). So it was interesting to find out more about the battles themselves.
  • Pearls Gets Sacrificed: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury by Stephan Pastis
    • A collection of about 1-1/2 years of strips with commentary from the cartoonist. I read this strip every day and it amazes me how many of them I don't remember 3 years later.
  • Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
    • Leah Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology a few years ago and this is her own expose' of the Church's activities. 
    • She is loud and straightforward which makes this a fun read even though I have actually seen her in only two things: a "Friends" episode and on "Dancing with the Stars". 
    • One of the more entertaining celeb memoirs.
  • Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe
    • Randall Munroe writes and draws a science comic strip called XKCD described on the website as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language". Yep, right up my alley. (The site is 
    • This book include his drawings and schematics explaining the workings of various machines and phenomena using the 1,000 most common words in the English language. Dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves ("food heating radio box"), Mars vehicles ("red world space cars"), the International Space Station, the Large Hadron Collider, etc...
    • The book is large, 9x13 inches, and most of the words are small. I am old so this was hard on the eyeballs after a while!
    • It's cute and the diagrams are fascinating but after a few pages the novelty wears off and you just want to know the real names of things. That said, the Periodic Table of the Elements ("the pieces everything is made of") was awesome.
  • Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers by Simon Winchester
    • The sequel to Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. No, not really but just as entertaining to me. It will be interesting to see if he follows up with Indian or Arctic. Ha!
    • There are essays on topics like the atomic bomb testing on Pacific atolls (displacing the native populations), how surfing got a boost from the movie "Gidget", the history of the Sony Corporation, Australia's place on the world stage, and Mount Pinatubo's eruption causing the United States' abandonment of military bases in the Philippines (allowing China to ramp up their activities).
  • Heap House by Edward Carey
  • Foulsham by Edward Carey
  • Lungdon by Edward Carey
    • This is a young adult series, almost steampunk in some ways, taking place in the London area in the 1800s.
    • It is the story of the Iremonger family. At birth they are assigned a "birth object" as a lifelong companion. It could be as small as a button; it could be as large as a fireplace. One Iremonger member, Clod, can hear voices coming from each object, each saying a name. A new servant girl named Lucy arrives and so begins a 3 book adventure story. I really enjoyed it.
  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
    • A 14-year-old girl named Joan runs away from a cruel father and finds work as a hired girl in Baltimore for a Jewish family in the 1910s.
    •  Joan is the narrator via her diary entries. The ending is predictable once you read about a character's new school but that's okay. Joan is a wee bit too naive but of course she is because she is a sheltered farm girl with little education so it's hard to fault her for that! I wish the story had gone father though rather than wrapping everything up in a brief epilogue.
  • Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story by William Shakespeare and Arthur Laurents & Steven Sondheim
    • This book has the play of "Romeo and Juliet" followed by the play "West Side Story".
    • The movie is slightly different in that scenes and songs are rearranged to work for film better. For example, Riff sings "Cool" in the stage play BEFORE the rumble and Ice and the gang sing "Gee Officer Krupke" AFTER the rumble. It's kind of non-sensical to have a comic song after one of your friends has just died. The movie also cuts out the more risque language: Anita's singing "Don't matter if he's tired as long as he's HOT" vs. "as long as he's HERE" and Tony and Riff's lines of "Womb to tomb" and "Sperm to worm" that they will always be friends.
  • Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont
    • Charles Beaumont wrote a bunch of short stories that were turned into several "Twilight Zone" episodes. Each of these stories, even if not adapted for that show, has a "Twilight Zone" feel to it.
    • The saddest thing is how Charles Beaumont died when he was 38 years old of some unknown disease or diseases. In his mid-thirties he began to ail in various ways, including loss of his mental faculties and then he began to age rapidly. His son said his father looked like he was in his 90s when he died. 
  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
    • The latest book of short stories. Some are pretty creepy in true Stephen King fashion. Very entertaining.

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