By Book Nerdery - Book Reviews by Eric Scott

The Silent Patient

Alex Michaelides

$26.99 $24.83

Finished Midnight in Chernobyl. This was at the top of the library's "most popular" list, sounded interesting, and the audiobook was available so here goes!

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens

$26.00 $23.92

Review pending...

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Adam Higginbotham

$20.00 $18.40

A well researched look into the Chernobyl disaster. The most interesting part was the coverage of Russian life through the decades. The book detailed a wide swath of time including: - The atomic bomb projects in the 40's and 50's under Stalin. - The early reactor years of the 60's along with Chernobyl's construction in the 70's during the Era of Stagnation. - The disaster and aftermath in the 80's including Gorbachev's glastnost and perestroika which, with the help of Chernobyl, ultimately lead to lead to the fall of the Soviet Union. - The continued clean up efforts from the 90's through present day. The stories of life across Russia included everyone from farmers recruited to build the reactor, engineers and scientists responsible for design and running it, and the officials across all tiers of government. It was a detailed look at Soviet life that I've never been exposed to before and found an interesting counterpoint to life in our American democracy. Overall, the book felt a little long with a tremendous amount of detail, especially all chapters dedicated to the 30+ years of clean up after the incident. It's a worthwhile read that you might need to push through a bit to get to the finish.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Charles Duhigg

$18.00 $16.56

Really great book so far. My loan expired before I finished it since I picked it up while I still had another couple of books and didn't get started until well into my 3 week checkout. I'm back on the wait list so I started Midnight in Chernobyl while I wait.

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children's Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death

Kurt Vonnegut

$7.99 $7.35

This book was unlike anything I've ever read. A review from Jack Richardson from The New York Review of Books wrote that the book was, "a darkly comic, throughly batshit, semi-autobiographical anti-war novel". That's about the best one line description I could think of. I'd put emphasis on "batshit" though. It gave me a glimpse of what it might feel like to slowly go insane but in that pleasant way where the world slowly feels more colorful and tolerable as it deteriorates around you. Even if you're not usually into war novels, this one is such a unique story that it begs to be experienced. It's a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Childhood's End

Arthur C Clarke

$7.99 $7.35

The book wanders along with all powerful aliens showing up and teaching mankind a better way to live for a good portion of the book. With dated "future" references like fax machines and flying cars, and a story that just hummed along, nothing felt terribly special until an earthling stows away on one of the alien ships bound for their home world. His story, and the unique and surprising last third of the book are what hooked me and made me understand why it's on all the "best of all time" sci-fi lists, even though you don't hear a lot about it otherwise. It'd be great to have a modernized follow up book written, told through a different set of characters eyes to add a fresh perspective and make it more relevant to contemporary audiences.

Killing Floor

Lee Child

$9.99 $9.19

A decent police story with a somewhat memorable "man's man" lead character. Lee Child adds interest to the story with a reasonably well researched counterfeiting ring that touches local law enforcement and various government organizations. If you're doing a long road trip and need something to listen to with a group, this is a good choice. It took me almost a year to finish it though so it's not a strongly compelling book on it's own.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Mark Manson

$26.99 $24.83

Wise advise about picking values that are good for both you and society and then focusing your attention on those to the exclusion of all the "other things". It's those "other things" that sap our time and energy and might make us feel good in the short term but make us miserable in the end. I'm on the fence if I just "liked it" or "really liked it". The book was great. Sometimes I found the author's life examples less than ideal. As a millennial 30 something, he's lead an interesting life, traveling, starting copious internet businesses, and then focusing on being a writer. Most of his life has been a life of change. Change in careers. Change in attitudes. Change in geography. Part of the book has him casting a negative light on that change as being superficial and lacking in "real, lasting meaning", even though its exactly that life that's given him the diverse perspective to write the book. He then preaches of the virtues of settling down: same geography, same job, same significant other (now wife), even though that's a new worldview that's still fresh and interesting. If he was in his 60's and had seen the full depth of what that sameness has to offer, I'd be more inclined to listen. Instead, I laughed a little thinking "give this guy a few years and we'll see how much he still likes his same job, wife, and neighborhood". Overall, still a good, recommended read that made me reexamine parts of my life, especially a few specific issues I've recently been dealing with. It's fascinating that even if you've heard it all before, hearing it again in your current reality often uncovers fresh understanding.

Next

Michael Crichton

$9.99

A frantic, convoluted roller coaster grounded in the genetics and bioengineering at the turn of the millennium. The story skipped around between so many different people and sub-stories, I had a hard time keeping up. It was a fun, fast read with chases, talking animals, bounty hunters, corporate espionage, and genetically engineered human / chimpanzee children biting off ears and throwing poop at school bullies. What makes this book stand out is the well researched bioengineering backdrop for the story. Crichton includes a fairly extensive seven page bibliography and a five point bullet list of changes in legislation he wants to see based on his research for the book. Since the book was published, at least one of his bullet points has come to pass: patents on genes in the US were invalidated and are no longer allowed due to the 2013 Supreme Court case of the Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. Though almost 15 years have passed since the book was written, and both the state of the art, and the state of the legal system governing bioengineering and genetic research have changed a lot, the book is still an entertaining read and an interesting look into the laws and science of bioengineering in the early 2000's.

The Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Colson Whitehead

$24.95 $22.95

I don't really understand what it takes for a book to win a Pulitzer. From pulitzer.org, their blurb on the book is: "A spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption." That pretty much sums it up. It makes you feel what it was like to live as a black boy in a white world in the 1960's in Florida. You experience first hand trying to live a principled life only to be picked up for unknowingly riding in a stolen car and being shipped off to a reform school to have your humanity stripped from you through random violence. It's a well written, poignant, timely tale. Was it an educational, interesting, and a worthwhile read. Absolutely. I'd definitely recommend it and I'm glad I read it. Is it really the best fiction book this year though? Regardless, it was a good book and since Whitehead's only the fourth person to ever win two Pulitzer's for fiction, I'll probably read a few of his other books too.

The Dutch House

Ann Patchett

$27.99 $25.75

I think my wife put it best, "There's something about this book that keeps you reading that I can't put my finger on." The story revolves around an elegant old house and the lives of the people brought together under it's roof. The characters are rich, colorful, and come to life on the pages. By the time I finished the book, I felt like we were all old friends. Worth a read.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

Robin Diangelo

$16.00 $14.72

The foreward made me angry. It felt like it vilified being white with phrases like "...disrobes a whiteness that dresses in camouflage as humanity" and the nature being white that of "twisted genius". I almost stopped reading just two pages in. I'm glad I pushed through. Once Robin Diangelo wrestled the conversation away from the 3 1/2 page foreward by Michael Eric Dyson, I learned a lot about racism in America and how pervasive and hidden it is. She does an amazing job slowly scaffolding an understanding of racism with clear descriptions and examples of the various forms of prejudice baked into the human condition and how that differs from actual racism in our the social, political, and legal systems prevalent in American society that have historically favored whites over others. Being a white male, I've never really considered the hidden advantages I've had all my life. I've never considered how being born a black female would have significantly altered both my world experiences and view, and more importantly, my ability to build a life similar to the one I currently enjoy. A highly recommended enlightening read.

The Testaments: The Sequel to the Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

$28.95 $26.63

A fascinating look at how oppressive, totalitarian regimes begin. From the womb of abundance and lazy entitlement, to the birth when those not participating in prosperity decide it's time to take their fair share. Atwood's powerful storytelling knits together actual historic world events into a believable and compelling tapestry of a possible future. A memorable quote from Aunt Lydia, one of the leaders of the aristocracy, when reflecting on her active participation in creating the new world order, "What good is it to throw yourself in front of a steamroller out of moral principles and then be crushed flat like a sock emptied of its foot?" There are times of such unrest that change is inevitable. Hundreds of years of wealth and power concentration end up benefiting too few and the collective voice requires immediate and often destructive change. How we all participate in that change will determine the shape of the world. I hope together we build a more productive, fair world than the one depicted here when our time for change comes.

Starsight

Brandon Sanderson

$19.99 $18.39

A fun book that did justice to the series and was actually better than Skyward. The characters felt fuller and more mature, and the book added a little depth on race and relationships. Easy to read, enjoyable, and left me interested in what happens next.

Educated: A Memoir

Tara Westover

$28.00 $25.76

Shocking, humorous, thought provoking, and eye opening. I've read a lot of books about people with different life experiences than me. This might be one of the most surprising. I had no idea there were fundamental, religious extremists, that don't believe in modern medicine or sending their children to school, right here in the good old USA. The tales of stockpiling guns and supplies for the end of the world, of harrowing brushes with death, of abuse, and of Tara's eventual quest for a different life through education pulled back the curtain on a completely different way of life I've never considered and wouldn't have imagined was possible in contemporary America. Tara's path through life also left me hopeful and empowered. A great book, especially at such a divisive and uncertain time.

The Overstory

Richard Powers

$18.95 $17.43

Good books change your view of the world around you. From tree biology and radical environmentalism, to the development of AI and the science of psychology, this book covers so much ground, it's hard not to learn new things and be changed by it. I was pausing frequently to fact check and dive deeper into things like the Stanford prison experiment and bizarre claims like "trees summon predator insects to protect them" and "trees communicate by releasing chemicals into the air". After reading it, I've also found myself hiking and wondering about what the trees are up to, or pondering different land use strategies and their social, environmental, and economic impacts. Plus, it infected me with a strange desire to play Minecraft again, lol. Unlike a lot of Pulitzer winning books, this was also a page turner. I loved the story telling. The characters were deep, unique and pulled you into their lives, hungry to find out where they lead. Powers expertly weaved nine different people, and vast quantities of trees, into a cohesive tale of where we've come, and where we might go. Highly recommended reading!

11/22/63

Stephen King

$20.99 $19.31

This booked turned into a slog. It opens with a really neat time travel idea and I was burning through pages. Then the lead character decides he likes living back in the late 50's and 60's, the time travel stops, and it turns into a soap opera. The middle two thirds of the novel focus in painstaking detail on the ordinary life of a high school drama teacher that falls in love with the librarian. When the main storyline peaks through occasionally, the book picks up steam and tempts you with things to come. You have to grind out the pages though until the main plot takes back control towards the end of the novel. The book was satisfying by the end, and the afterword by Stephen King was a great window into his writing process. If you're a die hard Stephen King fan, this book might be worth it. If, however, you're looking for a great time travel book, read The Time Traveller's Wife or The Forever War. They both present much more interesting stories where time travel doesn't get sidelined for over half the book.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

John Carreyrou

$16.95 $15.59

Startling. A must-read, highly detailed account of how a company was able to lie to investors and high profile partners like Walgreens and Safeway for years, about a product that didn't work to secure over a billion dollars worth of funding, hide the truth from regulators, and silence employees via NDAs and threats to bankrupt them in court. It's also a timely warning, exposing parallels between Theranos (the company in the book) and the Trump administration. The desire to spin and obfuscate the truth. High turnover even in the inner circles. Bullying tactics to marginalize and silence critics. Incredible harm can be done when the truth isn't a pillar of leadership because it lets the crafty leader temporarily live outside the world of reality, suppressing facts and postponing consequences of their actions until problems have escalated to catastrophic proportions. It left me hopeful that large scale corruption can still be brought to justice, in this case, from an unlikely champion, a stubborn, persistent, investigative reporter, supported by the Wall Street Journal's editors, legal team, and even owner, Rupert Murdoch, all of whom stood strong in the face of intense legal pressure and brought the truth to light. This book demonstrates why a free press is so critical to a well functioning, free society.

Becoming

Michelle Obama

$32.50 $29.90

So many times I found myself saying either, "I never would have thought of that" or, "I know exactly how that feels!" Everyone will likely find both commonality and provocative differences in Michelle's singularly unique life and world view. It's a heartwarming underdog story of a black girl growing up in a deteriorating neighborhood in the south side of Chicago finding success as a lawyer with degrees from both Princeton and Harvard. It's also the story of the making of our first black president and his time in the white house told through the lens of his wife. Michelle's story feels honest and engaging and often exposes the differences in how people from different genders, races, and socioeconomic standing experience the world. Highly recommended for everyone. Whether you love or hate politics, are black, white, or brown, lean left or right, or are rich or poor, new perspectives on the world will find you as you read this book.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Charlie Mackesy

$22.99 $21.15

Such a unique, artful, heartfelt book. A quick read at under 30 minutes, it still makes a nice addition to a library and demonstrates how paper books as a medium can be used to create more than just words on a page.

The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft

$17.99 $16.55

So much work was based off Lovecraft, I finally went back and read a bunch including: Shadow Over Innsmouth (my favorite), Call of Cthulhu, The Cats of Ulthar, Pickman's Model, The Dunwich Horror, and At the Mountains of Madness (a good capstone for the rest). Lovecraft does a great job building believable worlds where the shadowy, supernatural pieces fit right in at the fringes. His stories are suspenseful and full of vivid people, places, and events. They're also a bit long and can start to feel repetitive since he reworked the same ideas again and again. Glad I went back and read the one's I did, especially Shadow Over Innsmouth. Time to mix it up with a change of authors though.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Laura Hillenbrand

$17.00 $15.64

A biography about a mischievous boy that goes on to become an olympic runner, an air force bomber, and a Japanese prisoner of World War II. His life was interesting enough that at least five books were written about him along with a movie adaptation of this one. The story drug on in spots and could have been more powerful with better editing. Worth a read though as his life covers a lot of ground and is both inspiring and hopeful.

The Forever War

Joe Haldeman

$16.99 $15.63

Pseudo time travel via high speed relativistic space travel told trough the eyes of a soldier fighting a never ending war through the ages. What's not to like! This book could only be written by someone like Haldeman, a combat engineer in Vietnam with degrees in Physics and Astronomy. A rich tapestry of military detail and sci-fi nerdery underpins a unique story of possible futures, timeless love, and of course, war. Well paced, action packed, and thought provoking. Everything great sci-fi should be.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

$18.99 $17.47

Man, this one took me a long time to get through. It felt like an important book so I persevered through a lot of character and setting development that covered the first third to half of the book. Something about the characters and the detail of the day-to-day life of a band of guerrilla freedom fighters living out of a cave in the hills during the Spanish Civil War kept me coming back even though I had a hard time staying awake for more than 15 pages at a time. Overall, the book felt more like a historic, detailed account of true events instead of a work of fiction you read for entertainment. Not knowing much about the Spanish Civil War and never really considering what it means to be a "guerrilla freedom fighter", the book was interesting and enlightening. I really wanted to give the book four stars because the characters and attention to detail were so vivid. I couldn't with a straight face though since I almost didn't make it through. If you're in to gritty, historic war fiction, this book could be for you. If you're looking for a page turner, there are greener fields elsewhere :-)

Origin

Dan Brown

$9.99 $9.19

Fun book with an interesting blend of AI, god, and the origin of the universe. The first 1/2 of the book felt a bit like one of those long ads for "one simple food you should avoid to be super fit and perfect". There's one teaser after another to keep you reading like "the big reveal" is right around the corner...but it never is. Overall, the story moved along and kept me interested (and eventually did get to the reveal). Not the same caliber as The Da Vinci Code though.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

David Lagercrantz

$9.99 $9.19

I made it about 1/3 of the way through and gave up. Nothing hooked me. I was also a little disappointed in the "Liz Salander super hero" routine. It's so far over the top that I just couldn't suspend my disbelief. No computer system can keep her out, no opponent can beat her in hand-to-hand combat, and she's so smart she studies "loop quantum gravity theory" in her spare time. Just not interesting enough to finish.

Less

Andrew Sean Greer

$15.99 $14.71

The writing was artistically poetic plus the book was fun to read. I'm not sure why it won a Pulitzer though? The protagonist was a middle aged gay writer obliviously bumbling his way through a fairly good life. He's off to a trip around the world to avoid dealing with the awkwardness of his ex-boyfriend's wedding to someone else. It was a humorous examination on the nature of love that was well written with good character development. The characters, like the rest of the book, weren't terribly interesting though. Maybe stories about middle aged writers trying to find themselves resonates with the literary folks that make up the Pulitzer judging panel? Maybe I'm shallow and the deep thoughts presented in the book went over my head? Either way, I found it a fun book that won't likely stick with me long.

The Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger

$18.00 $16.56

Loved it. Comedy, characters, time travel, and enduring love. What's not to like? The time traveling was fun, well thought, and was suitably mind bending at times. The characters felt full and rich. The romance was heartwarming and still within the realm of possible. Plus the book made me chuckle most of the way through with the interpersonal and temporal shenanigans.

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

$26.00 $23.92

Overall, a great book. A look into how greatness is crafted from a lifetime of dedication along with an inspection of what makes life worth living. ...at least most of it. The book also contains an epilog from Paul's wife Lucy that suggested another story of the sacrifice and suffering that comes with a life striving for greatness, both from the striver and often from the people closest to them. Their marriage was in a tough spot when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. From there forward, she and the rest of the family came together to support Paul through the next 22 months until he passed away. The epilogue did bring closure to the story. It also left me wondering how much was untold. Paul was striving to be a world class neurosurgeon and was neglecting Lucy enough that she decided to move out to get perspective on their relationship. Then cancer changed everyone's world. The words Lucy used when describing Paul's version of the story suggested a different perspective. It felt like she was gritting her teeth at times wishing she could say "Paul certainly wasn't perfect and he left out all the places where we suffered because of him." She said things instead like: - "Paul's voice...was also somewhat solitary. Parallel to this story are the love, and warmth, and spaciousness, and radical permission that surrounded him." - "...but this was the book he wrote. This was his voice during this time." - "The version of Paul I miss most, more even than the robust, dazzling version with whom I first fell in love, is the beautiful focused man he was in his last year." I also found myself wondering why Lucy didn't refer to Paul's oncologist by name and instead always just said "his oncologist". Emma (AKA Heather Wakelee) was a big part of Paul's story and they seemed to grow very close during his treatment. I felt other stories behind the "love" Lucy professed in the epilogue. Stories of a romantic vision of Paul that faded as the realities of a singularly dedicated physician in training neglected everything but his studies. Stories of long years of thankless sacrifices from Lucy and Paul's family. Paul's story felt like an uplifting book of human potential and the meaning of life. Lucy's epilogue made me revisit the question, "can you be happy AND great" and made me wonder about the untold story behind every successful person.

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History

Katy Tur

$16.99 $15.63

I've heard so many things that make me dislike Trump. What I haven't heard much of is why, if he's such a bad person, is he in the White House? This book sheds light on that. Concerned about how Trump would be remembered historically, Tur worked hard to present a fair account. She reports ringside from his rallies, shares interviews from his staff and supporters, and gives an inside look at how Trump won the Presidency. Not only a book on Trump, it's also a great adventure showcasing the life of a reporter that's willing to sacrifice a personal life for the story. A quote from Tur that stuck with me, "Why be happy, when you can be great?" It succinctly captures a conflict we all face. As Tur doggedly chases the Trump circus, she comes head to head with that choice countless times. Her honest and detailed account lets you experience those moments through her eyes when, time and again, she chooses greatness over happiness. Since the book dips into Tur's childhood and follows Trump through the election after he won, it also lets you see the results of those decisions years later. The book was a bit confusing as it skipped around starting with his victory, then early rallies, then his hunt to win the Republican nomination, then back to battles with Hillary for the presidency. Overall though, the book made for two great stories and what feels like a fair account of the Trump bid to be president.

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins

$16.00 $14.72

An engaging murder mystery with depth that explores relationships. Reasons we humans need them from a variety of different perspectives. Why they're hard. How much we hide from the people we're in relationships with. How they can go wrong. Also, not anything like Gone Girl, lol. One of the reviews I read said it was very similar so I skipped reading this for a while. It's not, and I shouldn't have :-)

Dune

Frank Herbert

$10.99 $10.11

Great sci-fi. If you saw the movie, forget all that and read the book instead. I wish I hadn't waited so long.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Amy Schumer

$16.99 $15.63

Amy Schumer has chosen a very different life than most. Her story is entertaining, angering, eye opening, heartfelt, and relatable, often all at once. Even though I don't always agree with her world view or life choices, I did find myself reflecting on many of the topics she covered because of her unique perspective. Whether you're in for a good laugh from a world class comedian, or a case study on being smart, successful, flawed and human, this book has you covered.

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates

$26.00 $23.92

One of the most provocative, compelling, and powerful books I've read in a long time. It's great not because of the author's specific philosophy, but because of the visceral story telling the lets you, in some small way at least, experience what it was like to grow up a black boy in a violence and drug riddled black community in Baltimore in the late 70's and early 80's. He had a very different childhood from mine. It was mind expanding to hear about those differences, and see how they shaped each of our adult world views. The book forced me to consider so many ideas that never would have occurred otherwise. Highly recommended reading.