August Minireviews – Part 2

I’m getting sooo lazy about the reviews!!  I dream that someday I’ll be caught up and do really nice reviews with actual pictures and real thoughts! LOL  But in other news – this wraps up August reviews!!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

I had somehow never read this classic, even though of course I knew the basic premise.  Stevenson does a great job setting everything up and giving his readers a very eerie background of foggy London.  I found myself thinking about how I would feel about this story if I had never heard anything about it before – this would have been absolutely a brilliant read when this story was first published, and was still a fun one even though I knew what was going to happen.

The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

My copy of Dr. Jekyll included a short story by Stevenson that I had never even heard of.  While still a little creepy, this was also a story that had bit of a moral to it – what exactly are you willing to sacrifice for success and riches?

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – 3.5*

This one has been on my TBR since it was first published, as it seemed to race through the blogging community at the time, garnering loads of positive reviews.  All in all, I really did enjoy this one a lot.  Such a fun concept, and I appreciated the authors telling the readers that they were planning to butcher history haha  It’s definitely a completely ridiculous story, so if you’re looking for some serious historical fiction, give this one a pass.  I enjoyed the humor and the likable characters, and appreciated the way everything came together.  I did find it a bit over-long.  Even though this isn’t one I see myself rereading, it was pretty fun as a one-off.

The Cross & the Switchblade by David Wilkerson – 4*

This nonfiction story, originally published in 1963, is about a pastor in a small Pennsylvanian town who felt called to minister to gang members in New York City.  Wilkerson tells his story simply and owns up to the mistakes he made along the way, while crediting God with any successes.  I really appreciated his honesty about times he felt weak and confused, but chose to carry on.  This edition was published in 2001 and included and afterword telling what happened to many of the main players in Wilkerson’s original story, and it was a beautiful thing to read about how the majority of the gang members who had decided to become Christians in the 60s had stuck with it through the decades, embracing and growing in their faith.  Wilkerson’s story wasn’t especially polished, but it’s heartfelt and sincere, and I found it to be an encouraging read, touching on the importance of prayer, faith, and community.

Leave No Stone Unturned by Jeanne Glidewell – 1*

I owned this one on Kindle for a while and decided to finally give it a go.  It’s been a long time since I actually finished a book this bad instead of just bailing on it, but it was only 189 pages and I really wanted to read a book set in Kansas for my #SeparatedByaPondTour that I’m still working on haha  But this one was REALLY REALLY TERRIBLE.  The story made no sense, the characters made no sense, the mystery made no sense, every decision someone made made no sense.  It was BAD.  SO BAD.  But at least I can write off this entire series!

The Home Edit by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin – 2.5*

This home organization book had lovely photographs but almost zero practical advice.  A lot of it was the authors talking about spaces they had organized for almost-famous people, yet even those – no before/after photos or anything like that.  For a book I checked out of the library, it was pleasant enough to page through, but as far as using it as any kind of reference book or actually gleaning useful information from it – total fail.

An Irish Hostage by Charles Todd – 4*

The latest installment in the Bess Crawford series did not disappoint.  I really like this series a lot.  Bess is very likable and the setting of World War I (and now post-war) is done SO well.  This one did drag here and there, and I’d really like to see more progress in Bess’s personal relationship with a certain fellow, but it was overall still another solid entry for the series.

February Minireviews – Part 3

We’re just going to pretend like it’s perfectly normal to review books three four months after I read them… (because yes, I wrote half this post in May and am only just now coming back to it!)

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Substitute Guest by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1936//

Are GLH’s books predictable and cheesy?  Yes.  Is that what I want sometimes?  Also yes.  This one was pretty normal GLH fare, but that’s not actually a bad thing in my mind – sometimes I just want something warm, relaxing, predictable, and happy.  It’s rare that GLH doesn’t deliver.

Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While the concept was quite good, somehow the book just lacked magic.  The third-person narrative – which I usually prefer – here felt distant and almost stilted.  There were times that there would be an somewhat lecture-y tone to the tale, filling the reader in on a piece of culture or fable, rather than letting those things be a natural part of the story’s flow.  This was also a book that definitely needed a map, as I had no real grasp on the distances they were traveling.  All in all, while it was a fine one-off read, it didn’t really make me interested in seeing what else Moreno-Garcia has written.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever by John Donohue & JT Malloy – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s always hard to review a book that’s memoir-ish, and this one is no exception. The author was in his late 20s during the Vietnam War. He had been a Marine straight out of high school but was considered “too old” to enlist for Vietnam, so he was working as a merchant marine. When the war protests started to turn on the soldiers themselves, the guys from Chick’s hangout-bar thought it would be amazing if someone could go visit all the active duty guys from their neighborhood, take them some local beer, & reassure them that what they were doing was appreciated & they were missed & loved. Chick’s job enabled him to hop on a boat headed to Vietnam with the idea that he would take 3 days shore leave when he got there & find some of the guys. What with one thing & another, his boat left without him, leaving him stranded in Vietnam in the days leading up to & the first couple of weeks of the Tet offensive!

Reading this book is basically like listening to your old uncle tell his stories from the war. It wasn’t a bad book at all, but it did tend to ramble off & sometimes go into back stories not directly related to the main plot & it wasn’t always easy to tell what was happening “now“ & what was an explanation from the past. (i.e. a few paragraphs telling a story to illustrate why Chick doesn’t like ship captains – it was hard to tell if it was THIS ship captain, or one from his past.) Chick is also very pro-unions, which I’m not against unions but I also got a little tired of every chapter having at least a few sentences explaining why unions are awesome & solve everyone’s problems.

For the most part it doesn’t get too political & there’s some great perspective here on how basically the soldiers were just doing their best to do what they were told. Most of them had been drafted, they weren’t passionate about being there, & they didn’t have the ability to see any kind of big picture concerning how the Vietnamese people really felt about the situation. In the end, Chick decides that the protestors weren’t wrong to protest the war, but still felt that harassing the young men being sent to fight wasn’t the right way to execute that protest.

This is a memoir so it’s inherently biased, but was overall an interesting read for a bit of a different look at the war – Chick is pro-soldier, but also a civilian. It was a pretty fast read & I appreciated that the author decided to keep the language pretty clean throughout.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold – 4*

//published 2021//

I’ve read a couple of Arnold’s books now and have enjoyed them all.  This one is his newest and I read it as part of my personal campaign to read new books by authors I like as they come out instead of just sticking them on the TBR and maybe getting to them in five years.  This one is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a girl who has to take a cross-country journey to find a mythical portal that her father is convinced is real.  She meets up with several other travelers on her way.  This was a book that was eerie and engaging, and one that folded back on itself in a way that was somehow believable.  It had just a few too many unanswered questions for me in the end, but still completely sucked me in and kept me turning the pages.  Like Kids of Appetite, it had elements that it felt like I shouldn’t like, but somehow worked.

You Have a Match by Emma Lord – 3*

//published 2021//

After really enjoying Tweet Cute last year, I was interested to read Lord’s new book.  However, this one just fell short for me.  Mostly, there was just too much going on.  The main character, Abby, finds out that she has an older sister who was adopted.  She and Savvy start communicating without telling any of their parents and agree to meet at a summer camp.  There was a lot of potential here to explore the dynamics between the two sisters and how they related with the adults involved, but Lord’s writing gets sucked into typical YA drama, with way too many pages spent on Abby’s crush on her best friend, Leo.  This was definitely a story that would have been significantly better without the love story aspect.  I was looking for an adoption story with Parent Trap vibes and instead got boring YA-romance angst with bits of adoption drama thrown in.  It made the story feel rather choppy and disconnected.  All in all, it wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t for me.

Time Out for Happiness // by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.

A while ago I reread Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes. I loved both of those books growing up and have read them several times, although not in quite a while. When I was looking up something or other about the Gilbreths in the process of writing the review for those books, I found out that Frank Jr., who coauthored the above books with his sister (Ernestine Gilbreth Carey), also wrote what was more of a “straight” biography of his parents, Time Out for Happiness. I couldn’t find a reasonably-priced copy secondhand, so I had to settle for checking it out of the library, although I’m still keeping an eye out for a copy of my own.

//published 1970//
//published 1970//

While the other two books are more of a collection of vignettes of their life growing up, Time Out for Happiness takes more time to look at the background and work of Frank Gilbreth, Sr., and his wife, Lillian. There was a lot of genuinely interesting information here about the work and studies of the Gilbreths, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It isn’t as funny or lighthearted as the earlier two books, but that wasn’t what I was expecting.

My reservations about this book – for one, Frank Jr. spends what felt like way too much time on his family heritage (did we really need to hear about his great-great-grandparents in order to understand how his parents ended up as the people they were?) in the earlier part of the book, which meant that there wasn’t as much time at the end of the book for the work that Lillian did after Frank Sr.’s death. While Lillian’s work is somewhat covered, it felt like the book was unbalanced.

There is also a decent chunk of book devoted to a feud between the Gilbreths and another engineer, whose name I can’t remember. It’s obvious that at the time of Frank Jr.’s writing this was a really important situation – it honestly felt like, in some ways, the point of his book was to refute some of the claims made by the other group. But since I didn’t really know the background of this situation, it wasn’t particularly interesting to me other than the general motion study information that came along with it.

However, the entire book is written with such obvious, warm affection that I was willing to forgive its small irritants. Frank Jr. has such a respect for his parents and their work. Throughout he emphasized how a huge part of what made the Gilbreths do the research that they did was from respect for the worker, and a desire to make the life of the everyday worker easier, better, and more fulfilling. (This was also a big part of the feud with the other group, which believed that the time being “saved” should belong to company, i.e. be used to make the worker work harder/longer.) After Frank Sr.’s death, Lillian continued to pioneer motion study. With many door closed to her because of her sex, she was more than willing to focus her efforts where they were appreciated – assessing the way equipment and machinery could be used within a house to improve the lives of housewives, and also researching ways to enable individuals with disabilities (especially amputees from World War I) to still earn a living.

If you liked Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes, but wished you could learn a little more about the “real life” behind the stories, this book is definitely worth a read. Lillian also wrote a few books of her own, so I am hoping to get to those eventually as well, to continue learning about this fascinating couple and their work.

Cheaper by the Dozen // Belles on Their Toes // by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

I just have to start this review by saying that I LOVE these books.  It had been a while since I had read them (a common theme lately, I know!) but I enjoyed every page of both of these books.

For those who may be unfamiliar (or who have only ever watched the movie… ugh), both these books are actually memoir-types written by two of the siblings of the Gilbreth family, which consisted of their dad (Frank Sr.), their mother (Lillian), and twelve (!) children.  Married in 1904, the Gilbreths first child was born in 1905, and their youngest in 1922.  Cheaper by the Dozen covers a lot of that time period, especially from 1910 until the death of Frank Sr. in 1924.  Belles on Their Toes picks up the story immediately following Frank Sr.’s death, telling the story of how Lillian pressed on to raise her family on her own.

These are genuinely excellent books.  The chapters tend to be a bit episodic, but it works for the way the story flows.  Despite the genuinely tragic death of their father, these books are lighthearted and funny, the story of a large family with a good sense of humor and a great deal of love and affection for one another.

When I was younger, I enjoyed these books because of the entertaining stories; as an adult I find myself intrigued by the Gilbreths.  Frank Sr. was a mediocre to poor student who ended up basically self-teaching himself to become a motion-study engineer.  Raised by a single mother after the early death of his father, money was always tight growing up, and Frank started work at an early age.  Lillian, in contrast, grew up in California, raised by her well-heeled, genteel family.  She not only attended college, she obtained a degree in engineering and a doctorate in psychology.  She and Frank worked together in a field that they practically invented – motion study – which observed the methods that a task was being accomplished, analyzed it, and determined more efficient methods to obtain the same result.  Lillian also did work studying the “human factor” of work – many of the whys behind what a person was doing in his job.

//published 1949//

These books touch on these factors lightly, as background for the way the family operated.  Both Frank and Lillian had wanted to have a large family, and they implemented many of their motion-study techniques to help keep their own household running smoothly.  Frank was a charismatic, intelligent, confident man who was clearly loved by his children.  Lillian was quieter, but still had a strong sense of humor and worked hard to let her children know that she saw them as individuals and not just a unit.  I love the dedication in Cheaper by the Dozen – “To Dad, who only raised twelve children; and to Mother, who raised twelve only children.”

Like I said, the tragedy of this story is the early death of Frank in 1924, at the end of Cheaper by the Dozen.  It makes me cry every single time.  Long troubled with heart problems, Frank’s death wasn’t completely unexpected, but that didn’t make it any easier.  Somehow, Frank Jr.  and Ernestine manage to make their story stay more sweet than bitter, possibly because their love and respect for their dad really shines through.

//published 1950//

Belles on Their Toes opens only a few days after Frank’s death.  Before he died, he was getting ready to go overseas as a lecturer at a conference.  In order to have a genuine chance at keeping the family together, Lillian decides to take Frank’s place – an incredibly difficult decision, as it means leaving behind her children and traveling to Europe alone.  Although those weeks have to have been among the most difficult the family ever faced, Frank Jr. and Ernestine do an amazing job of balancing their grief with the adventures of everyday life in a huge family.  The oldest child, Anne, is 19.  Together, she and other older children work to keep everyone on schedule and on budget.

The book mostly is about the years when the majority of the children were home, but it does work its way all the way through the graduation of the youngest.  Throughout, there is such much love and respect for Lillian, a genuine admiration for the way that she was able to hold her family together and become respected in a field dominated by men.

While I was reading the books this time I looked up a lot more information about the Gilbreths (as you may be able to tell haha) and discovered that Frank Jr. actually wrote a third book, Time Out for Happiness, which is more of a straight biography of his parents.  I had never even heard of it, but have managed to get a copy from the library (it just came today, actually) and am genuinely looking forward to reading it.  The reviews of this book mostly seem to complain that it’s not as full of funny shenanigans as these two books, but I’m okay with that as I’m really very interested in their lives.

Despite the bittersweetness of these books due to Frank Sr.’s death, I highly recommend these books.  They are so funny and heartwarming.  Everyone doesn’t get along all the time, but there is an obvious love within the family that comes through on every page.  Highly recommended.