Better Than Before: Mastering the Habit of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
The author of The Happiness Project turns her attention to the way we shape our lives with habits, in both positive and negative ways. Rubin’s research shows that one method of creating good habits doesn’t work for everyone. There is a quiz to determine the reader’s tendency or personality type. I don’t seem to fit into her categories of Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, but many readers may find this helpful. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a more thought-provoking book about habit formation, but Rubin’s book is more practical, full of personal anecdotes about how the author and her extended family found that successfully making new habits can greatly affect their lives. One insight I learned from Better Than Before is that restarting a habit, such as exercise, can be more difficult than starting it in the first place. For more information about habits and happiness, visit the author’s website.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
I’ve read only a few steampunk novels, but I really enjoyed this fast-paced steampunk adventure. It’s set in an alternate 1878, in Rapid City, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, complete with airships and mechanical marvels. Karen Memory finds the best job available to her after her father’s death, and works as a “seamstress” at the Hotel Mon Cherie, run by Madame Damnable. Karen really is a seamstress on the side, but the hotel is a respectable bordello. The ladies gather in the parlor for a meal after their guests leave, and are surprised when Merry Lee shows up, badly wounded while rescuing Priya. Priya and her younger sister came from India for work, only to be trapped by powerful bully Peter Bantle, who wants to be the next mayor. Karen falls hard for the brilliant Priya, and wants to rescue her sister. Next Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves rides into town looking for a killer, and Madame Damnable’s girls volunteer to help along with Merry Lee, hoping the trail leads back to Peter Bantle. Lots of action and adventure in a very unusual setting, with an appealing narrator in Karen.
Hannah is worried about her upcoming trial, but the judge’s sudden death starts Hannah, and everyone who visits The Cookie Jar, Hannah’s and Lisa’s cookie and coffee shop, started on a new investigation. Even better, a trip to Las Vegas with her sisters for their mother’s surprise wedding helps Hannah finally make up her mind about which of her two longtime boyfriends, a dentist and a police detective, she should marry. A mysterious subplot involving Hannah’s kleptomaniac cat Moishe adds humor, and the included recipes add sweetness. This cozy mystery series set in Lake Eden, Minnesota, had been getting too predictable, but not anymore. I listened to the audiobook, so I’ll have to look at the print book to try some of the recipes. If you want to start at the beginning of the series, read Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, or look for the movie version on television next month.
I’ve been reading some great books lately. This is not one of them, but it’s great fun to read if you’re in the mood for a thriller, especially one like Jurassic Park. China has been working for decades to create a tourist attraction that will outdo anything Walt Disney could dream up. They have created an enormous zoo, with cable cars, waterfalls, a crater, castles, and a whole worker city. Journalists, photographers, and diplomats are invited to a private tour. The zoo turns out to be full of dragons (and some crocodiles), with a pair of electromagnetic shields keeping them inside the valley, and shields around vehicles and people protecting them from the dragons. The dragons are hatching now because of global warming. CJ Cameron, who studies reptiles, and her photographer brother Hamish must try to rescue the U.S. Ambassador to China when it turns out that the dragons are very smart, dangerous, and out for revenge. Reilly’s Jack West series, beginning with 7 Deadly Wonders, has more character development and a less predictable plot, but this fast-paced adventure is sure to be a hit.
The story of the Wright Brothers, as told by biographer and historian David McCullough, is so improbable that it seems like fiction. Their father was born in a log cabin and their mother died young. Wilbur and Orville grew up in Dayton, Ohio along with their older brothers and younger sister Katherine in a house with no running water. They had only high school educations. Yet, after spending less then one thousand dollars of their own money, the Wright brothers were the first men to really fly, and were later visited at flying demonstrations in Europe by three European kings. Katherine was the first woman to fly as a passenger three times; their father, a minister, was the first elderly passenger. I found McCullough’s thoroughly researched book to be fascinating, once I could tell Wilbur and Orville apart. Wilbur was brilliant, a fine writer and public speaker. Orville, the younger, was mechanically gifted and given to occasional moody spells. After much research and experimentation, including constructing a wind tunnel above the shop where they made, sold, and repaired bicycles, they were ready to fly. Picking the location for its constant winds and sandy terrain, they traveled to Kitty Hawk on the remote, unimproved Outer Banks to practice flying an unpowered glider in 1900. They returned each year, and in late 1903 made the first four powered flights in a single day, the last one, by Wilbur, lasted 59 seconds. The brothers credited a large family library with furthering their own education, and many others would mention their wide ranging interests and work ethic in their amazing success story. Thousands of family letters helped McCullough bring the brothers’ story to life. This book will be published May 5.
On Tuesday, April 21, the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussion Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson. This is a non-fiction book about the lives of archaeologists, with chapters set in the Caribbean, Peru, South Dakota, and at many other archaeological sites. Here is my earlier review. Please note: we are meeting in the library’s 2nd floor Mahlke Meeting Room, not at the Park District, and not in Group Study Room 2
On Tuesday, April 28, the Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, set in Calcutta, India and Rhode Island, moving from the 1960s to the present, focusing on two brothers and the scholarly woman they both love, and how they react very differently to political upheaval and the duties expected of them by their family. This group is also meeting in the 2nd floor Mahlke Meeting Room, not at the Park District.
The Crime Readers are meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 16 to discuss The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. This award-winning police procedural is set in Sweden in 1968. Optional dinner is at 6:00 p.m. The group is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
Copies of all three titles are available now at the Adult/Young Adult Reference Desk.
I knew that the Lusitania was torpedoed during World War I, and that some Americans died, but I knew none of the details of the tragedy. The inevitability of the torpedo heading for the side of the Lusitania drives the reader anxiously through Erik Larson’s book, in which events that took place in 1915 feel like they just happened. The passengers come to life through letters, diaries, and artifacts. I learned what they wore, who they dined with, why they were traveling, and could almost see the children jumping rope on the deck. Most remarkably, Walther Schwieger, the commander of submarine U-22, is a memorable character, with his daunting task of patrolling British waters, avoiding mines and destroyers, trying to see without being seen. Will there be enough power in the batteries to surface when it’s safe, or enough diesel fuel to return safely to Germany? Will the torpedoes even fire?
Larson did a tremendous amount of research on the Lusitania, but allows none of it to slow the intensifying pace of the story. Three years after the Titanic struck an iceberg, the world knows that passenger liners are not indestructible. Warnings that Germany would not hesitate to attack British passenger ships appeared in New York newspapers on May 1, 1915, but the Lusitania still left New York that day, although delayed to accept passengers from another ship commandeered by the British navy. Some of the passengers were surprised that the “Lucy” wasn’t traveling as fast as it could; the war dictated saving coal by running only 3 out of 4 boilers. Captain Turner did receive some telegrams during the voyage, but they had conflicting advice on what to expect when he reached the war zone of Irish and British waters. What did the British Admiralty, headed by Winston Churchill, know about the movements of the U-22, and how was the war going without the help of the still-neutral United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson, then courting Edith Galt? And what happened when the fog cleared as the Lusitania neared Ireland, and why was a fast British cruiser called back to port? Readers will turn the pages faster and faster to find out, and also to learn who lived and died, and what happened later because the Lusitania sank.