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1) Some Girls: My Life in a Harem - Jillian Lauren
Some Girls tracks Lauren's journey from abused daughter to stripper to call girl to top Bahrain harem girl through her return to balance and sanity. Although Lauren's narrative is far from unbiased (funny how the exact same behaviors are understandable reactions to circumstantial constraints when Lauren engages in them, but bitchy and shallow when her rivals do) and although she takes great pains to disguise much of the economic and social privilege that made her story possible, she is obviously extremely intelligent and introspective. This elevates what could easily have been a descent into a life-has-ill-used-me pityfest or self-serving porn culture shock memoir into an impressive reflection on how true satisfaction can't be found in wealth or the superficial approval of others. (Lauren's description of her multi-million dollar Singapore shopping excursion is perhaps the most chilling indictment of fashion industry consumerism I've encountered to date.) Some Girls is an extremely fast read, but it will leave readers with much to consider once they've turned the final page.

2) Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism, and National Leadership: A Practical Guide - Gary Berntsen
Berntsen is a former CIA covert operations man. He is very dedicated to his organization and his country, and the first half of Human Intelligence offers some sound advice on improving the state of U.S. intelligence-gathering operations. Unfortunately, it seems to have been penned to lull readers into a false sense of security, because halfway through, Berntsen dives off the high board into the batshit deep end. To whit:

Iraqis are depraved terrorist torturers. In contrast, U.S. military personnel "mistreated" a few prisoners at Abu Ghraib. (Since when did rape, sodomy, and beating people to death count as mere "mistreatment?")

Guantanamo Bay detainees might not have been terrorists when they were incarcerated, but they're terrorists now. Therefore, in the interests of nipping the spread of Islamic terrorism in the bud, the United States government should execute them. Every last one of them.

The current Iranian regime is an Islamo-fascist dictatorship, the most dangerous threat to peace and stability on earth. Therefore, the United States should invade and install a new government. (Funny how Berntsen forgets to mention that the current Iranian regime is the result of America's last attempt at regime change in that country. He also fails to mention how he thinks the chronically overstretched military is supposed to handle invading and occupying a third country.)

Berntsen also believes that the CIA should have the ability to conduct covert operations and assassinations anywhere in the world, at any time, without government oversight. He thinks Pinochet was just a swell guy and Allende was a right bastard to the Chilean people.

Finally, and in contrast to the first half of the volume, the quality of the writing decreases markedly during its second, Mr. Hyde half, and nonsensical sentences make frequent occurrences. Editing is virtually nonexistent (check out the glossary, which includes entries for topics Berntsen never discussed in the text). This potentially intelligent book ended up being just a bunch of blech.


3) Superior Saturday - Garth Nix
I'm a lifelong fan of Nix so it pains me to say this, but Superior Saturday is the literary equivalent of the December sitcom episode where they string together a montage of the season's previous shows to buy time until the cast returns from winter vacation. Nix takes readers through a whirlwind tour of the House and its many denizens (and Denizens) and sets up the final volume of the series. Meh.


That will be all.
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January 2012

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