Thursday, December 6, 2018

Little Darlings (Melanie Golding)

There's nothing I like more than a great psychological thriller. When Melanie Golding's Little Darlings began, I was sucked right into it, but as often happens, the rest did not live up to my expectations.

Lauren Tranter is a new mother of adorable twins, Morgan and Riley. Because she has some complications, she stays in the hospital for a few days after the birth. One night, Lauren claims that a creepy woman in her room tried to take her babies and replace them with her own "creatures." Is Lauren having hallucinations? Or did something sinister really happen? Lauren continues to see the woman in her daily life until, one afternoon in the park, her babies disappear. When they are eventually found, Lauren insists they are not Morgan and Riley but are the "replacements."

Little Darlings reads like an evil fairy tale, but it just did not keep my interest after the beginning. Whether it is the detective on the case or the husband who doesn't seem quite right, the book needs more character development and fleshing out of the plot to really make it work.


Monday, December 3, 2018

The Clockmaker's Daughter (Kate Morton)

I've been singing the praises of Kate Morton for a long time now, and I'm happy to say that now when I recommend her, people no longer say "Who? Never heard of her!". She's finally getting the recognition she deserves for her mesmerizing second-to-none prose. While I had a few issues with her latest, The Clockmaker's Daughter, it still told a terrific story.

A word of warning -- if you're looking for an easy-breezy read where you don't have to think too much, this one isn't for you. Morton uses multiple time periods and many characters to create her puzzle, so you're definitely going to want to turn off the TV and get the kids out of the room before you dive in. In 1862, a group of artists, led by Edward Radcliffe, turn Birchwood Manor into a retreat of creativity. Before the summer is through, however, one of them will be shot dead, and Lily Millington (AKA The Clockmaker's Daughter and Edward's love and muse) will have disappeared. This is just one facet of Morton's novel; she weaves back and forth in time until finally, at the end, we have our answer as to what really happened that summer.

Here, Morton stays true to her sophisticated, smart writing. However, while at times I was on the edge of my seat, in other instances, it was difficult to keep all the stories and time periods straight. I also thought the entire book could have been trimmed at least 100 pages. So while not my favorite Morton book, it's still a great addition to her collection.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)

After I finished Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, I had to sit with it for quite a few days before writing the review. It affected me deeply; every character stays with you long after the story is done.

France in 1939 -- as the readers, we know what's coming. The characters may have an inkling, but they could never guess the magnitude of what stands before them. Vianne Mauriac's husband is sent to the Front, but she never believes that the Nazis will invade France. When the inevitable happens, Vianne is forced to take in an enemy officer; every day brings one danger after another.

Vianne could not be more unlike her sister, Isabelle. While Vianne wants to keep her head down and not draw attention to herself, Isabella wants to help the resistance any way she can, no matter the consequences. She also falls deeply in love with a fellow fighter, Gaeten.

One can't even imagine all the dangers faced in The Nightingale, and it is made all the more horrifying by the fact that much of this really happened. But through Isabelle's determination to fight and Vianne's motherly desire to save her daughter at all costs comes a book that is also powerfully uplifting. I couldn't recommend it more.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Tyranny of Metrics (Jerry Z. Muller)

Every survey and annual performance self-review you take and each quarterly earnings report your employer releases are full of items that become metricized data. The Tyranny Of Metrics is Jerry Z. Muller’s “measured” and systematic retort to the constant barrage of data and analysis when it is misapplied.

The overarching theme of this book is incredibly valid; Muller’s central argument is that data measurement isn’t done with the best of intents and that data itself can be gamed, manipulated, or bogged down into administrative, bureaucratic hell. From increasing the numbers of “data wonks” (my term) who analyze and report on metrics to increasing the amount of bureaucrats who synthesize data, the world is drowning in information. Muller argues that while some of this information gathering has had positive impacts, it often yields to cutting corners, increased costs, cheating and gaming the system to achieve a desired result, or flat out dishonesty in the guise of ensuring the public knows how good you are. Rankings, outcomes, and other “measures of success” are called into question as Muller pulls out numerous examples to counter the want for more data and more metrics in our society.

While Muller’s passion and arguments are at their strongest, many of the examples and case studies read anecdotally. It would have been impressive to see more concrete examples of gamesmanship and corner cutting incorporated into his book, including stories where it cost organizations their reputation and more. There were some examples, especially in the financial realm, but more would have helped strengthen the case. Regardless, The Tyranny Of Metrics is deserving of consideration for all types of organizations to ensure that data gathering is done with the right purpose.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Library Book (Susan Orlean)

Bibliophiles rejoice! Renowned New Yorker reporter Susan Orlean has written something just for us! The Library Book is the perfect choice for all those who love books about books.

It is probable that many people have never even heard of the Los Angeles Public Library fire of 1986. This was a fire that had disastrous consequences, with hundreds of thousands of books destroyed and several more thousand damaged. Arson was immediately suspected, and Orlean spends a fair amount of time diving into the background of the prime suspect, along with his trial. However, this is just one part The Library Book. Along with the investigation, Orlean also effortlessly weaves chapters about the history of the library itself with the institution in modern day. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to take on such a monumental undertaking as the Los Angelic Public Library system, it's all in here.

Orlean goes to great lengths to explain that a library is so much more than just books. All people are welcomed to take advantage of everything it has to offer, from computer access to just getting out of the cold. This is a wonderful love letter to libraries everywhere.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Adam Smith: Father of Economics (Jesse Norman)

In Adam Smith: Father of Economics, author Jesse Norman looks at an individual who is often considered one of the fathers of modern economic thought. Smith’s life, theories, and the application of his beliefs to the modern challenges that we face are the subject of Norman’s book, with the author taking the protagonist position that Smith’s views are often used in error and not thoroughly appreciated by his supporters, detractors, and by many in the economic field.
Adam Smith is divided into three parts. Smith’s life and energies devoted to his signature works are the subjects of the first part, with the second devoted to the content that makes up the signature works and theories that Smith espoused. Last, Norman tackles Smith’s impact on capitalism and how his belief system is critical in shaping the challenges that modern capitalism faces today. Norman advocates the need for capitalist reform through effective regulations and smarter government. He often cites that supporters and detractors of Smith’s views do not fully understand and appreciate Smith’s beliefs that economies work best when there is balance and equilibrium in government and business. The author argues that Smith believes that the best interests of the public can come apart “when markets cease to function well”, citing 2008’s financial crisis and the increase in Western financial  inequality as symptoms of that.

Norman pushes for a renewed introspection into Smith’s words and beliefs and argues that society must rise to the challenges that it faces, arguing for respectful debate in that process. Adam Smith is a respectful, decent look at a man who has helped shape modern economics and modern capitalism. If past is prologue, it may pay heed to turn our views back a bit and look at just what Smith believed in as economic policy and philosophy continues to evolve. Norman makes that his very valid central point in this effective book.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Once Upon a River (Diane Setterfield)

I was anxiously awaiting getting my hands on a copy of Diane Setterfield's Once Upon a River. I adored The Thirteenth Tale and had mixed feelings about Bellman & Black, so I was interested to see where her latest would fall. The answer is square in the middle.

It's very difficult to even do a synopsis of Once Upon a River. Some of it is fantastical, some is tragedy, and part of it is romance. One night, an injured man opens the door to a packed inn on the Thames. In his arms is a little girl; she is pronounced dead but miraculously awakens, later to be claimed by three different families as one of their own. There is a large cast of characters to keep straight as the story unwinds to its conclusion; some are far more interesting than the rest.

Once Upon a River is terribly long-winded. It's an ambitious read and one of those books that you feel guilty for not liking as much as you did. But when it all comes down to it, Setterfield writes exquisitely and is always eager to take you on her journey with her.