Monday, August 13, 2018

Gigged (Sarah Kessler)


Sarah Kessler’s Gigged is all about the changing job landscape and the rise of what is termed the “Gig Economy.” If you have utilized Uber, hired someone to do a task on Upworthy or Taskrabbit or employed a local pet sitter, chances are you have encountered someone who works (and lives) in a gig-based job. Kessler tackles the rise of the gig from a Silicon Valley and New York City dominant perspective and shares insights into the challenges and pitfalls it has on many workers throughout the country.

Much of Gigged discusses the rise of several different organizations - Uber, Managed By Q, Taskrabbit, and Mechanical Turk - and the individuals that were contracted out by these companies or involved in their beginning. Each story uniquely captures the successes and failures of the gig world, showing how, for the few who made it work, there were many others who struggled or fell further behind in the rat race of the 21st Century economy. The stories largely center on big city America, venturing slightly into the heartland for one rural take. They also range from deep inside the company to the driver on the street - all showing the reality of many workers who are struggling to adjust to the changing employer-employee relationship.

Kessler employs a lot of political commentary. In today's charged political atmosphere, there were points that didn't seem beneficial regarding employment in the 21st Century. Some topics (such as the decline in union participation) were important to talk about. Personal opinions on politicians and weaving in the topic of privilege were not. Another missed opportunity was the gradual (and increasing) role that part-time work had in such sectors as retail and hospitality prior to the development of the gig economy. While Gigged provides a solid analysis of the rise of gig work and the struggles workers face, it missed the mark in a few key areas.

MY RATING - 3

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

She Was the Quiet One (Michele Campbell)

I reviewed Michele Campbell's It's Always the Husband back in March and said that it is a top-notch mystery. In fact, it has quickly become one of my favorites to recommend as it definitely keeps you guessing throughout. I was excited to pick up Campbell's latest, She Was the Quiet One, and while I like her previous book slightly better, it is still a worthy read.

Twin sisters Rose and Bel Enright are as different as can be. Rose is studious and quiet, while Bel is much more extroverted. When they are sent by their grandmother to Odell, a prestigious boarding school, Rose takes to it immediately. Bel, on the other hand, gets in with the wrong crowd, and finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations. As we understand from the beginning, one of those situations is murder, but which side is Bel exactly on?

Campbell writes a pulse-pounding thriller here, and she kept me up long past my bedtime turning the pages. The ending was predictable and flat for me, but the ride was certainly a fun one to get to that point.

MY RATING - 3


Monday, July 30, 2018

Springfield Confidential (Mike Weiss with Mathew Klickstein)


Over the years, fans of the longggggg- (and I mean lonnnnnnnggggg) running animated show The Simpsons have seen plenty of books written about it. Some tackle the philosophy, some the satire, and some the humor found in the show. Mike Reiss, a long-time writer for the series, writes an entertaining autobiography/fan guide combo for a show that’s marking its 30th season on air starting in the Fall of 2018. 

Reiss’s book splits evenly between a discussion of his life/early career and his time on The Simpsons. He wrote for other “hits” in the past, such as The Critic, Sledge Hammer!, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. If anything, he demonstrates that you can make a neat career through perseverance and hitting a couple of home runs along the way. His puns, one-liners, and satire are also found throughout the book. Yes, you will chuckle and perhaps laugh quite a bit.  Beyond his life, Reiss brings a fair bit of insight into how an episode of The Simpsons is put together from start to finish, from Los Angeles to South Korea and back. He also talks about the show itself, albeit not to a huge extent, devoting some space to his colleagues and the voices that make up the beloved series.

As one who has watched most of The Simpsons episodes, the process behind how each one is put together is interesting and I appreciate reading that. Beyond that, the book reads quickly and provides several funny moments (I learned the children’s book business is kinda sleazy!). I also picked up some Kardashian jokes along the way. It’s not going to make for the most intelligent, thought-provoking read, but you will laugh and learn a little more about the longest-running primetime television series in history.

MY RATING - 3.5

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Baby Teeth (Zoje Stage)

It's been a long time since a book has made me physically gasp. But that's what happened repeatedly throughout Zoje Stage's Baby Teeth -- so much so that my husband kept asking me if I was reading "that darn book again."

Combining the very best elements of all the "creepy child" movies you've ever seen, Baby Teeth alternates the telling of the story between Hannah, the child, and Suzette, her mother. Suzette stays at home with Hannah all day while her husband, Alex, works. Suzette homeschools Hannah since she is repeatedly told by every school that it is just not the right facility for her. Hannah does not speak, but whether it is by choice or not is determined later in the book. What the reader DOES find out right from the beginning is that Hannah hates her mother and wants to get rid of "Mommy" so that she can have "Daddy" all to herself. This in itself is terrifying, but the ways in which Hannah's little mind is able to think up ideas and then act on them is what truly makes it horrifying.

The dichotomy of Stage's writing between innocence and evilBaby Teeth unputdownable.
makes this book immensely scary. Hannah's chapters are written just like a child would think (Mommy and Daddy, love of bedtime stories, etc.) so the reader is lulled into the sense that this is just a normal child. Then when Hannah's thoughts and actions go abruptly to the dark side, it packs quite the punch. I found

MY RATING - 4

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Mercy Seat (Elizabeth H. Winthrop)

Elizabeth H. Winthrop's The Mercy Seat is a beautiful, haunting novel that will stay with you long after you finish it. It is told from the viewpoints of many different characters, all of whom play an important role in the main plot point: an execution.

It is 1943 in Louisiana, and 18-year-old African American Willie Jones is scheduled to die by electric chair. Hundreds of miles away, that chair is brought ever closer to its destination by a convict and his warden. Other characters include Frank, Willie's father, whose mule will not go any farther on Frank's quest to bring back a grave marker for his son. The district attorney who brought Willie to justice has his conscience questioned by his wife, and his young son, Gabe, is caught in the crosshairs by the town's racists.

The Mercy Seat is a brilliantly layered novel, but it does not shy away from describing the dark days of prejudice during the Jim Crow South. I wish the ending gave a little more closure, but other than that, I feel that I can highly recommend this one.

MY RATING - 4

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Perfect Couple (Elin Hilderbrand)

I used to be a pretty faithful reader of Elin Hilderbrand but had stopped for a few years. I was intrigued enough to begin again after finding out that The Perfect Couple was her first murder mystery. Would she be successful at this initial foray into a new genre after being known as the Queen of Beach Reads? The answer is mostly yes, but don't think that this novel isn't ideal for the beach, too!

As does every Hilderbrand novel, this one takes place in Nantucket (which happens to be the author's home). Everyone gathers on the island for the fantastically rich wedding of Celeste and Benji; however, the festivities come to a grinding halt the morning of the big day when the maid of honor turns up dead. The novel abruptly switches from what could have been a breezy summer wedding book into a murder mystery, jumping between time periods and alternating narrators as the police rush to solve the case.

Much of The Perfect Couple works, especially Hilderbrand's writing, which is always interesting and believable. The mystery itself is also rock solid; I thought for sure that I had it all figured out, and then not five minutes later, Hilderbrand explained my whole theory away. The ending, however, was abrupt, and the entire mystery was over in just a few pages. I also would have appreciated an epilogue to tie up the loose ends of all the many characters. But all in all, this is a pulse-pounding book that's perfect reading on or off the beach.

MY RATING - 3

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Something in the Water (Catherine Steadman)

I was incredibly excited to read Catherine Steadman's Something in the Water. From the "killer" first line ("Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?"), she had my complete attention for many chapters. No interruptions were going to draw me away from finding out what happens in this book! Then something changed for the worse, and I think I finally figured out what that was. But first, the synopsis...

Our heroine, Erin, seems to have it all. She's about to break through as a documentary filmmaker and has a dashingly handsome fiance in investment banker Mark. On their honeymoon, they stumble across a huge discovery, one with the most dangerous consequences imaginable. Together, they must decide whether to keep that secret or tell the authorities of their findings. One thing leads to another until it all boils over on the last few pages.

Steadman's introduction of Erin digging the grave is stellar. Did she kill someone? Is she dangerous? Was someone out to get her and she killed them? However, as the chapters went on, I found myself almost yelling at the pages, trying to warn Erin against her own stupidity. Her actions became less and less believable. I also found the cohesiveness of Something in the Water to be lacking. There were so many characters, and quite a few of them didn't mesh well with the major plotline. But again, I seem to be in the minority with this review. Something in the Water is a bestseller and getting great reviews. Not from
me though.

MY RATING - 2