Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Hotel Nantucket (Elin Hilderbrand)

It's just not summer without a new Elin Hilderbrand book. I've read most of them -- some I've liked more than others. I'm happy to say that in this humble reader's opinion, The Hotel Nantucket is one of her best.

Why? It has it all -- Hilderbrand's beloved Nantucket setting, interesting characters you really care about, sumptuous food descriptions, and even a ghost! The main character of The Hotel Nantucket is, well, the Hotel Nantucket. This hotel has a tragic history -- in 1922, a fire killed Grace, a maid, and no one ever knew what happened to her. The hotel opened and closed a few times since then, until no one wanted it anymore. That is, until billionaire Xavier Darling buys it and wants to restore it to its glory. Xavier hires Lizbet Keaton as the hotel's general manager, and Lizbet in turn, hires the rest of the staff. Throughout the book, we not only get to know the staff's stories but also the colorful guests. And lest we forget Grace, she haunts the hotel and can't rest in peace until people know what really happened to her. 

All of these characters come together to create a truly wonderful book that's perfect for summertime. Best of all, since Lizbet creates a Blue Book for her guests to get to know Nantucket, Hilderbrand puts her own guide in the back of the book. This is truly one of Hilderbrand's best and one that will get a rare 5 rating.


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Radically Human: How New Technology is Transforming Business and Shaping Our Future (Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson)

Technology is rapidly evolving. For many businesses, these changes can be very difficult to adapt to and even tougher to learn in order to help their business succeed. Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson’s book, Radically Human: How New Technology Is Transforming Business and Shaping Our Future, attempts to help businesses understand how to use new and evolving technologies to drive innovation.

The authors frame much of this book off their experience and research working for Accenture, a major information technology (IT) company. Radically Human offers a strategic framework of five basic fundamentals: Intelligence, Data, Expertise, Architecture, and Strategy, which make up the acronymed word IDEAS. As an example, the authors talk about how technology can help gather large reams of data, with human leadership and know-how harnessing and refining that data to make better-informed decisions for their business. 

Beyond that, the authors argue that improved technology and artificial intelligence may help improve the customer service experience for many businesses, reduce bias in hiring and decision making, and improve transparency in business processes. These improvements will increase consumer trust in business, as well as trust between employer and employee.

Radically Human is designed for business leaders and technology officers who are looking to utilize technology in a better way with their business. While a complex and at times technical read, the authors draw heavily on research to offer an informed, thoughtful opinion on a fast-changing field.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Family Plot (Megan Collins)

I don't really have a genre that's my favorite, but I do tend to gravitate toward darker books. No matter how dark the book, however, there needs to be some realism within the darkness for it to make sense. This is not the case with Megan Collins's The Family Plot.

Dahlia Lighthouse has come back home to bury her father. "Home" is a place that's filled with people who are obsessed with true crime. I know a lot of people who love to read true crime but not people who's mother made them write "murder" reports and do honorings as part of her true crime homeschooling curriculum. Or a sister who does dioramas of infamous killings and puts them on social media. Or a brother who puts together a "murder memorial" museum in his own house. See the lack of realism above.

When Dahlia's father's grave is dug, a shocking discovery is made -- there's another body in it. This body is Dahlia's twin brother, Andy, who went missing years before. How Andy got there is the main plot, along with who the identity is of the island's serial killer. 

This one wasn't for me, even though I like darker books. I feel like it had promise, but the plot was just too unrealistic.


Monday, June 13, 2022

All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life's Work (Hayley Campbell)

If you have a morbid side (like me), you'll love Hayley Campbell's All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life's Work. I've always been fascinated by this topic but have never read anything quite as original as this.

Each chapter focuses on someone who has a key role in death. This not includes the professions you typically think of (like funeral directors, embalmers, crematorium operators and gravediggers), but also people who work quietly behind the scenes (like crime scene cleaners) doing something no one else wants to (or has the stomach) to do. Campbell follows these people as they do their unheralded work, writing absolutely fascinating accounts of why each person is in their profession. Some accounts are truly heartbreaking, such as the one of the bereavement midwife.

I loved this book and found myself enthralled with each chapter. All the Living and the Dead takes people right into the death industry, wondering why we allow death to remain so hidden.


This book's expected publication date is August 16, 2022.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Diplomatic Gifts: A History in Fifty Presents (Paul Brummell)

Gifts between cities, states, heads of state, or nations are often done with a number of intended messages. Whether the gifts are tokens of appreciation (such as "thank you" train that the French gave Americans after they donated food and goods in the aftermath of World War II), or more symbolic displays of political influence (such as stadiums or other infrastructure), gift-giving from one political entity to another has been a longstanding tradition in the world. Paul Brummell captures fifty of these interesting gift exchanges in his book Diplomatic Gifts: A History in Fifty Presents.

In general chronological order, Brummell traces how gifts have been ruses (such as the Trojan Horse), used to help strengthen political alliances (of which there are many examples), or more unique gifts to show scientific and artistic prowess (such as a planetarium). In numerous chapters, the author tries to trace where some of the gifts have gone over the centuries or how they may have been destroyed. He highlights wildlife in several examples, as well as a human "gift" that was saved from human sacrifice in the 19th Century.

Diplomatic Gifts features a diverse collection of stories, many of which are quite funny. One of the funniest is the story of Sir Oliver Franks, British ambassador to the U.S. Back in 1948, he was told that a local radio station had asked what he would like for Christmas and he gave his response. A few days later, that radio station announced the requests made by various countries. The Soviet ambassador wished for freedom for all people enslaved by imperialism. The French ambassador desired world peace. The British ambassador's request? A box of crystallized fruit.


Sunday, May 29, 2022

Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931-1945 (Richard Overy)

The years before and after World War II marked a major change in political power in the world. Empires rose in the run-up to conflict and fell violently during it; other longstanding empires in Europe teetered and eventually weakened dramatically as colonies in Africa and Asia declared their independence. The 1930’s and 1940’s were a period of tumult, captured brilliantly by Richard Overy in Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931-1945.

Overy recasts World War II as a longer conflict, starting in 1931 with Japanese aggression into China, continuing through the 1930’s as Italy and Germany both tried to expand their territory, seeking room to grow, power, and influence. The author’s exhaustive work focuses more than on the military costs of conflict, getting into the economic and civilian impact in great detail. Blood and Ruins covers World War II from both the Pacific, European, and North African theaters of conflict, including details on the violent behavior of many soldiers as conflict raged over Eastern Europe.

There are many, many, many books on World War II, covering specific battles, politicians, or military figures. However, Blood and Ruins is a great work that summarizes a dramatic and climatic war that changed so much of our history. The author does a wonderful job breaking down the battles, the causes, and the effects at a level that readers can easily digest. Coming in at nearly 900 pages, it is a lengthy read that is light on pictures and heavy on detail. However, for fans of history and individuals who study military conflict, this is a must-read book.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Waterloo Sunrise: London From the Sixties to Thatcher (John Davis)

“Swinging London” was a term applied in the 1960’s to London as the city built a reputation for creative music and vivid fashion. This was in contrast to the “stiff upper lip” London that lived in austerity after World War II. London’s youthful swag and confidence belied a city that was undergoing a transformation, losing its industrial character, and becoming more white-collar. This transition, which slowly undermined that “swinging” city’s swagger, is detailed in John Davis’s Waterloo Sunrise: London From the Sixties to Thatcher.

Waterloo Sunrise: London From the Sixties to Thatcher traces roughly a twenty year stretch of fashion, vices, urban blight, and attempts at renewal, race relations, and local politics and how they influenced events on a national level, including the eventual rise of Margaret Thatcher to the Prime Minister’s office in 1979. Davis’s book has wonderful detail and bounces between serious and lighthearted. One section explores the changing tastes of London’s culinary scene; another chapter dives into the seedier side of London nightlife.

All in all, Waterloo Sunrise was a joy to read. Many of us in America know of 1960’s Britain through Austin Powers, the musical “British Invasion”, or James Bond. Thankfully, Davis gives us a deeper look at a city that shared a lot of the same struggles and issues as our cities did on this side of the pond.