Monday, April 30, 2018

Ask A Manager

Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work by [Green, Alison]

Ask A Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work- Alison Green
Ballantine Books/ Random House
Release Date: May 1, 2018


Synopsis: From the creator of the popular website Ask a Manager and New York magazine’s work-advice columnist comes a witty, practical guide to navigating 200 difficult professional conversations—featuring all-new advice!
There’s a reason Alison Green has been called “the Dear Abby of the work world.” Ten years as a workplace-advice columnist have taught her that people avoid awkward conversations in the office because they simply don’t know what to say. Thankfully, Green does—and in this incredibly helpful book, she tackles the tough discussions you may need to have during your career. You’ll learn what to say when
• coworkers push their work on you—then take credit for it
• you accidentally trash-talk someone in an email then hit “reply all”
• you’re being micromanaged—or not being managed at all
• you catch a colleague in a lie
• your boss seems unhappy with your work
• your cubemate’s loud speakerphone is making you homicidal
• you got drunk at the holiday party


For all of those people who have wanted advice about any number of potentially awkward workplace discussions, without reading dry tomes on how to be a better person, Alison Green's Ask A Manager is the answer!  Green approaches workplace issues with both experience and humor, and the realization that people are only human- and need to be treated as such.  

Ask A Manager is broken down into 4 sections: you are the manager, you have a manager, you work with others, you're interviewing for a job.  Even if you don't necessarily fall into all those categories (maybe you aren't a manager yet) the entire book is well worth reading.  You get excellent advice about real world situations- and I, for one, always find it helpful to read as many other views as possible.  I felt better about some of my own work experiences after reading this and discovering I wasn't the only one who had ever had to deal with X, Y, or Z.  Since Green is an advice columnist, each section is short and to the point.  She mixes the more general situations ('how do I ask for a raise') to the still common but awkward ('I totally got drunk at the office party) to the (hopefully) less common ('my boss always steals my lunch out of my desk').  Even those situations you haven't dealt with yourself are good opportunities to think about what you would do in a similar situation.

What I really enjoyed about Ask A Manager was the light, humorous, and down-to-earth style of writing Green uses.  You can easily imagine you're having a quick phone conversation with a friend who's giving you the support you need to handle any situation.  Humor and kindness are Green's recipe for handling many of the awkward interactions humans have with each other and I found myself wishing everyone would read this book and follow its advice.  

A fast, fun read that will help give you confidence as you maneuver not just your professional life- this book is full of advice that should certainly be applied to daily life in all aspects!  Not your regular book on how to manage others, but one that makes you reflect on your interactions in a whole new way.  A must read for everyone who has to deal with people.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dead Girl Running

Dead Girl Running (Cape Charade) by [Dodd, Christina]

Dead Girl Running (Cape Charade)- Christina Dodd
HQN Books
Release Date: April 24, 2018


Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Girl running...from a year she can't remember, from a husband she prays is dead, from homelessness and fear. Tough, capable Kellen Adams takes a job as assistant manager of a remote vacation resort on the North Pacific Coast. There amid the towering storms and the lashing waves, she hopes to find sanctuary. But when she discovers a woman's dead and mutilated body, she's soon trying to keep her own secrets while investigating first one murder...then another. 

Now every guest and employee is a suspect. Every friendly face a mask. Every kind word a lie. Kellen's driven to defend her job, her friends and the place she's come to call home. Yet she wonders--with the scar of a gunshot on her forehead and amnesia that leaves her unsure of her own past--could the killer be staring her in the face?


Dead Girl Running begins Christina Dodd's new Cape Charade series with a bang.  Smuggling, stolen artifacts, murder and blackmail all within the first few pages let the reader know just what kind of pace Dodd is going to set for the book, and she lives up to it.  Running's heroine, Kellen Adams, is a puzzle of conflicting pieces: strong, intelligent, independent, while also plagued by nightmares, emotionally fragile, and not always sure she trusts her own mind.  A retired Army veteran, Kellen has been through the war zones (literally) but some of her worst nightmares happened in the United States.  She has a gunshot wound scar on her head and can't remember a year of her life.  

Dodd (Because I'm Watching) does a good job of introducing the reader to Kellen, and let's us see Kellen's confusion and divided self more and more as the book progresses.  Kellen spends most of the book trying to live up to the memory of her cousin and make her proud- only to discover that while she pretended to be that strong person, she actually became that person. In trying to solve the murders shaking up her quiet life at Cape Charade, Kellen finds herself dealing with a suspicious possible-federal agent, obnoxious hotel staff, suspicious guests, and friends she thought she knew and trusted.  Then in comes security expert Max Di Luca (of the Bella Terra De Lucas) and Kellen gets even more confused.  She doesn't know Max, but something about him seems familiar.  Could he be a part of her missing year?  The ending of Dead Girl Running was as energetic and action-packed as any action movie.  But what I liked best was that Kellen remained the independent warrior she had trained herself to be.  She didn't need Max to save her, she saved herself. Repeatedly.     

Readers should be warned that the end of Dead Girl Running isn't the end.  We have to wait until next year's What Doesn't Kill Me to answer some of the questions about Kellen's past- not to mention what she decides for her future!  But the mystery to Running is solved, so don't fear a cliff-hanger of an ending!  Dead Girl Running does contain some scenes of domestic violence and abuse. Dodd handles these scenes and their emotional aftermath with sensitivity, but readers should be aware for possible triggers.

Fans of Dodd's Virtue Falls series will cheer this move down the coast to the Yearning Sands Resort and new readers will wonder how they went so long without reading anything by Christina Dodd.  A must read for all mystery/suspense lovers! 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, April 16, 2018

Evolution's Captain

Evolution's Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle- Peter Nichols
Release Date: June 29, 2004


Synopsis: One of the great ironies of history is that the famous journey—wherein Charles Darwin consolidated the earth-rattling ‘origin of the species’ discoveries—was conceived by another man: Robert FitzRoy. It was FitzRoy who chose Darwin for the journey—not because of Darwin’s scientific expertise, but because he seemed a suitable companion to help FitzRoy fight back the mental illness that had plagued his family for generations. Darwin did not give FitzRoy solace; indeed, the clash between the two men’s opposing views, together with the ramifications of Darwin’s revelations, provided FitzRoy with the final unendurable torment that forced him to end his own life.


Evolution's Captain is a fascinating book following Robert Fitzroy, captain of the HMS Beagle and brilliant surveyor.  The book chronicles Fitzroy's two trips on the Beagle and his adventures surveying South America and Tierra del Fuego for the British admiralty.  Along the way Fitzroy becomes fascinated by the native Fuegians and ends up kidnapping three of them and bringing them back to England. His intention is typical of a man of his time: to educate the Fuegians in British manners, 'civilize' them as proper Englishmen (and one woman), convert them to Christianity and then return them to Tierra del Fuego to spread English Christian Civilization through the islands.  

As much as a modern reader cringes at the concept and thoughts expressed in many of the journals and diaries left by Fitzroy, Darwin, and others of the time period, there is no escaping that for a large part of the 1800s this was how England viewed the world and tried to change it in its image.  The trick for any historian is to try and explain to modern readers the culture of the time period- religious, political, and social- that led to this attitude and life approach.  In this Nichols does an excellent job.  The cultural background he explains makes for fascinating reading and helps us gain something of the perspective that Fitzroy was using during his exploits.  While you don't agree with him, at least you come to understand where he was coming from.  

The great temptation for a book like this would be to have all of the first expedition and Fitzroy's life leading up to Darwin's arrival on the Beagle for the second voyage be merely setting the stage for Darwin and allowing him to take over the rest of the book.  I liked that Nichols resists that temptation and makes Darwin another way for us to follow and understand Fitzroy instead of becoming the centerpiece himself. Darwin is also a symbol (or a symptom) of Fitzroy's thinking later in life.  The Victorian era was one of the greatest and fastest changing eras in terms of social and scientific thought until the creation of the internet.  Babbage's analytic machine, the steam engine, developments in geology and biology brought huge changes with them.  Fitzroy, originally something of an amateur scientist himself, becomes one of the reactionaries who take up the religious mania of the times and attempts to use literal readings of the Bible to argue against growing ideas of evolution and scientific change. The great irony of his life becomes his friendship with Darwin and his decision to bring Darwin on the second expedition as a companion, only to be haunted in later life by Darwin's ideas and the feeling that he was personally to blame for their development.  While Nichols ably proves that this was not the case, it haunted Fitzroy for the rest of his life.

My only complaint is one I often have with histories or biographies- Nichols tends to allow foreshadowing to creep into his writing (especially at the end of chapters). The common "if only they knew", "this would change everything" type of remarks always annoy me, although Nichols does it less than some biographies I've read.

A fascinating book, and a must read for people interested in Victorian England and its cultural/scientific/religious developments , sea exploration and adventure , and South America.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Death of Democracy

The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic- Benjamin Carter Hett
Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: April 3, 2018


Synopsis: Why did democracy fall apart so quickly and completely in Germany in the 1930s? How did a democratic government allow Adolf Hitler to seize power? In The Death of Democracy, Benjamin Carter Hett answers these questions, and the story he tells has disturbing resonances for our own time.

To say that Hitler was elected is too simple. He would never have come to power if Germany’s leading politicians had not responded to a spate of populist insurgencies by trying to co-opt him, a strategy that backed them into a corner from which the only way out was to bring the Nazis in. Hett lays bare the misguided confidence of conservative politicians who believed that Hitler and his followers would willingly support them, not recognizing that their efforts to use the Nazis actually played into Hitler’s hands. They had willingly given him the tools to turn Germany into a vicious dictatorship.

How Hitler was able to come into power in Germany has always been an interesting debate.  What could have been differently? How much of our debates are 20-20 hindsight versus what was actually seen and known at the time?  Could something like that ever happen again?  Benjamin Carter Hett's The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic is the latest look into the Germany of the 1920s and 1930s and an attempt to understand what happened.  

Unfortunately, for as potentially interesting as the topic is, Hett completely failed to keep me engaged in the book.  He assumes his reader is familiar with the Weimar republic and much of the German condition post World War I, and mentions conspiracies and people that he only later goes back to explain.  There was a level of back and forth to his timeline that kept me uncertain of the order of many of the events he was talking about.  I found it hard to keep track of the different political parties in Germany for most of the book, thought whether that was a lack of understanding on my part or Hett's to explain in memorable detail I still don't know.  Often repetitive, hammering in points that the readers easily grasps and remembers while glancing off topics you wish he's spent more time on, Hett explores how no one single event created the situation, but decades of cultural, political, and economic change and unrest.  By the end of the book I didn't feel like I had a much clearer grasp on the topic as when I started, but Hett did write one idea that stuck out to me, and probably summed up much of the situation: sometimes it isn't about reality.  Statements can be demonstrably untrue, but it is all about what people emotionally need to believe, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

For a book that was only a little over 200 pages, reading it seemed to be an uphill slog the whole way, and much more work than it was worth.  Hett spent as much time making comparisons between Germany in the 1930s and the Nazi methods and today's American political climate (while carefully not naming names) that it seemed to me the end point of his book was not so much to explain how Hitler and the Nazis managed to come into power (which he had only limited success with for me) as showing how it can happen again today.  Anyone who really wants to give this book a try to see what they can learn should just read the last chapter, which is as much a summary of the rest of the book as a wrap up and lead in to World War II.  It gives you the clearest ideas without actually making you read the entire book.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Why Kill the Innocent

Why Kill the Innocent (A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery)- C. S. Harris
Berkley Publishing
Release Date: April 3, 2018


Synopsis: London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose's ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane's murderer to escape justice. 

Untangling the secrets of Jane's world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . .


1814 was notable for one of the coldest winters London had seen in years.  Supplies were unable to get through roads from farms, prices of basic goods like coal skyrocketed, and the Thames froze over to allow for a Frost Fair.  So it should come as no surprise when a woman turns up dead, found under a blanket of snow. But the woman didn't freeze to death, and the person who found the body isn't one to let a suspicious death go with no comment.  Sebastian and Hero St. Cyr may be English nobility, but both have a deep moral need to see justice whether the victim is rich or poor.  When it turns out that the victim, Jane Ambrose, taught piano to Princess Charlotte, the coverups begin and it becomes impossible to tell if Jane died because of her connection to the royal family or for something else entirely.  

I found both Sebastian and Hero to be well done, likable characters.  Both were believable in their desire to see justice done.  Hero's research into articles exposing the difficulties of poor and working class families whose men have been impressed into the Navy give the reader the gritty, dark reality behind the glittering Regency era.  While they didn't always connect smoothly to the rest of the narrative, I thought they were powerful, well-written, and clearly well researched scenes.  Harris does a wonderful job in bringing London to life and immersing the reader in its sounds and smells, and her descriptions of the famous Frost Fair on the Thames make you feel as if you are there with the characters, walking on the ice.

The mystery surrounding Jane's death keeps you guessing the entire way.  As soon as you feel sure her death must relate to her royal connections, something is discovered to make you think it was a domestic dispute with an abusive husband turned fatal.  Then a new discovery shows how easily Jane could have discovered something political that got her killed.  I always enjoy when I don't see the answer to the mystery from the beginning, but discover everything alongside the characters.

I have to admit that as well written as I found Harris' London, I was disappointed in her characters.  Only Sebastian and Hero were more than one dimensional people.  It's possible other recurring characters are fleshed out in earlier books and simply weren't important enough to this one for Harris to pay much attention to here- although if she can go into the details and descriptions of a public execution that doesn't directly effect the main plot I think she could have spent a little more time trying to bring other characters to life.  However, overall I found Why Kill the Innocent a good book, with enough shadowy characters and motives to keep me guessing until the end, and a vividly recreated London that surpassed many other books I've read.              

received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review