Grace Takes Off by Julie Hyzy – Book Review

Grace Takes Off by Julie Hyzy
Published by Berkley Prime Crime, an imprint of Penguin

This is the fourth book in the Manor House Mystery series, please see my review of the previous books in the series, Grace Under Pressure, Grace Interrupted, and Grace Among Thieves.

For a Manor House Mystery, Julie Hyzy doesn’t put her main character, Grace, into the manor house very much. At the opening of Grace Takes Off, Grace and her boss Bennett are finishing a two week European vacation (for those of you who haven’t read the book, it isn’t like that, Grace and Bennett are not lovers, her mother may have been his illegitimate half sister) by visiting Bennett’s good friend in Italy. When Bennett has the chance to examine a treasure that has much sentimental value for him and his good friend, he reacts oddly. What happens on the flight home proves that Marshfield Manor isn’t the only place that Grace can find herself in mortal danger.

Julie Hyzy does a great job knowing when to remove her characters from their normal surroundings. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that Grace Takes Off be the first book that anyone picks up in the Manor House Mystery series, not least because it assumes that people have read at least some of what comes before, but putting Grace on a plane and giving her conflict there keeps the series fresh – even if the finale does find Grace back in a very familiar position.

Recommended.

For more information, see the publisher’s page.
Source: Publisher.

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Quiet by Susan Cain – Book Review

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Published by Broadway, an imprint of Random House

America is the land of the extroverts, or so our national mythology goes. In truth, some 1/3 of Americans are introverts, and the number is even higher in other countries. In Quiet, Susan Cain addresses both the problem of how introverts can succeed in a world that values extroversion, and the ways that introverted leadership benefits companies, as well as the issue of introverted students in schools that value participation and group work.

Quiet is an absolutely fascinating book. Cain quite ably makes the case for the value of introverted leadership, and the problems that come from shutting it out (such as some of the behaviors that led to the most recent economic crash). Perhaps what is most valuable is the explanation of how we got to this place. The American population is already more extroverted than many (perhaps due to immigration patterns), but we have not always been as enamored as the extrovert ideal as we are now.

This is a well-reasoned and informative book. If you aren’t an introvert yourself, you likely have one in your close family or one close to you at work, and Quiet can help you understand the way that (or those) introvert(s) can contribute. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond – Book Review

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond
Published by Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin

From the publisher:

Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.

Soooo, yeah. How do I review Jared Diamond? To be completely candid I am not qualified to much about the content of what he says, other than that it seems to make sense to me. I understand the criticisms that a) not all of our ancestral societies were quite alike; and b) that pre-contact of the 20th century will have evolved from what they were like 4 thousand years ago. Okay, granted. However, I reject the idea that this means that Diamond’s book is irrelevant.

Maybe this is the crazy talk of a layman at work, but it seems fairly clear to me that pre-contact societies live lives that are significantly closer to those of our ancestors than those of us in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) nations. I find it likely that they have, in the past millennia, found better solutions to the problems that plague humans living in small bands and tribes, but the immediate pressures on them are quite different than the ones most of us face from day to day, as any quick search of #firstworldproblems on Twitter would show you.

And still, even if both Diamond and I are 100% wrong that recent pre-contact societies have any similarities at all to the lives our ancestors lived, the fact remains that looking at peoples still living more traditional lives gives us a greater range of solutions to the issues that all humans – first world or third – face, such as childcare, elder care, and justice. Not all of their solutions would work in WEIRD societies, and many of them we would never consent to enact, but there are many things that some traditional peoples do better than most WEIRD peoples. There are things we can learn from these societies; we cannot merely dismiss them as “primitive” (a problematic and condescending term, to be sure) and ignore them.

Whatever problems The World Until Yesterday might have, it is always valuable to learn about and from other cultures, and Diamond does a fabulous job presenting much of the breadth of how traditional societies have functioned. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon – Book Review

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon
Published by Random House

The big bad wolf in the raising of teenagers today is cyber bullying. If you believe Emily Bazelon, however, cyber bullying is not a new thing. It is, she claims, essentially nothing more than plain old bullying, moved to a new venue. What, then, is bullying? In Sticks and Stones, Bazelon unpacks the issue of bullying through three case studies, discussing interventions, suicide, and, of course, the role of the internet.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would have ever picked this one up had I not been interviewing Bazelon about it for the SheKnows Book Lounge. I expected Sticks and Stones to either be self-help-y or to be a dry recitation of the facts of bullying. Happily, it is neither. Instead, Sticks and Stones is a book that realistically delves into a difficult and complex issue. The case studies bring real people and real faces to the problem of bullying, and on both sides of the issue. It helps her unpack the school cultures that contribute to bullying, as well as what, if anything, can help in such situations.

Beyond being a well organized informative book, Sticks and Stones is also simply a compelling read. Bazelon has a great style, and knows exactly how much she can insert herself in the story without detracting from the facts she hopes to impart. Even without any current personal vested interested in precisely what goes on in high schools, I did not want to put Sticks and Stones down. Between Bazelon’s engaging prose and her ability to get to the heart of why exactly this issue is important, she had me hooked.

Very highly recommended.

For more, see my interview with Emily Bazelon in the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Author’s publicist.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Afterlives of the Saints by Colin Dickey- Mini Review

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories form the Ends of Faith by Colin Dickey
Published by Unbridled Books

Afterlives of the Saints is a woven gathering of groundbreaking essays that move through Renaissance anatomy and the Sistine Chapel, Borges’ “Library of Babel,” the history of spontaneous human combustion, the dangers of masturbation, the pleasures of castration, “and so forth” — each essay focusing on the story of a particular (and particularly strange) saint.

I must admit, Afterlives of the Saints was not exactly what I thought it would be. The jacket copy on the advanced copies opens by mentioning “the strangest stories of the saints.” I expected that Afterlives of the Saints would be a compendium of bizarre stories. Instead, Dickey uses these stories as a way to understand the reality of history, the way it is both more and less than a narrative of ultimately inevitable events. Certainly some of the stories of the saints he mentions are bizarre, but Dickey is more interested in the way that these saints interacted with either those who went before or those who came after than in ogling them for their strangeness.

Dickey’s writing is strong and his storytelling engaging. Afterlives of the Saints may have been less salacious than I expected, but it was still a fascinating look at some little-known lives and would likely hold even more interest for people raised Catholic.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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