Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts

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Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts
By Brené Brown
Random House, 2018, Nonfiction, 289 p.
Ms Brown has written a number of books and has done several TED Talks about the power of vulnerability and courage in interpersonal relationships.  In this book she applies many of her well known ideas to the task of leadership, specifically business leadership.  She talks about how to establish trust, increase creativity, set reasonable boundaries, and change hostile working situations into productive teams by embracing a few leadership principles.  Her ideas are all based on extensive research and she includes many good case studies in the book.  Her language is informal and engaging and she suggests useful acronyms to help readers remember key principles. This is a great choice for anyone hoping to up their game in their role as a leader or who are just looking for insight on how to improve their personal relationships.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Alice Network

The Alice Network
By Kate Quinn
Harper Collins, 2017, 503 pg., Historical Fiction

In 1915 Eve Gardiner was asked to join a secret spy network in France. Run by a woman named "Alice" the network spied on the German's to help end the Great War. Eve became Daisy and posed as a waitress in the restaurant Le Lethe where she was able to eavesdrop on German officers and pass along secrets that could help end the war - but it all came at a price. By the end of the war the Network had collapsed and Eve is left wrecked to live out her life in London.

In 1947 Charlie St. Clair is trying to save her family from the ravages of World War II, but she feels like she is continually failing everyone. Now she has run away from her mother, who insists she must go to Switzerland to take care of her "little problem," and she is looking for a woman named Eve Gardiner. Eve Gardiner may be the only person who can help Charlie find her cousin Rose, who disappeared in France during the War.

This is a fantastic novel, which explains why it was picked as part of Reese Witherspoon's Book Club. Based on the true story of the real Alice Network and "the queen of spies" Louise de Bettignies, this is a story of two wars that destroyed lives and changed the world over and over again. It is the story of women and their friendships, heartaches, loves, and loses. It is a story of survival, sturggle, and courage in all its forms. This is great for anyone who loves World War stories, but also may appeal to fans of The Nightingale, or Secrets of a Charmed Life. Readers should be aware that this book deals with violence, drugs, swearing, death, and sex.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Traitor's Game

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The Traitor's Game
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2018, YA Fiction, 2018
Kestra has been banished from her father's home until she agrees to an arranged marriage.  Her father is a top official of the corrupt regime of the evil Lord Endrick.  Banishment, away from the expectations and restrictions of the court, suits Kestra, so it is with reluctance that she finds that she has been called home.  On the way her carriage is attacked by rebels who want to overthrow Endrick.  Holding her beloved mentor captive, they force her to join their quest to find the magical blade that has the power to kill the evil king.  As their plan to find the knife proceeds, and Kestra gets to know her captors, especially one named Simon, better, her eyes are opened to how her own family has participated in crushing the citizens of the kingdom.  She ultimately must decide whose side she is on and where her loyalties lie.

Nielsen has created a very complicated plot with many twists and turns.  There is intrigue and counter intrigue and you never know who is going to betray whom. The characters are also complicated, each with their secret motives and personality flaws. I appreciated that Neilsen keeps it quite clean; although there was some violence, there was no sex, and very little bad language. Fans of Nielsen's other teen books will certainly enjoy this one. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation

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Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation
by John Carlin
Penguin Press, 2008, Nonfiction, 274 p.
This engaging nonfiction book follows Nelson Mandela's political path for ten years, from the time he was in prison to the triumphant win of the South African rugby team of the world cup in 1995.  Carlin shows how Nelson's charisma and political genius kept South Africa out of civil war and how he used rugby to unite a nation.  I have read Invictus before and enjoyed it, but I think I enjoyed this one more.  Invictus was more about the players, but this focuses more on Mandela and how his gentle but powerful personality won over one opponent after another.  The message of the book is so timely: forgiveness and trust can do more than hate and force to build a strong country. This is a great read to celebrate Black History Month.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
By Mildred D. Taylor
Puffin Books, 1997, 276 pg., Youth Historical Fiction

In 1933 Mississippi Cassie Logan and her family live and work on their 400 acre farm. Unlike many of their sharecropper neighbors the Logan's own their land. However, they still have to pay taxes on their land and the mortgage on the last 200 acres. Now with the Great Depression Papa has had to go work on the railroad to help make enough money. Life is still hard for a black family though. Night-riding men have been causing trouble for Cassie's neighbors and everybody is nervous. When the Logan's friend TJ starts hanging out with the Simmses brothers, the Logan's no that no good will come of it. But more important to Cassie's family is how they are going to pay the mortgage now that Mama has been fired and the loan is being called in. If they can't find a way to pay the mortgage Mr. Harlan Granger will take it all away from them.

This book won the Newbery Medal in 1977. Mildred D. Taylor wrote a wonderful story about family, friendship, history, and dignity; but it is also about segregation, conflict, and race. What I like about this book is that Taylor shows the human side of these issues. Each character is far more then the color of their skin, they are a person - a person who is relatable to the reader. For example, who has ever worried about getting dirt on their clothes on their way to somewhere important? Who has ever been excited about having something new of their very own? Who has ever worried about how the adults in their life are going to get through hard times? Who has ever worried about making friends with the right or wrong people? Who has ever been afraid of another human being? This is a great book for 6-8 graders, but adults and families will enjoy it too. Readers should know that due to it's subject matter there are instances of violence, racial slurs, and death.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Twenty-one Days

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Twenty-one Days
(Daniel Pitt #1)
By Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, 2018. Fiction. 303 p.
Daniel Pitt is a young lawyer in London in 1910.  His father was the head of London's Special Police branch and Daniel has inherited some of his father's penchant for detective work.  Right after his first big victory in a murder case, Daniel is thrown into another case, one that is more complicated.  Russell Graves, a singularly nasty fellow, had been found guilty of murdering his wife and then burning her body.  Daniel and a crusty veteran lawyer who is working on the case with him, have just 21 days to find sufficient reason to call for a retrial. As Daniel digs deeper into the evidence, he soon finds that the suspect has underhanded dealing that touch Daniel personally.  Should he continue to investigate, or let the person who is threatening all the thought he knew about his life hang for a crime Daniel is beginning to believe he didn't commit?

Here is the first in a new series by Anne Perry.  This one is more of a courtroom drama than some of the other books by Perry that I have read.  It has a complex plot with a lot of evidence, red herrings, and unexpected twists and turns.  I was impressed that, with all the details Perry introduces as evidence, I didn't really lose track of what was on the table.  She has a way of gently reminding the reader of what has gone on before, without making the story line drag.  This story, as the others I have read by Perry, could be enjoyed by a man or a woman.  It is less gory and cleaner than something by Michael Crichton or James Patterson, but it has enough suspense and thrills that it doesn't feel like a "cozy mystery."

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz 
by Heather Morris
Harper Collins, 2018, Fiction, 288 p.
Ludwig (Lale) offers to give himself up to the Nazis in hopes that it will save his family.  He is shipped to Berkenau concentration camp where, by several chance encounters, he becomes the official tattooist, who tattoos the ID numbers on all the prisoners as they enter the camp.  His assignment gives him special privileges which he uses to try to help other prisoners whenever he can.  One prisoner means more to him than all the others, a young woman named Gita. It is his love for her that gives him the courage to try to survive and help her survive as well.

This book was one of the top ten books checked out at the Highland Library last year and that is why I read it even though Holocaust books are always hard for me to read. Though it was hard, I am glad I read it.  It is beautifully written and emotionally powerful.  I actually didn't realize until I read the author's note that it was based on a true story.   It is a great book and I do recommend it but know what you are getting into.  The author doesn't leave much out. There are horrific scenes, though the author has a good sense of how much detail to include.  But harder to read is the sadistic cruelty of many of the guards. Lale's humanity, hope, and love for Gita helps the reader get through the hard parts. This book is available from the Library in print, on CD, as an ebook and e-audiobook.