Thursday, October 1, 2015

Case Studies in Branding Showing Big Successful Companies

While this book presents standard business ideas about branding and is well written and interesting, it does little to help small business owners learn how to brand their product. The book opens with a standard section on the principles of branding: create a demand, determine a strategic direction, deliver the core benefits of the product, and maintain a long-term vision. This section is followed by sixteen case studies showing how the business leaders of successful companies used the principles.

The book is well written and entertaining if you're interested in how companies like Amazon, Victoria's Secret, and Starbucks succeeded, but like so many case study books, these stories are very individual and driven by the brilliance of the company founder.

Aside from the principles, which can be found in most marketing textbooks, I didn't find much to help the struggling small business. In fact, I think it would be rather daunting for a small business to compare itself to Frito Lay, for example.

I recommend this book if you're interested in reading about success stories, and you may glean some useful ideas for your business, but this isn't a manual for how to improve your brand. You have to take the ideas and work to create what's right for your business.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Detailed History of FDR From His Early Political Career to the Fall of France During WWII

Although FDR left no detailed memoir giving the reasons for his political decisions, Daniels has captured his words and used them in the context of events to give us a picture of what FDR thought. The book opens with a brief view of Franklin's early life, but the concentration is on his political career. While I had read several biographies of Roosevelt, this is the first one to go in depth about his early office holding. I found it instructive in light of his later political ideas including the New Deal.

I also found it fascinating to read about how FDR was able to control the information about his polio and was able to act as normal as possible. It's enlightening to see how he about how he overcame his affliction.

On the positive side, this is a very detailed, perhaps definitive, look at FDR. Because there is so much detail from quotes to actions to what other historians have said about him, it is a sometime difficult book to read. However, if you're interested in a comprehensive history, this is it.

On the negative side, because the book is crammed with historical detail it is sometimes hard to read. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you're interested in becoming immersed in FDRs life.

The book ends before the US enters WWII. Although the transitions seems rather abrupt when you've been following the history closely, it leaves you wanting to go more in depth into the next segment of FDRs career.

If you enjoy history, this is an extremely well done book. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Family Tragedy Intersects a National Emergency

Wes Avery, a tail gunner during WWII, is a good man. He loves his wife and daughter and works hard at his Texaco Station not far from McCoy Air Force base near Orlando, Florida. His wife, Sarah, has not been the same since her hysterectomy. Now with an approaching hurricane, she is withdrawing from reality and popping pills.

His daughter Charlotte is in her senior year of high school. She's caught up in being selected as a member of the homecoming court and falling in love with Emilio, a Cuban refugee boy. Avery likes the boy well enough, but Sarah doesn't want Charlotte associating with him. This creates tension in the family and raises the specter of the family secret.

As if the approaching hurricane weren't enough, Avery notices the buildup of aircraft, including U2 stealth aircraft, at McCoy. This is the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everyone is worried, but it affects Sarah especially.

The description of Florida at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis is excellent. For anyone alive at the time, it will bring back memories; for younger people, it provides a glimpse of what life was like at the time.

Wes Avery, the main character, is well done. He's struggling with a family situation he doesn't understand, trying to manage his gas station, and keep his fear for his family in check. The other characters, Sarah and Charlotte, felt sketchy. Sarah is a fairly typical wife and mother caught in the trap of too many pills and a harrowing time. Charlotte makes only fleeting appearances except for the beginning and end.

I enjoyed the book for the glimpse of history and recommend it for that reason. Some of the plot didn't work for me. The family secret seemed to be dragged in at the end, and the conclusion wasn't satisfying.

I reviewed this book for BantamDell.

Friday, September 25, 2015

How Relevant is the Bible to the Israeli-Palestinian Problem Today?

Brueggemann's thesis is that it is necessary to deal with the human rights issues before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved. He uses the Bible to trace the history of the claims to the land Israel now occupies and tries to draw conclusions about the legitimacy of Israel's claim and the counter claim of the Palestinians.

Although he discusses the conflict in terms of the oppression of the Palestinians and the idea that the Israelis are the chosen people of God, I didn't think he did enough in depth discussion to prove his points beyond a superficial level that most people are familiar with.

The topic is relevant to the political situation today. I was interested to see how Brueggemann would address the fact that Israel is placed in an extremely dangerous situation and that the Palestinians have religious and secular ties to Israel's neighbors.

Although the book makes some good points, I was disappointed in the shallowness of the presentation. For me, the more relevant discussion today is the terrible human suffering wrecked upon the region by ISIS. The book was interesting, but I thought it was naive in the context of the situation in the Middle East today.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Seven Extraordinary Women

The stories of seven women living out their Christian faith in difficult circumstances are awe inspiring. I was pleased that Metaxas picked women who chose to do what they felt called to do as women. They didn't try to be men or compete with men. They used their female strengths: love, giving, mothering, and compassion. They didn't plan to be heroines. They did the work they felt God called them to do.

I was familiar with some of the women's stories: Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa. I hadn't heard of the other women: Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley; Corrie ten Boom, who suffered in a concentration camp for helping Jews during WWII; Hannah More, who worked with Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade; and Saint Maria of Paris, who served the poor in spite of her eccentric ways, marriages, and collisions with church doctrine.

Each woman had a story to tell and Metaxas did an excellent job of bringing them to life in a short biography. I found each one easy to read bringing out the highlights of the woman's life and showing them as real people with severe problems but living out their faith.

I highly recommend this book for both women and men. Everyone can learn from the example of these extraordinary women.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

A Character Study Rather than a Murder Mystery

Georgia, Alice, and Charles have been friends throughout their four years at Harvard. Graduation is almost there when their lives are disrupted by the murder of a classmate, Julia Patel. Rufus Storrow, a professor and house master, is intertwined with the three. He and Georgia, the beautiful daughter of a famous photographer, have an affair, but try to keep it hidden to preserve Storrow's job. Charles, an ambitions, middle-class, young man, has been in love with Georgia since freshman year, but she sees him only as a friend. Alice, a brilliant, unstable girl, has been best friends with Georgia, but she's jealous and after the murder leaks the information about Georgia's affair.

Storrow and Julie Patel were locked in a dispute about what was appropriate for the professor to teach. Because of the disagreement, he becomes the focus of the murder investigation.

The characters in this book are very well drawn and in the beginning pull you into the story. We learn of the murder in the prologue, but it takes well over a third of the book to get to the event. Meanwhile, the author explores the backstory on each of the characters.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book, but quickly got tired of waiting for the murder and detection to start. Even after the dead girl is discovered, the plot goes back to the friends and the professor and we get only small peeks at the process of trying to solve the murder.

Instead of solving the crime. The book continues to cover the lives of the characters for years after the incident. If you're taken with the characters, that may be rewarding, but it your want a resolution to the murder, it's a disappointment

I reviewed this book for Blogging for Books.  

A Victorian Mystery with Delightful Characters

A distraught Lady Jane Grey seeks help from her friend Charles Lennox. Prue Smith, a former of housemaid of Lady Jane's, has been found dead in her new place of employment. Prue's employer believes she committed suicide, but Jane isn't convinced. Charles, an amateur detective in the habit of solving mysteries whether the police appreciate it or not, agrees to take the case.

When Charles visits the dead girl's room, he discovers telltale signs that point to murder rather than suicide. Her employer is adamant that she killed herself and insists that Charles leave the detecting to the police, but Charles is not so easily put off.

There are both positives and negatives in this book. On the positive side, the characters are delightful. Charles and Lady Jane are likable as is Graham, Lennox's loyal manservant. The setting is true to life and showcases both the period and the lives of the characters. I couldn't stop reading it was such fun to be immersed in the period with likable characters.

On the negative side, it you like a mystery that is difficult to solve and has lots of unexpected twists, this isn't for you. The plot is absurdly easy to guess. The facts are laid out in the first quarter of the book. The problem from then on how the author tries to divert your attention. I liked the book, but as a mystery it was disappointing. Luckily, the characters and setting carry the book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.