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Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Marie Antoinette’s Head from the author in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, Marie Antoinette’s Head isn’t really about hair.

Second of all, I’m pretty sure Will Bashor just taught me more about the French Revolution in 200-some pages than I learned in all the history classes I’ve ever taken.

Marie Antoinette’s Head stands in stark contrast to most history books. When I think of books on the French Revolution, I think of those huge dusty books from the back room of the library that I had to read in eleventh grade English class to write research papers. I remember falling asleep after every couple pages because they were written so dryly and so impersonally that I couldn’t bring myself to care about whatever king or queen I was writing about that month.

In Marie Antoinette’s Head, Will Bashor not only managed to keep my attention, but he made me forget that I was learning! The book reads more like well-written historical fiction than non-fiction. The characters jumped off the page and came to life. And although I knew what the end result had to be, I felt so connected to Marie Antoinette and Léonard that my heart was pounding and I was devouring the book, hoping that she’d somehow find a way out of the mess she’d gotten herself into. I hoped that Léonard would finally get what he deserved, what he’d been promised… though I knew he wouldn’t.

If you’re at all interested in history, in Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, or, yes, even hair… read this book.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

[also posted here]

I am sorry, monsieur, to have been compelled to fight with you; I never intended to win the woman with whom you are in love.

a sassy noble being sassy in Marie Antoinette’s Head (by Will Bashor)

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The Language Instinct (Steven Pinker)

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About a month ago, my boss asked me to order this book for her. She’d heard it was life-changing. Every day at lunch, she’d read a couple chapters, often commenting on what she’d learned. When she finished, she handed it to me, telling me that I needed to read it to prepare for the marketing we’re about to start for our office. As luck would have it, the office closed the following day due to about eighteen inches of snow, so I got the chance to finish it pretty quickly.

Selling the Invisible is a quick read. It’s chopped up into tiny sections, each summarized with a compact piece of advice at the end. I had some concerns about whether this book would be relevant to my work in a doctor’s office. I shouldn’t have worried. Beckwith’s advice is applicable to just about every industry you could possibly imagine.

Reading the book, I learned a lot about how prospects think. I was surprised that I’d never thought about marketing this way before. I am, after all, a prospective client for a lot of services. I’d just never thought about what it was that made me choose which service to go with. Beckwith’s advice is a lot of common sense, but it’s likely things you haven’t thought about before.

There’s plenty of good information in here. You’ll learn how to attract a client. How to keep a client. How not to scare a prospective client away. How to differentiate yourself from your competition. How to develop your brand. How to sell something based on promises alone. It’s very useful as a starting point.

Really, the only problem I had with it is that it’s seventeen years old. In this day and age, social media marketing is hugely important. More important in most industries, at least, than advertising in trade journals and on the radio. Because of that, I felt that a lot of the information, though good, was outdated. It would be interesting to see the book updated with information on where to start with online advertising, and what to do in terms of getting set up on social media.

But all in all, it’s a solid introduction to the world of marketing for someone like myself, with no experience in selling anything.

Final rating: 

[also posted here]

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So maybe a year or two ago, everyone was reading Wool. I was not one of them. Don’t get me wrong. I heard the hype. I downloaded the free copy. Then it sat in the Kindle abyss until I was going through books I’d downloaded but never read. Oops.

The summary I had was, for some reason, in Finnish, so I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Being that it’s such a short book (only 56 pages), I didn’t want to look too far into what the story was about for fear of spoiling the whole thing. I was a little confused by the first few pages, but that was quickly resolved.

Holston is sheriff. He lives in your run-of-the-mill, underground, post-apocalyptic compound, the silo. Nobody really knows what’s going on, why they’re buried and hidden. Surprisingly, nobody questions it, either. The government controls everything, from who is allowed to have children to the images of the outside, the surface, that are piped inside. Understandably, people get a little stir-crazy sometimes. Those people are sent outside to clean the little cameras that serve as windows to the outside. They never come back. The toxic atmosphere kills them within minutes.

Three years ago, Holston’s wife stumbled across some information. She learned that nothing could be as it appeared. She wanted out. She wanted to find the truth. She got her wish, because all it takes in the silo to be sent outside is five words – I want to go out. That one simple sentence ensures that rebels are disposed of quickly. That uprisings are prevented. Just say the word, and your wish is granted. There’s no taking it back.

Three years later, Holston follows in his wife’s footsteps. What he discovers is completely unexpected.

If you took a look at my bookshelf, you’d instantly know that I’m a huge fan of dystopian novels. Give me a book full of futuristic government conspiracies and a little underground rebellion and I’ll be all over it. Because of that, Wool was right up my alley. I’m looking forward to reading the next four installments.

Final rating: 

[also posted here]

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Full disclosure: I received a free copy of From Scratch in exchange for an honest review.

Big personalities, high drama – the extraordinary behind the scenes story…

This is how Allen Salkin describes his book. It couldn’t be further from the truth. This is not a book about the “big personalities” of Food Network, at least not the ones you know and love. This is not a book about the stars. This is not a book for a casual fan, or even a devoted fan who watches for the food. This book is probably not what you’re expecting.

So what is From Scratch?

It’s a laundry list of name drops. The author discusses, at length, who he spoke to when he was writing the book. He also lists who he briefly interviewed and who refused to speak with him. He will go into painstaking detail about who he talked to and when. This carries on throughout the book and crops up again in the very lengthy acknowledgements section at the end.

It’s a biography of Emeril Lagasse. As far as the chefs go, Emeril is the main focus. We follow him from the day he was hired to the day he was fired. Not much is left to the imagination. Anecdotes about Emeril are injected into nearly every page, even when they don’t fit. Yes, every Food Network fan knows who Emeril is, but that doesn’t mean that his name needs to appear on every page of the book.

It’s a “what not to do” for starting a business. Salkin goes into depth about how stupid the management was when Food Network started. At one point, staff members were found sleeping on the job and stealing petty cash. The management obviously didn’t like that, so they installed cameras to obtain proof and take action. The staff didn’t like it, so they got rid of the cameras. Clearly, no problems were solved.

It’s an unorganized mess. Nothing is tied together. There are no transitions. When he’s actually talking about the chefs, he jumps from Bobby Flay to Tyler Florence to Alton Brown to Ming Tsai and back again with absolutely no connections.

There’s a lot wrong with this book. Salkin’s insistence on using first names only (except, apparently, when it comes to Nigella Lawson) drove me crazy. It was especially confusing when he was writing about Paula Deen’s sons, Bobby and Jamie, around the same time he had been writing about Bobby Flay and Jamie Oliver. He will describe what an executive was wearing in minute detail, from the way her hair was styled to the color of her nail polish to her choice of footwear, but he’ll just gloss over that time when Rachael Ray accidentally set Emeril’s set on fire. And the ending – Salkin writes a perfect conclusion to the book, then writes a good ten to fifteen pages about the most recent Paula Deen debacle, as if it happened so close to publication that he couldn’t even be bothered to work it in to the story. Then there’s a half-hearted, completely unsatisfying conclusion involving Ina Garten visiting Bob Tuschman in the hospital and Joe Langhan eating pizza. I literally rolled my eyes upon reading the last page – that’s how bad it was.

Nearly everything in this book is irrelevant. It could have been half the length without losing anything important. It’s extremely dry reading, to the point where it was a struggle to knock out ten or fifteen pages a night. The only reason I’m giving it two stars is that I learned one good fact – Food Network was started by a regular guy who gets absolutely no credit and absolutely no profits.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

[also posted here]