Ted Koppel: Lights Out

In this tour de force of investigative reporting, Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.
 
Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before. 

It isn’t just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure—and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon. Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault at any time. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors—from “hacktivists” to terrorists—have the capability as well. “It’s not a question of if,” says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, “it’s a question of when.” 

And yet, as Koppel makes clear, the federal government, while well prepared for natural disasters, has no plan for the aftermath of an attack on the power grid.  The current Secretary of Homeland Security suggests keeping a battery-powered radio.

In the absence of a government plan, some individuals and communities have taken matters into their own hands. Among the nation’s estimated three million “preppers,” we meet one whose doomsday retreat includes a newly excavated three-acre lake, stocked with fish, and a Wyoming homesteader so self-sufficient that he crafted the thousands of adobe bricks in his house by hand. We also see the unrivaled disaster preparedness of the Mormon church, with its enormous storehouses, high-tech dairies, orchards, and proprietary trucking company – the fruits of a long tradition of anticipating the worst. But how, Koppel asks, will ordinary civilians survive?

With urgency and authority, one of our most renowned journalists examines a threat unique to our time and evaluates potential ways to prepare for a catastrophe that is all but inevitable.

Every book sounds good on late night talk shows. It’s the host’s job to provide enough witty banter to make the book sound exciting and accessible to everyone. There’s a reason it’s called “The Colbert Bump.”

However, I quickly learned that Lights Out was not written for me. It’s probably extremely well-researched, informative–even interesting. I just couldn’t get into it. It just went over my head from the very beginning. You really need to have a solid foundation in military structures and acronyms to get more than 20 pages in. After that you start to lose the thread quickly. I had zero idea of what he was talking about.

I’ll put this on my shelf, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see my husband pick it up eventually. He’s way more into military nonfiction than I am, and I know he was interested in Koppel’s Colbert interview too. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get further into this, it sounded like an interesting (albeit terrifying) theory.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing for an unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Hannah Hart: Buffering

The wildly popular YouTube personality and author of the New York Times bestseller My Drunk Kitchen is back! This time, she’s stirring up memories and tales from her past.

By combing through the journals that Hannah has kept for much of her life, this collection of narrative essays deliver a fuller picture of her life, her experiences, and the things she’s figured out about family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, friendship and fame.

Revealing what makes Hannah tick, this sometimes cringe-worthy, poignant collection of stories is sure to deliver plenty of Hannah’s wit and wisdom, and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at her patented brand of reckless optimism.

Personal note:

Hello, my darlings! I am incredibly pleased to present BUFFERING: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded!

As a big fan of memoirs, I wanted to try my hand at writing about the events of my life that deserve a little more consideration than can be accomplished in 140-characters or a 6-minute vlog. Now on the cusp of turning 30, I’m ready to expose some parts of my life that I haven’t shared before. Before, it was all about privacy, process and time. And now the time has come! I’m ready to put myself out there, for you.  

I’m a little nervous about all these vulnerable words going into the world, these tales about my love life, the wrestling I’ve done with faith, how I feel about sex and my family and myself. I’ve had a lot of trials, a lot of errors, but also a lot of passion. Here’s the thing–I’ve always found comfort in the stories shared by others, so I hope my stories, now that I feel ready to tell them, will bring you some comfort too.

And when you read this book please remember: Buffering is just the time it takes to process.

Enjoy!

Love,

Hannah 

OH. OH HANNAH.

I was going to start this blog off by gushing over how much of a Hannah Hart crush I have. “Mild Obsession” wouldn’t be too far off base.

But oh, Hannah. This book.

She’d told us many times that she was revealing all her secrets in this book. And I knew it would be packed full of gayness. I knew that she came from a religious background, and that she suffered from mental illness. I expected some darkness. I know there is a lot of depth behind her bright and shiney coat of happy.

But oh. Oh Hannah.

I was sobbing by page 11. And not like, internal, this is an emotional book, I feel sad but I’m not actually outwardly crying, “sobbing.” No. SOBBING. Full on WEEPING by page 11.

I’m not going to tell you what Hannah’s secrets are. They aren’t mine to tell. But there is a reason that her introduction is called Trigger Warning. This wonderful, beautiful woman who makes us laugh with her silly puns, her goofy kitchen antics, her smooth scotchy wisdom–I don’t know how she got there. How a person goes through the seven circles of hell and emerges with such a fresh outlook on life amazes me. Those people are my heroes–and Hannah Hart is one of them.

Buffering is not “just another Youtuber book.” Don’t throw it on the pile. Pick it up as soon as possible, whether you are a fan of hers or not. It will change your perspective on life–I promise you.

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Jeff Wilser: Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life

Two centuries after his death, Alexander Hamilton is shining once more under the world s spotlight and we need him now more than ever.
Hamilton was a self-starter. Scrappy. Orphaned as a child, he came to America with nothing but a code of honor and a hunger to work. He then went on to help win the Revolutionary War and ratify the Constitution, create the country s financial system, charm New York s most eligible ladies, and land his face on our $10 bill.The ultimate underdog, he combined a fearless, independent spirit with a much-needed dose of American optimism.
Hamilton died before he could teach us the lessons he learned, but Alexander Hamilton s Guide to Life unlocks his core principles intended for anyone interested in success, romance, money, or dueling. They include:
Speak with Authority Even If You Have None (Career)
Seduce with Your Strengths (Romance)
Find Time for the Quills and the Bills (Money)
Put the Father in Founding Father (Friends & Family)
Being Right Trumps Being Popular (Leadership)
For history buffs and pop-culture addicts alike, this mix of biography, humor, and advice offers a fresh take on a nearly forgotten Founding Father, and will spark a revolution in your own life.”

Ah, Alexander Hamilton. He has gone from historical obscurity to being our most famous founding father–as he rightly should be. It’s amazing, once you take a close look at him, how much A. Ham really contributed to every single piece of our government…for better or worse.

Hamilton really did write like he was running out of time, and he had so much to tell us. Jeff Wilser broke down some of his more prolific statements into a sort of Founding Father self-help book. It’s full of witticisms and insightful commentary, modernized of course.

It’s supposed to be the type of book Hamilton would have written if he would have had time to write such a thing. Of course, if he had…it would have been four volumes and probably would have included some kind of impossibly boring personal finance plan along with the life advice. I’m glad Wilser left that chapter out. As it is, the Guide is a funny way to take in much of the history we already know from Chernow’s massive biography, while singing along to LMM’s cast album. There’s no mistaking who the author is targeting here. Luckily…who ISN’T a fan of the musical at this point?

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Julia Baird: Victoria: The Queen

From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a magnificent biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a stunning new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings vividly to life the fascinating story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning. This sweeping, page-turning biography gives us the real woman behind the myth: a bold, glamorous, unbreakable queen—a Victoria for our times, a Victoria who endured.

OOOOOH boy. This book, like Victoria’s reign, is long and never ending. Except when it does end, it happens suddenly, without warning, and you’re left with half a book left of notes and annexation.

It was interesting reading this so soon after watching The Crown. Obviously two different queens entirely, different time periods, different manners, different ideals. But the same challenges, prejudices, ageism, and misogyny. I could certainly see how the groundwork for Elizabeth’s reign was laid by Victoria’s. But that’s a different story altogether. Back to Victoria…

There’s so incredibly much to be learned here. I really knew nothing about Queen Victoria before starting this, except that there is a whole group of people and culture named after her. Who knew that her husband was the main influence of that movement–not actually Victoria herself? My reading journal is filled to the brim with the new random facts I gained by reading this.

But, that’s also my biggest criticism too. Sometimes this book doesn’t seem like much of a biography of Victoria at all. Often I wasn’t sure if she even respected the Queen, and I feel like that is kind of a necessary qualification for writing a biography about someone. It’s hard to figure the author’s motivations. Did she want to write about Victoria, but lose respect after getting into the research? Was she just super into the time period and decide the Queen would be the best base? I’m not sure. At times it almost felt more of Florence Nightingale’s commentary on Queen Victoria’s lack of feminism.

Speaking of which, let’s be clear. Queen Victoria was NOT a feminist. Which was wholly disappointing to discover–and why I wonder if the author misses the respect needed to write the biography she intended. Albert was that husband that very much dissed woman’s suffrage and even though his wife was THE QUEEN, still managed to convince her that he deserved more power over her. The work felt bitter because of it, especially when Nightingale stuck her nose in.

As an informative biography, I think it’s extremely well researched. I found the details fascinating, and as usual I loved reading about a monarch I didn’t previously know much (or anything) about. However, there definitely seems to be a bias here. I am unsure if it was intentional or if the history really was colored that way, but there’s just some weird tone that I haven’t felt in other similar biographies. Hm. I need to think on this one.

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Frances Mayes: Under the Tuscan Sun

Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.

This was the first book I read when I decided to go on hiatus. Blogging for Books had sent me the 20th Anniversary Edition, and since I’d already read it and was in the middle of a couple of challenges, I set it aside. But when I got stuck and needed to recalibrate my brain, there was no better book than Under the Tuscan SunFood, wine, and a big old house? It was just what I needed. Plus, there’s nothing like a reread to get out of a slump.

I’ll hazard a guess that many of you have seen the movie with Diane Lane. It’s one of my favorite feel good chick flicks. I sure wish I could look that good in a white dress, I’ll tell you that much.

Frances Mayes’ real story is nothing like the movie. There’s a big old broken down house called Bramasole. And you’ll recognize tiny bits, like the old man with the flowers and the creepy old pine trees, the Polish wallworkers and the grapes that even smell purple. But this is much more of a travel memoir than rom-com.

It’s every bit as beautiful though. You will want to dive straight into the pages and eat your fill of gnocchi. The produce is so fresh and the wine is overflowing. I NEED to go to Italy right this second.

Alas, I cannot. So I will just have to replace it with reading Frances Mayes’ incredible description of Cortona over and over again. And maybe try and find a white dress.

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Blogging for Books and Broadway Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.

I could not participate in an event such as #OwnVoicesOctober without reading a personal slave narrative. This country was founded on the backs of women and men such as Harriet Jacobs, and it’s so important to hear their stories. Harriet’s has been in my Kindle for a long time now, and so this was a good week to finally read about her journey.

It’s amazing what you will learn when you open your heart to listen. In my head I know that slavery was awful, all of it was awful, but still sometimes it gets so romanticized that I lose track. The Mammy trope, the stoic, loyal butler. That is a weakness–the ingrained prejudices that come to haunt me. But then I read Harriet’s story, and it slams that door shut so hard. Sometimes I just need a slap across the face, you know? This is that kind of book.

There’s a section of the book where she is talking about her own story, versus that of other slaves. Her master, Dr. Flint, has written a letter to her to convince her to come home while she is in hiding. The slimey bastard talks about how she is family and how if she comes back she’ll be treated like one of their own, she isn’t a slave, not really. It’s pretty gross. And Harriet’s response to us the reader is that yes, she knows that to many people, the perception could be that her life is pretty good at Dr. Flint’s. She doesn’t get beaten, she isn’t working the fields. She eats well, she dresses well, and she has most of her family around her. But she is still a slave. She is still at the mercy of Dr. Flint, who sexually abuses her and thinks it is ok because he owns her. She still has to worry about her children being sold away from her–and used as leverage.

A slave was a slave was a slave. Yes, some masters cared about their slaves and not every one was beaten horribly, but they were still slaves. And we owe it to them to remember that. This is why I read these books every so often. I need the reminder, I need the help. It’s the way I’m going to get that ingrained prejudice out of my system. Constant vigilance.

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Eunsun Kim: A Thousand Miles to Freedom

Eunsun Kim was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. As a child Eunsun loved her country…despite her school field trips to public executions, daily self-criticism sessions, and the increasing gnaw of hunger as the country-wide famine escalated.

By the time she was eleven years old, Eunsun’s father and grandparents had died of starvation, and Eunsun too was in danger of starving. Finally, her mother decided to escape North Korea with Eunsun and her sister, not knowing that they were embarking on a journey that would take them nine long years to complete. Before finally reaching South Korea and freedom, Eunsun and her family would live homeless, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, survive a North Korean labor camp, and cross the deserts of Mongolia on foot.

Now, in A Thousand Miles to Freedom, Eunsun is sharing her remarkable story to give voice to the tens of millions of North Koreans still suffering in silence. Told with grace and courage, her memoir is a riveting exposé of North Korea’s totalitarian regime and, ultimately, a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

I’ve been listening to Eunsun’s story on audiobook for the last few weeks, and every day I have been struck by the incredible strength and bravery of this woman. She was so young when her journey started, and how she managed to keep going, I do not myself understand.

Eunsun Kim’s mission with her book is to bring global awareness to the horrors of North Korea. Writing a book like this is dangerous–she says at the beginning that she had to change names so that people she wrote about could not be connected–but she wants to make sure that outsiders understand exactly what is happening there.

Before listening to this, I really didn’t know much about North Korea, besides what we hear on the news. I’ll be picking up more books to this nature–there are so many stories that need to be heard.

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Juno Dawson: This Book is Gay

Lesbian. Bisexual. Queer. Transgender. Straight. Curious. This book is for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference. This book is for anyone who’s ever dared to wonder. This book is for YOU.

There’s a long-running joke that, after “coming out,” a lesbian, gay guy, bisexual, or trans person should receive a membership card and instruction manual. THIS IS THAT INSTRUCTION MANUAL. You’re welcome.

Inside you’ll find the answers to all the questions you ever wanted to ask: from sex to politics, hooking up to stereotypes, coming out and more. This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it’s like to grow up LGBT also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.

You will be entertained. You will be informed. But most importantly, you will know that however you identify (or don’t) and whomever you love, you are exceptional. You matter. And so does this book.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

WHILE I COULD NOT FIND ANY SPECIFIC RESOURCES (BESIDES APPEARING ON MULTIPLE CHALLENGE LISTS), I FOUND NEWS ARTICLES LISTING TWO TOWNS TRYING TO REMOVE THIS BOOK FROM THEIR LIBRARY BECAUSE OF THE GAY CONTENT. IT IS NOT SURPRISING THAT THIS BOOK WOULD MAKE IT ON TO CHALLENGE LISTS DUE TO THE NATURE OF ITS CONTENT.

Juno Dawson’s book can’t be missed. It’s bright rainbow cover beckons to everyone. And that really is the message she wants to display– “Hello, welcome to our community. We see you, and we are waving the flag for you. Come on in, we have a place at our table. Join us.”

Her book covers every topic in the LGBT* space. (She uses that abbreviation throughout the book, according to him, not to exclude anyone, but for brevity’s sake.) There’s SO much information here from identifying your sexuality, to coming out, to actual gay sex, to activism. She also covers transgender issues in almost every subject.

I think she could have done a better job explaining asexuality and nonbinary topics. She mentions them at the beginning, and talks about asexuality a few other times by definition, but never really goes into details. This book is VERY MUCH about sex. I won’t go so far to say she erased asexuals, but the snub is there. And this book is pretty binary in its discussions.

It isn’t perfect, that is for sure. But Dawson tries really hard to open the doors to the community for young LGBT* people who need guidance. She provides a good deal of information, and then some testimony from people who have lived that situation.

It’s a start. We definitely still need to fill some gaps in other places, but I do think this book is going to help a lot of kids who are desperately needing information that they aren’t getting in school (at least not from their teachers). It’s not perfect. But it does have a lot of really great information that none of us had in book form when we were growing up. And I wonder how many of my classmates’ lives would have been helped by a book like this?

 

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Review: Women in Science

It’s a scientific fact: Women rock!
 
A charmingly illustrated and educational book, Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
 
Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

I requested this book because I wanted to read it. And once a book is in my collection, it is very hard for me to part with it. I don’t lend very many books out, and almost NEVER do I give one away. I’m selfish like that.

But Women in Science will not be staying on my shelf. It will be one of the rare exceptions that is so good that I MUST give it up. It is not for me. I am seeing my niece this weekend and she needs it more than I do. For this book is meant for the encouragement of our next generation. And my niece is pretty badass, just like the women in this book.

Women in Science is fully-colored, with fun, cartoonish illustrations. Each biography fills one page, and is hardly boring. The women are diverse, and many fields are represented–microbiology, psychology, zoology, and many others. Inspiration can be drawn from every path that these women had to follow to achieve their dreams.

This is one of those books that should be on every library display and classroom shelf. Parents of daughters especially, but sons too, should put this in their child’s hands. Kids need to know about these women along with the men we study in school. I didn’t know about any of them, but maybe 2 or 3, and even then it was mostly just their name and field of study.

Watch out though, this will inspire your kids. Be prepared for them to do something amazing!

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Review: Heads in Beds

Jacob Tomsky never intended to go into the hotel business. As a new college graduate, armed only with a philosophy degree and a singular lack of career direction, he became a valet parker for a large luxury hotel in New Orleans. Yet, rising fast through the ranks, he ended up working in “hospitality” for more than a decade, doing everything from supervising the housekeeping department to manning the front desk at an upscale Manhattan hotel. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room-service meals, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late checkout, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&M’s out of your minibar, laughed at your jokes, and taken your money. In Heads in Beds he pulls back the curtain to expose the crazy and compelling reality of a multi-billion-dollar industry we think we know.

Heads in Beds is a funny, authentic, and irreverent chronicle of the highs and lows of hotel life, told by a keenly observant insider who’s seen it all. Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on in the valet parking garage, the housekeeping department’s dirty little secrets—not to mention the shameless activities of the guests, who are rarely on their best behavior. Prepare to be moved, too, by his candor about what it’s like to toil in a highly demanding service industry at the luxury level, where people expect to get what they pay for (and often a whole lot more). Employees are poorly paid and frequently abused by coworkers and guests alike, and maintaining a semblance of sanity is a daily challenge.

Along his journey Tomsky also reveals the secrets of the industry, offering easy ways to get what you need from your hotel without any hassle. This book (and a timely proffered twenty-dollar bill) will help you score late checkouts and upgrades, get free stuff galore, and make that pay-per-view charge magically disappear. Thanks to him you’ll know how to get the very best service from any business that makes its money from putting heads in beds. Or, at the very least, you will keep the bellmen from taking your luggage into the camera-free back office and bashing it against the wall repeatedly.

I’ve grown up staying in hotels of varying levels of luxury…mostly less expensive ones, but as I grow older, they have tended to get nicer. The Hubs and I like to treat ourselves to a fancy weekend once a year (we are due for one soon), especially if we have points on our rewards card. It’s always fun to live how The Betters do, if only for a few days.

Heads in Beds is a snarky tell-all of the back of house of those luxury hotels, in New Orleans and New York. Oh, what lovely things the Bellmen and Front Desk clerks and housekeeping staff all think of us guests.

The good news–I now know a ton of secrets on how to get fun upgrades, like how to get a room with a view or wine sent up on a special occasion. The bad? I also feel like an awkward cheapskate, since tipping doesn’t come natural to me, and I never have a huge bankroll of cash laying around–even on our fancy weekends. I’ll have to up my game a little bit though…conservatively.

How do you feel about tipping on your vacations? Do you make it rain, or does it stress you out? Heads in Beds gives some pointers on the best places to tip and how…although I do wish there would have been some scale for those of us who don’t have such serious bank. Still, it was an interesting book, and if you travel often, one you should definitely pick up.

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