Wednesday, August 31, 2016

July & August 2016 Bookshelf

In July my family and I took a trip. We flew halfway across the world, drove through a part of Germany, got on a really big boat in the Netherlands and then floated around the Baltic Sea visiting various countries. It was a great trip. One might think I didn't have time for reading. Psh. One would be wrong! We had many hours on an airplane, four days at sea, and enough downtime that I could get my reading on. *wink* In fact check out this awesome reading nook I grabbed a few times on the ship. (picture to the right) I wanted to find a way to bring the whole nook home with me but it wouldn't fit in my suitcase. Ha!

We were gone half of July and well into August so this Bookshelf post covers the past two months of reading. August is traditionally a slow reading month for me - and that was true this year as well. The vacation did slow down my reading, I put down books in favor of family time (wise choice I'm thinking) but I'm still happy with what I was able to read. In July I read 6 books (and abandoned one) and in August I managed to read one book and finish another one I had been reading since June! What is it about August?!  I've ended August "in the middle" of two books so hopefully they'll land on next month's shelf!



The Hope Quotient: Measure It. Raise It. You'll Never Be the Same. by Ray Johnston
236 pages

The title caught me. Hope is an intriguing subject matter to me for so many reasons. What makes the difference between two people in the same exact situation, one feels hopeless and the other hopeful? Sometimes they are even members of the same family! Hope is vital. It's what can keep us going when it is vibrant in our lives and when there is a lack of hope then it is the distress signal that something must change. Hope is a necessary ingredient for life.
I got 82 pages in, found something else to read and have read several other books since then. Johnston's thoughts on hope didn't keep me engaged. I finally decided to call it quits when every time I thought about picking up the book to finish it I started desperately searching for something else to read instead. As Bill Engvall would say, "Here's your sign."
It's not that Johnston writes poorly, he doesn't. He's okay. It's that he writes what has already been said/discussed before. He has, at least in 82 pages, introduced nothing new or profound about hope to consider. He writes as if he is though - and to be fair, for some people it probably is very new ideas or ways to think about hope. It just wasn't for me. I also had a slight 'distaste' while reading the pages I did, Johnston is pretty 'christianese' and I can barely stomach it anymore. It just wasn't for me.



A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz (Great Comics Artists Series) by Stephen J. Lind
Kindle Edition - 240 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and University Press of Mississippi for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book. But I'm having a difficult time finding words to give it a review. Lind has written a very thorough book about the life of Charles Schulz, Peanuts creator. He spent a lot of time getting a complete history of Schulz and what compelled him to draw and to include the conversations his characters had. Schulz was a quiet man of deep faith, it turns out, in God. In his later years people would claim he had turned atheist based on remarks he made but Lind discovered through talking to family and friends that he never did turn away from God or faith. His faith carried him until his last breath. In creating his Peanuts characters and using them to explore the topics of life Schulz was very thoughtful and intentional.  Certainly not all of his strips were exploration of a scripture or life topic but he kept his characters true to themselves even in the lighter moments. He really paved the way for other cartoonists to keep their work relevant and protected. Schulz made sure to stay involved in anything having to do with his characters, he protected them and the spirit in which he created them.  He was intentional about the animated features Peanuts did and he was invested in a message for each moment people interacted with the characters. His works know no boundaries and have been used in all types of education, information, entertainment, etc. He was generous, quietly so. He preferred to stay close to home but would travel when necessary. He maintained a group of friendships that spanned decades. His death in 2000 didn't stop his far-reaching influence, it continues to this day thanks to the efforts of the Creative Group established before his death to ensure the integrity of the Peanuts enterprise.





Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Henry Cloud
304 pages

I'm embarrassed to admit it. I started this book June 9 and finished it August 16. It took me *forever* to read this title and not because it was bad or boring or whatever. I kept putting it down to pick up other things. So in the sense of trying to finish this book it was a hard read. The subject matter I didn't find difficult but it is a difficult topic to look at in light of self, if you are willing to be honest about yourself that is.
I really like Henry Cloud. I have gleaned a lot of wisdom and growth from his works. His writing style is easy to read in that he keeps it down to earth and applicable. In this title about an integrated character, i.e. having integrity, Cloud writes with the supposition that "Integrity is not something that you either 'have or don't have.' You probably have aspects where you do, and parts where you don't." (page 279) This book is about gaining an integrated character that has the integrity needed to live in reality, of the business world and in your personal life as well. What it all comes down to, and Cloud unpacks it in detail for the reader, is that a person of good character and integrity is someone who is willing to be transparent, learn, grow, and be corrected. It is a person who doesn't shrink back from the truths of reality and refuses to live in the denial of self-preservation. People of integrity are people of courage. Since this book was written in light of succeeding in business I read it in that vein but Cloud makes it clear that a person is only a whole person of integrity and character if they are consistent in their life - business and personal. I couldn't agree more.





The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Management Fable About Helping Employees Find Fulfillment in Their Work by Patrick Lencioni
259 pages

"A miserable job is not the same as a bad one. As with beauty, the definition of a bad job lies in the eye of the beholder....However, everyone knows what a miserable job is. It's the one you dread going to and can't wait to leave. It's the one that saps your energy even when you are not busy. It's the one that makes you go home at the end of the day with less enthusiasm and more cynicism than you had when you left in the morning." (page 217)
Indeed.
It's unfortunate that so many people are wasting away in miserable jobs. Patrick Lencioni thinks so too. In this leadership fable he takes a very real problem in the workplace today, crafts a fictional story about it to engage the reader, and then presents the lessons and solutions in a very relatable way. Lencioni's theory is that people are miserable in their jobs because of three things: Anonymity, Irrelevance, and Immeasurement. And the culprits of miserable jobs are managers. Why? Because truly a positive or negative work experience comes from the top, never from the bottom.
Reading this fable and its very real lessons made me realize, once again, what truly awful managers I know and have to interact with on a daily basis. Fortunately my own manager is not awful but having to work with other awful ones is still making my current workplace miserable. Reading all of these excellent books about the workplace and how to improve it is making me wonder if I shouldn't go into HR so I can help other workplaces improve their cultures and protect people from the misery of a miserable job. But that takes a certain kind of personality, one that won't be burdened outside of the workplace about the miseries and I can't help but be burdened. So I'll just read and expand my knowledge base and do what I can as an employee to interact in healthy ways with unhealthy managers.




Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable about Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors by Patrick Lencioni
211 pages

Lencioni titles this book about territory marking in a much more sophisticated way than I talk about it. When this topic comes up I've been known to say, with a straight face because there's nothing funny about it, "So and so is busy peeing all over the place." The inference, of course, that they are marking their territory, claiming their turf, and building a silo that reaches to the skies. I hate politics. I mean I really hate them. I have seen firsthand how they contribute to a toxic culture/environment. So clearly reading this title was a "must" for me.
"Silos, and the turf wars they enable - devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals. But beyond all that, they exact a considerable human toll too. They cause frustration, stress, and disillusionment by forcing employees to fight bloody, unwinnable battles with people who should be their teammates. There is perhaps no greater cause of professional anxiety and exasperation - not to mention turnover - than employees having to fight with people in their organization. Understandably and inevitably, this bleeds over into their personal lives, affecting family and friends in profound ways." (Introduction, pages viii/ix)
In this leadership fable Lencioni features several types of organizations/businesses in his fictional story about a very real problem. I love that he did this in this title because he is able to show how the problem exists in all sizes of organizations and that the solution he proposes can also be used no matter what size the org. It's a one-size-fits-all and in a very good way.
But Lencioni's solution will only work when everyone cooperates and decides to quit with all the in-fighting and marking of territory and let's face it, some people aren't willing to do that. That's when other measures have to be taken and he covers that also in his other book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The solution is a one-size-fits-all but sometimes not all the people are that size.




Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
186 pages

Wow. Out of approximately 186 pages I highlighted about 183 pages - seriously! Not the whole page but something on the page...or at times the whole page. So clearly picking out one or two highlights isn't going to happen but the book starts out with this review by Catholic Library World, "The challenge of this book is simple, yet profound: Be aware. Be aware of God in all things." And indeed that is what Rohr presents to the reader. The subtitle of the book is 'The Gift of Contemplative Prayer' and it's almost misleading to the traditional Christian. We tend to think of prayer as a specific time set apart for "instructional" conversation with God. Rohr dismisses that idea by laying out the thought that day in/day out life is prayer. It's what praying unceasingly really means. That we see God in all things, no matter the label, and we set it before him. Rohr contends that when we do that we become free to love as he loves, live in grace as he does, forgive as he does, etc.
I cannot review this title in any adequate way except to say it is a must read, in my opinion, for the believer - perhaps even for those who say they are non-believers.
Read it for yourself and let's discuss!





The Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford
Kindle Edition - 378 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

It took me about 1/3 of the book to warm to the story but once I did I couldn't put it down. It's a coming-of-age story about a 35 year old woman who hasn't yet come to age. Missy Fletcher is a brilliant money manager that works with her father managing the money of clients. In her real life she is Type A, introverted, structured, and scared. Scared to really live. She uses Facebook as a way to live vicariously through acquaintances. When Missy goes home at night she makes believe a different life. But when she turns 35 her world and life change, and with the change Missy knows she has to become a "real adult." But becoming and being an adult is scary and Melissa isn't sure she has what it takes.
Handford tackles a couple of topics near and dear to my heart in this story about becoming who we are. Her main character is an introvert and a very relatable one, to me at least, at that. Her protagonist also has an awakening to the world around her and her role in it in her 30's - also something I can relate to as a similar 'eyes wide open' experiences happened to me in my 30's as well. I really like how Handford developed Melissa and how she so completely drew the picture of the struggle it is to become unafraid.




Whistling Women by Kelly Romo
Kindle Edition - 415 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I read this book at an interesting time, during a vacation in parts of Germany. That's interesting because one of the main characters, Addie, is part of a nudist colony in the 1930's run by a German man and while in Koln, Germany I happened to soar above (in a gondola) a nudist colony. I was amused by the parallels. But on to the book itself.
Taking place in the 1930's this title centers on Addie who has been hiding out in a nudist colony for the past 15 years. She and her colony are headed to San Diego for the World's Fair and she's dreading it. She ran away from San Diego years ago and isn't keen on returning. However, Addie has two nieces she would love to see and a sister she needs to reconcile with. This is the story of Addie, and her niece Rumor, during the summer of 1935. Alongside of Addie and Rumor is Mary, Rumor's sister and Addie's other niece; Daisy, Addie's colony roommate; and Wavey, Addie's sister. Romo weaves all of their stories together and provides the backstory to Addie and Wavey's history.
This was an "eh" read. I felt like I was plodding along through it, it was just this side of a decent read for me to finish it but it wasn't as engaging as I thought it would be. I felt like some of the themes Romo tackles were a bit advanced for the time period they were supposed to be in. But perhaps my feeling is off, I'm not privvy to what kind of research about the time period and those topics during the 30's she may have done. I also have no idea what the title is supposed to mean in regards to the story. The book opens with a proverb about whistling women but after reading the book I'm not sure what Romo was trying to say. The final ending of the book and the title, if based on the proverb, didn't match up - they were contradictions of one another. Unfortunately this was a forgettable read for me.




The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Perhaps it's because I'm a reader that I liked this book about other readers, one in particular, so much. Us readers can't seem to get enough of one another and of books! This was a fun book to begin reading while I was in Stockholm, Sweden - Sweden being where our main character, Sara, is from.
Sara is fresh off the plane from Sweden and has found herself in Hope, Iowa. That's not her final destination. Amy, her book pen pal from Broken Wheel, Iowa invited her to visit and is picking her up. But Amy is late and Sara is worried. Here she is in a foreign country and has no idea what to do. Eventually Sara gets to Broken Wheel through the kindness of someone and walks into Amy's house to shocking news. Her two month stay in Iowa has changed drastically and Sara doesn't know what to do. She doesn't want to return home to Sweden but she can only stay so long, and with restrictions, in America. The residents of Broken Wheel begin to make decisions for her and before Sara knows it she's becoming a part of this dying little town. Broken Wheel needs a breath of life and Sara is convinced she, and Amy, can provide something to this town that seems to be barely limping along. Books! Nobody in this town reads so Sara, with Amy's help, sets out to change that. Sometimes it takes someone else's sugar to make the lemonade, Sara is that someone.
With a fun and interesting cast of characters Bivald, a Swedish author, writes a story about a little town in Iowa of all places. I especially loved Sara, a reader that I could really relate to. I loved how Sara listened and observed people and then could find the 'perfect' book/genre for them. I'm always doing that as well except I don't get it right with people like Sara does. I also love how Sara is able to bust through obstacles with people through books. I loved her bookstore and it's shelves of recommended reads. Made me want to open my own just because! This book reminded me, as if I needed one, of why I love reading and why I think reading is so important. It also reminded me that it's okay to put down the book every so often and go live an adventure of my own. This was a very enjoyable story to read.





Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 2016 Bookshelf


Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward by Henry Cloud
256 pages

When a book is so rich in content it is hard to give any sort of adequate review. But I can try! This book came to me by way of recommendation once the news came out that the organization I currently work for is going to go through its first ever President/CEO transition in the next year. What do necessary endings look and feel like? What is the impact of that ending on the person going through it and the people around them?
Us humans tend to shy away from endings. We find them unsettling, uncomfortable, and a host of other "un's" - none of them positive. But endings happen because they are a necessary part of life. And if they are going to happen, and they should happen, then we might as well learn how to do them well. Because most of us?  We don't do them well, we execute them in a way that makes them messy and more uncomfortable than they need to be.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said,"Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending." As it turns out, how things end and our role in it matters more than we think. Chapter 6 of this rich book is titled, "Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What's Worth Fixing and What Should End" and that chapter is a key reason why some endings that should happen never do, or when they do it is messy and more hurt and anger are birthed unnecessarily. Cloud walks the reader through when to hang on and when to let go - when there is still hope and when it's just a wish that will never be anything more. He provides examples of litmus tests, so to speak, to apply to discover if there's any reason to keep moving forward or if it's time to end. But before he gets the reader there he tries to get the reader to accept that endings are a part of life, whether we like them or not. He talks with the reader about making endings a normal part of thinking and behaving. If you've ever read Ecclesiastes 3 from the Holy Bible then you know that way back in the day King Solomon, and God, were also trying to get people to understand that endings are a part of life that is better to accept rather than kick against. At some point in time us humans decided endings were bad, awful, something to shy away from. But in reality endings bring new - new growth, new opportunities, new challenges, new relationships, etc. Cloud is asking the reader to learn to embrace endings. When we can a couple of things happen, one - our role in something ending will be executed in healthier and more positive ways and two - the others involved in the ending will hopefully be able to begin to see endings as okay. The more people that can begin to accept them the more things will begin to end well, or at least better than they have been.
I'm pretty sure I highlighted at least 1/3 of the book. As I said earlier, it is rich in content. Lots of moments where I would read something and do a jaw drop and pause in reading to consider what Cloud was saying. Every chapter held treasures and important information to consider. The important thing to remember, however, is I can only be responsible for myself and my role - I can't force others to participate in healthy endings, That's the frustrating part of self-awareness and self-growth, you can't make anyone else do it also!
As I said earlier, our organization is going through its first ever major ending with the President/CEO retiring and a search for a new one underway. People are nervous, unsure, insecure - including the current President/CEO. So far things aren't ending well - decisions are being made that are setting up dominos of damage and failure once the first one tips over. Someone gifted the soon to be retired President/CEO with this title and we are hoping and praying it is read and taken to heart. We are hopeful the messy ending that is happening right now can be corrected. For my part? Well I participate in appropriate and healthy ways and that's all I can do - that and gift the book to my boss, another executive, for him to read and consider.





Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Michael G. Long
Kindle Edition - 223 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Growing up I didn't watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood very often. Sesame Street was more my thing, perhaps it was more my parents thing? Regardless, I watched enough to know references to the show - Mister Rogers, his cardigans, the residents of the Make-Believe Neighborhood, the song. It wasn't until I was an adult that looking back, er watching back, I could appreciate Mister Rogers for what - and who - he was. And the older I got, the more I saw him outside of his show and appearing on different talk shows etc the more I began to realize what a life rockstar the man was. But I still didn't realize all that Fred Rogers was setting out to accomplish until someone pointed it out to me.
That someone was Michael Long with this title.
In this book Long takes a deep look into the values and mission of Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood. A vegetarian, pacifist, and follower of Christ Rogers used his Neighborhood, real and make-believe, to reach children with a different way/message than the cultural one. His messages were pointed but his method delivered them with a gentleness - of course they did, this was Fred Rogers' way.
As Long puts it early on in the book, "What I found, much to my delight, was a quiet but strong American prophet who, with roots in progressive spirituality, invited us to make the world into a countercultural neighborhood of love - a place where there would be no wars, no racial discrimination, no hunger, no gender-based discrimination, no killing of animals for food, and no pillaging of the earth's precious resources. This is the Fred Rogers I have come to know: not a namby-pamby, mealymouthed, meek and mild pushover, but rather an ambitious, hard-driving, and principled (though imperfect) creator of a progressive children's program designed to subvert huge parts of the wide society and culture." Long goes on to prove each of those points about Rogers in subsequent chapters. Rogers, it turns out, tuned in to the messages being broadcast by the culture, and crafted his shows to counter those messages. Between 1968-2001 he and the Neighborhood attempted to communicate to children (and their parents) that there was another way to consider. And he was often successful at communicating it. Driving his motivation was the ministry of Jesus, Rogers was intentional in allowing his beliefs to drive his messages. He wrote to a friend, "What a tough job to try to communicate the gift of Jesus Christ to anybody. It can't be simply talked about, can it? Jesus himself used parables - so I guess that's our directive: try to show the kingdom of God through stories as much as possible." Welcome to the Neighborhood.




The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute
288 pages

The Arbinger Institute looks at conflict in a very different way, we either honor or betray our way of being and the choice we make determines the kind of conflict we get involved in. Continuing with the ideas presented in Leadership and Self-Deception, as well as in Bonds that Make Us Free, The Anatomy of Peace dissects conflict and turns it upside down, freeing it from traditional thought and methods.
Using a relationship between an Arab and Israelite peace, and the heart of it, is explored in story form. Yusi and Avi run a camp for troubled youth and part of the intervention is a two day parent/guardian seminar. It is during this seminar that the reader gets to listen in and learn about what lies at the heart of conflict and how to turn from war to peace - in our relationships, homes, workplaces, communities. It all centers on our way of being and whether we honor or betray people and our hearts. Generally we operate through dealing with things - and people - that are going wrong and neglecting helping things go right. But when we learn to honor people and our hearts then our focus becomes helping things go right and conflict changes.
There's a lot of conflict happening in my current workplace and I'm always interested in learning more about conflict resolution and learning about my role - willingly or not - in it and how I can improve my communication, etc. This is an excellent resource with profound insights. I highly recommend it, highly.





Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I finished reading this title and immediately went to read reviews on it. Why? Because I was perplexed about the book on the whole. I read the last line and thought, "That's it? WTH?" All in all this title was a disappointment.
Anna, an American living in Zurich with her husband and children, is at loose ends. She blames everything and everyone but herself and her choices. She's been living the Swiss life for 9 years but still can't speak the language very well. She is indifferent to her husband, even more so toward her mother-in-law, has no friends to speak of, and is mildly resentful of her children. We meet her when she has started German language lessons and entered into psychotherapy at the "request" of her husband, Bruno. What the reader is then subjected to is about 2-3 months of Anna's life as it spirals out of control. And by subjected I mean held hostage. Anna is a self-absorbed, petulant, needy, and altogether unlikeable character. Her husband is unlikeable as well. In fact, none of Essbaum's characters in this title draw the reader in. They are all rather bland. Anna is underdeveloped. She keeps bemoaning her lot in life as if some tragedy had befallen her to set her on the path she is on. If there was an actual tragedy Essbaum never let the reader in on it.  Anna's parents died in a car crash when she was in her early 20's but that is the only allusion to tragedy Essbaum gives and in no way serves as a reason for the dysfunction Anna is in. It does not give foundation for the mindless affairs Anna has, for the quicksand she insists on wading in. Bruno is a confusing character - he's an absolute arse for 3/4 of the story and then uncharacteristically becomes "loving" after confronting Anna for the first time about her secret life of affairs. It makes me wonder if Essbaum was drawing a sketch of the Swiss and their personalities or stereotyping or what. Bruno's somewhat sudden personality change was jarring and disrupted the flow of how Essbaum had portrayed him throughout. The only time I feel like Essbaum put some feeling into the story was when she would describe the many sexual encounters Anna has. Dear Lord. One wonders if Essbaum was vicariously living through Anna in those moments.  They were a little much.
One review I read commented that it felt as if Essbaum was trying too hard to write a novel of profound characters and thought. I agree with that review. You could absolutely feel the effort Essbaum tried to give this story but it fell short and that also was evident in the lack of character development, storyline, etc. It was a tedious read, full of weird analogies - dull characters - lacking plot. It tried too hard to be smart and deep. But the book cover is pretty.





The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart
Kindle Edition - 385 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Baart is an author that isn't afraid to tackle the tough issues and controversial characters. Stephen King has advice for writers in his book, On Writing, which is - be true to your character. If your character is rough around the edges then don't shrink back from those descriptions. Baart follows this advice, whether she realizes it or not. She's been labeled a Christian author but she doesn't shrink back from staying true to her characters and I'm guessing this might be offensive to some. In this title Baart keeps it real with her characters in their late teen years and their late 20's. And, as in other titles, she isn't preachy or a user of those Christianese phrases. So refreshing.
Five years ago, from when the story opens, The Five were a united front in life. But as time and maturity happened their unity became fractured until it was no more. Fast forward to the opening of the book and we meet Adri in Africa. It's where she sought refuge from the dissolvement of The Five. But she's been called home to Iowa under an obligation she never thought she would have to bear. Eventually we meet Harper, hiding in plain sight in Minneapolis. A series of choices made as a form of self-punishment have led her to a prison of sorts. Adri and Harper haven't seen or spoken to each other in five years but something, fate?, brings them back together to confront what has had them running all these years. What we are running from will always catch up to us, it's time to stop running.
Another story from Nicole Baart that doesn't feel improbable. She explores the different extremes us humans will go to in order to avoid feelings, truth, hurt, etc. She highlights a couple of different forms of abuse and reminds the reader there are options for safety available. She keeps it refreshingly real.




The Art of Unpacking Your Life by Shireen Jilla
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Hmmm. I am conflicted about this book. I was bored with the story for about the first half and then the second half picked up its pace, in my opinion.
Connie and her longtime group of friends are in Africa on safari for her 40th birthday. They have significant others with them, if they exist, and they are all dancing around one another and the little secrets that have built between them in the last 20 years. Some of the secrets are more just things not discussed, like Connie's husband who has multiple affairs and everyone, including Connie, knows about them. The week spent together in Kalahari will serve to expose secrets, reveal truths long denied, and unearth the core of who each is as a person. It will be a chance to cast off regret from past decisions and to look forward to what could, and perhaps should, be. Two scenes stand out to me as poignant, a stand up and a fly over. You'll have to read the book to discover those scenes for yourself.
Jilla takes the milestone age of 40 and takes the reader on a journey of unpacking a life lived thus far. As humans it is natural for us to do some reflecting at some stage of our life and milestones seem to be the most common times to do so. A life in review, so to speak. Sometimes what we discover surprises us, other times we find we are not surprised at all.




Trust No One: A Thriller by Paul Cleave
Kindle Edition - 353 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Wow. I closed the book and am still unsure of the truth! Does Cleave even know the truth? He doesn't necessarily need to in order to craft this story of a crime writer that has early onset Alzheimer's.
Jerry is a 49 year old fiction crime writer who has Alzheimer's. It has progressed rapidly and the reader is taken back and forth between the diagnosis and the present which eventually meet up. In the present Jerry is confessing to crimes - but they are all crimes his books featured, none of them actually happened. Right? People say they didn't but Jerry, on his his more lucid days, isn't sure what to think or who to listen to. We follow Jerry as he progresses into Alzheimer's. It manifests differently with people and with Jerry it makes him more aggressive and unpleasant. Or could that be who he really is and the Jerry without Alzheimer's is just faking? Jerry isn't sure and he doesn't know who, if anyone, he can trust - including himself.
Great read. The storyline is so intriguing and Cleave develops it well. He had me going back and forth between a few characters the entire book - and even now, after the book is finished. I'm still wondering who did what and when. Cleave does a fantastic job with Jerry's character - the man lucid and the man Alzheimer's has made him. No matter what the truth is the reader, at least this one, is left feeling sad for Jerry and how things have turned out for him.  I'm not sure what kind of research Cleave did for the Alzheimer parts of this story and character but it highlights the cruelty of the disease.





The Girl in the Maze by R.K. Jackson
Kindle Edition - 261 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Alibi for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Jackson's debut novel takes the reader into the marshes of the south and into the recesses of a mind affected by schizophrenia.
Martha Covington is discovering what a normal-for-her life is after spending the past few months in a psych ward receiving help and treatment for her recent schizophrenia diagnosis. She's part of a therapy program that assimilates her back into public life once her meds have evened her out and she understands the voices that speak within her aren't real. She finds herself in Amberleen, Georgia as a summer intern for the historical society. But from the moment of her arrival Martha has a hard time keeping reality and fantasy separate. She's hearing voices and seeing things and is working at testing out their validity. There's a fight going on locally that Martha finds herself a part of unwillingly. Amberleen is surrounded by a complex system of creeks and waterways, only the locals can figure out the maze it creates. Martha, following a series of events she isn't sure are real or not, finds herself in the maze of the marshes and the maze of her mind. If she makes it out of the maze what kind of reality awaits her?
The storyline and characters Jackson has created have potential. And this first attempt didn't disappoint but it did lack a wee bit.  I can't say what it lacked exactly but it was just shy of totally engaging. There were parts of it that felt rushed or underdeveloped, maybe a little of both. There were parts that probably should have been sketched out in more detail. But it didn't disappoint and in fact he created Martha to be an interesting enough character and the town of Amberleen and the nearby Shell Heap Island to be intriguing enough that I will read the next book in this new series. He did a very detailed work with Martha's schizophrenia - so much so that compassion for people who have it was elicited once again from this reader.





Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I always appreciate a good analogy. I appreciate the word play that some authors excel at. McKenzie does so in this title. She takes the actions and terms of actual firefighting and uses them in this story of love.
Elizabeth is a firefighter and an arson investigator. Or she was. These days she sits at a desk and spends time investigating minor offenses. She's a firefighter, she should have known that a little bit of smoke leads to a fire and a fire can be a signal that something isn't right. Elizabeth and her husband, Ben, make a life altering decision the same night she is awakened by smoke and they have to evacuate their home due to a literal fire threatening their neighborhood. The fire on the mountain places their action about the decision on pause as it consumes Elizabeth's time with investigation. As the fire gains momentum the investigation has stops and starts just like Elizabeth and Ben's marriage has had. So many questions run through her mind during the week of investigation and firefighting - can the town be saved? What about her marriage? And what about the friendship that disintegrated a year ago? Can it be revived?
McKenzie builds a strong story and characters with fire as the backdrop. The story was engaging from the start and a super quick read for me. I started and finished it in one sitting which I hadn't intended to do. She kept the story moving along and kept the characters interesting all the way through. She brushes the surface of many serious topics but keeps the book moving in such a way that the reader would have the potential to be annoyed if she stopped at any one of those topics for too long. She pays them just enough attention to help her story and characters, it's as if she knows that there are other titles out there that can focus in on each of those issues in a better way. She stays committed to the purpose of her story.




Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán
Kindle Edition - 254 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I really liked this title about a woman who gets a double dose of life-changing news on the same day and decides to not give in to the fear of it.
Libby has had a bad day, a really bad day. Her doctor and her husband have dealt some hard blows to her heart. In response she decides life is too short, literally, to sit around moping. She takes off for a caribbean island to come to peace with what her life has suddenly become. A small cast of characters help Libby see things a little more clearly than she was and she realizes that maybe life is worth hanging around for.
There was nothing spectacular about this book except I really liked it - I liked the storyline, the characters, the working out of the conflict into a resolution. I may or may not have liked it because Libby took some risks that I'm not sure I would have and I'm okay living vicariously through people - real or fictional.




The Word Game by Steena Holmes
Kindle Edition - 222 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Steena Holmes isn't afraid to talk about hard issues and in this title she highlights abuse.
Alyson is a helicopter parent, it drives everyone a little nuts. Due to a traumatic experience she had when she was a child she is hyperalert to anything that hints toward abuse. So when she sounds the warning bell again, this time with a close family friend's daughter, tensions run high due to her tendency to overreact. But what if this time Alyson's gut instinct is right? What if this time it's true? But what if this time it's not? What is the truth and what isn't?
Holmes correctly taps into the transference people who have been abused struggle with. They read into situations and/or people the abuse that they have also experienced. Sometimes they are right, other times they are wrong. Steena Holmes also explores the family dynamics that occur during and after the abuse situation. Everyone handles their guilt differently and Holmes includes that in her story. Holmes is growing as an author, it's fun to read her books and experience the growth.




Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 2016 Bookshelf


The Palest Ink (Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters 0) by Kay Bratt
Kindle Edition - 418 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I've not read Kay Bratt before, she's a new-to-me author. This title is the prequel to her series Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters and I'm glad to have read it first before starting the series which I am definitely going to do.
This is the story of the definitive beginnings of China's Cultural Revolution led by Chairman Mao. Benfu and his best friend, Pony Boy, have grown up in a China that has been speeding toward Mao's anger with the classes. Now Mao has taken control and the Red Army is wreaking havoc on the citizens of China. Unable to conform to Mao's directives Benfu and Pony Boy attempt to put out a newsletter that tells the other side of the Red Army's actions. It is a dangerous action that can bring death not only to them but to their families if caught. Due to the fear now present in the lives of the people of China, Benfu gets sent away and Pony Boy is left to carry on by himself. Chairman Mao and his Red Army are determined to kill off the beauty of China but can they kill off hope?
I really enjoyed this title and the way that Bratt weaved history into a story. Based off of the other book reviews it seems this story is based an actual true story so I'm curious to read the other titles. What Bratt highlights, knowingly or not, is that nobody can kill off hope - hope lives even in the darkest of times.





Candidate by Tracy Ewens
Kindle Edition - 300 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and IBPA for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

This is a predictable "love story." I think I might at that age/place where these cutesy lust, er love, stories are getting under my skin because they are so unrealistic. Girl and boy meet, both have life baggage of some sort, they eventually get together, there's a conflict of some sort and they choose to misunderstand each other and break up, and then they decide to apologize and they live happily ever after. Sigh.
The story isn't written poorly, that's not the problem with this book. The problem I have with it is it's a cookie cutter book, there are already so many just like it. Another part of the predictability is one or both of the people are always wealthy. There's no way. It's nothing like real life. I would love to read a love story that was realistic.
Ewens doesn't deserve my sighs but reading this book was frustrating overall due to its lack of depth. Not her fault, totally on me.





Brilliance (Brilliance Saga #1) by Marcus Sakey
Kindle Edition - 434 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

"Normal people are frightened, and frightened people are dangerous." (chapter 19)

Sakey writes in a genre I only dip my toes into from time to time. And I confess as I was reading this one I wasn't entirely comfortable reading it. Several things about it bugged me and it wasn't Sakey's writing - it was the storyline. Which, if I felt disturbed by it is probably a compliment to Sakey and his abilities to craft a story that can evoke emotions.
In 1980 a small percentage of the population was born brilliant but it wasn't discovered until they turned 6 and started interacting more socially and academically. From 1980 "brilliants" have been born every year and a division was formed in the country, an us versus them kind of mentality. In response to these "abnorms" (which, along with the term "brilliant", makes my stomach hurt - labels can be dangerous) the "normals" started taking measures to *protect*. Every year the division becomes more apparent and more violent. Nick Cooper is an "abnorm" hunting down other abnorms, a traitor of sorts to his people. But he is doing in the name of equality and for his children and the world he wants to see them to grow up in. He's part of a government arm that hunts down abnorms that are terrorists. Cooper is as normal as he can be for being a tier-one brilliant and he fights hard to keep life normal for his ex-wife and two children. But as with all things, nothing is black and white and the truth is never one side or the other but rather in the middle somewhere. Nick's most recent case has opened a can of worms for Cooper personally and for the divide between the normals and the brilliants. Now what?
Something about this story line is under my skin. I can't quite figure it out yet - even having finished the book. Sakey definitely drew from some historical moments for the title, not so much the actual events but the attitudes and ignorance that led to the moments. WWII and the Muslim backlash because of 9/11 were rather obvious examples he drew from. Perhaps that is what is under my skin, the ignorance, and danger, that is birthed and acted on due to labels. Even though I'm a bit unsettled by the story I am captured enough by it to continue on and read the rest of the trilogy. Good job Sakey for keeping this unsettled reader hooked.




A Better World (Brilliance Saga #2) by Marcus Sakey
Kindle Edition - 390 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

"Right had been warped to do so much wrong." (chapter 13)
"Frightened people want action more than they want correct action." (chapter 32)

I finished this book and immediately jumped into book 3 so now I'm backtracking and hoping I can summarize this title separate from the third book.
In this second book of the trilogy the division between the normals and the abnorms is widening. The abnorms are fed up and declaring a sort of civil war. Because of their gifted abilities they are able to go places and do things the normals can't or wouldn't think of. It's about a month after the first book ends and agent, well former agent, Nick Cooper is a bit at loose ends. He could go back to work at the agency he's been with or he could do...what? Nothing that Nick does is ever normal. He wasn't meant for normal. Reports of increasing unrest are multiplying and Cooper knows he has to be a part of some kind of solution. Unwilling to take sides in the "us versus them" war escalating Cooper sets out to handicap both sides in hopes that people will wake up and realize there are no sides, just humans. The abnorms are working on something that they think will make a better world and the normals are working on eliminating the abnorms completely to reclaim a better world. Problem is, neither side is right because both sides have forgotten what Nick wants them all to be reminded of.
This title didn't unsettle me as much as the first - perhaps I just decided to get over some of the verbiage that makes me unsettled. Not only do I see Sakey continuing to draw from real life examples for the civil war erupting in his trilogy but his own thoughts and views are contained within as well. It's one of the things I think is fascinating about authors - they can communicate controversial or hard thoughts in fiction form that makes it easier for many different kinds of people to read and think about. It becomes a platform of sorts.


Written in Fire (Brilliance Saga #3) by Marcus Sakey
Kindle Edition - 345 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

"Mostly, people believe they're doing the right thing. Even the ones who are doing bad things usually believe they're heroes, that whatever terrible thing they're doing is to prevent something worse. They're scared." (chapter 9)
"Not monsters; just men. Men who had lost loved ones or lost faith, who were too panicked to see beyond the animal side of themselves. Steeped in fear, hardened with pain, and released from bounds. There's nothing more dangerous." (chapter 29)

And so the Brilliance Trilogy concludes with this third title, Written in Fire. America is at a crossroads. And at the center are the major players for the normals and the abnorms. The abnorm heading up the civil war is John Smith (not his real name) and as things progress his end game becomes clear. He isn't planning on warring the traditional way, he's going the biological route and if he succeeds the normals could cease to exist. But the normals aren't ready to give up the fight, they have picked up their guns - literally - and are advancing on what they perceive to be the threat. Unfortunately their perception is a perfect cover for John Smith's real activities. Nick Cooper is unwilling to let either side see victory, he doesn't want one side to win and the other to lose - he wants humanity to win. Cooper has to figure out how to beat a chess grand master at his own game and hold back the militia that has formed from killing thousands of people they can only see as threats. Can a chess grand master ever be beat at his own game, that he created?  There's only one way to find out - play it.
In this title I was reminded of the "us versus them" war we are having these days between straight people and those of the LBGT community. This book really highlighted, in my opinion, some of the possible reasons for the unrest in our world due to other people's choice to be different/live different/etc. It's interesting to see from a fictionalized perspective. And it is sobering. Sakey, in all three books, provided some very profound thoughts about people, labels, and our responses to them.




Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
216 pages

I started reading this title, in my self-formed CE of the workplace, and thought, "Gosh, some of this sounds so familiar - in fact the same kinds of ideas etc as in Bonds That Make Us Free" - which happens to be a favorite book of mine and I highly recommend to people. And then the dots connected. It is the ideas and thoughts in that book and crafted into how they can be implemented in the workplace! Same people. Love it.
The visual used in this book, however, I connected with a bit more or better than in Bonds so I'm super glad to have read this book.  I found it to be very helpful and not just for the workplace. For life in general. It gave me a lot to think about and consider. It highlighted what I like to call the "Philippians 2 Default" and encourages me to reexamine my motivations etc.
Written in the highly popular genre of workplace fiction, the reader learns about the box through employee Tom's POV. What I loved, in part, about this story were the examples from life - in and out of the workplace - used that were spot on in terms of realistic and relevant. I've got a lot of chewing and considering, and for my personal approach - praying, to do in light of this "refresher" read about self-betrayal and how that affects our interactions.)




Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...about Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business
by Patrick Lencioni
260 pages

Another leadership fable. It's the title that caught my attention - Death by Meeting. How many hallelujahs are being said upon reading that title? We all know how it feels to be stuck in a meeting in which we can feel our very life being sucked out of us. I read this in my CE of the workplace.
This was a really interesting and informative way of looking at the problem of meetings and how to solve them. I realized while reading this that the current ELT at my workplace has either read this book and implemented its ideas or just somehow "knew" to follow this model for meetings. I'm guessing one of them read the book. I don't mean that as an insult but they follow this model so closely that somebody on the team had to have brought it to the table, so to speak.
Lencioni writes a leadership fable (it's all the rage you know) about bad meetings and how they impact the entire organization - morale and productivity. Every action or lack thereof touches and affects others, nothing is 100% isolated and contained to itself. Workplace morale, productivity, engagement, etc are all created by how the ELT conducts their meetings because what happens, or doesn't happen, in those meetings filters down to everyone each of the ELT oversees.
About a year ago I started changing the way I recorded and had meetings with my boss. Reading this gave me reminders of practices I had considered but never implemented and ideas of how to improve the meetings we have and how I can help him troubleshoot other meetings he may be having that aren't getting any results. I found this book to be a great resource.




The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
227 pages

Clearly I'm on a leadership fable binge. In this one an executive team is introduced to the five dysfunctions of a team and put to the test. Some survive and some don't. I think the biggest and best piece of information in general and in this book is tolerating someone's bad behavior just because they may do good work is detrimental to the company, the work done, and the morale. Do not tolerate bad behavior - deal with it. Do not tolerate the bad behavior of one at the expense of many. Do not avoid what needs to be confronted and discussed - whether that is a business decision or a personnel decision. Not only is this information important and necessary for executive teams to practice but it can be practiced in any kind of team at any kind of pay level. The other great piece of advice in the book is this, becoming a team and staying a team is hard work - you have to commit to the hard work of you want it to succeed.