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.