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.




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