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)
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.


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