Saturday, September 9, 2017

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important GoalsThe 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by several people at different times over the last year, and I was even given a hard copy by one of them. With my training schedule I have been moving through the audio books, so the hard copy sat on the shelf until another friend lent me their audio version. I'm calling out the audio version here because I try to stick with unabridged audio versions of books to keep my "reading" goal pure, but this was an exception.

Here is my take.
Pros: The process and principles they talk about in The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) seem to be valid, both intuitively and as far as I have experimented with them. The authors took some common sense, mixed it with corporate experience and feedback, and then wrapped it in a cocoon of marketing for memorability, and thus 4DX was born. I feel like you could quickly and easily share this process of execution with a team and ask be on the same page.

Cons: I don't think the authors see that they give conflicting and incomplete advice. It is conflicting because they preach loud and clear the doctrine of focus, but then outline a system that represents several large changes all at once. If you actually implemented all of this system all at once, you would use all your focus on the process, not the outcomes. In our company we have been having regular accountability meetings, and followed several other patterns mentioned in 4DX, and while our execution is far from flawless, we have seen a huge benefit from this structure. Now, with the 4DX info in my toolbox, we are going to make a few tweaks their direction which I think will improve our execution even more, but there are parts that I don't plan on implementing right away, if ever. Secondly, it is incomplete because the authors missed a major component: managing the change that implementing 4DX requires. These guys are professional management consultants from Franklin Covey. Last I checked, they teach stuff like change management to execs all the time. Why is it missing here? I'll refer here to my favorite change model- the Influencer Model. They need to deal with the structure and social requirements to make 4DX stick in organizations. At the end of the book they include success stories that all exhibit behaviors that comply with these models, but the authors don't give it the credit it is due. For example, the idea of a bunch of blue collar workers wearing pink wigs together to their WIG meeting was an example of a group that was engaged. Another common example was the creative bulletin boards of metrics. But it is more than just employees having fun with the program. It is an important social aspect to a successful implementation. You have to have a change model in place. Visible scoreboards are important, but why? You are changing the physical environment, or structure, of the situation, but I would bet there are many other structural components in a successful implementation that are just as important.

So at the end of the day, I'm luke warm on this one. The content was good, but not as comprehensive as it is painted to be. It is a worthwhile read but, like a fine meal, needs to be paired with complimentary pieces to really deliver. (Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Influencer, Leadership and Self Deception. )

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius by Marc Seifer

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a GeniusWizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius by Marc Seifer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nikola Tesla was an amazing man, but this was a mediocre book. It did a good job of presenting Tesla's achievements, debunking myths about his inventions, and showing the reader who he really was. On the flip side, as seems to happen often with biographies, it was too long. Too many pages were spent on back stories of acquaintances, technical details that were not useful to the non-engineer reader, and defending plausible conclusions of the author. Although the latter was the least offensive of the three, it still seemed to go on too long. If there was any content lacking, I would have enjoyed more examples of how our modern-day technology is based on Tesla's research. Not only did I find those examples personally interesting, but they make many of his discoveries more relevant to the reader, which increases engagement.

So in the end I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science and history, and that has a stomach for long drawn out details that are not important to the main story line :)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Sales. Simplified.: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development by Mike Weinberg

New Sales. Simplified.: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business DevelopmentNew Sales. Simplified.: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development by Mike Weinberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 stars. That's all I really need to say. This is not a perfectly written book, and the author has some personal positions and definitions that I don't agree with, but I like his direct and open honesty. It means that this book is chock full of common sense, and isn't beholden to best practice as a limiting factor, but rather states best practice based on experience. It is the kind of book I'd like to write, if I'm ever dumb enough to write a business book. Don't tell me what your corporate training told you to do, and don't tell me what some researcher suggests you do, but tell me what works. What truth have you uncovered through experience?

Just to be clear, I'm not anti-research, but the research based books written by consultants and university professors are a dime a dozen. They range for boring to uninspiring as they try to tell the world what they think they know from observing and analyzing others. That is the differentiator. This book isn't based on any experience but his own. And when you want to question a conclusion, he has ALL the facts about the situation. To put it in academic terms, he has roughly 100% of the data of his experience, not a statistically significant number of survey responses.

So I foresee this on my list of regular rereads. But for now, if you are in sales, or in a leadership role in a company and are wondering how to improve your sales team, read this now.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust BowlThe Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was out of my mind for the last third of this book. Basically, I listened to it during an extended work trip and between the daily around the clock schedule, the jet lag of international travel, and my ongoing marathon training plan I was struggling to say the least. I wonder if this helped me to relate to those struggles outlined in the book? No, I don't think so. My saving grace was that the whole experience was lubricated by ever-flowing Mtn Dew. Yes, someday I will pay the price for this.

About the book: This was an interesting read that was part history, part drama, and part instruction manual. While I had heard about the Dust Bowl crisis in a classroom years earlier, this was the most in-depth look I have had of the whole situation. No, I have not read the Grapes of Wrath, or any other such drama-heavy versions of the time period. The Wizard of Oz conjured up the closest related literary experience in my memory, but was not a great parallel based on the number of Munchkins and witches involved. Those people lived in a tough time, no bones about it, and the lessons in human nature, government intervention and respect for nature abound in their stories.

Why this is just a 3-star book for me: While the stories were fascinating, I don't know that I appreciated the delivery. The writing was fantastical, using language that I felt inflated each moment in an effort to wring the drama out of the story. Yes, the times were tough. People died. It was awful. But the narrative felt like it was trying to convince me that this was the worst thing that had ever happened on the face of the earth. The title even claims it. Really? The worst ever? There are millennia of bad times, tough situations, both man made and natural in this comparison. Were invading troops of nomads sacrificing humans and eating babies? Were people caught in earthquakes that swallowed up loved ones whole, never to be seen again?

Yes, these were hard times, but there is a universal truth that is ignored when a story is approached like this: someone always has it worse than you. Especially when you take on all of human history. The atrocities we know of are heart wrenching. There are probably so many more that we are blessed to NOT know about. How can we say that one time, or one challenge is the worst? Why should we portray any one event in so fantastic a light that it is labeled as the "worst"? Don't we each have a "worst" time in our lives, and while it may not objectively measure up with history's standards, it will be the most real for me. And this is not just the claim on the cover, it is the tone that pervades the entire book. So while the story was interesting, I was continually rubbed raw by this point throughout the book. It was like millions of tiny particles of sand by endlessly thrown against my eardrums until the only thing I could hear was the pleading of my mind for surrender from the drama (see what I did there? Pretty annoying, right?)

So, give over. Let this awful time be an awful time, not the worst time. Let these stories of brave, although in some instances foolish, men and women carry their own weight. Don't embellish or try to paint the scene with your own palette of emotions. I'll get it when I hear the story. Don't use flowery language to tell me the story. Show me the story, and as a feeling human being, I'll experience the emotion on my own.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was both captivating and frustrating, and in the end I'm left somewhat disappointed. I decided to read this on a long flight where a more studious choice would not have made the time pass as quickly. I needed a story that captured my imagination and let me escape for at least 11 hours, and this book was just that. I was pulled into a well written fantasy with a great setting, diverse cast of characters, and deep magic system. It was the page turner I needed.

While it did fill that role, it also had its weaknesses, and as I continued to read the pile of weaknesses began to look more like a mountain. Somehow, in the midst of great characterization and intriguing plot twists, this book became focused on sex. It came out of the blue and hijacked a great story. I can't recommend this book to my 14 year-old read-aholic son now. I hate that.

Second, while I was eager to find out what Kvothe would do next, this page-turner was also a sleeper at times. The reader is left on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next while chapter after chapter rolls by. It was really odd. I still consider it well written, but it also felt like it took forever. Perhaps it is the fact that the story being told is in past tense that snaps back to the present now and then. The inner story processes around year in time, while the telling of the story only moves a day. I guess that the tension adds to the overall suspense of the story, but so little movement happened in this book that I don't feel I got my money's worth. And when I say money, I mean time.

Finally, Kvothe's relationship with Denna makes no sense. Their relationship didn't develop, and after the experiences he had there is no way that it would still be in the same state. Either the commitment level would increase, or at least one of them would be moving on. Maybe it worked when they were both young and innocent, but the innocence is gone for both of them, so something's gotta give.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a great book of half truths. As one of my wife's previous book club reads, I saw it and thought "why not?" I was in between books and didn't have one on deck.

The truth half of the book- don't hang on to stuff that doesn't make you happy. Don't waste your life accumulating stuff. When organizing, focus on reducing volume before creating or buying storage solutions. Everything should have its place, and there are two reasons things are messy: you don't know where they go, or you aren't very good at putting them there.

The false half of the book: (These are my statements, or responses to themes in the book that I did not agree with.) Things are things, they aren't alive. They don't have feelings, and they don't talk to you. They may elicit emotion, but that comes from you, not the thing. Happiness doesn't come from having nothing. It is OK to stock up on something if it makes you happy and is not a sign that you are a hoarder. For example, I believe that being prepared for a natural disaster is a good thing. Some modest stores of food, clothing, and other supplies brings me peace. I do not have a fallout shelter with a 5 year supply of MREs and guns however, nor is my day-to-day life filled with anxiety over the potential for disaster.

In the end, this book was OK. It had too many contradictions for me, with the chief one being that the author promoted living in a way that brought you joy, but then portrayed her ideals and lifestyle as the true way to experience joy. If have some extra time and you are interested in tidying up something in your life, sure read this one. But I would take it as something to think about, not a prescription or process to follow.

Friday, July 21, 2017

You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts

You Can Write a MysteryYou Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggle with nonfiction. It is sad but true. This is a great book that covers not only the basics of writing a mystery, but the basics of writing any fiction book. And it handles that huge task in around 120 pages! What more could you ask for? It was well written, concise, and the tips were perfect for the budding author. And yet it took me somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 weeks for me to finish it! Something about nonfiction just doesn't hold my attention, even when it is a topic I'm interested in, it is well done, and gets straight to the point. I find my mind wandering after half a page, or even after a paragraph or two. It was ridiculous. I've encountered this before with other books and had suspicions that the books were boring or the content was off, but this is empirical evidence that it is all me. This was a great book and I recommend it highly. I also need to get some medication or something...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker (Warbreaker, #1)Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What to say about Brandon Sanderson... Really, there is only one thing to say. The man is a flipping genius.

Every book he has written has had deep characters, unexpected plot twists, unique magic systems, and have been true page-turners. And they are all connected! I have to believe that unless he massively implodes like a one hit wonder rapper that just won the lottery, by the time his career is over he will be the GOAT (greatest of all time, for all you non NBA fans out there) of fantasy fiction.

So I'll stop geeking out over the Sanderson, and get back to the book. As the first book he wrote, it is a book about princesses. Can anyone spell "cliché"? Well, my spell checker can. But he took a mediocre fantasy setting with princesses and added a cool magic system, deep political and religious themes, and a bloodthirsty magic talking sword. How can that go wrong? And it didn't! I thought it was amazing, with plot twist after plot twist until you are so turned around you don't know good guys from bad guys. Then you have to keep reading to find out.

The only flaw I saw in this book was the magic system. The concept is cool, and the action scenes it enabled were also cool, but the system itself is tricky. I felt he got stuck fairly often. For example, at the end Vasher has to get fancy with his breath, and needs color to do it, so he uses the bloodstains on his clothes? If that's possible, no one is without color, they can just cut themselves in a pinch. Or they can dump wine on their clothes to stain them, and then immediately use the color and not even have to send their clothes to the cleaners. You couldn't torture an awakener that still had breath, because their own blood would give them power to escape. Anyway, that is one example. There are other details that bothered me, but the key thing is that it is a finicky magic system. I wonder if that isn't the reason Sanderson has been slow to come back to this series. I felt the same way about the Rithmatist.

Having said that, I loved this book, and look forward to reading more like them. I still need to read Elantris, and then I might break down and start the Stormlight Archives. My son is a huge fan and has been tempting me to read them, although that goes against my rule of not reading an in-progress series. We'll see.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon GreatnessEat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Once again, my marathon training schedule had eaten through my downloaded audio books, and so I grabbed this one on Audible. It was a great choice for the situation. You can't complain about a 20 mile training run while listening to Scott's experience running 50, 100 or 135 miles... and winning! The insider look at the life of a world-class ultra runner is definitely motivational.

On the other side, a large portion of this book was devoted to promoting vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. That was interesting, but less so than the running part. I can appreciate how Scott feels it contributed to his success, but I can't help but feeling like he was crazy every time he started talking about it.

And then there was the personal life part of the book. I don't know that it was meant to be a subplot, and it was somewhat subtle, but when I stepped back from the story, it was about all I saw. How did his running affect his view of the world? While he was a professional athlete, how did he contribute to society, and how did he detract from it? Were the relationships he touted throughout his story the type of relationships I want my cross country running sons to seek out? For me, none of those answers were positive ones, and it shaped my view of the whole book.

So at the end of the day, while I found the book to be motivational from a running perspective, for me this was a story about how to succeed at running while failing at life. It shows how to justify a lack of focus on others by focusing on "finding" yourself. Being "present" is not necessarily bad, except where being "present" keeps you from planning for the future. While I'm sure Scott is a nice guy to talk to, he is not a role model for my kids, or for me for that matter. My life is defined by my commitment to my wife and my family, not to my profession or hobbies. That sounds a little pointed perhaps, but it is how I felt about it as I listened to the story, pounding out mile after mile by myself, hoping to succeed at a personal goal while not costing my family too much.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By now there isn't much I can say about Flavia that I haven't already said. I guess I can add that she has a superhuman ability to operate in all kinds of weather. If I was walking, riding, or sleuthing in the rain and snow like she does, I'd definitely at least complain about it, if not hesitate to go on or even completely give up. Then again, I plan on retiring to Arizona some day.

Of course, the situation with her father has implications for the rest of the series, but Bradley kept that as a subplot the whole time, and I'm not sure what to think. Part of me feels like it is the replacement conflict now that the Harriet and Buckshaw questions seem to be resolved. Or rather than the new conflict, this could be a resolution to her father's financial problems, thereby letting the series either wrap up or move on to new territory.

I am now in the unfortunate situation of waiting for the next book to come out in September. I hate that, but I have no one to blame but myself. As for this book, I give it a solid 3 stars. I enjoyed it, but nothing in this series is wowing me at this point.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Flavia de Luce, #7)As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The change of setting in this installment in the Flavia series was hard for me. I'll give it credit for the variety it brings and the chance for the character to grow, but it had some issues. First, while I get that Flavia is supposed to be a child prodigy, she still is human and she doesn't remotely act her age. Second, an Academy of all girls at that age seems like there would have been more conflict. A tickling attack? An obsession with smoking? OK, I guess that one might have been a real thing, I don't know, but it still seems like we didn't see the underside of any establishment like that. Cliques, negative peer pressure, those that naturally fight Flavia's control of situations. Other than that it was OK. A nice 3 star read, but not one I would spend time on if it weren't for my commitment to the series.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one had a slower pace than previous books in this series, as all the action was around the funeral. Also, it lacked the ingeniousness of her normal sleuthing activities, although we still got the usual heavy helping of precociousness. The bright spot was the deepening of the bigger plot. I wonder if this was really all planned out in the beginning, or if around book three or four Bradley realized he was on to something and started building up to a cloak-and-dagger type plot? While I do like the "new" plot, it is lacking some of the whit and charm of the old plots, and we will have to see how the next school setting installment turns out before I decide if I feel like the series was ruined, or given new wings.

On a final positive note, the exclamation "Yaroo!" has officially entered my vocabulary during this reading, so points to you, Mr. Bradley.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce, #4)I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Flavia marathon continues! Now I'm on an extended road trip with my family, and since I am in the drivers seat most of the time, I'm get to choose the book and so we are making some good progress on Flavia.

This book continues the subplots started in the last book regarding the death of Harriet and the financial woes of the family, all in the context of the post war rebuilding era. The best thing about this book isn't the sleuthing, but rather the emotional growth of our relationship with the de Luce family, which we needed if this was to be a series. We needed to understand their complex interactions better, ironically so we could be mystified by them at the same time. We needed to know that the sisters really do love each other, to be properly confounded when they mistreat each other for obtuse reasons. We need to see Colonel de Luce's love for his youngest daughter, and for his beloved wife, so he doesn't fade into the background of this story like an uncaring stamp-collecting stump. Bradley steps up to the plate and does all of this and more in this book, earning it an extra star. I'm looking forward to the next book more for the overarching emotional tension than I am to hear another whodunit, although, that is a necessary part of a mystery.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3)A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A while back (2015) I decided to attempt getting through the Flavia de Luce books again. They are not bad by any means, but my wife enjoys them more than I do and my attention wanders a bit in between installments. Well, I got through 2 books, and sure enough, my attention wandered. The good thing for me is that I put first five or so books on my phone, and there I was running a week or two ago and my audio book ended. As I ran along I navigated to my book folder and selected the first thing that I hadn't listened to yet, and so progress on my Flavia goal has recommenced.

I like the mystery aspect of these books, as well as the characterization. Flavia is a precocious star. I do struggle with the impossible thought processes and behaviors packed into this 11 year old character, but as long as I can put that aside, the story is enjoyable. Some of the description, and even the style of the author tends to be overly wordy and drag a bit, but I've found that I easily overcome the objection by listening to it at 1.5x speed.

Overall, I enjoyed this read, especially as it pertained to the overall series. Read it, but start with book 1, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great book. It was full of action, retro pop culture references that added to the plot rather than just distracting, a dystopian setting that brought its own drama, and a satisfying conclusion.

One of the things I really liked about this was book was the good old fashioned happy ending. Some might criticize it for being predictable, but I found it refreshing. None of Wade's friends betrayed him. The bad guys didn't have to completely win to provide an impressive come back by the protagonist. Wade was not without challenges, but when it was time to fight he won, and I appreciated that.

For examples, the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix is the poster child for contemporary novels where the protagonist has to lose to win. In the Beyonders (Brandon Mull), Jason has the same issue. And The Hunger Games. And on and on... I understand the writing advice to put your character in the worst possible situation, so the vistory is sweeter when you get them out of it, but the problem is that what used to be the unexpected failure scene is now predictable. I'm waiting for the world to explode on the protagonist, so I can see what excuse the author has for somehow rebuilding it.

Anyway, that is a bit of a tangent, but it is something I like about RPO. While I'd like to recommend this book to everyone I know, including my sons, the language and few choice scenes make me hesitate. So I give it a cautious recommendation and thus 4 stars. If you can stomach some adult language and situations this book is worth the read.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About ItThe E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Years ago I attended a weekend seminar where various motivational and education material was for sale at a table at the back of the room. I spent my hard earned money on a set of cassette tapes of a live Emyth seminar by Michael Gerber. On those 6 (or was it 8?) cassette tapes I got most of the concepts around his "build a franchise prototype" philosophy.

Here I am years later and two business degrees later, and I finally decided that it was time to read the book and see if there was anything I missed. For the record, there really wasn't.

The seminar did a good job of laying the foundations in a quick, concise and interesting way. The book took a little longer to develop, and I found it to be overfilled with his own story, one that I didn't find appealing. He was basically a hippie-turned-sales-consultant. Those facts aside, I still really like his philosophy, although with more years of experience under my belt, I had a few reservations.

My chief reservation with the "franchise prototype" that he promotes is that in his model the owner still had to know how to fix everything in order to build the initial process manual. Even a well-meaning, hardworking business owner is not likely to do a good job of that. They question becomes how to hire and motivate professional managers to both create and maintain processes. A second and less important issue with the book: he spends a lot of time on mysticism. Get over it and focus on the content dude:)

What I love about this book: It make an impressive case that process-based solutions are the way to go. He delivers a focused plan to the often overlooked segment of small family or "cottage" businesses, rather than huge organizations, and it is a plan that anyone could apply if they wanted to.

If you own or run a small business, you should read this book. Ignore the personal mumbo jumbo, and the rest will be worth your time.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Sapphire Rose by David Eddings

The Sapphire Rose (The Elenium, #3)The Sapphire Rose by David Eddings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great ending to this series, not because it was amazing from a literary sense, or the most intriguing finish ever, but because it was consistent. It carried on the best things about this series in a satisfying ending that both answered the key outstanding questions, and at the same time it set the table for another series.

What were the best things? Here are couple points I really liked:

--Sparkhawk, as a character, is a solid base to build around. While it would be a fair criticism to say that he didn't experience as much growth as a main character should, his stability was almost a basis for the plot, much as the setting is. And where his character lacks growth, he provides entertainment, with a mix of action, comic relief, and straight talk with other characters.

--Deity. The religious features of this series is really what brought me back to reread it after so many years. Yes, it addresses and speaks about the daily religious observances that may grow tedious for some, but in a setting where those being worshiped are also characters. And then by tying that relationship into the magic system we get a perfect recipe for a fantasy series.

I wouldn't call this a must-read, but if you have a free weekend, and want an enjoyable, if not predictable, classic fantasy, this series is the one.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone knows that I am a Disney geek. I've been to every Disney theme park in the world (ok, I have to get to Shanghai now that it's open). I've watched the movies, soaked up the documentaries about Walt and wear Mickey pajamas to bed (don't tell anyone.) Disney's partnership with Pixar and subsequent acquisition was one of their smartest moves in recent history, so when I saw Creativity, Inc, it immediately made it onto my must-read list.

While I enjoyed the story, and the Disney references throughout the book, as I expected to, I was surprised to find that the business principles were equally interesting. While they were focused on a creative enterprise, the organizational theories seemed applicable across many industries. I came away questioning the level of candor I experience in my workplace. I'm also examining our approach to process when compared to our trust and empowerment of people. I appreciated these tidbits, since for me they constituted added value I hadn't expected.

Finally, one other thing that surprised me was to learn about the size of Pixar at different points in their history. It was always much smaller than I had assumed. By the end of the book, the studio that saved Disney's animation credibility, in my mind, was only 1100 employees strong. I would have assumed at least twice that. How awesome would it be to be in a business that size and yet produce products that are known the world over. I don't know if I'm adding that to my bucket list yet, but I'm considering it.

Great book. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Don't Call It That Second Edition: A Naming Workbook by Eli Altman

Don't Call It That Second Edition: A Naming WorkbookDon't Call It That Second Edition: A Naming Workbook by Eli Altman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because our company is going through a name change. I don't consider myself a creative type--something I'm beginning to rethink--so we hired a consultant to help us. He is a great guy to work with, and he has exponentially more experience at this than our whole team put together, but the process turned out to not be what I expected. I guess I expected him to come in, learn our business, then come back in a week or two with 5 names, of which 2 or 3 would wow us all. And that would be that. Update the logos on our website, submit a legal form or two, and buy t-shirts for a kickoff party.

That ain't how it works, folks. It took 8 meetings and lots of confusion to get to a name that the stakeholders in the room could agree to. I didn't say that we loved it, it took that long to just agree on a name we could all live with. After the process was over, I went to the internet to try to figure out what had happened, and I ran into this book. After what we paid the consultant, the $25 price tag felt like pocket change, so I bought it.

What I found was that for $25 I got many weeks worth of experience and ah-ha moments packaged in about 45 minutes of reading (there are a lot of pictures in this book). Here are a few of my key take aways from this book:

-It still came down to picking a name you like. Not very scientific. It did help to have guidance in our brainstorming, and to hear some experiential common sense about what to stay away from, but just picking a name that I like does not feel satisfying. Maybe I just lack confidence, but I want some kind of data to indicate that I'm making a good decision.

-All too often this book said to write down wild names, awful names, boring names, good names, etc. If I knew how to distinguish between a "good name" and an "awful name" I probably wouldn't have bought that book. There are examples of names I think are awful, but are they awful? What is the criteria for that? I didn't know then, and after reading the book, I still don't know.

-And then there is the name of his company A Hundred Monkeys. Sure it is memorable, but, well, it sounds awful to me. Why would I want to do business with a bunch of animals? I don't even like animals. Maybe I am on my own there, but then again, I think I'm dead in his target market at the moment, so wouldn't that mean he missed his market with his name? (Although the rest of his marking worked obviously, since I found and bought the book.) Maybe that just goes to show that the name, and even the branding/marketing (the book is an eyeblinding flourescent orange) doesn't matter as much as the content.

Was it worth $25? Yes, but then it wasn't MY $25 that paid for it:) Is it worth a read if you are naming something? Yes. Will it function as a handbook to help you produce a name by the end? YMMV, but for me, no. It did quickly help me get the lessons that I gained from working with a consultant for 3 months, but it is not the magic bullet I was hoping for.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Ruby Knight by David Eddings

The Ruby Knight (The Elenium, #2)The Ruby Knight by David Eddings
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If there was ever a series where multiple books really seemed like one story, this is it. The action, feel, style, characters, and conflict all feel like The Diamond Throne never ended.

I like the buildup to the big reveal in the last chapter (avoiding a spoiler here.) I knew it was coming, having read this series before, but it still struck me. It was one of the main things I remember about the series from my first reading, and it seemed masterful then. It still is.

One issue I had was the ease with which these apparently noble representatives of a religion mingle with criminals. I understand the need they had to work together, but on an interpersonal level I felt it went way to smoothly. No insults? No reservations regarding their own safety? And on the theives side, no anger at being potentially seen as servants when they obviously shunned normal roles in society?

Aside from that, I still enjoyed this book. Again, it is a straight forward story of knights on a quest that chop things up with their swords as needed, and trust magic to do the rest. Simple plots like this are hard to come by in our contemporary fantasy fiction, and I appreciate this book for what it is.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Diamond Throne by David Eddings

The Diamond Throne (The Elenium, #1)The Diamond Throne by David Eddings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book years ago, but it made it back on my to-be-read list. I have really enjoyed the classic knight-on-a-quest format that you don't see any more. True, the early fantasy community kind of wore out the archetypal journey plot, but for me it is like coming home. Having a magic system that is both an overarching basis for the plot, and at the same time fairly limited is a nice twist.

I like the characters and the plot line. The downside is the pace. It takes so long for the characters to get from one place to another, that is gets old. My final evaluation would be on the writing. I enjoyed the Belgariad from Eddings, but haven't read his other stuff. This book feels like an early outing for him. Characters who are traveling slowly all day for some reason start a strategic conversation the reader can eavesdrop on at night when they stop. It feels unnatural. Can't the plot evolve as the move around? Do they ride around in silence? It is a small things, but bugs me regularly.

I am enjoying this series, and look forward to finishing it out. I had forgotten the fairly adult themes at times (incest, prostitution, human sacrifice), but the language is fairly reserved compared to more recent books with similar features, so I actually find it a lot easier to move past those items and focus on the story. It isn't a kids books, but I wouldn't worry too much about today's teens picking it up.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I found very little to like, and lot that I could barely tolerate, in this book. I finished it as a book club read with a huge sigh of relief. Then I read the reviews on it on Goodreads, and I have lost hope for the literary community. What are all of these people thinking? The writing was distracted and disjointed, the medical descriptions were gory and extraneous. There was a huge theme of overblown sexuality that taught nothing of value. Since I have to give it at least one star, the star I will give it is for the brief looks into Ethiopian life and culture, although I don't know how much of that content is fiction vs. reality.

This book was awful, and I now trust the entire Goodreads community less. Or at least, I think that we are all out there reading "our" types of books and giving them high ratings, which means that if I step outside of the genres I normally read I am unlikely to be steered well by trusting ratings. I think that is sad, because that would be a key benefit of such a rating system.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity by Dave Ramsey

The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and GenerosityThe Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity by Dave Ramsey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is hard for me to describe The Legacy Journey. It was an educational book, but took a leisurely pace. It was a spiritual book, and had me looking up bible verses multiple times. It also felt like an instruction manual, with some specific ideas on what to do in certain situations.

This is not meant to be a replacement for the Total Money Makeover or Financial Peace, but rather it felt like an appendix that needed to be written. Everything after baby step 4 in Dave's standard plan gets a little fuzzy for many of us, and while this book does not provide the specific tasks to go from point A to point B, it does answer many of the questions from people who are at step 4 or beyond and not sure how money fits in their lives from then on.

I can't say this is a must read for everyone, but if you have read either of Ramsey's flagship books (TMM or FP) and have applied those lessons to help you win with money, then this book is worth your time. While your mileage may vary, it left me with a desire to learn how to give, something I'm not only bad at, but something I haven't even spent much time contemplating.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14)A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a momentous day. I started re-reading this series over a year ago, and started my original reading of the series 20 years ago. And today I finally finished the final book. As you can imagine, I have a lot to say so I'll try to stick to key points, but I wont be able to avoid spoilers, so you are hereby warned.

The wrap up: It felt like it took forever, and at the same time it went too fast. And it is hard to put my finger on why. I think that the battle scenes were not connected to the actual last battle well (Rand's fight), so it felt like over half the book was spent on things that didn't really matter. As often happens with epic fantasies, the real struggle at the end is metaphysical, and is hard to follow. I was with Sanderson until the very end where Rand and Moridin commence their fight. If Callandor was really a trap, why didn't Rand just pretend to drop it at the beginning of the fight? Was the encounter with the darkness and the inner struggle with the Dark One really an accident for Rand?

Characters: A lot of characters were killed off, and at first I was put off by that, but in the end I was mostly ok with the sacrifices, although the Amyrlin's story line was not wrapped up for me. Couldn't Egwene and Gawyn have at least some happiness in their relationship? Siuan and Gareth Bryne, well it's sad, but I can accept it. I think I would have preferred Galad to not have made it. He was an annoying character most of the time, so it seems unfair. In fact, we hear nothing about the Children of the Light at the end, and I hope they got wiped out. I know that sounds cold, but they were a hypocrisy the entire series.

Biggest pet peeve: the Seanchan. I said in a previous review that if the culture of damane was not resolved it would be a huge detractor from the whole series for me. I'm standing by that. I don't care that they were used to win the last battle, or that they were a fitting punishment for Forsaken. In the end, this book condones human slavery, and that is not ok. Aside from that point as a moral position, there is the issue of Tuon as a character. Where was her growth? I expected some kind of awakening where she becomes enlightened and incorporates the best of what she sees on this continent into her empire, resolving the dark side of the Seanchan plot line. And what about the part where she can learn to channel? The issue of whether or not she chooses to doesn't hold water, because that same argument could be used for damane as well. Why treat them like murderers when they haven't made that choice yet? Anyway, the final status of the Seanchan is a straight up disappointment for me in this series.

The Black Tower: The ending of this one just seemed odd. Logain was starting to look like the first of a new batch of Forsaken, and his turnaround was hasty and not convincing. It was one of those times I wondered why a character survived (other than Min's vision for him that was in a previous book and couldn't be retracted.)

Brandon Sanderson straight up saved Matrim Cauthon. He was a weak, whiny character with a chip on his shoulder, and very flat at the same time. His voice was lost in the previous books. Sanderson brought him back with some flair and a voice that added comic relief as well as color to the story line. Mat and Perrin both grew the most as characters through the series, but Mat--if he were a real person--would owe it all to Mr. Sanderson.

Olver and the Horn of Valere was a nice twist, but I never got a confirmation one way or the other on my hunch that Olver was really Birgitte's Gaidal. Did I miss that somewhere, or am I really out in left field on that one? And speaking of Birgitte, the foreshadowing is strong that she will be Elayne's daughter, right? Anyone with me on those thoughts? I could have been given an answer to both of those questions in a sentence or two that made it obvious. #disappointed

So what now? While I enjoyed the overall push through the series, it really has slowed me down. I hope to make it through some quicker reads and then go back to a few series that I haven't read in years, most notably the Shannara series by Terry Brooks and the Sparhawk series by David Eddings. Maybe by then Sanderson will be far enough along with the Stormlight Archives that I'll start it, but I really dislike starting a series that isn't finished, as evidenced by the multiple attempts at the Wheel of Time.

Overall, I really liked this one, but I can't quite put it in the 5 star category. This book had to deal with so much baggage that I think it was about as awesome as it could have been, but 5 stars is a hard bar to reach. I am just happy to have it over with, and have good feelings about the whole series. It is like when you have been gone on a long vacation, and although you had fun and made treasured memories, you are glad to be home and back to normal life.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, we are getting the action we were looking for! This series has built up so many plot lines that this book was nothing but excitement as one conflict after another comes to closure. It makes me wonder if "Gathering Storm" should be seen as some kind of pun. While this is Robert Jordan's brainchild, so much of the credit should go to Brandon Sanderson. Even while wrapping up sub plots he introduced the right amount tension to keep us excited for the next book. (I seriously thought the Seanchan would be "handled" by now, but they are a material threat still.)

A few specifics I want to call out:
-A few books ago I was complaining about Mat's whining and bad attitude toward the Aes Sedai, and in this book, near the end, he finally had a conversation about it. While that information was both late and not totally satisfying, it was helpful to hear his side and let me see Mat as a person.
-Elayne's coup in Cairhien seemed a little forced, but again, it was time to be moving things along, so I see that it had to be that way. I guess the other option would have been to have an entire book dedicated to the expanded political intrigue to make it more natural. Not worth it.
-The Black Tower is an interesting twist. It seems strange that Rand wouldn't check on them more often, given how much he has relied on the Asha'men. I will just have to wait and see how that goes.

So I have a few other books to finish before I get to move on to the final book, but I can't wait! This is great motivation to keep those others moving along.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I liked this book, so that earns it 3 stars, apparently. The concept of how to make ideas stick strikes me as universally useful, and within my capability. I am a believer of the research surrounding fact-filled, distant communication vs compelling, story-based, emotional communication, so I think that most people could benefit from this book. I say "could" because to me it had a major flaw. I felt that it was written in the very style it was suggesting us NOT to use. At the end it was a checklist of features that should make your idea sticky, but I can't remember, nor can I envision how to apply, that checklist.

What is interesting is that I can see how they tried to avoid the traps they identified. They used many stories themselves, many of which I can recall even though it took me a while to read the book. But those ideas are generally not connected to the ideas they were promoting. I don't know which checklist item I am supposed to attach each story to. Just like a bad class in school, I will need to sit down and study and memorize to get those ideas to "stick", but the whole thesis of the book is that if you structure the message right, that isn't necessary.

Example: Jared and Subway. I like this story (despite Jared's subsequent fall from grace). I remember that it was supposed to promote the idea of identifying sticky stories, but that is it. How do I do that? I don't remember, and the key part of the Jared story, the challenger theme, has nothing to do with THEIR objective: to teach me how to find stories.

Example: Simplicity is an important part of a sticky story, but in the end, their concepts read more like a textbook than a sticky idea. The checklist has more bullet points than I can remember, so when it came time for the information to "stick" I'm overwhelmed by the data (curse of knowledge) and I'm ready to shred the book and never look back.

This is all very familiar, because this is very close to how I felt about their other book, Switch, which is about change. I really preferred Influencer, by another set of authors, to Switch because Influencer introduced similar information, but with a visual model that simplified it for me. I plan on re-reading Influencer again soon, but even without the refresher, I can still visualize the general look and feel of that graphic, and it calls to mind various parts of their book. I feel that this is something the Heath brothers could benefit from, and, well, make their books more sticky.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan

The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, #12)The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hallelujah! Finally, in just a short 700 pages Brandon Sanderson packed up the car and got this party back on the road. Several of my takeaways/comments:

-There were times in the previous books that the story seemed to drag, even when things were happening. In this book I finally clued into one of the factors to this: many of the characters had stopped growing. I think there were so many characters and plot lines, that it was impossible to continue to show growth in all of them and move the story along. In this book, as more plot lines and characters get wrapped up, there is more time and space to address real issues, and the characters benefit from that.
-Readers demand justice. Case Study: Elaida. She committed crimes against main characters that were so serious that I didn't think that I would be ok with any punishment doled out. Death seemed too easy. Lets just say that Sanderson gets a gold star for his work on this one. While there is a chance that her situation could take a left turn in the next book, for now I feel that justice has been served.
-I am not OK with the Seanchan becoming accepted, even as administrators. I am OK with cultural differences, but I'm not OK with certain practices in cultures. The omens and hierarchy I'm OK with. The slave culture I am not. Treating people as property is a no go. Dehumanizing women for being able to channel, a characteristic they have no control over, is not acceptable. Sanderson has to fix this. This is one of the few things that might ruin the whole series for me if it isn't addressed.

So I am really excited for the next book, and even more I'm excited to be excited again. This has been a test of will power for the last 4 or 5 books, and the reward so far has been worth it!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first Agatha Christie book, but I have seen several tv shows based on her work, and so was expecting a smart, quick-paced murder mystery that left me in total surprise at the end. And that is exactly what I got.

I like murder mysteries because they are dichotomous by natural. The logic of deductive reasoning combined with the raw, emotional fear of death. The unexpected revelations are just as fascinating as the unexpected events. A tray of drinks dropping, a door slamming, a shot ringing out.

One of the things I love about these books is the classic language. At first you have to pay attention to translate words and phrases into modern American English, but if the book is well written you soon stop noticing the different terms and it all feels natural. Then you stop reading or listening of course, and you find yourself wanting to call people sir or some other proper sort of thing.

If you at all enjoy mysteries, this is a must-read.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Married And Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half by Gary Chapman

Married And Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second HalfMarried And Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half by Gary Chapman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So I was in between audio books, and still very committed to staying on track for my goal of 52 books this year, so I was browsing the "always available" section of my library's online site. I saw the author of Married and Stil Loving It, Dr. Gary Chapman, and recognized him from his bestselling book The Five Love Languages*. That is my all time favorite relationship book, so without even reading the rest of the cover I checked it this one and plugged it in as I started my next run. I was a little surprised to find that this book was about marriage, yes, but about the second half of marriage. I was committed for the next 40 mins, so I gave it a try. It was interesting enough that I finished the book over the next few days.

Yes, the subject was a little beyond my time, but it will still be relevant, eventually. Society talks more about other transitions between phases of life than it does the transition from active family life to the empty-nester phase. To be honest, I hadn't thought that much about it until now, and this book contained a thorough discussion of the topic.

Aging is inevitable, but perhaps there is a reason we don't talk as much about it. There are some distinctly less exciting parts of the experience. It was interesting, but some of the discussion was depressing. If you are wondering about that stage of life, or if it is upon you and you feel unprepared, then this is the book for you. Otherwise, it can wait.

* Thanks to this reference I went to link to my last blog post of the Five Love Languages, and *gasp* I haven't read it in the last decade!  It is now on my to-read list.  I promise I have read it at least 5 times.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How to Be a Great Boss by Gino Wickman

How to Be a Great BossHow to Be a Great Boss by Gino Wickman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was tough for me for several reasons. First, I listened to it, and this is definitely a book you should read in physical form so you can get the full effect of the checklists and the ability to flip back and forth between sections. Second, the first part of the book sets the expectation that there is only one formula for great bosses. That is ridiculous. Many different types of people succeed at management and are great bosses, so the idea there is only one way to do something, or only one profile for success doesn't make sense.

So that was the bad. On the good side, the tools and best practices they recommend seemed like mostly good ideas. There is a lot of value in their suggestions for most managers, as long as they are taken as suggestions and applied in a way that works with your management style. Trying to apply everything in this book as a prescription to be a perfect manager will probably fall flat. Your people will see everything you are doing as fake or disingenuous.

So I'm between 2 and 3 stars on this one, but if you are looking for ideas on how you can improve as a manager, this is a fairly short book that should give you a few good ideas.