Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I was pretty hard on the author last time, and I might back off some of those criticisms on the sequel. It wasn't that the author still isn't sloppy at times (in a non-religious society characters are taking the Lords name in vain, using "saints" as an exclamation, and they still don't eat.) Rather, the first book lacked foreshadowing that should have set up the story as a multi book conflict. I felt that the conflict was wrapped up in the first book, but in an unsatisfactory way. I learned here that the conflict was not wrapped up, but continues on in this book. Maybe I missed the foreshadowing, or some other signal, but if I had seen that coming I think I would have been more forgiving in my last review.

Finally, this book takes on some adult themes that I didn't think were necessary. I would have preferred to hint at those plot lines and been able to keep it family friendly, rather than deal with a few scenes that now keep me from recommending this book to my kids. I'm admittedly conservative in these situations, but if I don't exercise my right to speak my mind I'll end up losing that right, so there you go. That's my opinion.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't perfect. Let me skip straight to pros and cons.

Pros: Lila was a great character. Practical in her choices, but with a cutthroat edge. Both of those attributes were complemented by a comical sense of self that caused her to wear coats and boots, and to speak her mind in any situation. Also, I love a good magic system, as you know, and this one is intriguing. Although I want to know more about where it came from, it is different, powerful, and limited at the same time.

Cons: The big con for me was the ending. (Spoiler alert: stop now if you care. ) The neutralization of the stone happened too quickly. Couldn't he just have tried to do that at the beginning as soon as he realized it was dangerous? Especially when the only option was apparent suicide? It seems like a rational person would have explored a few options, but Kell went straight to suicidal mission. Weird. My other con is a bit of light criticism of the author. The book felt a little clumsy at times. For instance, I don't think think the main characters ever ate. They should have both been dying of hunger. Details. Good fantasy is about the details. Another example is in the graphic nature of some scenes. To maximize story potential you have to make the bad guys REALLY bad, I get that. But a good writer can make the bad guy as horrible as they need to be with a minimal amount of graphic violence. It is an extension of the concept of leaving room for the readers to fill in the gaps with their minds. Astrid (or was it Athos?) Dane torturing a child? That scene could have been replaced with two sentences that suggested what had happened, and she/he is still just as bad of a person. Some people read for the gore, and if that was Schweab's intention, then she nailed it, but most main stream readers just don't need that, and so to me it looks sloppy.

So those are my thoughts on this one. I still give it 3 stars for its speed of story and overall concept, criticisms included.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris (Elantris, #1)Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand this book to be Sanderson's first published novel, but it lacks the obvious flaws that you would associate with a debut. I remember noting the stereotypical progression of Terry Brooks, an author I enjoy, in his Magic Kingdom For Sale, Sold series. It is a series he started and then left for a decade or more and returned to later in his career, and his later efforts were of much higher quality. Somehow Sanderson is showing up on day one with the skills of a seasoned professional, and it is both enjoyable to read and at the same time daunting for those who would love to share in his craft.

As to the story itself, we have solid characters, a deep magic system, and plenty of movement in the plot and characters--all things we expect from Sanderson at this point. The only downside is that this is by all reports intended to be a stand alone book. Why? There are surely other stories to tell here, and it seems like a waste of the magic system and world he created to leave it after one book. I hope he reconsiders that part (or that I have heard wrong:) ).

Read this one. You are in for another fantasy treat.

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. )