Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

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

I read (listened, really) to this one against my will. I was driving and Heather turned it on despite my protests, which were based on two facts: (1) I was already knee-deep in several books and fighting to get them done during the busy holidays and (2) I made a rule for myself about not starting series that weren’t complete. I don’t want to have to fight the lines to buy or borrow the new book, and there are so many great series out there that are already completed, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

So I lost the battle, and was forced to listen to another intriguing, well-written, action-filled book by Brandon Sanderson. Dang him. Ain’t nobody got time for this. The early development of David’s character bothered me a bit (he really made that many observations and did that much research as a kid/teenager, and no one else had?), but you’ve got to love any awkward regular guy who goes up against all-powerful beings and makes a fight out of it. As usual, I love Sanderson’s “magic” system. Totally unique from other books, but detailed. As usual, the plot twists were exquisitely executed, and when you look back, all of the signs/hints were there. As usual, it is an underground team of rule-breakers going up against and all powerful political figure (Mistborn)... ok, so that is the one flaw. If you think about that, there are too many parallels there, but I’m willing to overlook that as long as he keeps doing it so well…

So, I’m afraid that Sanderson is becoming my new favorite author, pushing Garth Nix back to the ex-favorite author lounge with Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Beverly Cleary, Lloyd Alexander, and others. (Yeah, Robert Kiyosaki and David Ramsey sit by themselves in the corner and argue financial philosophies. Nonfiction guys. Seriously.)

Anyway, this was a great book. You should read it. Review done.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of ConflictThe Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As you see from my reviews of Leadership and Self Deception (here and here), I love that book. Anatomy of Peace is its sequel, and after reading both, I think they are out of order. Not only are they chronologically out of order--Anatomy is more of a prequel--but the introduction of the core concepts is better executed in Anatomy. The examples are more generally applicable, being focused on family rather than business relationships. The idea of treating everyone we meet as individuals whose ideas and desires are as valid as our own is such a powerful message. Learning to invite others to see us in that same light is equally valuable.

So this is a 5-star, must-read in my mind. I hope you get the same value from it that I did.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time, #6)Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

My review from 2010.

My latest thoughts:

The last 10 chapters or so of this book saved it. There is so much time spent maneuvering and preparing for action, that it feels starved for action, but at the end of the book things really pick up. Don't get me wrong, I'm still enjoyed this story, and I can appreciate a lot of the build up as necessary stepping stones to where Jordan is taking us, but this is what makes the series challenging for many. If you are looking for a direct plot line to the end, this is not the series for you. Even the action that does take place is largely meant to shape and build the characters. What Rand goes through at the end of this book has to shape his actions going forward. The same goes for Egwene.

I don't like the conflict between Perrin and Faile. It may just be that I don't like marital discord, or maybe I just can't believe that two people could be so stubborn, or less communicative. I don't know, but I find it annoying. I think part of what bugs me is that it is totally disconnected from the larger conflict. It isn't going to affect the dark vs light struggle, and it is annoying, so why include it? You may argue that it humanizes Perrin and gives him an opportunity for growth as a character in his own right, but other conflicts could have done the same thing. As I think about this, I compare Perrin to Mat and his conflict with the Aes Sedai, which also bugs me. I think they bother me for the same reason. They feel like distractions, where personal conflicts more tied into the main conflict could have still provided some of the same opportunities to growth.

Then again, I'm not in the emotional love story crowd. There are probably some fans who are eating up the inter-marital drama.

I'm still enjoying this journey more than I thought I would. Maybe it is because I am older, or more patient? On to book seven!

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time, #5)The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I read this back in 2010, and gave it 3 stars at the time, based on the slowing pace. This time through the series I remembered that impression, and have been dreading the coming slow down. And guess what, it isn't really an issue for me this time. I'm sure that some psychologist has studied the phenomenon of expected events that never happen because they were expected, and it probably has a name, but I don't know what it is called, only that it happened. It could be due to my intellectual growth (unlikely) or my speed of reading this time (more likely). In any case, I am enjoying the series.

I will mention two aspects that could be better. First, Mat is getting really whiny. I see the need to develop his personality and relationship with Aes Sedai, but considering the world he lives in, his views are often over the top. Being healed, for example, is a function of humankind's basic will to live. His attitude about that doesn't make sense. His complaints come out as whiny in most cases. Stop complaining and grow up already.

Second, I understand that these books were already long, but I don't like unaddressed plot lines. Perrin has been mostly absent for 2 books. And where is Padan Fain? Again, I can see how it would be necessary to limit the scope of an already long book, but at the same time it feels like something is missing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time, #4)The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read my thoughts from my 2009 reading here.

The Shadow Rising has a lot of spreading plot lines. The cast is on the move and there is more character development for everyone. Still the pace keeps up, as much as it can with all of the relationships that need to happen and with all of the conversations that need to take place. I liked learning about the Aiel, and find their cultural uniqueness to be both creative and intriguing.

What do I want to know now? What is to the east of the Waste? And across the Aryth Ocean? If the whole world is at stake, and we are aware of those other lands, they have to be brought into the story at some point. Perhaps the Seanchan will resolve one of those. ..

Who is the most annoying character? Nynaeve. She is so whiny and obnoxious. I understand that characters need room to grow. Especially this early in a series of this scope, but enough already. I'm ready for her to grow up. She is like that exasperating teenager that you want to grow up and move out, even though you still love them and want to see them succeed...

This book is still a solid 4 stars for me. Due to previous readings, and the reputation of this series as being slow and boring, I didn't know if I would still be handing out 4 stars at this point. I'm pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time, #3)The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View my 2009 review here.

Book three had me worried as it bogged down a bit in the middle. I know that a slow down is coming in the series, and so I am probably super sensitive to it. By the end, however the action was right back on track. The fix to keep the action going was to include a few time jumps--Mat and Thom on the ship to Tear, Moiraine and company's hike to Tear, etc. If only he would continue to do this as needed in the future books... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Other than the scare regarding pace, this was a great book three. The plot continues to build, and the characters we already know are growing, and their personal conflicts are also growing. It is a little frustrating that they fail to see the roles the Forsaken are taking all around them, but I'll admit that that is both purposeful and masterful on the part of the author. We need that discordance for the series to stay interesting and emotional. Otherwise it would wrap up too neatly in each book.

I've already rushed headlong into book four (finished the first chapter at least) so lets see if my reading pace can also be maintained before I start complaining about the pace of the story :)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time, #2)The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

December 2009 Review found here.

August 2015 Review:
The Great Hunt maintains a great pace of action, while still introducing new characters and backstory. I like that I noticed very few plot holes by this second book, which speaks to the planning and forethought that went into this whole series.

I wonder if Robert Jordan was ever tempted to limit the scope of this series, and carry it forward to the conclusion, and then write followup books from other character's point of views? Isn't that what Card did with the Ender books? I don't know if it would have worked, given how intertwined many of the plot lines are, but at the same time, he could have shed some of the detail on the ancillary characters in that first main pass, and then filled it in with new characters and info later. Just a thought.

I'm still massively enjoying this series and look forward to book 3!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2009 Review Here.

2015 Review: I think I was 14 or so when I first encountered the Wheel of Time series. I was wandering the aisles in the adult fiction room at the Yuma Public Library, a room I had only recently stayed entering at all, when I saw the series taking up a good part of a shelf. I think it was only up to book 6 or 7 at the time, but I was intrigued by the covers. I've anyways been a sucker for cover art. Certain covers just seem to go with the types of books I like--a marketing ploy I'll have to think about more sometime. Anyway, I read the first book in the series, the Eye of the World, and was hooked. The only comparable series I remember reading to that point was the original Shannara series, and Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan stand out as the influences that started a lifelong love of fantasy fiction.

Since that time, I have tried reading the complete Wheel of Time series on several occasions. A few more books would get published, and so I would start at the beginning and read to the end, hoping that somehow the finale would get published by the time I needed it. No dice. So I put all of that aside and waited. And got married. And had children. And got degrees. Finally, the whole series is published and available (thanks to Brandon Sanderson's efforts at the end there.) Unfortunately, I'm now a jaded professional with no time to read, so when the final book was released I didn't immediately start reading again. It has taken me several years.

Finally, there was a week long vacation to the lake, where there was no internet, no work, and not much else to do, so I grabbed the first few books off of the shelf. It was hard to get into the Eye of World. It isn't a bad book, but it took time for me to let go of the real world, and get taken into a fantasy world again. It took time to remember how to let the story take me along for a ride. In essence, I had to create my own Flame and Void, and the book was able to unfold within the void. And I am glad it did.

The Eye of the World is the perfect book for this situation. It's detailed and deep. It is so unlike our world that you have to let go and go to a different place. At the same time, the people are all individuals, with different motivations. It is a quintessential epic fantasy.

I do have a small complaint, which exists not only in this book, but in others in the series, and in the genre at large. When characters withhold information, or are stubborn in a way that is obviously harmful, it is a fine line the author has to walk between the very real obstinate human nature that creates real conflicts, and the petty machinations of an author trying to create a plot. There are several times when Rand is so stubborn, that it just is a little over the top, and the repercussions are a little to convenient for the author. The chief candidate being his paranoia about being controlled by Aes Sedai. That is a major conflict in the book that affects much of the story line of the whole series, yet, its original foundations in this book seem weak. Just a thought.

So you may be thinking that my comments are overly long, but if you look at it as a review/published word ratio, I think I'm staying pretty consistent. :)

FIVE STARS for the excitement of starting this series again, and for being able to finish it this time!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wake Up and Live! by Dorthea Brande

Wake Up and Live!Wake Up and Live! by Dorthea Brande
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this one up for a book club that I'm in, and I wasn't expecting what I found. First of all the turn of the century voice was a surprise. Second, the need to instruct the survivalist Depression-era generation to get disciplined was also a surprise. In my mind that is what defined them. Guess not. You learn something every day.

So for me, this was a good book, with good basic advice. The concept of the Will to Fail, at first felt heavy, but it is clear that we all have self-defeating habits and after some examination, we probably have many more than we realize. Brande promotes taking action, creating personal discipline and above all: acting as if you can not fail.

And that, I think, is what brings it all together for me. Written in 1936, failure was rampant, and the need to lift up your head and have faith in the future was huge. How we view that generation now is colored by the outcomes: we pulled together what resources we had and fought an awful war in the process. But they had to learn and find their way. And now it is our turn. I feel that if there was ever a generation that needs to learn the necessity of personal discipline, it is my generation. The theme of acting as if you cannot fail is not as important, since many of my peers feel entitled to a life of success and luxury, failures already come as a shock. Discipline would prompt hard work that might give energy to the can't fail concept. Without it, "acting like I can't fail" turns quickly into "who is going to bail me out now that I failed".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes EverythingThe Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish there would have been more content on discovering what your element is. Each story he used had the benefit of hindsight, obviously. Sure, if you look in the past of a successful person, there are likely to be points where they found something they were naturally good at, that they enjoyed doing, and that they found a way to make enough money doing it to survive, or even thrive. But what about those that spent their whole life searching for that thing they enjoyed and were naturally gifted at? Other than just wandering around, what common activities or strategies did the successful people employ to identify their element?

Overall I liked this book. It is motivating to hear of the possibilities in life when one finds one's element. The self-examination that follows is helpful in a personally strategic sense, but falls a little flat when you step back and realize that in some cases this thought pattern might just lead you to a mid-life crisis. I think that more time could have been spent on the journey to discovering your element. Perhaps it was there and I missed it, but the desire to know how to discover my element is what I'm walking away from this book with.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Winning Every Day by Lou Holtz

Winning Every DayWinning Every Day by Lou Holtz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book read a little bit like a script for a motivational speaking engagement. Quirky crowd pleasing football stories scattered among broad statements about positive thinking and work ethic. Good think I like motivational speaches.

Holtz's content felt a little worn out in this day and age. Yeah, yeah, my attitude determines my altitude in life. Hard work, goal setting and accountability are important. I know already.

What I like about this book was less about the content and more about the voice it carried. Holtz's non-entitled, the buck stops here attitude is refreshing, and a little eye-opening. He take complete responsibility for his actions, and expects others to do the same. How different this world would be if we hadn't lost those values as a society. So the content was unimpressive, and the delivery mediocre, but the voice and the man behind the message: he makes this a pretty solid recommendation to my kids, and to the future generations. We need to remember what our grandparents went through and stop whining about social injustice and government spending/programs. First we should work hard and embrace every opportunity to feed and clothe ourselves and our families, and put a roof over our heads. Then, if there is any time left, we can think about the social ills of society.

I will say that I don't know if Lou would agree with that statement, but through the lens of my generation, that is what I got from his book, and I found it very valuable.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Illustrated Guide to Selling You: Custom Design Your Work Life by John Boyd

The Illustrated Guide to Selling You: Custom Design Your Work LifeThe Illustrated Guide to Selling You: Custom Design Your Work Life by John Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a short book, so I will give it a short review :)

Pros: Makes you think about your own approach to career management and what you SHOULD be doing every day vs what you ARE doing every day. It isn't whether or not I am capable, it is whether or not I believe I am capable.

Cons: I felt that a core theme, if not THE core theme, was confidence, but there were several sections that didn't add to that concept. To me that more or less means they were detracting from the core theme. Maybe I missed the whole point?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2)The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
My rating (this time): 4 of 5 stars

This was my second time through this book as well, and again, I enjoyed it.  But as with my re-reading of its predecessor, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I can't give it a second 5-star rating.  It just didn't quite hold my interest as well this time through, and it seemed a little slow.  I did listen to it via audio book this time, but the reader/actor who read it was absolutely one of the best voice actors I have ever heard (Jayne Entwistle), and so I'm reluctant to lay any blame at her feet.

It is still a favorite of mine, and I intend to revisit the whole series, since there are new books at the end that I haven't read yet, but it doesn't quite shine so brightly the second time through.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money by Carl Richards

The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your MoneyThe One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money by Carl Richards
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the overall message of this book, but to me there is one huge, glaring omission: an actual one-page financial plan! His advice on goal setting was great, and I completely agree with the idea that finance is less about complicated models and more about behavior. Dave Ramsey has said essentially the same thing, and I have found this to be true in business as much as personal finance. Money/finance is not about spreadsheets and numbers, those are just the outward appearance of the discipline. It is about emotion and behavior.

But back to my concern, the one-page financial plan. In several places he prescribes what to put on this plan. He advises on what kind of paper and writing utensil to use. It is the title of the book! Why then, is there not a rough template of an actual plan at the back of the book that collects the ideas and shows it to the reader in a sample format that works? To me, this makes a useful concept worthless, and I could barely get to 3 stars on this one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating (this time): 4 of 5 stars

So this is my second time reading Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and while it is still a great read, I wasn't blown away this time through.  Perhaps it was because I knew what to expect from the character, so there was less to discover, but the whole book seemed slow.  It may also be because I listened to the audiobook this time, which is definitely a slower method.  In any case, it is still an enjoyable story, so I still recommend it, but I can't give it a second 5-star rating.

The standout feature to this book is still the character development of Flavia, the main character, which I wrote about at length in my previous review.  That piece of the book is pure art.  The mystery itself was also very well done, with a baffling murder, a host of suspects and an action-filled finale. If you are a fan of mystery and haven't read this one, fix it now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1)Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book in 2007, and liked it enough to read the rest of the Artemis Fowl series, as it was constituted at the time. I wanted my kids to try out this series, so on our spring break road trip we listened to this book together. I still think it is a worthwhile read, but the family had a lot of criticisms for the book, mostly from mismatched expectations in my estimation.

Artemis Fowl is great for the 10-13 yr old reader. There is action, [crude] humor, and just enough emotion to keep the characters from being totally fake. If you pick it up with expectations beyond that you might be a little disappointed. I will also say that Colfer took a risk by involving time shifting as part of this plot. It is a little complicated for his target audience. I had to explain it twice to my 11 yr old and 13 yr old.

At a solid 3 stars, Artemis Fowl is a respectable start to this series and a good choice if your expectations are in the right place. If I remember correctly, I enjoyed the rest of the series more than this opener the last time through, although I don't know if I will read the whole series again right now to verify that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Alloy of Law is another fantastic book by Brandon Sanderson. I think my biggest disappointment came when I realized that I once again started a series that wasn't completed (or at least nearing completion)--something I promised to never do again. This is a great extension of the Mistborn series, capitalizing on a fully developed setting and culture without letting the past overshadow the opportunity for a fresh set of characters and new conflict. While I love the throwbacks to the previous series (names of streets, cities, conversations with Harmony), the new characters are intriguing and entertaining. If I were to assemble an all-star cast of book characters from all of the books I have read, I think Wayne would be in the top 10.

Of course, the biggest question for me is whether or not this series is going to build up somehow to another confrontation between Ruin and Preservation. It is possible, but it can be difficult to continually build a bigger conflict out of an older one (I'm reminded of Raymond Feist's series that had similar challenges.) In any case, this was a great read, and I hope that he cranks these out ASAP:)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by James C. Collins

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don'tGood to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by James C. Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't planning on reading Good to Great this month, but I had reserved it from the library, and well, when opportunity knocks...

I read and reviewed Good to Great back in 2011, and gave it a glowing 5 stars, but my enthusiasm has probably waned a little since then. I still think it is a great book, but I've been exposed to a lot of other great books, and this is very foundational. Not as actionable. And although Collins addresses the concern of only having 11 companies to study, I still have trouble with it. With such a small data set, it is hard not to see outside influences and circumstances that might have affected the outcomes he highlights.

So I still like the key concepts in this book. Who before what. The hedgehog concept. The three circles. The flywheel principle. I think what I would really like to see is a follow-up study of the next generation of companies who fit the same criteria, and another study 10 years after that, etc. Every 10 years or so a new batch of companies should come along and either validate or invalidate his findings. Or just build on them and add depth. Until then, this one has slipped to 4 stars for me, although I still highly recommend it.

The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Individual and Organizational Accountability by Roger Connors

The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Individual and Organizational AccountabilityThe Oz Principle: Getting Results through Individual and Organizational Accountability by Roger Connors
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So this book is sold as the ultimate guide in introducing accountability to your organization. I disagree with that pitch. They try to stretch the definition of accountability to include problem solving and taking action, but that is redefining the word. Yes, you might take on those other concepts if you feel accountable, but that does not make them part of the definition of accountability. So what is the book about? In my opinion, The Oz Principle is about attitude. All of the examples, including their expanded definition of accountability, all focus on changing and controlling your internal attitude in certain situations. Are you going to spend your time focused on blaming others (or holding them accountable?) or are you going to focus on how you can contribute to a solution?

If the book was really about accountability, then part of it would be how to decide who was responsible for what outcome, and how to hold them accountable for their performance to that outcome. But this book instead says to first make yourself accountable for everything you encounter! How have you contributed to the situation? Once you see the problem and own your part in it, how can you solve it?

Now don't get me wrong, I think this is a valuable concept. It is often more useful to move on to solving problems rather than pointing fingers. But to say that this advice regarding attitude is equal to the concept of accountability is flat wrong.

Now that I have that out of my system, what did I think about the content itself? Taking personal responsibility is good to a point, but was very one-sided. If you believe, as I do, in moderation in all things, then frankly there is a time for finger-pointing and blaming. If someone harms another person, we should find out who they are, hold them responsible in the court of law and then dispense justice. Our ability to do that defines us as a functioning society, in my mind. This books lacks the overall view point to make it on my must-read list. It was an ok read, and promotes a positive, problem-solving attitude, but oversells its overall value.

P.S. I have to add that I am big Oz fan, and read the whole series as a child. The attempt to relate the principles in this book to the characters and plot in the real Oz books is just a complete fail, and somewhat insulting to the original work. I think it was just a marketing strategy to attach the content to a well-known brand... not cool.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This whole series is a five-star series in my opinion. It has compelling characters, an innovative setting and a meaningful conflict. It seems that I should be able to go on and one about it, but my opinion is simple: Sanderson simply did an awesome job with this one.

My only criticism would involve a spoiler of sorts, so I will dance around the facts to say that I didn't totally like the ending. I did appreciate the resolution that it provided, but a few of my favorite characters, the two main characters... let's just say that I had hoped they would get a little more out of the whole deal. I also wished there had been (hopefully this isn't a spoiler) at least a sentence or two resolving Sazed and Tindwyl. Did Sazed find out where she went? It is implied that he should have known the answer to that at the end, but there was no mention of it.

Anyway, I highly recommend the Mistborn series, and I am happy that there is a subsequent series, which I look forward to... if only I didn't have my usual stack of commitments between me and that series...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success by Napoleon Hill

Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and SuccessOutwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success by Napoleon Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book for several reasons. One, it was fairly quick. Two, his conversation with the devil added some depth to the text, as opposed to a text book explanation of what he had come to discover over his life. So why only 3 of 5 stars? Well, I may be over simplifying things, but I really can boil the main message down to three things: Have goals (be definite), create habits that support your goals, and don't drift--go after your goals. Yes, I understand that he gave us seven key points in the book, but I think several of those really roll up under one of the other categories of the other. Is this worth your time? Yes. Will it change your life? Maybe. If you are operating without clear goals and just drifting through this period of your life, then this may be just the wake up call you need.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2) by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2)The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Following a fantastic opening book such as The Final Empire, there is always a fear that the next one won't be so good. That the author can't keep the pace, plot twists, and action going. The Well of Ascension put all of that aside for me. The characters continued to grow, and I don't remember a single time being pulled out of the story thinking, "that guy wouldn't have said or done that." The overall plot is also completely supported, with very few holes, although with plenty of intrigue for the final book in the series.

If I were to lodge a small complaint, it would be with the mechanics of allomancy. Again, it is a sign of respect, and a huge compliment in my mind, to have people get so into your world to have nerdy concerns about some of the mechanics. So here we go: If I push off of something, and it is anchored, or against the ground, I can push away and my body would fly the opposite direction. Got it. But a coin lying on the ground is not anchored. Pushing even slightly to the side would send the coin skidding over cobblestones to one side or the other. I think Kelsier explained this to Vin in the first book, but as they continue to fly around, I don't think it would be plausible to do what they do. Again, I don't see this as a huge negative. Skeptics like myself have even more questions about how the real world works, so my question is another sign of just how good this book is.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer ConversationThe Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Challenger Sale is not a bad book, especially when directed to the right audience, but that is where I had trouble with it. I picked it up as a general manager of a small business, and found that although some of the ideas were good, and the research interesting, it was not very applicable in my situation. It would be better directed toward sales managers in established organizations. The method it promotes is to control the sale by way challenging the customer, and I like that approach. However, so much of small business is about learning about the customer that I can't see where this would be a better overall approach. I can't have our sales team out challenging our customers all day, not because I fear they would be over bearing, but because I know we would miss opportunities to hear from the customer. In a small business, the sales function isn't just about sales. It is market research, product development and R&D all at once.

I got the most value from the general concept that the challenger persona is the real winner in sales, not the relationship builder. Their research was compelling, but even more importantly the examples resonated with my own experience. For those 20 pages I took notes, and took pictures of the graphs, and I think I can incorporate those insights into my business. And then there was the rest of the book.

The rest of the book is really a conglomerate of a few other known skillsets. Take the Crucial Conversations material and combine it with a good negotiation book, such as Getting Past No, and you well over 50% of the way there on this material. With that in mind, this would have been better as a 90 page pamphlet, outlining their research and what it discovered.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It feels like it has been a long time since I have read something that was written for me: adult fantasy fiction that draws me in, engaging my mind rather than pointlessly entertaining it. Mistborn did just that. I don't think I can list all of the things I loved about this book, but I'll try to pick my top three.

1. The setting. As all good fantasy writers must, Sanderson creates a whole new world and finds ways to weave their politics, history, and culture into the main plot line. The back story IS the story, and it unrolls seamlessly.

2. The action. While good fantasy has always relied on enthralling action scenes, contemporary fiction has raised the bar on vivid action. Books are competing with movies for mindshare, and in more and more cases they are feeding the competition with substantive stories to share. Mistborn is full of detailed, fast-paced action scenes that win out over any action movie.

3. The intricacy of the plot. The plot unfolds, dropping bits and tangles of foreshadowing all over the place, but you don't know what is going to happen until it does. I know I've found a gem when I can go back through the story and gain insights into the eventual resolution that tie in perfectly, but were so subtle I missed them. It has been a while since I encountered such a story, and this book did just that.

So I have said multiple times that good books (in my humble opinion) are all about characters that connect with and become real to the reader. This book is no exception to that, but you might have noticed that the characters are not in my top three. I guess that is because I have come to expect it. The characters here were good, very good in fact. But I am feeling like I can find great character development in any book, including the YA Fantasy that I like to read. The setting, action and plot in this one are way above what I would expect in a YA book, so I guess that is why I'm giving them special attention.

My recommendation? Drop what you are doing and read this book. Right now. When you are done you can send me a thank you note.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful BusinessesThe Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So overall I thought this was a helpful book on the topic of entrepreneurship. The concepts are very similar to the Nail It Then Scale It book I read (but didn't review) in 2012, but I would guess that this book came out first. It is better written, and definitely had a wider distribution. Even with those benefits, I don't feel that the Lean Start-up would lead to any better outcomes than its competitors. The key concepts of a minimum viable product, fast feedback cycles and brutal honesty about your market and your results are now common place ideas. The tips for implementation were not as scripted as in other books and the examples were largely focused on IMVU, a company that seems to be over-studied relative to its notoriety. (In B-school we did a case study on the same company.)

So if you haven't ever read a book on entrepreneurship, this is a good one. So are a dozen others.