Tag Archives: work

Today in new Books – 2/4/2014

It’s another big week in book releases and it even includes a book written by the guy in the next cube at work. That doesn’t happen very often!


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Friend Me: A Novel of Suspense (****)


Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.


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The Deepest Secret: A Novel (*****)


As usual I received this book because it showed up in the mail without the need to purchase it. Unusually, I don’t seem to be able to track down exactly why it showed up. I am forced to assume it was a direct publisher giveaway of some sort. Nevertheless, my candid thoughts follow.

You’ve doubtless read the blurb so I won’t make even the smallest attempt to resummarize the summary. The narrative is written in round-robin narrative from the viewpoint of our protagonist, Tyler, who can’t be exposed to even the faintest shadow of sunlight, lest he die, his mother, his father and a few random viewpoints thrown in for fun.

On the positive side the whole thing is pretty attention-grabbing. At 450 pages or so I sat through most of it in one prolonged 4-hour stretch. It has a well-executed narrative flair that pulls you along at just the right pace. The writing and editing are all very tight and exceptionally dramatic. This is one of the best executed books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone except the deepest recluse without friend or family. The book draws much of its power from the “What if this were my family?” spirit.

The book’s central theme, as anyone reading the title will no doubt guess, is that we all have our inner little bits that we don’t show anyone. Some of those bits are dark and some of those are light and some of them are a bit of both. Buckley’s true triumph is the realism with which she paints this narrative. Everyone has a secret something and some stay secret, some come to light and devour the secret-holder and some you just get away with. There’s no big happy bow at the end of this one; sometimes a secret is just too big.

In summary, I hesitate to use the cliche terms that usually go here but this book really does keep the pages turning. The page count is somewhat deceptive as you can pound through this light reading pretty quickly. Glad it arrived at my doorstep, even if I don’t really know why it did so.


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The Book of Jonah: A Novel (***)
As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review. Unfortunately I can’t seem to determine exactly from whom. Whover the source of this unknown beneficence, I give my candid thoughts below.

Having read this, would I pay money for it? Probably not, but I’m on the fence.

This is a bifurcated narrative told from the perspective of two people with rather tragic lives. The story flips back and forth between the two the whole way until… well, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I’ll just say “until”.

On the positive side, this book is wonderfully and elegantly crafted. The author is obviously erudite and can really cobble together some wonderful sentences and has a flair for imagery. The style is very fluid and readable and despite being a VERY long 350+ pages, once you get into the rhythm of the text it speeds along quite nicely. I was able to choke it down in 8-10 hours. It’s also very neatly segmented into sections of 20 pages or so if the verbal finery gets to be too much for you then you can put it down and come back later. It has a very literary feel to it; it’s not at all a fluffy novel.

To the negative side of the novel, the narrative seems to hint at many grand story lines but never seems to decide to finish any of them. On one hand it’s an allegory about right and wrong… but only weakly. On another hand it’s a vast story arc bringing characters together in quirky and unexpected ways… but only sorta. I feel about this book the way I feel about this review I’m writing. I want to say something more powerful. I have plenty of words and I keep typing and typing and typing but it just never happens. The threads never come together. That’s exactly how I feel about the book… Just left a bit dangling.

To summarize, no, I wouldn’t pay money for this but boy can the author pump out some words. He’s vastly prolix and quite skilled but the proverbial participles were just left a bit dangling.


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Glitter and Glue: A Memoir (****)


As usual I received this book through the kind courtesy of some giveaway or other. In this case I suspect it was a ShelfAwareness drawing. Regardless of the origin and despite the kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

This book left me in an exceptional state of ambivalence. On the surface of things, pretty much nothing at all happened for the span of 215 pages. As memoirs go this one is rather vacuous and non-eventful. Those looking for a storyline will be sadly disappointed because there really isn’t one. There’s just nothing going on here… except… except that there IS… but it’s all rather mysterious and internal.

Those who are familiar with my usual review format will note a departure from the “good stuff”/”bad stuff” motif. That just doesn’t apply here. If you were looking for car chases and explosions then this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the old adage plays out in detail. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been a married man long enough to know that a fair number of women live in fear of the day that they “become their mother”. For whatever reason mothers and daughters just don’t get along. Until… well, until one day they do. This book is the detailed narrative, told from the inside of the author’s head, of how that transition happens. How one day you think your mother is insane and the next day she suddenly makes sense. It’s a book about transitions and maturing, a woman’s bildungsroman.

At least that’s my take on the book… the other thing about this book is that it’s one of those that has a thousand meanings to a thousand people. If you choose to read the book it’s VERY likely that you’ll look back on my review and say, categorically, that I’m full of crap. That’s really OK because at its heart the book is one of inspiring ideas. The specific idea that’s delivered is up to the person receiving it. Look at it as being about mothers or renewal or recovery or family or whatever… it doesn’t matter. The book is a brief and candid snapshot of someone’s rather privileged life. The real point is that this book is one for thinkers but thinkers in an emotional sense, those who want to feel what someone else feels and extrapolate that to their own lives. There’s little of plot but much of mind.

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Book Reviews: Wiki Management: A Revolutionary New Model for a Rapidly Changing and Collaborative World

As usual I received this book for free because someone gave it to me for review. This time it was a LibraryThing drawing. Despite that kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

Usually in my reviews I try to draw out some positive and negative aspects of a book and make an argument for the assigned rating. That’s difficult to do with non-fiction because the topics are so varied and of sometimes dubious interest. Instead I’ll just try to tell you what this book is and what it isn’t.

The first third of the book argues quite vehemently and specifically for tearing down traditional hierarchical management structures. By these I mean those archaic constructs in which a boss controls 6-7 employees and he in turn has a boss above him controlling 6-7 of his peers onward and onward. It argues instead for a collaborative structure in which groups of employees choose their own teams based on work needs at a specific time with leadership positions only there to referee in the event of deadlock. Rather than the usual 6:1 ratio of employees to managers the book recommends 60:1.

After it makes its case for why you should organize your company in this way, the book settles down in the latter two thirds to give specific practices that successful organizations use to make this style effective. It goes on at length and in great detail about how to manage such an organization from meeting styles to employee evaluations. It is a soup-to-nuts treatise on modern management structure and practice.

My only real beef with the book lies in the practicality of what it has to say. As a non-management professional in the software industry I respect the proposition and would love to work in such an environment but I have trouble imagining any workplace I’ve ever been in successfully pulling off anything from this book except dangling bits and pieces. Unfortunately, when companies try to reinvent themselves in the way the book describes the outcomes are almost always unpleasant. You can’t really piecemeal your way into an entirely new style of management and no company I’ve ever worked for has been willing to go at this sort of thing with sufficient gusto. So if you’re looking to start a company or are the CEO of a really tiny and nimble operation, I invite you to the book and suggest you build your company around it. I’ll sign up to be your first employee as would every professional acquaintance I have.

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Seeking Superlatives Or: Shooting for the Moon

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people around me lapse into the use of blanket superlatives. They’ll talk at length about the smartest/nicest/tallest/most wonderful person they ever met and while these stories are nice, my first rather egotistical thought is, “How would this person describe ME?” Lately I’ve found increasingly that I’m really tuned in to what people think of me and care far too much about the opinion of the world.

Perhaps it’s my fractured upbringing but I’ve always sought approval rather desperately. As a child I never really had anyone to approve of anything I said or did, usually quite the contrary, so there’s some compensatory instinct that nibbles away at everything I do making me want to reach further and be more. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing; it’s the gift of testosterone. Men typically do always want to claw their way to the top. The question that occurs, however, is to ponder just how much of this is healthy. I’ve noted too that my efforts really are rather unfocused and random. Some days I feel good about things and some days I just can’t shake the idea that I’m wasting my time and energy completely. There’s just so much randomness. Occasionally it’s good to sit down and note just what the random things are so that when I look back in a year or two I can realize that I’ve abandoned something that was important for a decade. So in no particular order…

Apparently I’ve been photographing random crap obsessively for 5 years officially as of June. To be honest I hadn’t really taken much note of the anniversary and this is an area that frustrates me particularly. In 5 years I’ve tried to make my services available countless times but it’s an abominable struggle to find willing subjects. My style and particularity in artistic venue just fails to make sense to people for the most part. So I’m left wandering the streets with a camera. While this is certainly productive enough, it’s just not what I’m looking for. My introverted personality doesn’t sync well with trying to get into people’s faces and snap their photos.

My actual day job, as always, is rather a conglomeration but that’s exactly how I prefer it. As in life, I’m not the best person to do any one job but I am the solid and reliable person who can be depended on to do any random thing that is required at the moment. I’m hopeful that every workplace needs one of those people.

Attempts at writing have devolved into an odd editorial phase. Excepting random blog entries like this one, I tend to write mostly book reviews. And while it’s easy to poo-poo what I’ve done in that vein, I certainly do have a mighty stack of books on the shelf from authors awaiting my attention and more come in every day. I do not write the most flowery or most positive reviews. In fact some of them are downright thorny and scorching, but my readers can be assured that if I say a book is worth reading that it was my honest and utterly uncorrupted opinion on the thing. Individual results may vary, of course, but at least there’s one opinion out there that’s honest.

Continued attempts at polyglot status…. remain sporadic. I daily question why I need to learn another language just so I can not talk to people in that language. Despite that question, the stacks of flashcards continue to move about the apartment.

In retrospect, this post strikes me as rather self-serving and inane. Like the rest of the developed world, I continue in my circle to do the same things over and over while other sections of the world scrabble just to have enough food to eat. The fact that I’m carrying on at all about the quality of how I spend my free time is rather embarrassing. So with that realization I’ll go away and be glad that I have something to show for the last decade or so. Doubtless I’ve written this same blog entry, or one similar, 20 times. I am, if nothing else, effortlessly consistent.

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Friend Me by John Faubion

Friend MeFriend Me by John Faubion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.

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On Online Reviews

CaptureFirstly, it’s worth noting that the majority if this post is really a reaction to the news story I was lucky enough to participate in for the local CBS affiliate.  I’m not really writing this for anyone’s benefit except my own because it’s something I’d like to remember and the only way I’ll remember it is to actually write about it.  So without further preamble, the link to the story:

http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/news/indiana/whats-the-truth-the-money-behind-online-reviews

So in general, the topic is one that’s near and dear to my heart.  I’ve been avidly (read that: obsessively) reviewing books on Amazon for about … well, apparently almost a year.  In everyday non-review-related life I’ve said that honesty is a great gift to give someone.  If someone is doing something offensive or just plain wrong then the best thing you can do is tell them about it so they can stop doing it and offending everyone else in the universe.  It’s a hard thing to do but ultimately, at least in my opinion, it’s the correct “golden rule” behavior.  This is the concept that I try to carry into the book review process.  If someone is spending their precious free time pumping out books that are abominations to the English language… well, I’m going to say so.  Not everyone is intended to be a writer and perhaps that author who is slaving away on a 15th novel that’s of no use to anyone would make a wonderfully fine sculptor instead.  It’s never my intention to be cruel but I’m certainly not going to lie to someone and tell them they have a good book when really…. well, they’d be better served to take up professional cookery.

Starting from that general viewpoint, when WISH-TV approached me to do an interview on the topic of online reviews, I was exceedingly nervous about the prospect.  Let’s face it, I’m a computer programmer by trade.  The absolute last thing I want to do is anything that could even remotely be viewed as ‘public speaking’.  Nevertheless, a few factors acted to sway me enough to get in front of a camera and the foremost I credit to the interviewer herself.  Before actually sitting down with someone from the press I didn’t think much about who these people are or what they do for a living.  If asked, I would have simply assumed that they get in front of a camera and read off cue cards.  What else is there to it?  Talking to Teresa Mackin on the phone, however, I realized the finesse that’s required in this job as they get people to open up and talk about themselves.  As I talked to her on the phone that first day, I found myself blabbering on endlessly about the review process and going on and on rather effortlessly.  She said at one point that she’s “not intimidating” and as it turns out she’s quite expert at drawing out her interview prospects.  If she can get me to blather on like that then she can get anyone to.

The other part of the process that people don’t see, but that is ludicrously important, is the contribution of the guy running the camera.  Again, if you’d asked me a month ago what a TV cameraman does I would have said, rather ignorantly, “that he runs the camera.”  As it turns out, Teresa and her cameraman work as a wonderfully cohesive team.  Of course his primary responsibility is to run the equipment and get the visuals and audio but he’s also a key part of the interview process.  At one point Teresa turned to her camera operator and asked him if he had any questions.  I was surprised to hear her do this but his question set me off on a response that I felt especially passionate about and went on with for quite some time.  Simply put, the cameraman isn’t just running the camera.  He’s contributing key input to the whole interview process.  In closing on the interviewers, I was thoroughly impressed by the whole process.  In a way (well, ok, in every way) I’m jealous of just how much interesting news they must get to see first hand; these two are the sort of people for whom you’d buy dinner any day of the week just for the interesting stories that will no doubt result.

The last thing to cover is my reaction to this whole thing.  Being especially self-conscious, I refuse to watch the video.  When it aired, I got texts and emails from half a dozen people but personally I’ve not seen it and don’t plan to.  Perhaps it’s something akin to Teller (of Penn and Teller) who won’t speak on camera but I just don’t want to see myself on video.  It’s like I’m breaking through some freakish wall and seeing myself as others see me. Totally uncomfortable with that.  That said, I have to smile at the print version of the story.  I’ll admit that in general I tend to be rather hyperbolic in my use of language.  So when I saw myself quoted as saying “The books I’ve reviewed, I’ve tried to be devastatingly honest” I see my own personality loud and clear.  Based on that quote though, it’s clear to me why my inbox hasn’t been flooded with authors who want me to review their books.  ‘Devastating’ isn’t exactly an adjective that anyone actively seeks out.

To sum up, it’s over.  I did this interview about a week and a half ago and waited on pins and needles for it to come out.  In some ways I’m glad it’s over.  On the whole though I’m glad that my only real public entry into the mainstream news was one in which I stood up for simple honesty and integrity.  I’m no Abe Lincoln, but I feel fortunate that the little bit of the world that knows me from this story knows that I just tell it like it is.  I’m not sure what better legacy one could have.

Alright.  Back to the reviews!

 

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Pit Stop in the Paris of Africa by Julie R. Dargis

Pit Stop in the Paris of AfricaPit Stop in the Paris of Africa by Julie R. Dargis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book for nothing as part of a GoodReads drawing. Despite that kind consideration, my candid thoughts follow.

Our author has traveled far and wide and spent time in some amazing and complex parts of the world. In this book she shares some of her memories, observations and experiences from those far-flung climes.

So, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m having a bit of trouble writing about this one. Clearly the author has spent a large portion of her life helping out some very deserving people and contributing positively to the world at large. She’s put herself in harms way all for the benefit of those who are less fortunate and denied herself many of the things we all take for granted. Ms. Dargis is a stand-up person, let there be no doubt.

However, I’m forced to say that this book is just doesn’t work. First of all, it’s incredibly choppy and meandering. One minute she’s off in some third world country and the next she’s back home dating guys off the internet that just aren’t up to her standards. Then she’s back in yet another country and her multi-year stay boils down to a 4-page chapter that’s really only two randomly selected anecdotes. There may be 2-3 wonderful books to be written around this material. Heck, there may be 10 books to be written but you can’t just take bits and pieces from all of them and mash them together and expect to get a good book. Pick a topic and stay on it.

Secondly, the author comes across as very self-promoting as she goes on about how uncomfortable she was at times, how much pain she was in, how hard she worked or how much she’s given up to do this work. I’m absolutely certain that all of those things are true. I have no doubt whatsoever about her sacrifice but it does come across as rather anti-heroic to talk about it. And, when she’s not suffering from others, she’s making a ton of money in the stock market. During one passage she goes on at length about how successful her stock portfolio was and that even professional stock brokers were were astonished and asking her how she did it. I had to stare in mystified disbelief at this passage and fathom what on earth it could have to do with what I presumed to be the premise of the book.

In summary, I’m sure the author is a wonderful person but this sure is not a wonderful book. She’s had some wonderful experiences in her life and I would hate to be seen as discouraging but this book needs some structure and some guidance and most of all some focus.

PS: I’ve written negative reviews in the past so I’m prepared for the likely onslaught of nit-picking and bile that is sure to ensue. Don’t bother. If everyone just wrote positive reviews then what possible point would there be to reviewing anything? One man’s opinion. Just chill out.

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A Mouse’s Tale by David Hunter

A Mouse's TaleA Mouse’s Tale by David Hunter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Firstly, and as almost always, I received this book from a GoodReads giveaway and despite the kind consideration of a free book delivered to my doorstep, my candid thoughts appear below.

Hunter’s ‘A Mouse’s Tale’ is a collection of short stories that center around cops and soldiers. It will come as no surprise to learn that the author himself was a cop and a soldier. To say that the collection is largely autobiographical is, at best, rather redundant.

My typical form for reviews is to break down positives and negatives and weigh them against each other. In this case, I think it more appropriate to partition based on position in the book. For most of the book we get homespun realism. All his stories have a very down-to-earth Midwestern feel. His characters are people we all know or have at least seen in a 50s TV series. The David Hunter who is revealed in the first part of the book is the sort of guy you just want to buy a beer for and sit down and listen to for several hours. In fact, if ever the author is in town, I will pay his bar tab for the duration for the evening. These are the sorts of stories that you just want to sit and listen to for hours as they reflect real life in the suburban Midwest of Tennessee. This, my dear readers, is reality and it’s wonderfully articulated in this book.

The last two stories, however, make the whole thing a wonder. In his final two entries in this series Hunter takes a delicious and dark turn. In the first part our author is demonstrating his ability to tell a good story. In the second part… well, at this hour I just don’t have words for it. Perhaps he’s tapping into some inner fear or secret desire but when Hunter turns dark it is absolutely satisfying. Despite the constant stream of books that arrives at my home for free, I’d consider actually buying a book composed only of Hunter’s darker stories as exemplified by the final two stories in this book.

In summary, the book is subtitled “stories from the unhinged mind and imagination of David Hunter.” Until the last two stories I was amused but didn’t feel the “unhinged” aspects of anything he had written. His work smacks of absolute reality as he lived it. That’s entertaining enough on its own but when you finally get to the end, then things live up to the subtitle. I like this book. I like this author. I’d buy him a beer or 10 if he finds himself in Indy anytime soon. I’m not sure what greater recommendation I can make than that.

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