Monday, June 20, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: First, Break All The Rules by Gallup Press (Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman)

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ABOUT THE BOOK
(from Amazon):

Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its revolutionary study of more than 80,000 managers in First, Break All the Rules, revealing what the world’s greatest managers do differently. With vital performance and career lessons and ideas for how to apply them, it is a must-read for managers at every level.

Included with this re-release of First, Break All the Rules: updated meta-analytic research and access to the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, which reveals people’s top themes of talent, and to Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey, the most effective measure of employee engagement and its impact on business outcomes.

What separates the greatest managers from all the rest?

They actually have vastly different styles and backgrounds. Yet despite their differences, great managers share one common trait: They don’t hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. They don’t believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They don’t try to help people overcome their weaknesses. And, yes, they even play favorites.

In this longtime management bestseller, Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its massive in-depth study of great managers. Some were in leadership positions. Others were front-line supervisors. Some were in Fortune 500 companies; others were key players in small, entrepreneurial firms. Whatever their circumstances, the managers who ultimately became the focus of Gallup’s research were those who excelled at turning each individual employee’s talent into high performance.

Gallup has found that the front-line manager is the key to attracting and retaining talented employees. This book explains how the best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience, set expectations, build on each person’s unique strengths rather than trying to fix his or her weaknesses, and get the best performance out of their teams.

And perhaps most important, Gallup’s research produced the 12 simple statements that distinguish the strongest departments of a company from all the rest. First, Break All the Rules is the first book to present this essential measuring stick and to prove the link between employee opinions and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction and the rate of turnover.

First, Break All the Rules presents vital performance and career lessons for managers at every level — and best of all, shows you how to apply them to your own situation.

MY REVIEW:

First, Break All the Rules is an extremely valuable resource for managers.

The Gallup Organization interviewed 80,000 managers from 400 different companies.  The results of their study are compiled into this quick read for managers which includes:

12 questions that management can use to measure the strength of the workplace:
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person? 
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? 
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count? 
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? 
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? 
  10. Do I have a best friend at work? 
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress? 
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
...as well as the Four Keys of Management (each of which is covered in-depth in its own chapter):
  1. select for talent
  2. define the right outcomes
  3. focus on strengths
  4. find the right fit
This book was eye-opening for me when it comes to the word "talent," which seems to be a buzz word these days. More and more companies are saying they don't care about education or experience because they hire for talent.  But what does that really mean?

Gallup breaks down the different types of talent: striving, thinking and relating, and includes an Appendix with lists and descriptions of the most common talents under each of these areas.  The writers help managers understand the importance of identifying which talents are necessary for their roles and how selecting for those specific talents leads to the success of the employee as well as the company.

First, Break All the Rules is a must-read for managers.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Essentialism by Greg McKeown



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES AND WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER

Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?

Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?

Are you often busy but not productive?

Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas?

If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to learn who to do less, but better, in every area of their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.

MY REVIEW:

Last year I read and reviewed First Things First by Steven R. Covey. Although I felt Covey's concepts were great, I struggled to get through the book.  Essentialism is similar in theory, but presented in a way that is so much more delightful to read and easy to absorb.

For me, reading Essentialism was life-changing. McKeown's concept is simple: Less but better.

For those of us who are high achievers, we tend to take on more and more.  It's what makes us stand out.  It's what results in us getting promoted.  But it's also what leads us to get buried.  We take on so much that we can't get anything done.  We're pulled in a million different directions so any progress we do make seems minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

McKeown explains how this affects us psychologically.  He encourages us to identify our own priorities -- "our biggest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize."  And he helps us think through the obstacles that come up and how to start saying no to the things that don't help us accomplish our own goals.

"If it isn't a clear yes, then it's a clear no."  

Above all, McKeown helps us understand that the practice of essentialism is a constant effort. It takes discipline every day to set priorities and focus on the things that are most important without getting sidetracked by other people's agendas.

"The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves."

I highly recommend this book.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Power of Habit comes a fascinating book that explores the science of productivity, and why managing how you think is more important than what you think—with an appendix of real-world lessons to apply to your life.

At the core of Smarter Faster Better are eight key productivity concepts—from motivation and goal setting to focus and decision making—that explain why some people and companies get so much done. Drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics—as well as the experiences of CEOs, educational reformers, four-star generals, FBI agents, airplane pilots, and Broadway songwriters—this painstakingly researched book explains that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently.

They view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways.

A young woman drops out of a PhD program and starts playing poker. By training herself to envision contradictory futures, she learns to anticipate her opponents’ missteps—and becomes one of the most successful players in the world.

A group of data scientists at Google embark on a four-year study of how the best teams function, and find that how a group interacts is more important than who is in the group—a principle, it turns out, that also helps explain why Saturday Night Live became a hit.

A Marine Corps general, faced with low morale among recruits, reimagines boot camp—and discovers that instilling a “bias toward action” can turn even the most directionless teenagers into self-motivating achievers.

The filmmakers behind Disney’s Frozen are nearly out of time and on the brink of catastrophe—until they shake up their team in just the right way, spurring a creative breakthrough that leads to one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

What do these people have in common?

They know that productivity relies on making certain choices. The way we frame our daily decisions; the big ambitions we embrace and the easy goals we ignore; the cultures we establish as leaders to drive innovation; the way we interact with data: These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charles Duhigg explained why we do what we do. In Smarter Faster Better, he applies the same relentless curiosity, deep reporting, and rich storytelling to explain how we can improve at the things we do. It’s a groundbreaking exploration of the science of productivity, one that can help anyone learn to succeed with less stress and struggle, and to get more done without sacrificing what we care about most—to become smarter, faster, and better at everything we do.

Praise for Smarter Faster Better

“A pleasure to read . . . Duhigg’s skill as a storyteller makes his book so engaging to read.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Not only will Smarter Faster Better make you more efficient if you heed its tips, it will also save you the effort of reading many productivity books dedicated to the ideas inside.”—Bloomberg Businessweek

“Duhigg pairs relatable anecdotes with the research behind why some people and businesses are not as efficient as others.”—Chicago Tribune

“The book covers a lot of ground through meticulous reporting and deft analysis, presenting a wide range of case studies . . . with insights that apply to the rest of us.”—The Wall Street Journal

MY REVIEW:

I read and reviewed The Power of Habit last year.  I thoroughly enjoyed that book.  It made me want to read anything and everything by Charles Duhigg.

Smarter Faster Better is similar to The Power of Habit in that it is also jam-packed with fascinating stories and information. Both are books you could probably read over and over again and get something out of them every time.  Smarter Faster Better, though, is different in that it's not centered around one thing (i.e. "habits"). Instead it's about a LOT of different things -- the names of the eight chapter give you an idea of the overview: Motivation, Teams, Focus, Goal Setting, Managing Others, Decision Making, Innovation and Absorbing Data.  All of these topics are related to being "smarter, faster and better" in the workplace.

Some of the more powerful messages for me were:
  • The importance of psychological safety discussed in chapter 2: "Teams succeed when everyone feels like they can speak up and when members show they are sensitive to how one another feels."
  • The five different types of corporate culture described in the chapter 5: "Hands down, a commitment culture outperformed every other type of management style in almost every meaningful way."
  • The paralyzing effect of information blindness which is "our mind's tendency to stop absorbing data when there's too much to take in." Our brains get overloaded when faced with too much data (or too many choices) and it functions best when we break things down to two or three options.
I highly recommend this book to anyone in a position of management or leadership.


Monday, June 6, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

In this poignant, hilarious, and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder reveals how saying YES changed her life—and how it can change yours too.

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder. Her iconic characters—Meredith Grey, Cristina Yang, Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating—live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes, the mega talent who owns Thursday night television (#TGIT), is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she hugged walls at splashy parties and suffered panic attacks before media interviews so severe she remembered nothing afterward?

Before her Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes was an expert at declining invitations others would leap to accept. With three children at home and three hit television shows on TV, it was easy to say that she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. Afraid of cocktail party faux pas like chucking a chicken bone across a room; petrified of live television appearances where Shonda Rhimes could trip and fall and bleed out right there in front of a live studio audience; terrified of the difficult conversations that came so easily to her characters on-screen. In the before, Shonda’s introvert life revolved around burying herself in work, snuggling her children, and comforting herself with food.

And then, on Thanksgiving 2013, Shonda’s sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything.

The comment sat like a grenade, until it detonated. Then Shonda, the youngest of six children from a supremely competitive family, knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood creating imaginary friends to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her (like Cristina Yang, whose ultimate goal wasn’t marriage, and Cyrus Beene, who is a Republican and gay). And it chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and giving the Dartmouth Commencement speech; when she learned to say yes to her health, yes to play and she stepped out of the shadows and into the sun; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

This wildly candid and compulsively readable book reveals how the mega talented Shonda Rhimes, an unexpected introvert, achieved badassery worthy of a Shondaland character. And how you can, too.

MY REVIEW:

I had no idea who Shonda Rhimes was before I read this book.  Maybe I live under a rock.  I just don't watch much television.  I'm aware of Grey’s Anatomy. I've heard of Scandal. How to Get Away with Murder...hmmm...nope.  I don't know anything about that one.  And I've never seen a single episode of any of these shows, but that doesn't matter at all. If you're more familiar with these shows than I am, it might help to have some frame of reference when she talks about them in the book, but it doesn't really matter since that's not really what the book is about.

"Year of Yes" may sound like the complete opposite of "Essentialism" -- i.e. "say yes to everything," but that's not it.  Rhimes doesn't tell us to say yes to everything.  Her "Year of Yes" was about learning how to face her fears and say yes to the right things, the things that challenged her and helped her grow -- personally and professionally.  "Year of Yes" is also about learning how to say no when appropriate.

My favorite quote in the whole book was when Rhimes was talking about how her child's school required the parents to bring in cupcakes...and not just store-bought cupcakes, but they had to be homemade.  Rhimes is a single working mother of three and this simply set her over the edge.

Here's the quote:

"I will take off my earrings and ask someone to hold my purse for the verbal beatdown we will need to engage in if you try to tell me that I must define my motherhood in the same terms as yours." 

This may be the kind of quote where you "had to be there," but this particular chapter was very encouraging for working moms. If you're a working mom, you've more than likely experienced some form of judgement (maybe even ridicule) from "the other side."  In a humorous way Rhimes asks us all to put our judgement aside and start supporting one another.  AND DON'T FORCE ANYONE TO MAKE HOMEMADE CUPCAKES!

Year of Yes is lighthearted and inspirational for all women.  Rhimes talks about motherhood, dating/marriage, family, health (i.e. diet, health and body image) and writing (which can be translated to whatever your passion might be).  I highly recommend it.  And if you're a fan of any of her shows, you would probably enjoy it even more than I did.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed

MY REVIEW:

Warning: When Breath Becomes Air is incredibly sad, but it is also incredibly inspirational.

Paul Kalanithi wrote this book while he was dying.  He was just 36 years old and in the final stages of residency for neurosurgery when he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  What are the odds?  And how does one face terminal illness like this at such a young age?

Paul's writing is insightful.  His topics range from compassion (in the doctor/patient relationship) to marriage to education (he was an avid reader) to faith and the meaning of life. His story is heartbreaking, but his message is moving and unforgettable.

"I can't go on. I'll go on."

This book is an absolute must-read!  Don't put it off.  Pick up a copy today.  You won't regret it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

For more than sixty years the rock-solid, time-tested advice in this book has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

Now this previously revised and updated bestseller is available in trade paperback for the first time to help you achieve your maximum potential throughout the next century! Learn:

* Three fundamental techniques in handling people

* The six ways to make people like you

* The twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking

* The nine ways to change people without arousing resentment

MY REVIEW:

How to Win Friends and Influence People is a funny title to me.  I didn't choose this book because I'm trying to figure out how to make friends.  I chose it because the staff at Buffer highly recommend it.  If you're on Pinterest and you enjoy business books, I recommend following the Buffer Books Board for ongoing reading recommendations.  They do pin more than just business books, but I've found a lot of great business and personal development books on their Board.

This is a book you can read again and again and be challenged every time.  Carnegie's concepts are incredibly simple and yet so different from the way many of us think we need to act when in a position of authority or leadership.  He discusses being humble, putting others before ourselves, listening actively, making others feel important (because, ultimately, that's what everyone really wants), and being genuine and sympathetic.

How to Win Friends and Influence People should definitely be read by anyone in a position of leadership, but absolutely anyone would be inspired by this book.  Its concepts can be applied to all relationships--business as well as personal.  That's where the title comes in, but don't let that scare you away.  It is well worth reading no matter who you are because all of us relate with a variety of different people every day and these concepts help us understand how to improve every one of those relationships.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic.  We are dealing with creatures of emotion."

"Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain--and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving."

"Instead of condemning people, let's try to understand them. Let's try to figure out why they do what they do."

"I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument--and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes."

"You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakke



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Who makes the important decisions in your organization? Strategy, product development, budgeting, compensation—such key decisions typically are made by company leaders. That’s what bosses are for, right? But maybe the boss isn’t the best person to make the call.

That’s the conclusion Dennis Bakke came to, and he used it to build AES into a Fortune 200 global power company with 27,000 people in 27 countries. He used it again to create Imagine Schools, the largest non-profit charter-school network in the U.S.

As a student at Harvard Business School, Bakke made hundreds of decisions using the case-study method. He realized two things: decision-making is the best way to develop people; and that shouldn't stop at business school. So Bakke spread decision-making throughout his organizations, fully engaging people at all levels. Today, Bakke has given thousands of people the freedom and responsibility to make decisions that matter.

In The Decision Maker, a leadership fable loosely based on Bakke's experience, the New York Times bestselling author shows us how giving decisions to the people closest to the action can transform any organization.

The idea is simple.

The results are powerful.

When leaders put real control into the hands of their people, they tap incalculable potential. The Decision Maker, destined to be a business classic, holds the key to unlocking the potential of every person in your organization.

MY REVIEW:

What would happen within an organization if the employees were empowered to make important decisions?  Dennis Bakke explores this idea with a business fable, The Decision Maker.  If you're used to working within an extremely hierarchical organization, the results may surprise you.  Sure it's fiction, but the message is clear, powerful and undeniable.

Would decisions be made faster? Yes.
Would employees be happier and more engaged? Yes.
Would shifting to this process be a little scary (with lots of learning opportunities along the way)? Yes!
Would the entire organization crumble and fall apart?  NO!

The Decision Maker is a MUST-READ for anyone in management.  It only takes a couple of hours to read, so you don't have the excuse that you don't have time to read it.  Think of it this way, the health and future of your organization may depend on it, so what do you have to lose?  

(The staff at Buffer highly recommend this book.  If you're on Pinterest and you enjoy business books, follow the Buffer Books Board for ongoing reading recommendations:  www.pinterest.com/bufferapp/buffer-books/.  They do pin more than just business books, but I've found a lot of great business and personal development books on their Board.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Shelter by Jung Yun



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

You can never know what goes on behind closed doors.

One of The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of the Year (Selected by Edan Lepucki) 
Now BuzzFeed's #1 Most Buzzed About Book of 2016

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage―private tutors, expensive hobbies―but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one's family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

MY REVIEW:

When an old friend of mine announced on Facebook a few months ago that his wife wrote a book and  it was going to be published in March, I quickly added it to my "to read" list.  I got even more excited to read it when I started seeing it everywhere -- ads on Goodreads, posts by the New York Times.  I've never met Jung Yun, but I felt a connection to her through her husband and was so thrilled for her.  Writing a book takes a lot of hard work, and getting a work of fiction traditionally published is something to be extremely proud of! Congratulations Jung Yun!

Shelter is about Kyung Cho, a 36-year-old Korean American, and his family -- his wealthy parents who came to the United States when he was just a young boy, his American wife and their four-year-old son.  Kyung and his wife find themselves in a financial crisis, reluctantly considering going to his parents for help, when a violent crime suddenly interrupts their lives.  The situation brings them all together and tears them all apart at the same time. I was absolutely blown away by this book!

Shelter touches eloquently on so many complicated subjects -- interracial marriage, domestic violence, the impact of violent crime, religion, financial security, love and relationships (and probably several others that I'm missing!).  The story is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and absolutely beautiful!  I highly recommend it.  My only word of advice is to make sure you have plenty of time in your schedule when you start reading it because as soon as you start you won't want to put it down.

Monday, April 18, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

For years, Microsoft and other high-tech companies have been posing riddles and logic puzzles like these in their notoriously grueling job interviews. Now "puzzle interviews" have become a hot new trend in hiring. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, employers are using tough and tricky questions to gauge job candidates' intelligence, imagination, and problem-solving ability -- qualities needed to survive in today's hypercompetitive global marketplace. For the first time, William Poundstone reveals the toughest questions used at Microsoft and other Fortune 500 companies -- and supplies the answers. He traces the rise and controversial fall of employer-mandated IQ tests, the peculiar obsessions of Bill Gates (who plays jigsaw puzzles as a competitive sport), the sadistic mind games of Wall Street (which reportedly led one job seeker to smash a forty-third-story window), and the bizarre excesses of today's hiring managers (who may start off your interview with a box of Legos or a game of virtual Russian roulette). How Would You Move Mount Fuji? is an indispensable book for anyone in business. Managers seeking the most talented employees will learn to incorporate puzzle interviews in their search for the top candidates. Job seekers will discover how to tackle even the most brain-busting questions, and gain the advantage that could win the job of a lifetime. And anyone who has ever dreamed of going up against the best minds in business may discover that these puzzles are simply a lot of fun. Why are beer cans tapered on the end, anyway?

MY REVIEW:

How Would You Move Mount Fuji? was published in 2004 so it may not be as relevant now as it was then for someone trying to get an inside scoop on Microsoft's interview process.  I would imagine it would still be helpful, though, for someone interviewing at Microsoft (or Google or a similar company) to understand how the interview process might go. No one knows the exact questions they will be asked during an interview, and half the battle seems to be getting your head in the right mindset so you can think through the response, even if the question doesn't have an exact right answer (i.e. how many piano tuners are there in the world?).

Other people who might enjoy this book would be those who enjoy logic puzzles.  I really enjoyed reading the questions, thinking through them and then reading the answers.  They can be great conversation pieces for the right audience.

Also, people who interview others for employment might enjoy reading about different interview styles and thinking about how those different styles may (or may not) work in their own environment. Personally, I think the puzzle style interview is cruel and would weed out a lot of people who aren't verbal processors. That doesn't mean they wouldn't be capable of thinking creatively.  Whether or not one agrees with the style, How Would You Move Mount Fuji? is a thought-provoking read for HR folks, interviewers and managers.

Friday, April 8, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

A New York Times bestseller, Three Wishes is the funny, heartwarming and completely charming first novel from Liane Moriarty, also the author of #1 New York Times bestsellers The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies.

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow them. But apart, each is dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage, and Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, holds out hope for lasting love. In this wise, witty, and hilarious novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their tumultuous thirty-third year as they deal with sibling rivalry and secrets, revelations and relationships, unfaithful husbands and unthinkable decisions, and the fabulous, frustrating life of forever being part of a trio.

MY REVIEW:

Wow! Liane Moriarty can weave together a really great story.  This was my first experience with her work, but now I can't wait to read more of her books.

The Kettle sisters are triplets, but they each couldn't be more different from one another.  Lyn is the career woman with the picture perfect life.  Cat is the pessimist who is dying to have a baby when her marriage takes an unexpected turn for the worst.  And Gemma is the free spirit who doesn't commit to anything.  The story begins with an explosive event during their 34th birthday celebration and then leads the reader back in time to figure out how they got to that moment.

The story is a roller coaster of beauty and sadness and love and humor.  It's the kind of book that any woman could identify with in some way.  I highly recommend it!

BOOK REVIEW: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.

MY REVIEW:

Four members of the Blackwood family mysteriously die one evening. They are survived by Mary Katherine "Merricat" who was sent to her room without supper that night, her sister Constance and their Uncle Julian. Constance had been accused of poisoning the family and the surviving family members were outcasts in the community ever since. One day their cousin Charles arrives out of the blue and life as they know it changes forever.

I don't know why but this cover kept calling to me for weeks until I finally picked up this book. It's a short book, just 150 pages or so, and the story is captivating.  The reading "flow" was a little bit of a challenge for me, but that may just be Shirley Jackson's style that I'm not used to because I've never read anything else by her.  The story is mysterious and suspenseful.  I recommend it if you like dark fiction.

BOOK REVIEW: Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist—but when her husband drops a bomb on their marriage the same day a doctor delivers devastating news, she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her.

With nothing left to lose, she abandons her life in Chicago for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean for what might be her last hurrah. Despite her new sunny locale, her plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past or bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby is determined to forget about fate. Will she risk it all to live—and love—a little longer?

From critically acclaimed author Camille Pagán comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman choosing between a “perfect” life and actually living.

MY REVIEW:

Libby Miller receives two pieces of earth-shattering bad news on the same day.  The first one is devastating.  The second merely pushes her over the edge.  What does one do after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and finding out their marriage is over?  Camille Pagán takes the reader on an unforgettable journey to find out.

This book is heart-wrenching and wonderful.  It will suck you in until the very end.  I highly recommend it if you enjoy women's fiction.

BOOK REVIEW: Heartburn by Nora Ephron



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Is it possible to write a sidesplitting novel about the breakup of the perfect marriage? If the writer is Nora Ephron, the answer is a resounding yes. For in this inspired confection of adultery, revenge, group therapy, and pot roast, the creator of Sleepless in Seattle reminds us that comedy depends on anguish as surely as a proper gravy depends on flour and butter.

Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs" is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel writes cookbooks for a living. And in between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Ephron's irrepressible heroine offers some of her favorite recipes. Heartburn is a sinfully delicious novel, as soul-satisfying as mashed potatoes and as airy as a perfect soufflé.

MY REVIEW:

This book made me laugh out loud. In fact, it made me laugh out loud so many times that I would have lost count if I'd tried to keep track. And the strangest part about laughing while reading this book was that the things that made me laugh were often related to sadness or chaos in the main character's life following the failure of her marriage.  But those thoughts and scenes were presented in such a way that there was nothing I could do but laugh.

Rachel Samstat is 7 months pregnant with another small child at home when she discovers that her husband is having an affair.  But he's not just having an affair, he's in love with another woman. So what does she do?  She goes to her father's house to get away for a little while.  Her father happens to be in the "loony bin" which is a whole other chaotic side story in her life. She then goes to visit her old therapy group, where she and the whole group end up getting mugged.  When she returns to her father's house, her husband Mark is waiting for her and asks her to come back home although he has no plans of breaking things off with the other woman.

Somehow through all of this madness I found myself laughing time and again over Rachel's take on life and love and marriage.  It wasn't until after I read the book that I learned it was written as a somewhat autobiographical story of the author's own break up with her second husband. That little bit of information brings even more meaning to one of my favorite quotes in the book:

“Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?” 
So I told her why. 
Because if I tell the story, I control the version. 
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. 
Because if I tell the story, it doesn't hurt as much. 
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

Heartburn is a quick, easy read. It is light-hearted and funny, despite the premise. It's a perfect "weekend getaway" kind of book!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money covers the A to Z of Dave’s money teaching, including how to budget, save, dump debt, and invest. If you’re looking for practical information to answer all your “How?” “What?” and “Why?” questions about money, this book is for you. You’ll also learn all about insurance, mortgage options, marketing, bargain hunting and the most important element of all—giving. Now let’s be honest: This is the handbook of Financial Peace University.

MY REVIEW:

I haven't taken the "Financial Peace University" (for which this book is the labeled as the handbook) and I'm not in debt up to my eyeballs, but I've heard a lot about Dave Ramsey's philosophies and wanted to learn more about them. I think anyone could learn a thing or two from any of Dave Ramsey's books regardless of whether their financial situation is good or bad.  And although The Total Money Makeover is probably the Dave Ramsey book to read if you're not taking the Financial Peace University, I found Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money very insightful!  Ramsey's methods are easy to follow (in theory), although they do require an extreme amount of discipline. Having read this book, I am a firm believer in his teachings and I highly recommend this book. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Writing Your Novel From Start to Finish by Joseph Bates



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Equip yourself for the novel-writing journey!

Starting a novel is exciting, but finishing it--that's the real challenge. The journey from beginning to end is rife with forks in the road and dead ends that lead many writers off course. With Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish: A Guidebook for the Journey, you'll navigate the intricacies of crafting a complex work of fiction and complete the journey with confidence and precision.

To maximize your creativity and forward momentum, each chapter offers:
  • Techniques to break down the elements of the novel--from character-building to plotting and pacing 
  • Mile Markers to anticipate and overcome roadblocks like ineffective dialogue and "the unchanged protagonist" 
  • Guidelines for Going Deeper to explore and implement more nuanced aspects of storytelling, such as finding your voice and the role of theme 
  • Try-It-Out Exercises and 27 interactive worksheets that help elevate your writing. 
No matter your level of experience or where you are in your project, Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish provides the instruction, inspiration, and guidance you need to complete your journey successfully.

MY REVIEW:

I am surprised by the reviews for this book.  As of the date of this post there are only two reviews on Amazon and both of them are only 3 stars.  I feel like there must be some sort of secret about this book that I don't happen to be in on. (If you know what that secret might be, please comment on this post and fill me in!)  Personally, I thought this book was excellent!

If you have ever tried to write a novel (or have that on your bucket list for "some day"), this book is a must-read!  I think Bates does a wonderful job of walking the reader through everything you need to know in order to put together a story that people will want to read.  It may all seem pretty obvious, but having attempted to write three novels myself over the last few years, I found the information in this book eye-opening.  If I participate in NaNoWriMo again in the future, I will definitely read through this book again before I begin and the worksheets in the back will be a fantastic resource.

I highly recommend this book if you write fiction and/or want to write a novel someday.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

MY REVIEW:

People seem to be really into the *idea* of minimalism these days.  I often see posts from my friends on Facebook and other social media platforms rejecting the idea that we need so much stuff in our lives.  But sometimes I wonder if what people are really doing is putting out an excuse to the world for why they don't have as much stuff as other people. Or maybe they really believe that having more stuff isn't what makes them happy, but they've never been able to connect that belief with the actual practice of minimalism (getting rid of the stuff they don't need and avoiding buying more stuff they don't need).

Ultimately I don't really know anyone in my day-to-day life who truly practices minimalism.  I myself have never really gotten into the fad.  While I don't necessarily think of myself as someone who loves stuff, I also don't like the idea of getting rid of things like old craft supplies I've held onto for years thinking someday I will have the time again to do something with them.

Marie Kondo's book is convincing, though. She claims that decluttering your home will also help declutter your mind and help you become a happier, more productive person in general. She shares with the readers her step-by-step approach to getting rid of all the excess stuff in our homes -- the things that don't really give us joy.  Although some of her advice was a little odd for me personally (i.e. telling each of your items thank you for serving their purpose each day), her method is simple and her tips are easy to follow.

So, what if you spent six months focusing on getting rid of all the stuff in your home that you don't really need?  If that's something that weighs heavily on your mind/heart, then I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Giver by Lois Lowry



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

MY REVIEW:

Imagine a world where no one is allowed to think for themselves.  Everyone simply follows the rules and nobody questions anything.  Each person has a specific purpose, which they carry out without petition, and everyone is content.  There is no suffering.  Everything is under control.

This is the world Lois Lowry created in The Giver. This world is seemingly perfect and harmonious; however, this world does not come without a price -- and that price is something Jonas alone discovers when he turns 12 years old and is assigned the role of "The Receiver."  There is one person in the community, known as "The Giver," who holds all of the memories (and with those, all of the pain), and it is now time for him to pass all of it on to Jonas.

The book is beautifully written.  The story is thought-provoking and powerful.  It seemed a little intense for a YA book (at least for a 12 or 13 year old), but I'm sure it would spark a very interesting discussion for young readers.  I recommend this for anyone (young or old) who enjoys dystopian fiction. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Finding Time by Leslie Perlow



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ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Why do Americans work so hard? Are the long hours spent at work really necessary to increase organizational productivity? Leslie A. Perlow documents the worklife of employees who assume that for their own success and the success of their organization they must put in extended hours on the job. Perlow doesn't buy it. She challenges the basic assumption that the more employees work, the better the corporation will do.For nine months, Perlow studied the work practices of a product development team of software engineers at a Fortune 500 corporation. She reports her findings in detailed stories about individual employees and in more analytic chapters. Perlow first describes the individual heroics necessary to succeed in the existing work culture. She then explains how the system of rewards perpetuates crises and continuous interruptions,while discouraging cooperation. Finally, she shows how the resulting work practices damage both organizational productivity and the quality of individuals' lives outside of work. Perlow initiated a collaborative effort to restructure the way team members worked. Managers who were involved credit the project for the rare and important on-time launch of the product the engineers were developing. In the end, Finding Time shows that it is possible to create new work practices that enable individuals to have more personal and family time while also improving the corporation's productivity.

MY REVIEW:

With the title Finding Time: How Corporations, Individuals, and Families Can Benefit from New Work Practices, I thought this book was going to be very interesting, but for me it fell short.  It seemed more like a dissertation that got published.  There was plenty of research, but very little practical application. Perlow demonstrates a lot about the problems within a specific corporation, which probably translate to many others, but doesn't spend enough time substantiating the solution(s) that the title suggests.