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.