Monday, September 5, 2011

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell is a cerebral and jaunty writer, with an unusual gift for making the complex seem simple and for seeking common-sense explanations for many of the apparent mysteries, coincidences and problems of the everyday. He is also an intellectual opportunist, always on the look-out for a smart phrase or new fad with which to define and explain different social phenomena.
In his first book, The Tipping Point, he studied events such as crime waves and fashion trends and settled on an arresting metaphor to explain why they happen. 'Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread just like viruses,' he wrote, suggesting that we contaminate and infect one another with preferences and recommendations, until we reach a 'tipping point', after which a social epidemic becomes contagious and crosses a threshold to reach saturation point. The tipping point: who does not now use this phrase to describe a moment of definitive transition? ('Tipping point' seems to have become this generation's 'paradigm shift', a phrase popularised by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The success of the book, which began as an article in the New Yorker, the magazine for which he works as a staff writer, propelled Gladwell into the realm of super-consultancy. He has since become a lauded pontificant and ideas progenitor on the international lecture circuit. He is the go-to man for a corporate business elite seeking to understand the way we live, think and consume today.
It helps that with his wild, unruly curls and wide-eyed gaze, Gladwell has the look of an übergeek. He seems to have absorbed one important lesson of the consumerist culture he deconstructs - that the image you project is paramount; in effect, he has made himself, superficially at least, into a brand. If you didn't know he was a writer and journalist, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that he was a leading operator at Microsoft or Google. As it is, he's a kind of literary Bill Gates, a guy so far ahead of the rest of the pack that you never quite know what he will do next.
What is an outlier? The word may not be a neologism but I have never heard anyone use it in conversation. According to one dictionary definition, an outlier is 'something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body'. But Gladwell uses the word with more metaphorical flexibility. For him, an outlier is a truly exceptional individual who, in his or her field of expertise, is so superior that he defines his own category of success. Bill Gates is an outlier and so are Steve Jobs of Apple, Robert Oppenheimer and many others Gladwell speaks to or writes about as he seeks to offer a more complete understanding of success.
The trouble with the book is that Gladwell is ultimately engaged in a long argument with nobody but himself. Throughout, he defines his position against a floating, ubiquitous, omnipotent 'we'; a Greek chorus of predictable opposition and received opinion. 'There is something profoundly wrong with the way we look at success,' he writes. 'We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don't matter at all.' And so he goes on.
These assumptions can be irritating, since who is this naive, unquestioning, plural intelligence identified as 'we'? Do we in wider society really believe that outstanding success, in whichever field, is achieved without extraordinary dedication, talent and fortuitous circumstance, as Gladwell would have it? Do we really take no account of the sociopolitical context into which someone was born and through which they emerged when we attempt to quantify outlandish achievement? Do we really believe that genius is simply born rather than formed? Gladwell wants his readers to take away from this book 'the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are'. But I don't know anyone who would dispute this.
The world for Gladwell is a text that he reads as closely as he can in seeking to decode and interpret it. He is adept at identifying underlying trends from which he extrapolates to form hypotheses, presenting them as if they were general laws of social behaviour. But his work has little philosophical rigour. He's not an epistemologist; his interest is in what we think, rather than in the how and why of knowledge itself.
There is also a certain one-dimensional Americanness at work: many of his examples and case studies are American and he spends rather too much time in New York, at one point even riffing at length about the founder of the literary agency that represents him. The book would have been more interesting if he'd roamed wider and travelled more, if it had been more internationalist in ambition and outlook.
However, it's still fun to follow Gladwell on his meandering intellectual journeys, even if the conclusions he arrives at here are so obviously self-evident as to be banal. Even when he is not at his best he is worth taking seriously. He has a lucid, aphoristic style. His case studies are well chosen, such as when he writes about the birth dates of elite ice hockey players and discovers a pattern: most are born in the first three months of the year. His range is wide, and he writes as well in Outliers about sport as he does about corporate law firms in New York or aviation. Little is beneath his notice.
One last thing, as Gladwell might say. There's perhaps another way of reading Outliers and that's as a quest for self-understanding, since the author himself is obviously an outlier. In seeking to find out more about how other people like him came to be who they are and to occupy the exalted positions they do, he's also indirectly seeking to learn more about himself, about how he came to be who he is: the smartest guy at the New Yorker, with the big ideas and the lucrative book deals.
• Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. His book The Last Game: Love, Death and Football will be published in April 2009.


Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health by Gene Stone, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr.

Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health

I'm holding off on rating this book until I try some recipes.

This book advocates a plant-based diet and supplements the documentary by the same name (which I have not seen). From glancing over the recipes I have to say that they look promising for those interested in trying some vegan recipes in that they call for wholesome, real food and contain unprocessed and minimally-processed ingredients. Thankfully, there are no calls for 1/2 cup vegan cheese, 1 slice fake soy meat, tvp, etc. It should be noted that they consider olive oil a highly-processed food and don't call for it in most recipes, whereas I always make liberal use of olive oil in my cooking so it'll be interesting when I start giving a few of these a try



Sunday, September 4, 2011

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts

A MUST read for anyone who wants better relationships

*Improves relationships
*Easy to read... Flows really well
Cons: Not everyone has read this book!!

This book is written for couples but  ANYONE can read The 5 Love Languages and this and gain perspective into improving relationships.

 I'm not married, not currently dating but this book has helped me to improve relationships with friends, my family, coworkers and more!

This book opens your mind up to how people respond to  things differently. While your language of love might be recieving gifts and you feel most loved when someone gives you a gift, another person might feel most loved when someone helps them with a task.

Revieving Gifts
Physical Contact
Quality Time
Help with something

By being able to identify your language and realizing the need to learn to speak the language of those who matter most to us we are opening ourselves up to stronger relationships.

Should be required pre-marital reading. If you know of a couple getting married add a copy to your shower gift.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations)

The Great Gatsby is your neighbor you're best friends with until you find out he's a drug dealer. It charms you with some of the most elegant English prose ever published, making it difficult to discuss the novel without the urge to stammer awestruck about its beauty. It would be evidence enough to argue that F. Scott Fitzgerald was superhuman, if it wasn't for the fact that we know he also wrote This Side of Paradise.

But despite its magic, the rhetoric is just that, and it is a cruel facade. Behind the stunning glitter lies a story with all the discontent and intensity of the early Metallica albums. At its heart, The Great Gatsby throws the very nature of our desires into a harsh, shocking light. There may never be a character who so epitomizes tragically misplaced devotion as Jay Gatsby, and Daisy, his devotee, plays her part with perfect, innocent malevolence. Gatsby's competition, Tom Buchanan, stands aside watching, taunting and provoking with piercing vocal jabs and the constant boast of his enviable physique. The three jostle for position in an epic love triangle that lays waste to countless innocent victims, as well as both Eggs of Long Island. Every jab, hook, and uppercut is relayed by the instantly likable narrator Nick Carraway, seemingly the only voice of reason amongst all the chaos. But when those boats are finally borne back ceaselessly by the current, no one is left afloat. It is an ethical massacre, and Fitzgerald spares no lives; there is perhaps not a single character of any significance worthy even of a Sportsmanship Award from the Boys and Girls Club.

In a word, The Great Gatsby is about deception; Fitzgerald tints our glasses rosy with gorgeous prose and a narrator you want so much to trust, but leaves the lenses just translucent enough for us to see that Gatsby is getting the same treatment. And if Gatsby represents the truth of the American Dream, it means trouble for us all. Consider it the most pleasant insult you'll ever receive


Monday, August 29, 2011

Night (Oprah's Book Club) by Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel

Night (Oprah's Book Club)

NIGHT by Elie Wiesel is a piercing account of the horrors of concentration camp, which impressed an incredible toll both internally and externally on his being. As a young adolescent, he is ripped from his home, plummeted to the depths of suffering, and driven to the edge of his own humanity. Mr. Wiesel openly shares with readers the tremendous weight of these experiences etched within his soul. His courage in doing so should be lauded.
From Mr. Wiesel we can learn that regardless of the burden from the sins of others imposed upon us and our own sins, it is possible to endure - and even to help others do so.
In that vein, I would recommend another memoir to readers of NIGHT - called A BEAUTIFUL WORLD, written by Gregg Milligan. It is a book you will not be able to put down - a deeply moving account of the indomitable human spirit as seen in the heart of a young child subjected to severe physical, mental and sexual abuse.

In the author's own words, he shares his story to help others 'buckle down and bear the ride' through their own hell - and know that they are not alone. A BEAUTIFUL WORLD is an incredible testament to the perseverance of hope. Exquisitely written and heart wrenching, it is an unforgettable story.
Both A BEAUTIFUL WORLD and NIGHT offer readers a chance to adjust their own perspective on suffering through the examples of both authors. Though they have suffered greatly and will never leave this experience behind, they will not allow it to end them either.
Further, both authors possess the incredible courage to reach out and share their stories, giving of themselves for the benefit of others. The astounding resiliency shown in that act alone speaks volumes of them as human beings -- and the words they press to paper will ever live on in the hearts of those that read them.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is from Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". Fifty years after Chinua Achebe wrote this deceptively simple Nigerian tragedy, Things Fall Apart has never been out of print. It's hailed as Africa's best known work of literature and I can easily see why.

At the heart of the story is a strong man, Okonkwo, with an overwhelming need to prove himself--to himself and his tribe; he must overcome the bad reputation of his drunkard ne'er-do-well father. Although Okonkwo can easily defeat enemies he can wrestle, chop or kill; his stubborn pride and anger collide with and fail to overcome those aspects of life which he cannot so readily tackle: providence, family and tribal laws.

So much of the appeal of Things -- for me at least -- is watching Okonkwo encounter a traditional village. I was fascinated (and repulsed) by its customs, mores, and overall precarious harmony. The appropriateness of the title is in the extreme delicacy of that tribal balance which is rocked to the core by the arrival of the English missionaries. All that was as Okonkwo understood the world to be, changes with the introduction of Christianity and Western civilization. It is both a clash of one individual against his own society and a foreign power, as well as the collision of two diametrically opposed cultures. You don't often find so much carefully-contained conflict in a book of this size. Truly incredible!

Chinua Achebe wrote this masterpiece before most of the African nations had declared their independence. Since that time, the Dark Continent has been washed in rivers of blood. One wonders when, and prays for an end to, all the suffering. Such a sacred place and beautiful people; in many ways so like the Garden of Eden. Long live Africa! 


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife: A Novel

The PARIS WIFE is a mesmerizing novel about Paris in the 1920’s featuring the bohemian “Lost Generation”. It is the touching and heartbreaking story of the love affair and marriage of literature’s original “bad boy” Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway.
Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding , the deeply in love couple sail to Paris where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
The Hemingway’s are ill prepared for the hard drinking, fast living life of Jazz Age Paris. They are surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos. Written in Hadley’s voice that is so well drawn and lyrical it manages to captures the spectacle of the man becoming the legend. She draws the twenty year old Hemingway as a handsome, magnetic, passionate, sensitive man full of dreams.
This portrayal of their marriage is so tender, so poignant that is an utterly absorbing novel. 


Friday, August 26, 2011

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

I heard a talk show host talk about this book being the next great "Harry Potter". I loved Harry Potter so I was anxious to get this book. I was captivated by the story. I enjoyed reading it, but I don't think it is the next great book like Harry Potter. First off, we have a boy living with his mother who finds himself in trouble at school a lot. His only friend is a really smart kid and then he meets up with the all popular cheerleader. (Interesting how the cheerleader is always the one that the boys want) In this book, we find that these children have special capabilities that evil people want to exploit. Does this sound like X-Men? Yup, it is very much the same story line. The book has some syrupy sweetness going on how the 'good' kids value home, family, and wrestle with the idea of worldly values: being able to buy anything you want and having no regard for people with no abilities or realizing that hurting others is just plain wrong. The problem is that this premise that the 'good' kids felt was a little overlooked when it came time for them to break out of the Elgen Academy and hurt those that had hurt them. The bad people are really cruel in this book. They kill family members, kidnap them to force the glows (the gifted children)to do their dirty work, and they manipulate these children by giving them great worldly goods and make them feel like they were ungrateful if they didn't do what was asked. A lot of mind playing tricks. They get away in the end and Michael's mother is still missing, so the book will continue and we as readers want Michael to succeed because he seems like the good guy. What will he do with his powers? Will he turn bad like the other children? Will he be able to find his mom before she is killed? The book is interesting enough to want to read the sequel, but the writing is not as good as Harry Potter.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel By Emma Donoghue(A)/Michal Friedman(N) [Audiobook]

Wow. A book hasn't swallowed me whole like that in a long time. This one will be haunting be for awhile. I wish I could tell you what it's about, but I wish I hadn't read the back cover 30 pages or so into and changed my own perception. It's best to figure it out along with the story.

I will say that it's about a 5-year-old boy who has never left the room where he lives. His whole world is Room and Bed and Rug. It's a little jarring to read from his point of view in the beginning and I was worried I wasn't going to be able to get into his story, but once I became accustomed to his voice, I couldn't put his story down. And his story wouldn't have the power it does without his perspective. We think about these type of stories from other perspectives, but never from his. Never from the child who is comfortable in his world that we know is all wrong. The child that never wants to leave his strange circumstances when we understand why he should.

Most of the time his naivete was right one, but there were occasions where Donoghue used his voice to explain something that I didn't buy into him understanding. I wish she would have trusted her reader more to see the discord of reality and his perception instead of using Jack to interpret his mother's emotions or the sequence of events. I loved the juxtaposition of reality and his interpretation and would have liked more of them. There were also some plot twists (view spoiler) that didn't ring entirely true, but I so believed Jack that in the end it didn't matter. There is one point where the plot takes a turn in a different direction from Jack's perception (view spoiler) but Jacks' reality is so real, you don't even consider other options. That's when I knew I'd follow Jack anywhere.

Maybe it's the unusual perspective or the strong voice. Maybe it's that I know what it's like for a child to change your world. Maybe it's that right now I feel trapped in my own room with my own baby. Maybe it's that Jack's relationship with his mother is so different from own experience and I was both shocked and saddened by their bond. Or maybe it's that Donoghue made me think about the world in a way I never have before. But whatever it is, this book grabbed my attention and wouldn't let it go. I related to Jack's story when I couldn't possibly know what his life is like. It's difficult to make the humdrum of ordinary life day in and day out inside an 11x11 room exciting, but Donoghue manages to keep my intense attention. (view spoiler)

While some of the events in the book are disturbing, I don't think they're too disturbing. Jack's innocent voice saves us from the horror that this story could be. It's not about all the things lost in Outside. It's about wanting to stay in and safe. And it's about the power of maternal love. Because of that, the story has redemption and hope and happiness.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Peculiar indeed...

The title and the cover decided things for me, and between the two of those, I was half convinced this would read like one of those YA historicals ala-Vixen or Luxe (given the cover) or one of those Series of Unfortunate Tales (given the title.) Wrong on both counts.

The Good:

Pictures. Everything Jacob said when describing those portraits were accurate: creepy, formal and yeah, creepy. They remind me of my grandparent's portraits hung in the house my mother grew up in. Both those portraits are black and white, with them posed all very formal and serious. The peculiar part is how their eyes just seemed to follow everywhere I'd go, comforting and creepy all at once. Nah, just creepy. It is from my brother that I've learned to pay close attention to where the portraits' eyes go (or stay.) To this day, those pictures get my hair standing on end. The very same feeling I got as I looked upon the many varied, creepy pictures in this book.

And to think that most of them are real, not manufactured for the sole purpose of the book! Me thought that was just cool... and creepy.

Time travelling. Now this is time travelling that I can get behind: the last one I read *cough* Hourglass*cough*was too pat, too easy. This one had loops and Ms. Peregrine types, and there were consequences that made sense. To say that its version was different, is quite true.

His devotion. Unlike his father, our MC had really close relationship with his grandfather. Sure, he'd had grown up and consequently doubted his grandfather's stories, but he cared for the old guy. The old guy really was his hero. It was this devotion that eventually got him on his adventure.

The Bad:

See that last sentence there? The one that says eventually? Well, "eventually" was almost half the novel. The first half had a lot of the funny parts, though: a priveleged teenage boy trying to get fired; a priveleged teenage boy who wasn't so popular with but one friend. BUT it got tedious, I tell you. The first half read like a YA contemp with some scary camp story thrown in. To be honest, the first half was so different from the second that I thought there were two novels in there. The first bit was him lost, drugged up just to cope and mourning. The second half was him and the Peculiars; you can guess which half I preferred.

And the... WTF?:

As with most YA's, there's a requisite love. In Jacob's case it's Emma. Jacob had voiced my concern early on in their relationship. It's not the instant love connection that I frequently complain of because there was no such thing here; the icky bit (kind of) comes in if you consider Emma and her history, (view spoiler)

Given all that ~ the good, the bad and the WTF, I'd say give this one a shot. It's got so many things going for it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Day (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Contemporaries) BY David Nicholls

One Day (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Contemporaries)

I absolutely loved this book. I became a big fan of Nicholls with his first novel (A Question of Attraction -- originally titled "Starter for Ten" with its U.K. edition.) I was a little letdown by his second -- The Understudy, which was fun, but not quite as good as his first. This book exceeds his first. He takes a great device -- following the lives of one couple on the same day over a period of 20 years -- and does a masterful job of storytelling with it. We go from the couple's idealistic college days -- they meet on the day of their graduation -- all the way into their late 30s, with all the physical and emotional changes that come during that timespan. We see the career missteps along the way, and all the various relationships they have while still remaining friends -- and the woman, Emma, always secretly in love with Dexter Mayhew, who has more than a few wild oats to sow before he realizes the woman he should be with is the one who's always been his best friend. The writing is absolutely marvelous. The dialogue is absolutely terrific -- the couple have a teasing/kneedling way of talking to each other and the reparteee between them remains funny and fresh throughout even though the novel is long -- 435 pages.

To say much more would be to give too much away. But if you like insightful books about relationships that can touch all of your emotions, this is the book for you. I think structurally the way Nicholls manages to take you on an extraordinary trip from the first page to the very last is a tour de force.

I had to buy this from amazon/uk because it was available in Britain a year before it became available in the United States, but I'm so happy I got it. This is definitely a book I will re-read several times -- and I hope Nicholls continues to have a prolific career.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition by Joel Fuhrman

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition

Rather than repeat many of the reviewers of this book, I simply want to add this book has the potential change one's life. I read that in one of the reviews before I bought this book, and I though that's rather silly, it's almost sad that a diet book can change someone's life.

Six months later, I now wholeheartedly agree. My girlfriend is now completely vegetarian and I eat meat only one or twice a week. Prior to this I would eat meat once or twice a day. If you told me six months ago that in half a year I would be for all intent and purpose be a vegetarian, I would have laughed and said that's impossible. I like to workout a lot, where will I get my protein from.
Well, I still workout a lot and I get most of my protein from soy products. I've managed to maintain my muscle and still loose 30 pounds, most of it coming off in the first couple months. My girlfriend has lost a similar amount.
It's worth mentioning that Dr. Fuhrman's diet is pretty strict, and it's a very dramatic change coming over from the typical American diet. He talks about making the commitment, and that's very important, but I think it's also important to be realistic and realize that it may take a while to fully adopt all of the eating habits he proposes. Even now, while others probably think all I eat is rabbit-food, I realize that we still not following his diet perfectly. We'll have buns with our black bean burgers, but just try to make sure they're not refined. And I'm not too concerned about it. The weight is staying off and we feel great.
So do yourself a favor and buy this book. While you're at it, buy your loved ones all a copy too, as I've recently started doing. If the thought of being a vegetarian scares you, don't let it. Dr. Fuhrman offers plenty of recipes with meat in them, so you'll have plenty to eat, and you might be surprised to see that it's possible to really go without meat in your diet. You'll also sleep better at night (and probably live longer) knowing that the stuff you're putting in your body is a lot better than all of your friends who are on Atkins or the South Beach diet.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris

"Learn to do good;" -- Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

This is the most engaging history book I've read so far in 2011.

While I was in college, I focused my studies on 19th century France because almost every possible variation of human history occurred there at some point between 1789 and 1914. In the course of those studies, I became very familiar with how French people and Europeans saw Paris. But it never occurred to me to apply the special lens of how visiting and expatriate Americans experienced the City of Light. I feel extremely grateful to David McCullough for conceiving of and brilliantly executing this book.

I should mention that I have read in great detail how 18th and 20th century Americans saw Paris. How I missed reading about the 19th century is beyond me.

One of the fascinating themes is how Americans went from being humble learners, seeking to gain from greater French knowledge of the arts and medicine, to being influential innovators bringing new influences (such as Morse's telegraph, Edison's electric lights, and John Singer Sargent's portraiture). Paris itself stretched to become a bigger stage on which technical progress was shared through the various exhibitions.

To me one of the best aspects of this book was becoming a little bit familiar with fascinating Americans who I didn't know much about before such as painter George P. A. Healy, American minister to France Elihu B. Washburne, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Naturally, Paris itself is the biggest character and David McCullough treats her with proper reverence.

I was particularly charmed by the descriptions of difficult Atlantic crossings in sailing ships, riding in French stagecoaches (diligences) to Paris, and how the newly arrived reacted to seeing their first French cathedrals, especially the one at Rouen.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder

This marvelous atmospheric and multi layered novel takes place in the Amazon jungle where an emissary from a pharmaceutical company dies under mysterious circumstances at a research facility.
Dr. Marina Singh is sent to find the remains and effects, but must first locate the famous and reclusive gynecologist, Dr. Swenson who is in charge of the research. Dr. Swenson is researching the women of a local tribe who can conceive well past middle age, and other secret remedies. She and her research are totally off limits except to a chosen few, just she and her research team.
Ms. Patchett’s true genius is her ability to write about situations that truly stretch incredibility but you end up believing every word, and even cheering. Very few authors can achieve this kind of rapport with their readers.
This is a vivid and emotional trip taking you on a journey so well written you are able to experience it through the eyes of characters you won’t soon forget. The unforgettable native boy, Easter will touch your heart, and linger in your thoughts long after you finish the book.
Highly Recommended 


Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13) by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13)

Wow.... Jim Butcher has done it again.

We move from the Cliff-hanger of Changes, where Harry Dresden is shot & presumably killed at the last page of the book, to his spirit roaming the streets... Well, not quite roaming, after all, he has been told that three of his friends will die, if his killer is not found, and what is a Private Investigator / Ghost suppose to do about it? Well, solve his own murder...

But, Harry is practically defenseless since he seems to be unable to use his magic while being a ghost.... So, who can he turn to?

Like the previous Dresden books, Ghost Story promises a lot, and it delivers. It's a fast, but fun read, in it's own way. Once again, we can Dresden wise-cracking and generally being himself...

The series reminds me of a blend of The Rockford Files and Mike Hammer who happens to be a wizard and deals with world threatening baddies.
At it's core, is a basic good vs evil conflict and with dash of moral dilemmas added in for spice.

By now, you have probably heard that Changes & Ghost Story, shake up the Dresden series... And it's true, in Changes Harry crosses "the line", and does what no one else was able to do, and virtually ends the Red Vampire War. In Ghost Story, we learn what the consequences of his actions were, and what Harry did to try to prevent them.

I do admit, I had figured out who shot him, within the first couple of chapters, but I didn't know Who Killed Harry, until the end of the Book.

It is safe to say, that there will be more Dresden books in the future... Especially if Jim Butcher can continue to innovate like this...


In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Nazi Germany is one of the most well-tread subject areas in literature of the last eighty years, and just when it seems everything interesting to say about it has been said, something new gives you a fresh reason to pay attention. As far as the historical record is concerned, Erik Larson’s latest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, offers no big surprises, but this was never meant to be a history. What Larson does, and well at that, is to grant the general readership an insight into the time period by retelling the story of a single American family and their experiences during Hitler’s rise to power. In the Garden of Beasts tells the true story of William Dodd and his family during his first year as ambassador to Germany, which, incidentally, begins shortly after the naming of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933.
The book focuses mainly on the ambassador himself and his sociable young daughter, Martha. When they arrive in Berlin, in the summer of 1933, the history professor-turned-statesman and his daughter—along with most of the world at that point—see Hitler as more of a nuisance than a tyrant. Even a month into the job Dodd, “remains convinced that the government was growing more moderate and that Nazi mistreatment of Jews was on the wane”. To Martha, however, the Nazi “revolution” was exciting. This is how much of the book is framed; Ambassador Dodd is defined by his position, even at the many social balls thrown for and by the foreign diplomats in Berlin, which were seen as a vital part of the job, while Martha took in Nazi Germany as a young vacationer. The chapters tied to William Dodd have the ring of a more conventional history, recounting correspondence between the ambassador and various contacts at the states and highlighting his growing concern towards the Nazi party as requests go unheeded and the list of casualties gets longer. Meanwhile, the episodes featuring Martha are much more experiential as she entwines herself into the social fabric of Berlin, rubbing elbows with prominent members of the Nazi government, writers, newspaper correspondents, and enemies of the state. Larson describes, in glowing detail, Martha’s fashionable friends, her stylish parties and the exciting world into which she is drawn.
Both Martha and her father take some time to turn decidedly against the Nazi regime. The major turning point, the night of the long knives, is not encountered until the very end of the book, the chapters after it dedicated to the respective fates of each member of the Dodd family. Preceding that we see the ambassador’s growing frustration towards both governments with which he deals. On the German side he sees no adequate response to his repeated complaints of Americans being assaulted and finds that, despite their numerous reassurances, their rhetoric, as well as the law, only gets harsher as time goes on. Meanwhile, he finds himself alienated from the rest of the state department, the “Pretty Good Club” which was comprised mostly of old money and who grew annoyed with Dodd’s constant preaching for frugality and greater action to be taken in moderating Hitler’s government.
Martha’s change of heart comes from more personal sources. Even witnessing a women being beaten, shaved, embarrassed, and forcibly paraded around her hotel in Nuremburg did little to dissuade her sympathy for the cause. She begins to change partly due to her close social and romantic ties to several high ranking Nazis. Among these men is Rudolf Diels, head of the Gestapo, who flees Germany several times in that year when political infighting threatens his life. It is men like Diels and Ernst Hanfstaengl, men entrenched in Hitler’s government but still not immune from the whims of other Nazi officials that show her the true face of the “revolution”. Yet, the final inspiration is motivated not by a push, but a pull. Martha begins a relationship with Boris Winogradov, an employee at the Soviet Embassy, and also a spy. She becomes enamored with him and trades the Nazis for the Soviets.
The strength of In the Garden of Beasts is the very distance that is offered by the Dodd family in their encountering men known today only in superlative terms as evil incarnate. In 1933, to this family, they were still human, not in any redeeming way, but in a way that makes them small and petty. Larson sets out to bring color to a world typically known only in, “gradients of gray and black” and he succeeds, to a degree. One can imagine a newly arrived, young adult to be swept up in the excitement of these huge rallies. The brief descriptions of the Nuremburg rallies—which the Dodds refused to attend—give glimpses to the awesome spectacle provided for those not knowing what was to come. However there is little charm here and Martha’s early affinity for the movement is despite her experiences. What color he does provide is personality behind the names we know in the history books. The name Hitler carries tremendous weight now, and it is near impossible to think of him separate from the larger than life events which he caused, but here we get a glimpse at a man, one compared to, “a suburban hairdresser”. Larson is a master of finding bits of dark humor and irony that break the stiff wall of seriousness that has been built around the subject. He takes us out of the grand landscape shots and provides an extreme close up. The nuance is what makes this an interesting story and a good read, but do not expect a surprise twist ending.


Friday, August 12, 2011

StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

StrengthsFinder 2.0

What I liked about this book

I’ve read countless books that have been brimming with useful information, but it is rare to find one that has a practical way to follow up with that general information into useful and insightful next steps.
Here’s a clip from one of the reports for one of my skills:
“Choose work in which you ar paid to analyze data” — Gee … that’s the story of my life even though it took me a while to wander into that part of the computer industry.
And another one — “You are at your best when you have well-researched sources of information and numbers to support your logic.  Determine the most helppful books, websites, or publications that can serve as references.”  For those of who know my obsession with spreadsheets and filing email messages for years at a time, this is something of an explanation.  I need to wrap my mind around the numbers and spreadsheets let me do this.

Read this if

You’ve ever wondered what it is that makes you special.
This test will give you those answers.
You may think “everyone does that or would if they had the time,” but you’ll be wrong.  I mean, would you build a spreadsheet for the grocery store with prices and aisles?  Well that’s a natural thing for me and you’ll find that you have unique and useable skills.

Don’t read this if

For the first time, I don’t really have anything to put in this section.  I think this book is useful for everyone, but remember one key is to focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.


One of the best, if not the best, books that I’ve ever read and one of the most practical.

If I came across this book on a bargain table

I would check if the code had been used and if not, I’d snatch it up to give to a friend.

Nice introduction HERE

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Help by The Help

The Help

I finished this book this afternoon after trying to drag out the ending as long as possible. I did not want to leave these characters behind; I wanted to continue on their journey with them, make sure they were OK ¨C I miss them already.

I have been hearing about this book and have read lots of positive reviews for the longest time but sometimes I get put off by books that have so much hype around them and end up passing them by. Oh how glad I am that I didn¡¯t do this with The Help. It is worth every glowing review, every recommendation and every superlative ever written about it.

The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 and is narrated by three women in turn. Aibileen and Minny are black maids and Miss Skeeter is a white college graduate who mourns the disappearance of her old maid and wants to do something more with her life than marry a local boy and have her kids raised by maids.

The story takes us with these women as the embark on a dangerous journey to try and change decades of prejudice and pave the way for a better life for the next generations. Through the words of each of these women we learn how rife racism and intolerance was back in the 1960¡äs deep south. There are tales of unbelievable cruelty and humiliation but also tales of tenderness and real love. It was so good to hear a story told primarily from the point of view of the black maids too and refreshing to hear both sides in all its rawness; the distrust and even hatred on both sides. The book also successfully managed to avoid being sensational or over-egging the pudding. Despite the subject matter (which is so important) the book never feels too heavy or preachy: it is as light as one of Minny¡¯s famous caramel cakes and aswell as riotously funny and tender.

I implore you to read this book ¨C you will fall in love with Aibileen, roar with laughter at Minny and rootfor Miss Skeeter for 450 pages. And I guarantee that Miss Hilly is one of the best bitches you will come across in any book! She is truly awful but so brilliantly drawn and you will root for her to get her just desserts (pun intended).

I feel like I have lost friends now I have finished this book. It is a true gem and I highly, highly recommend.
Get it HERE

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The third and final part of Larsson's amazing trilogy doesn't disappoint, and will certainly be revered by those who have already feasted on Lisbeth Salander's two previous outings. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest picks up from where the second part finishes. Salander is laid up in hospital recovering from a bullet wound in the head, but she has inadvertendly started a chain of events in the most secretive of government agencies, and they are determined to cover their tracks at all costs.

This whole series must surely be one of the most original ever to be committed to paper - a thoroughly unique (anti?) heroine in Salander and revolving around a investigative newspaper? Good Heavens. Even so, this whole series has been a masterpiece of plotting on Larsson's part - it is a complex web, but the writing is stark and simple that one never really gets lost in its intricacies. And make no mistake about it, it's a page turner - Larsson is not afraid to throw in the odd curveball that you're really not expecting to mix it all up, and the story just keeps on going with unstoppable momentum. This really is the perfect finish, when all the cracks that appeared in the first two books start to creak and grown and eventually the whole things falls down in a crash and a cloud of dust. I simply didn't want it to end. Famtastic.

In short, I can't praise it highly enough - not only is the whole series a brilliant crime caper, but as all great crime stories should, Larsson takes a mighty swipe at the post-war Swedish political landscape at the same time(I love Micheal Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series set in Italy for the same reason.)

Anyway, I was hooked halfway through the first (and, in my opinion, weakest) on the series, but this one really cranks up the pressure. It truly is one of the greatest crime masterworks of the decade and its such a crying shame that Larsson died long before his time and is no longer around to produce such great stories. I, for one, will miss Salander enormously.

 You must read il NOW 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

One Thousand Gifts is the beginning, a game of sorts, to list one thousand things in life for which to be grateful. Ann Voskamp discovers that with each listing, her joy enlarges and she is soon addicted to the joy, in the very best of ways. It’s easy to dismiss this itemizing as an amusement for the immature, but as I began my own list, I chanced upon a switch.
  • motherhood
  • that breathtaking moment when I first saw Lake Huron, horizon melting into sky
  • that perfect Labor Day at South Jetty in Florence, the warm sand, collection of seashells, children digging, laughing, running from waves
  • encouragers
  • dried desert mud that crackles under your bare child feet
  • the park bench across from the White House in D.C. that supported my lonely, peaceful lunch breaks in ‘93.
  • music
The ticking of the thanks triggered something. It’s like when a circuit breaker trips in the house leaving you powerless and dark, only you don’t know where to find the electrical panel to reset it. This is it, my friends! It is the giving of thanks that corrects the problem that caused the breaker to trip in the first place. A ground fault is one reason why the power can go off, and Ann Voskamp identified the root cause of this fault: ingratitude. Breaker! Breaker! Let’s give thanks!
Ann scatters herself, her humanity, just right throughout this book, and I am left knowing that she is an authentic woman who has deep places of pain just like the rest of us. We learn of the death of her little sister, her mother’s mental illness, her own dark interior struggles. And so I connect, I engage, I truly learn.
I had shadows of doubt about Ann Voskamp at various points in OneThousand Gifts, but Ann is like that children’s word game where Grandma loves poundcake but hates chocolate cake, she loves Pringles but hates chips, and you have to know that Grandma’s secret is that she only loves things that begin with “P.”
So it is with Ann. She loves the Christian mystics but hates the idea of wisdom found outside of Christ; she loves to run with the moon and lie prostrate in fields but hates nature worship; she digs deep into her soul to share it raw with the world but hates narcissism. You have to know that Ann’s secret is that she is indeed a woman after God’s own heart.
I did come to a certain point in the book where I thought I couldn’t go on. Voskamp spends an entire chapter describing a bubble of soap, its shape, its color, its chemical composition, more of its color. It was the night I had hit the wall of exhaustion and emotional overload and my husband had to tuck my crying eyes into bed, pulling the patched quilt up over the worry, hurry, fear, condemnation, the crush of life that threatened to undo me, then he finished the dinner I had abruptly left and tended to the four children’s bedtime. And I’m supposed to draw comfort and wisdom from the sudsy bubbles?
I still don’t completely get it, but I understand that a writer has a certain style, and Ann Voskamp is a poet and I love words like she does, though we may play with them differently. So I will let her talk about suds in the sink all day long if she wants because in the end, I rose large the next morning, new grace upon me, and I remembered how much I loved bubbles as a child, the endless joy in swooshing the wand to create the perfect sphere to run after and chase with the wind, and the sheer delight in catching it before it burst into another dimension.
Here’s the thing. I am working really hard at this thing she calls eucharisteo–what Christians know as the Eucharist, or communion, the taking of the bread and wine. This charis grace, chara joy, eucharisteo thanksgiving. I’m working harder than I have in a very long time, because I have to or I will shrivel. There are some tools in this book to help this jumble of myself to begin to conquer life-smothering fear, to reach for a firm grip on His everlasting love for me, to give thanks in all things in such an unceasing way that the power is restored in this short-circuited woman.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts

Would you like to become a better communicator of love to your spouse? Would you like to reap the rewards of having a spouse whose "love tank" is full, and keeps yours full as well?
Love is a choice, not an emotion. Gary Chapman explains that after the "falling in love" stage of a relationship, which can last up to two years, we settle back in to reality. The rose colored glasses are removed and we begin to see our spouse for the person they really are, warts and all.
When the sparks begin to fizzle, Hollywood tells us that it is time to move on to another relationship. Chapman, on the other hand, reveals that we now have the opportunity to solidify and deepen the relationship through learning how to effectively communicate our love for our spouse.
He introduces us to the five love languages: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Each of us express our love using these different languages and their dialects. If our language is different from that of our spouse, our expressions of love may not be understood and appreciated.
This book helps us identify and use the love languages that are meaningful to ourselves and our spouse. Chapman uses real-life examples to illustrate each language, with a dash of biblical passages to support his material.
The love languages are simple, and they work -- not only between husband and wife, but with children as well. My wife and I are polar opposites in love languages. By learning to express our love in ways that are more meaningful to each other, our honeymoon is thirteen years strong.
Get this book, read it, share it, apply it, and your "love tanks" will never be empty again.
Larry Hehn, Author of Get the Prize: Nine Keys for a Life of Victory



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)

So, the 'Hunger Games'. What a blazing book that was; 'Battle Royale' meets 'Big Brother'. But the first book only really got the story started. The main attraction of the book were the Games themselves, and only tantalising glimpses of the dystopian world were given.

In Catching Fire, we delve deeper into the history and mystery of this futuristic world. We learn a a few things about how Panem came to be, but also many more questions are raised. Did you think things would become less complicated for Katniss and Peeta after the Games ended? Far from it. Everything becomes far more complicated, and events spiral beyond their control.

The genuinely terrifying President Snow, a snakelike being who smells of blood and roses, is as threatening and hateful when he's not present as when he is. He's angry at our heroes, and getting angrier by the day as the unrest in the downtrodden districts grow. Katniss and Peeta are playing figurative chess with their lives as well as their loved ones. But there seems to be no escaping the power of Snow, and the revenge he brings crashing down upon them is horrific, devastating and, I will admit, completely unexpected.

In fact, that's the whole thing about 'Catching Fire', although the first 'Hunger Games' was an excellent book, it was a little predictable. This isn't. Every chapter seems to end on a plot twist, and your breath will catch in your throat as you fear for what could happen next.

On the downside, 'Catching Fire' is the second part of a trilogy, traditionally the weakest book in three because it neither has the advantage of starting the story nor finish it. Stories are followed up from where they left off, and some are started but not finished, obviously ready for the final installment, but 'Catching Fire' doesn't feel like it's own book. Plus, you could practically split this book in half, each half in very different places, with different stakes and different characters, and both almost completely inconsequential of each other, so it can feel a bit...tacked on at times. Plus 'Catching Fire' does sometimes retread familiar ground, making it feel a bit lazy here and there.

But honestly, these are just nitpicks. If you liked the first book, as I did, then you'll be just as delighted (and terrified) by this one. And, without spoiling anything, the last few chapters could be some of the finest, scariest, most heart-stopping moments I've ever read, and left me gagging for the final book.

If 'Hunger Games' left you hungry for more, then 'Catching Fire' will set you ablaze. Essential reading, for young adults and adults too. Not for the faint-hearted!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants (movie tie-in, mass market)

I was truly 'swept away' by this book. It was so full of fascinating insights, wonderful (though not always lovable) characters and a story line that I couldn't put down. I loved the fact that all the anecdotes were taken from old circus history and I'd never heard of the great circus trains of mid 1900's America. As a bonus Ms Gruen has included some superb photos from circus archives that really complement the narrative.

Jacob Jancowski is studying for his final exams in veterinary medicine when the death of his parents leaves him in dire straits, both mentally and financially. In his confusion and despair he finds himself wandering, and before he comes to his senses he's jumped a train and entered a new life. It's a life full of highs and lows, a fast learning curve for a fresh faced lad from an Ivy League University.
Jacob, however, finds his niche and so unravels a wonderful story of an unknown time in a traveling circus.
Alongside this runs the current day Jacob, an old man in a nursing home, waiting out the end of his days, when the circus comes to town....
I loved the way the two stories were woven together at the end of the book, but I'm not going to give anything away. You'll have to read it!

My book of the year this year was Joanne Harris's "Gentlemen and Players", but at the last minute I think this book has pipped her to the post!

 Read more HERE 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide by Stephenie Meyer

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide

I think the main audience for this book are going to be people who are already fans of the Twilight series. If you are the kind of fan who has read the books more than once, checked Stephenie Meyers website and read the extras she has there, then this is not the book for you. Much of what is written is already on her website and if you were capable of keeping characters and plot lines straight the first time through this is not going to add much to you experience. The majority of the book is a list of all the characters and then details about their personal backgrounds. Very little of this is new (and often it is a direct transcript from the books). There is some interesting extras about Alice and one or two other characters but most of what there is, is repetitious and leaves you with more questions than answers (eg. the Denali sisters mother creating an immortal child - the books tell you she does it, so does the guide, neither tells you why.) However if you are the kind of fan who struggled to keep the characters and themes straight and would like all your information in one place (although the Stephenie Meyer website actually has a lot more of the extras and out-takes than the book does), then you'll find this book very useful.

A lot of the book appears to have been compiled not by Meyer herself but by two fans from the Twilight Lexion. The website has a lot more reviews and it would be sensible to check these out before committing to the buying this book at its current full purchase price (I wouldn't have regretted buying it had it been half the cost). I thought there would be a lot more explanation and "secrets" but there is very little. There are a lot of character profiles giving eye colour (very little variation with vampires of course), physical build, date of transformation (often just detailed as "unknown" - which struck me as odd, surely the author should know?) And them some facts about them, as previously mentioned, most of the facts are things you already know from reading the books, or just stuff that is irrelevant to the plot. I guess the real idea of this guide is to allow you to imagine the physical characteristics of the characters more fully, rather than actually allowing you to know more secrets about the Twilight-Saga-world. 

Better order now here