Thursday, July 28, 2016

Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)

I’m finally getting around to reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex over a decade after it was published.  Better late than never I suppose, as this was one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

Yes, this is the story of Cal/Calliope Stephanides, a hermaphrodite, but it’s also about so much more than that. It’s a sweeping tale of three generations of the same family, starting with Calliope’s grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty. They flee their home to come to America and share a big secret, one that will eventually affect Cal/Calliope in a big way.  Tessie and Milton are Cal’s parents and love both of their children dearly.

The perfect combination of warmth, humor, heartbreak and surprise, Middlesex takes you on a journey with the Stephanides family that you won’t want to see ever come to an end. It gets my highest rating.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (Adam Grant)

Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is a witty, fast-moving read that tackles how individuals can shape and change companies, movements, and the greater world at large.  Citing specific, relevant examples and case studies, Grant provides a smorgasbord of options for people who have great ideas and struggle with just how to incorporate them into their workplace, their life, or the greater world.

Originality in the business world is very difficult to maintain at times as many large companies prefer their employees to “fit” the organization’s culture rather than be a contributor to it.  Grant suggests that companies adjust their thinking to embrace new, often better ideas to improve organizational performance and argues that companies that are adaptable to new ideas from within their ranks will stand the test of time.  When it comes to movements and changing something in society, Grant cites examples of how to build an original movement of change and how those movements that succeeded sometimes did so throughout unconventional, original methods.  “Best practices” can sometimes get tossed out the window for a fresh perspective!

Grant’s work starts out slow but picks up steam quickly, with great case studies that span multiple disciplines and centuries of American life.  If you are in mid management, moving up the ranks in an organization, or looking to change the world through a new idea or a pet cause, Grant’s work is a must-read and provides needed insight.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Before the Fall (Noah Hawley)

Up until the last few pages, Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall was going to get one of my rare 5 ratings.  The intense, nail-biting suspense makes it tough to put it down, but at the end, it goes strangely downhill and suffers from a predictable ending.  However, the majority of it is still a wonderful read.

At the beginning, the reader knows that there was a plane crash and that almost everyone on board perished in it.  The only survivors were Scott, who was invited to take the trip last minute, and J.J., the young son of a rich couple.  Scott is able to get J.J. to shore even though they are miles away, and the rest of the book is spent delving into the backgrounds of each of the people on the manifest and those that are left behind.  The story here is what happened to cause the plane crash, with lots of red herrings thrown in as a distraction.

Hawley sets up each chapter with the name of the person, their date of birth, and their date of death.  While there are many unexpected details and surprises throughout the book, the ending is disappointing and makes an otherwise 5-star book go down to a solid four.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

In Twenty Years (Allison Winn Scotch)

Having reached my fortieth birthday just a few months ago, Allison Winn Scotch's In Twenty Years really resonated with me.  The title refers to how much can happen in the span of twenty years, a time during which six Penn college students have gone their separate ways after being the best of friends.  Even though one of them is a world-famous singer and the other is the CEO of their own company, how much have they really lived in those two decades?

It was the death of one of the six, Bea, that broke up the group for good.  Now, on the eve of what would have been Bea's fortieth birthday, the remaining five receive a letter from her attorney inviting them back for a weekend to their old house.  Catherine and Owen are married but unhappy, and Lindy seems to have it all with fame and fortune but feels empty inside.  Annie tries to put on a perfect facade on social media to cover up her insecurity, while Colin is a famous plastic surgeon who has a secret he shared with Bea.  The five converge on the house at Bea's request, but will they ever be the same when the weekend is over?

The message of In Twenty Years is clear -- don't waste your life because you only get one.  However, I never could quite get into the novel until the end.  With the exception of Bea, I felt that most of the characters were unlikable and frankly, unrealistic.  This prevented me from becoming invested in any of them, so I would put this novel on the average read scale.