Friday, July 19, 2019

It's the Manager (Jim Clifton and Jim Harter)

It’s the Manager from Gallup's Jim Clifton and Jim Harter offers a concise set of principles to manage a workplace. Besides offering opinion polling and research into popular culture and political topics, Gallup provides significant resources to corporations into workplace dynamics, employee performance, and how “engaged” an employee is with their work. 

If you are in the business world, this book will probably not shatter or change any preconceived notions. Many who have worked in the corporate space believe that a manager makes or breaks it for employees on the job and that a bad manager can contribute to a toxic workplace or a culture that makes it absolutely miserable to go to the office. It’s pretty likely that we all have had a horrible boss at some point. Clifton and Harter offer over fifty topics on how your organization can improve performance. None of the suggestions are incredibly difficult to implement on their own but all require some change in the organization’s culture. In addition to these topics, the book has over 150 pages of research into personality types, workplace surveys, and analytics to help tie everything together. 

Clifton and Harter impress upon the reader that with Millennials and Generation Z taking over as the largest part of the workforce, businesses need to improve their understanding of what these workers want in their relationship with management. As someone who is a proud Generation Xer, I am apt to argue that it is not just about Gen Z and the Millennial - the tips and suggestions that are made in the book can transcend generations and help your business (and you, the manager) perform better. 


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty)

What would happen if suddenly an entire decade of your life was erased? One ordinary day, you fell at the gym and hit your head. When you woke up, the person you thought you were married to is now divorcing you and the child you were pregnant with is now ten (not to mention the fact that you now have two additional children). This is the original premise of bestselling author Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot.

Alice Love is close to turning thirty. She is in a wonderful marriage with Nick and pregnant with her first child. Until the day of the fall that is. Now, she must come to terms with the fact that her marriage is ending, she has no memory of any of her three children, and she is actually turning forty. Moriarty tells Alice's story of piecing her memories back in many different ways, through the journal entries of her family members and through Alice herself.

Moriarty's writing is top-notch and what I loved about this book was that I was surprised by the turn of events in many instances. Sometimes what you think is going to happen doesn't, and that's the hallmark of a talented author when he or she can do that.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Stranger on the Beach (Michele Campbell)

I've reviewed and enjoyed Michele Campbell's It's Always the Husband and She Was the Quiet One in the past. What I like about her books is that they are original mysteries and are just as great for reading on vacation as they are next to the fireplace in the dead of winter. Her latest, A Stranger on the Beach, is no exception.

We begin with Caroline, who just bought a beautiful new beach home with her husband. After suspecting her husband of cheating on her, Caroline begins an affair with Aiden, a stranger she has spotted staring at her house a few times. As readers, we start off believing everything that is told to us, but then begin to suspect that we are in the hands of unreliable narrators. In my opinion, this is the best type of novel -- when we aren't 100% sure what is going on until later in the book.

As has happened before with Campbell's novels, the ending fell flat for me. But the process of getting there was a pulse-pounding ride! I love this author's writing and always look forward to seeing what she has in the pipeline next.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The High Season (Judy Blundell)

It took me a little while to write this review because I needed to get my thoughts together. I also had to figure out why Judy Blundell's The High Season intrigued me some but also rubbed me the wrong way.

Ruthie Beamish is the owner of a lovely house in a quiet village near the Hamptons. Not wealthy by any means, she (along with her ex-husband, Mike) inherited the house from an old relative, and it was quite the fixer-upper. They were still married as they worked diligently and creatively to fix the home on a budget. Now, the family can only afford to stay there the rest of the year if they rent it out the entire summer season. This particular year, the house is being rented by Adeline Clay and her stepson. Once they get there, mayhem ensues.

Blundell is a good storyteller, but I found many of the characters so unlikable that I didn't care most of the time what the end result would be. There were also so many characters (most of them rich beyond belief), and almost every one of them did something outlandish (or criminal even) that had me shaking my head. I finished it, but I have to wonder if I wasted my time doing so.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Einstein's War (Matthew Stanley)

In Einstein’s War, author Matthew Stanley covers the backdrop of proving Einstein’s theory of relativity amid the increasing hostility in Europe during that time. The world changed markedly during the 1910’s, with nationalism taking root and entrenching itself. Einstein’s personal world was also flipped upside down due to a failing marriage. There were exceptions to these trials and tribulations, as Stanley points out in this stirring account of how science won over fierce tribalism.

Relativity deals with gravity and its relation to other forces of nature, with Einstein’s theory augmenting long-standing conventions that dated back to Isaac Newton.

Stanley talks about the development of Einstein’s theory, his communication with supporters of his theory and the struggles in getting the theory proved. Scientists seeking to confirm Einstein’s ideas were harassed or arrested as spies. During World War I, colleagues of his died in the trenches. His ally was separated by those trenches, a naval blockade, and U-boats - residing in England and fighting his own battle against being conscripted. His ally ultimately was able to prove Einstein’s theory correct, leading an expedition to observe a solar eclipse to verify Einstein’s theory.

Einstein's War is a great read if you love science and history. It’s fun, educational, and a reminder that in a time of trial and lots of evil that good can ultimately triumph through people working together.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Home for the Summer (Holly Chamberlin)

Holly Chamberlin's Home for the Summer begins with an unfathomable tragedy while a family is on vacation. The rest of the book is about how to go on in the wake of an event like this, ending with breakthroughs and hope.

Frieda and Aaron Braithwaite and their two daughters, Bella and Ariel, are having the time of their lives in Jamaica. When a car crash claims the lives of Aaron and Ariel, Frieda and Bella escape to Yorktide, Maine. They stay with Frieda's mother, where they have had happy memories in the past, but of course, they are still profoundly grieving. As they begin to pick up the pieces of their lives, they come to realize that they are not over. Both of them can have happiness and love again.

While the story itself is very moving, there are a few issues with Home for the Summer. The first is that almost every single interaction is long, lengthy, and introspective. This comes across as unnatural. So if you are looking for a book with lots of action, this probably isn't the one for you. It's extremely character driven.

All of the dialogue makes the book seem very long. There are no surprises at the end, so it probably could have been cut by a few chapters and it wouldn't have made a difference. However, all of this doesn't mean that Home for the Summer isn't a worthwhile read. Just know what you're getting into before you start it.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Limits of Tolerance (Denis Lacorne)

Denis Lacorne's The Limits of Tolerance was originally intended for a French audience. This version discussed the evolving definition and boundary of tolerance over time, first from a religious perspective and then widening to a view of general “free speech” in the 20th century. An updated and translated version for English audiences takes that one step further and discusses the limits of tolerance in modern free speech and religious expression in the West.

Lacorne does a good job of showing the gradual widening of tolerant expression in thought and behavior - first, by showing how religious freedom in some colonies helped produce a more robust economy, which led to the adoption of free expression of religion throughout the early American republic. The concept of tolerance was not unique to America. The Ottoman Empire’s millet system provided a relatively tolerant approach to allowing those who were not Muslim to practice their religions and live within the legal framework of the Ottoman Turks without high levels of repression for a few centuries before rising nationalism and centralization of its empire led to a reduction in civil liberty.

Lacorne revised his edition with information on recent challenges to tolerance in both Europe and America - more from a political view within America, less from a religious one. Given the decrease in religious ties in America, it would have been interesting to see Lacorne tackle the corresponding increase in political fervor and how that is tying into challenges to tolerant speech and expression of thought. Outside of that, this book provides a firm grasp in understanding that tolerance is a struggle that never quite ends as the boundaries of the subject are ever-changing.