Monday, March 25, 2019

The Liar's Child (Carla Buckley)

The premise of Carla Buckley's The Liar's Child is definitely an attention-grabbing one. It seamlessly combines the stories of a woman in the Witness Protection Program and an entire family in crisis. Throw a deadly hurricane into the mix, and you have all the makings of an absolutely gripping novel. At times, it certainly was that, but in other instances, it didn't quite live up to its potential.

Sara Lennox (a fake name, of course) has had a troubled past and is taken to create a new life for herself in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She becomes a housekeeper and resides in the community of Paradise, which it most definitely is not. Whit and Diane Nelson, along with their two children, Cassie and Boon, live next door. Sara almost instantly can pick up that things are not right with this family. Their lives intertwine in a few ways throughout the book, most notably when a hurricane hits the Outer Banks. Sara must make a quick decision, one that may turn out to have dire consequences.

When The Liar's Child began, I could not turn the pages fast enough. I found the middle to be a slow read, but Buckley does throw in a few twists that left me genuinely surprised. The ending is what caused me to have very mixed emotions. There were questions that were left unanswered and that was deeply unsatisfying. However, there are a few pages in the book that make no sense when you read them but come together for a heartwarming conclusion at the end.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Nine Lies About Work (Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall)

You might remember the commercial of Pinocchio as a motivational speaker, encouraging attendees by saying “You have potential!” before his nose grew and grew with each successive falsehood. The adage that we have potential in our careers and lives is one of nine lies that Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall expose in Nine Lies About Work. They instead argue that we have momentum, not necessarily potential.

The authors break down several myths about workplaces and the career world, from people caring about which company they work for to leadership being “a thing” (their words). Through research, studies and data, they break through these corporate myth silos and replace them with various truths of how company success and employee engagement happens.

One memorable myth deals with the infamous employee performance review and how people can reliably rate other individuals. Without giving too much away, there’s more to busting that myth than unconscious or conscious bias at play; some of us are just too benevolent or too tough in comparison to our peers and other reviewers. I found this section fascinating.

The research in Nine Lies About Work was on point and thought-provoking but, at times, unconventional. Given many individuals in the corporate world still rely on the mentality of “Well, that’s the way it’s always been” way too much, providing truths to challenge workplace myths may help move corporate performance, employee retention, and overall personal happiness up a notch or two. This book challenges all of us to think differently about not just our role, but the role others play in the work we do each day.


Monday, March 18, 2019

The Third Pillar (Raghuram Rajan)

Raghuram Rajan's The Third Pillar offers a scholarly look at the three-legged stool of communities, states (government) and markets, as well as how the latter two have left many communities behind. This, Rajan argues, has fueled the rise of populism throughout Europe and the United States.

The author spends a fair amount of time articulating a history of the balance between market, state, and community going back to the Middle Ages. He demonstrates how the role of each of these three legs grew in strength or weakened based on numerous factors and how the most balanced time period was largely just after World War II. This coincided with strong economic growth and general balance in personal income. However, due to numerous factors, the balance of these three has grown further and further out askew.  The result has been growing economic inequality, insecurity, and a rise of nationalism.

Rajan offers several suggestions of balanced management of growth, regulatory reform, a basic social safety net for national citizens, and greater corporate competition amongst companies to limit influence in politics. Most of his approaches are tactical in scope and focus on broad-based, reasonably moderate (by global standards) fixes to adjust to a landscape where more and more individuals feel left behind.

The underlying belief that Rajan puts forth is that power is strongly concentrated in nations and companies at too high a level to allow individuals to feel that their lives and economic outcomes can matter. The Third Pillar can come across as a wonky, technical read, but it offers a host of solutions without being overly preachy. It could benefit from adding more data and research in a few areas to show where some of the suggestions would yield greater benefits, specifically around education and around skills training. Otherwise, it’s a solid work of economic research.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Happiness Project (Pippa James)

Sometimes I need a break from all the psychological thrillers I tend to read, so I was excited to pick up Pippa James's The Happiness Project. I was looking forward to an uplifting novel about characters who are beginning their own paths to happiness. While this IS what the book is about, I found myself not very uplifted at the end.

Alison, Kate, and Frankie are our three main characters on this growth journey. All have either a boyfriend or husband and children but feel they need something more in their lives outside of that. Alison gets the ball rolling on New Year's Eve by suggesting they begin a Happiness Project to get out of their comfort zones and begin living life to the fullest.

This all sounds great on paper, but I think there are two main problems with this story that I found. First, the Happiness Project itself is really only mentioned a few times throughout, mostly at the beginning. Even though these characters are supposedly on this experience together, there are not many checkpoints along the way. Because of this, the title of the book seems oddly out of place.

The other issue I had was with Kate's thin character development. Alison and Frankie both scored major accomplishments, but Kate started out as a doormat and remained one. It's great to be a wonderful wife, mother and friend, but when one of your "friends" treats you poorly (namely Natalie), and you don't eventually tell her off, the reader is left unsatisfied. Which is, unfortunately, how I felt about The Happiness Project.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paperback Crush (Gabrielle Moss)

The subtitle of Gabrielle Moss's super-fun Paperback Crush is The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction. When I say this is truly a walk down memory lane for those of us who grew up in this era, I am not exaggerating.

For us bookworms, there was nothing better than getting our hands on the latest Sweet Valley High or The Baby-Sitters Club (Moss laments the use of a hyphen in that title.). Many of us longed to be in Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield's world, and we may have even started our own short-lived babysitting business to be like Kristy, Claudia, etc.. Yes, Moss does discuss the popularity of these books, but she also reminisces about lesser-known reads. Some of these books were way ahead of their time, and others are absolutely cringeworthy with sexism, racism, etc. if you read them today.

Paperback Crush is just plain fun, and I enjoyed reading every page. Moss intersperses her short synopses of the books/series with her own thoughts, and it was truly great to see the covers again that I had long forgotten about (Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book anyone?).


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

While You Sleep (Stephanie Merritt)

Deemed a psychological thriller, Stephanie Merritt's While You Sleep is unlike many other books in that popular genre. Merritt weaves so many paranormal and Gothic elements into her narrative, that I am not even sure I entirely agree with the "psychological thriller" label. What she does do is create something very unique here, but it is not without its faults.

Zoe Adams has just arrived on a secluded Scottish island from America. She has rented out the McBride house, not knowing the tragic history of it beforehand. A young woman and her son perished there a century ago, and a boy disappeared there just last year. Zoe wants to use the house to escape from her troubled marriage, but she soon finds herself in the midst of the house's danger, with all the strange occurrences that go with it.

Merritt hooked me immediately with a very strong first chapter. But then without warning, she delves into graphic sexual situations, which seemed very jarring and out of place right off the bat. I thought I was reading one thing and then got another. These scenes do eventually make sense to the plot, however. Most of Merritt's chapters are strong but long-winded, and some of them are absolutely terrifying. All in all, While You Sleep, for me, was an average read.


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Brave New Work (Aaron Dignan)

Author Aaron Dignan's Brave New Work tackles the organization spiral of suck that many of our employers embody on a regular basis. It puts forth numerous suggestions on how to fix dysfunction in the corporate world in order to improve company performance, increase diversity of thought and talent, and enhance employee engagement.

Dignan spends much of the book tackling the concept of a company’s operating system (or OS). There are twelve main parts of the OS canvas that he advocates as critical to improve and transform companies - from purpose (just what on earth are we doing and why) to compensation (how much do we pay and how do we go about it). The critical takeaways include transparency, openness, freedom to fail, and freedom to work. Meetings for the sake of meetings are certainly frowned upon in Dignan's model; he advocates for work with purpose and honesty.

Obviously, this is not the first business realignment book that’s come down the pike, nor will be it the last. Pieces of what Dignan advocates are borrowed from other business transformation leaders like Adam Grant and Ray Dalio, both of whom also wrote books that I have reviewed and recommended well. This particular book is an especially effective asset to any company leader that is walking into a strategic planning cycle or has hit bumps in the road of growth. Given many people in the corporate world have slogged through long meetings and have gotten zero collaborative information sharing out of it, Brave New Work offers another needed argument for corporations to think big, brave, and different about how they function (and to trust that their employees are talented enough to increase the company’s performance in the process).


Friday, March 1, 2019

The Battle To Do Good: Inside McDonald's Sustainability Journey (Bob Langert)

The Battle To Do Good chronicles Bob Langert’s role at McDonald’s as its chief social responsibility officer. Langert’s nearly thirty-year career featured several collaborative changes in how the restaurant did business, both with its customers and the suppliers and producers that fed the vast global supply chain of one of the world’s largest corporations.

Langert discusses a dozen key “battles” throughout his career. This ranges from cage sizes for hens to managing waste, from soybeans to value statements. In each of these moments, Langert walks us through the incident, the steps taken to come to a resolution, and the outcome. Many of these instances were occasionally fraught with frustration from McDonald's, various activist groups, or both. But Langert shows how through collaboration, conversation, and various “hard knock nuggets” in each battle a consensus was usually reached. In fact, each consensus typically improved the company’s sustainability efforts.

This book is ideal for those who want to understand the process of making change and improving a company’s social responsibility ethos. While it may read with a touch too much sunshine and lollipops (I can’t foresee some of these changes being quite so simple as they seem to come across), it does provide a good playbook to understand the importance of engaging multiple individuals both inside and outside a company to create sustained and proactive improvement. Given that many of the aspiring business leaders want positive and socially responsible businesses, I think it’s critical to know that sometimes change is not easy nor a quick process but that many companies are aware of the need to be responsible stewards to the world they are a part of.