Poke the Box - Seth Godin

March 21st, 2011

Poke the Box by Seth GodinWe send our kids to school and obsess about their test scores, their behavior and their ability to fit in.

We post a help wanted ad and look for experience, famous colleges and a history of avoiding failure.

We invest in companies based on how they did last quarter, not on what they're going to do tomorrow.

So why are we surprised when it all falls apart?

Our economy is not static, but we act as if it is. Your position in the world is defined by what you instigate, how you provoke, and what you learn from the events you cause. In a world filled with change, that's what matters -- your ability to create and learn from change.

Poke the Box is a manifesto about producing something that's scarce, and thus valuable. It demands that you stop waiting for a road map and start drawing one instead. You know how to do this, you've done it before, but along the way, someone talked you out of it.

We need your insight and your dremas and your contributions. Hurry.

Some may call it a "business book," while others may say it is simply "self help." Then again, a person or three might just call it a pamphlet, since it is so short. Neither labels nor length matter to my feeling about the book, ultimately. I have read a few other written pieces that try to tackle this topic and I think they are beginning to help me with the understanding that, if nothing else, I am not alone. It seems silly to think that I feel better by thinking I am less unique, but I do. Works like this one are made possible by the countless number of people who dream. I am a dreamer. I have ideas. I believe that the world is my oyster and I will take it BY STORM...someday, someway.

My one recommendation is that while you read this book: take notes. Not on the book. It is not that type of book. But it is surprisingly inspiring. Take notes on where your mind goes while you read. You will frame your dreams in his context. You may have new perspective. Take notes. Oh, and don't read this book before bed; you won't sleep while your brain toils away.

This book sets itself apart by taking a a tough love approach. Instead of saying, "keep right on dreaming," Mr. Godin asks, "what good are those dreams without action?" Like I mentioned above, I feel more human because of this book. I feel like failure is just something that happens between successes. Is Seth Godin the Pied Piper for however many of us have been afraid to fail?

Will I answer his call?

Will you?


Straight Down the Middle: Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing - Josh Karp

March 16th, 2011

Something Missing by Matthew DicksThroughout the ages, the ancient arts of Zen and meditation have helped warriors prepare for battle, brought philosophers to enlightenment, and opened the path to inner peace for countless practitioners. Perhaps most importantly, however, these practices have allowed golfers to transcend their game and shave precious strokes off their handicaps.

In this hilarious memoir, journalist and former-18-handicap Josh Karp tries it all -- from quantum physics to Feldenkrais -- in an attempt to transform his mindset, lower his score, and tap into the mystical connection between golf and spirituality. Asissted by a quirky roster of Zen-influenced golf masters, Karp's unique experiences across the fairways of North America (and Scotland, of course!) are as funny as they are enlightening. Straight Down the Middle chronicles the lessons learned during the inspired, at times frustrating, but always entertaining, journey of a common man in search of an uncommon kingdom.

The book about wanting to be a better golfer has been written many times before. I was hoping for a hilarious retelling of this man's attempt to achieve golfing greatness. This is really the story of a man who is wound too tightly trying to relax, enjoy life, and just maybe become a nicer person.

If you find golf on TV, stroke after carefully-selected-for-entertainment-purposes stroke, to be the perfect way to induce a good Saturday afternoon nap on the couch like I do, you might wish for more excitement in this book. A hefty portion is dedicated to recounting rounds, holes and individual swings in painstaking detail. But I can tell you that if you are so inclined, you can pretty much skip these parts; the intimate details he recounts from the course are filler.

From cover to cover you wonder when he will stop name dropping -- as if each enlightened being he visits paid for his or her chapter. This feeling is re-enforced when you know that none will be his true path to the end. With each teacher he encounters he finds temporary improvement to his golf game, only to lose his focus and need to find someone else almost like clockwork. It is like when they make a prequel to a long-running series about a character and that younger version of the character is in a potentially life-threatening situation in this prequel. Is it really suspenseful? Do you really think he is going to die? You have read 10 books that take place chronologically after this seemingly dire moment. If Josh Karp had found peace with any of these spiritual leaders, his book would have been cut short, mission accomplished, writing assignment incomplete.

You also have a pretty good idea, as a reader and semi-intelligent human being, that to truly become a good golfer, the trick is some worth-while instruction and a lot of repetition. I thought for sure this book would not take itself seriously and would be filled with cheeky anecdotes and hilarious commentary. It starts out to be pretty funny for the first chapter or so and there are a few more laughs later, scattered between the many other failed attempts at humor that were not so cleverly emphasized with gratuitous vulgarity.

For success where this book fails, read Carl Hiaasen's The Downhill Lie.


The Fifth Witness

March 14th, 2011

The Fifth Witness by Michael ConnellyIn tough times, crime is one of the few things that still pays, but if defense attorney Mickey Haller was expecting an uptick in business during the economic downturn, the reality is a different story. Even people needing legal representation to keep them out of jail are having to make cutbacks, it seems. In fact, the most significant part of Mickey's business right now is not about keeping clients out of jail but about keeping a roof over their heads, as the foreclosure boom hits thousands of people who were granted unrealistic mortgages in the good times and now face being kicked to the curb in the bad times.

Lisa Trammel has been a client of Mickey's for eight months — his very first foreclosure case, in fact — and although so far he's managed to stop the bank from taking her house, the strain and sense of injustice have taken a toll. The bank recently got a restraining order to prevent her from protesting against their practices. Now, a high level bank employee, Mitchell Bondurant, has been found dead in the bank's parking lot and Lisa is about to be indicted for murder.

For Mickey, it's back to what he does best on the biggest stage of all, but if he thought defending Lisa Trammel was going to be a walk in the park, he'd be wrong. Not only is he about to learn some startling truths about his client, but also about himself, and by the time the verdict is in, Mickey's whole world will have been turned upside down.

This book will be available on April 5, 2011.

Pre-order your copy.

Something Missing - Matthew Dicks

March 10th, 2011

Something Missing by Matthew DicksA career criminal with OCD tendencies and a savant-like genius for bringing order to his crime scenes, Martin considers himself one of the best in the biz. After all, he’s been able to steal from the same people for years on end—virtually undetected. Of course, this could also be attributed to his unique business model—he takes only items that will go unnoticed by the homeowner. After all, who in their right mind would miss a roll of toilet paper here, a half-used bottle of maple syrup there, or even a rarely used piece of china buried deep within a dusty cabinet?

Even though he's never met these homeowners, he's spent hours in their houses, looking through their photo albums and reading their journals. In essence, Martin has developed a friendship of sorts with them and as such, he decides to interfere more in their lives—playing the part of a rather odd guardian angel—even though it means breaking many of his twitchy neurotic rules.

Along the way Martin not only improves the lives of others, but he also discovers love and finds that his own life is much better lived on the edge (at least some of the time) in this hilarious, suspenseful and often profound novel about a man used to planning every second of his life, suddenly forced to confront chaos and spontaneity.

Something Missing introduces Martin, a man who steals for a living. The genius in Martin's business model is that he steals only items that will not be missed. Guided by his OCD tendencies he goes to great lengths to isolate items that have been replaced and/or forgotten. This discipline allows him to visit the same homes frequently. His career takes a turn when an arguable coincidence strikes him as epiphany -- the information that Martin gathers on his "clients" can be used not only for his own personal profit, but also for the greater good in the lives of others. Ironically, Martin begins to consider himself a guardian angel.

Sometimes I become frustrated when a talented author relies only on their story-telling ability. Contrarily, I greatly appreciate when it is apparent that a talented author has done thorough research for a book, gone the extra mile. And thus I greatly appreciate what Matthew Dicks has done for Something Missing. I think he is a talented writer, but more than that I am impressed with the detail into which he goes to explain Martin's compartmentalized methodologies.

At times the detail does become a small burden, as the story slowed to allow for further elaboration as to how well Martin premeditated each situation, but this happened infrequently. The good outweighs what little bad there was.

As the book winds down, a few things may seem too far-fetched, but if you can forgive an author for that you will be rewarded. As the book finally wrapped up I began to realize how much I was enjoying it.

If you have any OCD tendencies of your own, you may delight in seeing how Martin thinks things through like you do. There were certainly a few things that I do that were highlighted in this book. Rather than be self-conscious about it, I'm just embracing my habits.

I am really glad I read this book.


A Dance with Dragons

March 7th, 2011

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. MartinDubbed “the American Tolkien” by Time magazine, George R. R. Martin has earned international acclaim for his monumental cycle of epic fantasy. Now the #1 New York Times bestselling author delivers the fifth book in his spellbinding landmark series—as both familiar faces and surprising new forces vie for a foothold in a fragmented empire.

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

To the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . .

This book will be available on July 12, 2011.

Pre-order your copy.

February 24th, 2011
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel by Susanna ClarkeIt is the right of the traveler to vent their frustration at every minor inconvenience by writing of it to their friends. Expect long descriptions of everything.

Buffalo Lockjaw - Greg Ames

February 22nd, 2011

James arrives at The Elms just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his mother.  He's left Brooklyn and his dull job writing greeting card copy to return to his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and rescue his parents.  In the back seat of his rental car: a suitcase and a copy of Assisted Suicide for Dummies.

Ellen, James's mother, is slowly dying of Alzheimer's.  His father stoically visits her every day at the nursing home, but has fallen into his own version of despair.  Before the disease took hold of her, she had confided in James, told him she was contemplating suicide, and as any 24-year-old son would, he had talked her out of it.  Now, four years later, he wants to right that wrong.

But before he does there are hours to be spent with his family and details to be worked out on his own.  He reconnects with his high school buddies, all of whom are working iffy jobs, if at all, and partying heavily in local dives.  He reconnects with Buffalo, with its louche bar scene, citizens who walk around naked in snowstorms, and hip young populace who can't muster the energy to leave town.  And, somehow, he finds the wherewithal to actually do something.

Darkly comic, with an ingeniously subversive humor, Buffalo Lockjaw is a rare find: a debut novel that captures the zeitgeist while also capturing readers' hearts.

This book covers a lot of big topics to which many people may relate, not the least of which are family, sickness and death.  I found this book, unlike many that I have come across, to be less about growing up and more about having grown.  I generally gravitate towards a....ah heck, I'm a sucker for a good maturation story.  But this book was more about a young man who has grown up and left his old life behind and he is different now - for better or for worse. Life happens and sometimes life's path takes turns.  His hometown, his life-long friends, his family - James's relationships are not the same as they once were.  He has grown up and arguably apart.  But there are still some very strong ties, and those ties help him deal with his sick mother, and those ties allow him to help others as well.

I really liked how Greg Ames wrote the characters in this book, and that he wrote the City of Buffalo as a character in this book, not merely the setting. It is an arguably bizarre plot, but somehow that doesn't matter. You get sucked in and you go along for the ride because you need to know how it will all play out.

I have waited a substantial amount of time after reading this book before typing my review. I had a very positive emotional response to the book. In fact, I have not recommended a book as often as this one since I read it. And I understand that there is always bias in a review, at least to a certain extent, but I wanted to try to separate myself from that emotional response and write something more cut and dry about what I liked about this book. Hopefully I was able to do that and if you give it a try, I hope you like this book as much as I did.


Book of the Month - September, 2009

August 21st, 2009

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

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August 20th, 2009
Bram Stoker - Dracula - 208"Ah, you don't comprehend, friend John. Do not think that I am not sad, though I laugh. See, I have cried even when the laugh did choke me. But no more think that I am all sorry when I cry, for the laugh he come just the same. Keep it always with you that laughter who knock at your door and say, 'May I come in?' is not the true laughter. No! he is a king, and he come when and how he like. He ask no person; he choose no time of suitability. He say, 'I am here.' Behold, in example I grieve my heart out for that so sweet young girl; I give my blood for her, though I am old and worn; I give my time, my skill, my sleep; I let my other sufferers want that so she may have all. And yet I can laugh at her very grave -- laugh when the clay from the spade of the sexton drop upon her coffin and say, 'Thud! thud!' to my heart, till it send back the blood from my cheek. My heart bleed for that poor boy -- that dear boy, so of the age of mine own boy had I been so blessed that he live, and with his hair and eyes the same. There, you know why I love him so. And yet when he say things that touch my husband-heart to the quick, and make my father-heart yearn to him as to no other man -- not even to you, friend John, for we are more level in experiences than father and son -- yet even at such moment King Laugh he come to me and shout and bellow in my ear, 'Here I am! here I am!' till the blood come dance back and bring some of the sunshine that he carry with him to my cheek. Oh, friend John, it is a strange world, a sad world, a world full of miseries, and woes, and troubles; and yet when King Laugh come he make them all dance to the tune he play. Bleeding hearts, and dry bones of the churchyard and tears that burn as they fall -- all dance together to the music that he make with that smileless mouth of him. And believe me, friend John, that he is good to come, and kind. Ah, we men and women are likes ropes drawn tight with strain that pull us different ways. Then tears come; and, like the rain on the ropes, they brace us up, until perhaps the strain become too great, and we break. But King Laugh he come like the sunshine, and he ease off the strain again; and we bear to go on with our labour, what it may be.'"

Royal Assassin - Robin Hobb

July 2nd, 2009

Royal Assassin - Robin HobbFitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king's assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.

Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. in this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz's hands -- and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice....

Fitz is in a weakened condition after someone tried to kill him and now he must make choose between going back to Buckkeep to live under the same roof as the man who wants him dead or striking out on his own and abandoning the oath he made to his king. When duty prevails, arguably over good sense, Fitz makes the treacherous journey home. Rest was in short supply then as he needed to be ready for any possible danger that may befall him back in the castle while he grew into a man and more of a weapon for his king.

Royal Assassin is book 2 of Robin Hobb's The Farseer trilogy. What was maybe only hinted to be a complex story in the first book blossomed in the second. The first book only scratches the surface. The second book plunges readers into the story head first. Fitz continues his training to kill from the shadows as a secret assassin for the king, he learns to fight in hand-to-hand combat when Prince Verity sees what he can do on the battlefield, he sails with his people to confront the Red Ship Raiders learning to row a ship and fight onboard, he receives permission to court a young woman, he makes new friends, and he maybe loses another. Love, hate, betrayal, loyalty, pain.

This book was wonderfully written and had elements of every genre I can name. The characters’ emotions ran wild across the pages and I was the string wrapped around the author’s finger, unable to put the book down until I knew what happened next. Can you recall the book that cemented the fact that you would read every book that Robin Hobb wrote? I can – Royal Assassin.

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