For One More Day - Mitch Albom

August 2nd, 2007

For One More Day by Mitch AlbomMitch Albom has mesmerized readers around the world with his number one New York Times bestsellers, The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Tuesdays with Morrie. Now he returns with a beautiful, haunting novel about the family we love and the chances we miss.

For One More Day is the story of a mother and a son, and a relationship that lasts a lifetime and beyond. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?

As a child, Charley Benetto is told by his father, "You can be a mama's boy or you can be a daddy's boy, but you can't be both." So he chooses his father, and he worships him -- right up to the day the man disappears. An eleven-year-old Charley must then turn to his mother, who bravely raises him on her own, despite Charley's embarrassment and yearnings for a complete family.

Decades later, Charley is a broken man. His life has been crumbled by alcohol and regret. He loses his job. He leaves his family. He hits bottom after discovering his only daughter has shut him out of her wedding.

And he decides to take his own life.

He makes a midnight ride to his small hometown, with plans to do himself in. But upon failing even to do that, he staggers back to his old house, only to make an astonishing discovery. His mother -- who died eight years earlier -- is still living there, and welcomes him home as if nothing had ever happened.

I read Mitch Albom's column frequently and I have read both Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven. I don't like his writing as much as I (generally) like his ideas. I was as excited about the "For One More Day" idea as I have been for anything he has written in a long time. I even made sure to attend the charity event held to promote the book.

I try to think that my expectations didn't get the better of me, but it would appear that they did. I didn't like For One More Day for two main reasons: it was too similar to The Five People You Meet In Heaven and the main character was not one I could support.

While I understand that the plot lines were entirely different in The Five People You Meet In Heaven and For One More Day, one thing seemed too similar. Both books featured visits from and conversations with people who had died. Those people came to the story and told about things that happened during their time alive which affected our protagonists indirectly. The anecdotes were meant to help the characters see the big picture about life and how the things we do affect other people and the things people who love us do to protect us without us ever knowing. They are both good lessons, but all I am saying is that I want to see the Vegas odds that Mitch Albom's next book will focus on interaction with a person or people beyond the grave.

This book chronicled what leads to a new lease on life for a man who was down and out. He was past the point-of-no-return, or so he thought. Here was a man whose life had snowballed downhill years before and his daily dose of alcohol to bandage his problems had lost its effect. One main theme of the book is that no matter how old we get or how many things in life we achieve, there is still nothing that can substitute for Mom. I love that message.

I also like the other message from the book: that everyone deserves a second chance, but that is where this book lost me. Charley's life did not turn out the way he had planned, but the only reason he was able to become anything at all was because of his mother. The problem was that when he wasn't directly treating his mother poorly it was because he was too busy ignoring her. Charley was saved from himself by One More Day with his (deceased) mother. She told and showed him how she cared for him, the things she did for him that went unnoticed. The stories of sacrifice give Charley a desire to make right the times he had been wrong.

This was not the Mother-Son story I had expected. I had expected a story-book answer to the question, "If you could spend one day with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?" That question would have been posed to a man whose mother was taken from him, and he could choose to spend the day with anyone. And he would choose his mom. For One More Day answers, instead, the question, "What can save a man who is, by his own account, beyond being saved?" And I did not feel that Charley deserved a visit from his mother. While it shows that a mother's love is eternal and I did not want to see Charley successfully take his own life, I thought it was too easy. Like everyone, I felt that Charley does deserve a second chance (even though he had technically had many already), but I felt like he should have had to work harder to get it.

The problem I have with Mitch Albom's writing is that usually he is too narrative, too detached. I felt the same way here. This story deserved more emotion. It needed more passion. Stories since the beginning of time marvel at the power of a mother's love, but reading For One More Day I only felt a mother's pain because her child would not love her back. You may be able to support that child, but I could not.

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Book of the Month - August, 2007

July 20th, 2007

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't by Jim Collins

Good to Great by Jim CollinsTHE CHALLENGE
Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered in the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning.

But what about a company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?

THE STUDY
For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

THE STANDARDS
Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world's greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.

THE COMPARISONS
The research team contrasted the good-to-great companies with a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to make the leap from good to great. What was different? Why did one set of companies become truly great performers while the other set remained only good?

Over five years, the team analyzed the histories of all twenty-eight companies in the study. After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness -- why some companies make the leap and others don't.

THE FINDINGS
The findings of the Good to Great study will surprise many readers and shed light on virtually every area of management strategy and practice. The findings include:
- Level 5 Leaders: The research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness.
- The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within the Three Circles): To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence.
- The Culture of Discipline: When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great results.
- Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great companies think differently about the role of technology.
- They Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Those who launch radical change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap.

"Some of the key concepts discerned in the study," comments Jim Collins, "fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people."

Perhaps, but who can afford to ignore these findings?

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July 2nd, 2007
Robert McCammon - Boy's Life - 225-226"The years of a boy's life pass so fast, Cory." She smiled faintly. "Boys want to hurry up and be men, and then comes a day they wish they could be boys again. But I'll tell you a secret, Cory. Want to hear it?"
I nodded.
"No one," Mrs. Neville whispered, "ever grows up... They may look grown-up," she continued, "but it's a disguise. It's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won't let them. They'd like to shake off every chain the world's put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day."

Book of the Month - July, 2007

June 27th, 2007

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

Shopgirl by Steve MartinOne of our country's most acclaimed and beloved entertainers, Steve Martin is quickly becoming recognized as a "gorgeous writer capable of being at once melancholy and tart, achingly innocent and astonishingly ironic" (Elle). Beautifully written, this novella reveals a different side of Martin, one that is unexpectedly perceptive about relationships and life and profoundly wise when it comes to the inner workings of the human heart.

Mirabelle is the "shopgirl" of the title, a young woman, beautiful in a wallflowerish kind of way, who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus "selling things that nobody buys anymore..."

Slightly lost, slightly off-kilter, very shy, Mirabelle charms because of all that she is not: not glamorous, not aggressive, not self-aggrandizing. Still, there is something about her that is irresistible.

Mirabelle captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. As they tentatively embark on a relationship, they both struggle to decipher the language of love -- with consequences that are both comic and heart-breaking. Filled with the kind of witty, discerning observations that have brought Steve Martin critical success, Shopgirl is a work of disarming tenderness.

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling

June 19th, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. RowlingEver since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys had been so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature who says that if Harry returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor and a spirit who hants the girls' bathroom. But then the real trouble begins -- someone is turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects...Harry Potter himself!

With a book written about magic, especially one so centered on a world full of magic, the author could easily abuse his or her creativity. One thing for which I applaud Ms. Rowling is how well she maintains her focus in this series. While it is easy for us to get lost in her world, she never seems to miss a beat.

I love one of the minor themes addressed in these books: magic is everywhere, but as long as you believe it does not exist, you will never see it.

The Chamber of Secrets is the second book and thus Harry's second adventure. The main characters, who will comprise the nucleus of the plot going forward, are back. There are also enough new names and faces to keep the story fresh.

I like Book 2 more than Book 1. I surely give credit where it is due, so I appreciate Book 1 introducing Harry Potter, but I feel that Book 2 is more exciting. In Book 2 Ms. Rowling was able to delve more deeply into the magical world rather than spend time building up to it like she did in Book 1.

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June 5th, 2007
Mitch Albom - For One More Day - 90"A child embarrassed by his mother," she said, "is just a child who hasn't lived long enough."

His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

June 1st, 2007

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi NovikAerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleanic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain's defense by taking to the skies...not aboard aircraft but atop the might backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future -- and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarefied world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France's own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte's boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

I loved Naomi Novik's dragons. It is always interesting to see a different author's take on the fabled creatures. She wrote hers with grace. Novik's dragons are strong, intelligent (well some are anyway) and incredibly charming. However, I feel like she spent so much time creating these dragons who interact in this war-time environment that....well, she didn't have enough time left over for other development. We get to know both Captain Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, well. Beyond them, there is little-to-no character depth. The fight scenes are slightly hard to follow in the minute military details, but they are still exhilirating. It is such a fresh perspective to imagine dragons used as legitimate means of war. I also felt that those same fight scenes were over as quickly as they began. I am not sure I would actually want them to be any longer, but the feeling I had was that they were very abrupt encounters.

I thought that the rigidity with which Laurence adhered to codes of honor was beginning to get old, but seemingly at the right moment it was brought up less often. He was hard to enjoy for how quick he was to defend his honor and that of others, but he does relax some.

I feel like Ms. Novik wanted to write Temeraire as a female dragon, but for her self-imposed limitation that female dragons want female riders, and a male protagonist had been chosen. Too often I felt like I read exchanges between Temeraire and Laurence as male-to-female interaction only to be reminded of Temeraire's gender a moment later. It might have been how frequently Laurence called him "My dear."

It may just be the dragon lover within me that enjoyed this new take, but the book was still entertaining. It is the inaugural installment in a series that I will continue to read. I am hoping for additional character development and maybe some closure in my battle scenes, but I won't hold my breath.

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Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

May 29th, 2007

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasSet against the turbulent years of the Napoleonic era, Alexandre Dumas's thrilling adventure story is one of the most widely read romantic novels of all time. In it the dashing young hero, Edmond Dant├Ęs, is betrayed by his enemies and thrown into a secret dungeon in the Chateau d'If -- doomed to spend his life in a dank prison cell. The story of his long, intolerable years in captivity, his miraculous escape, and his carefully wrought revenge creates a dramatic tale of mystery and intrigue and paints a vision of France -- a dazzling, dueling, exuberant France -- that has become immortal.

I approached the book with a nervous excitement. It is a book I had always wanted to read; the classic story intrigued me. But I was afraid of "old" books, especially ones that tip the scales at over 600 pages. I expected to read Count of Monte Cristo for the better part of a year, but it took no time at all. Sure the book was long, but the pages turned effortlessly. I will admit that I had some trouble keeping up with the many names and titles given to each character. I was confused a few times, but I was able to figure it out. Other than that, this was a surprisingly easy read. And a great book.

The Count of Monte Cristo is a man of great power and wealth who is the best man to know...if you play by his rules. If you break those rules, well let's just say you shouldn't break his rules. (I am sorry that I am unable to provide any particular evidence, but I had an overwhelming feeling that the Count of Monte Cristo was a lot like Willy Wonka.)

This is the tragic tale of love, love lost, revenge, and new beginnings. I kept wondering when I would be buried under the many layers of the story, but it never happened. I was able to stay on top of the plot as it unfolded for me.

I loved Count of Monte Cristo. It has easily become one of my favorite books. If it suits you, take your time like I did. There is no need to rush into it, but do read it.

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May 25th, 2007
Robert McCammon - Boy's Life - 225-226"... Cory, I want to say one word to you. Remember."
"Remember? Remember what?"
"Everything," she said. "And anything. Don't you go through a day without remembering something of it, and tucking that memory away like a treasure. Because it is. And memories are sweet doors, Cory. They're teachers and friends and disciplinarians. When you look at something don't just look. See it. Really, really see it. See it so when you write it down, somebody else can see it, too. It's easy to walk through life deaf, dumb, and blind, Cory. Most everybody you know or will ever meet will. They'll walk through a parade of wonders, and they'll never hear a peep of it. But you can live a thousand lifetimes if you want to. You can talk to people you'll never set eyes on, in lands you'll never visit." She nodded, watching my face. "And if you're good and you're lucky and you have something worth saying, then you might have a chance to live on long after -- " She paused, measuring her words. "Long after," she finished.

Book of the Month - June, 2007

May 21st, 2007

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

Rockey Boys by Homer HickamWith the grace of a natural storyteller, NASA engineer Homer Hickam paints a warm, vivid portrait of the harsh West Virginia mining town of his youth, evoking a time of innocence and promise, when anything was possible, even in a company town that swallowed its men alive. A story of romance and loss, of growing up and getting out, Homer Hickam's lush, lyrical memoir is a chronicle of triumph--at once exquisitely written and marvelously entertaining.

A number-one New York Times bestseller in mass market, brought to the screen in the acclaimed film October Sky, Homer Hickam's memoir, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, comes to trade paperback with an all-new photo insert.

One of the most beloved bestsellers in recent years, ROCKET BOYS is a uniquely American memoir. A powerful, luminous story of coming of age at the end of the 1950s, it is the story of a mother's love and a father's fears, of growing up and getting out. With the grace of a natural storyteller, Homer Hickam looks back after a distinguished NASA career to tell his own true story of growing up in a dying coal town and of how, against the odds, he made his dreams of launching rockets into outer space come true.

A story of romance and loss and a keen portrait of life at an extraordinary point in American history, ROCKET BOYS is a chronicle of triumph.

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