Book of the Month - May, 2005

April 20th, 2005

Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Rabbit Redux by John UpdikeThe assumptions and obsessions that control our daily lives are explored in tantalizing detail by master novelist John Updike in this wise, witty, and sexy story. Harry Angstrom—known to all as Rabbit, one of America's most famous literary characters—finds his dreary life shattered by the infidelity of his wife, Janice. How he resolves or further complicates his problems makes for a novel of the first order.

Buy Rabbit Redux $10.50

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Gideon - Russell Andrews

April 18th, 2005
Gideon by Russell AndrewsWriter Carl Granville -- down on his luck personally and professionally -- is approached one day by a hotshot publisher who says she'll pay him a startling amount of money to turn a top-secret diary into a novel. Gift from God or devlish trap? ... The conspiracy he gets tangled in plays on some seriously topical fears.

A starving author is asked to ghost write a political memoir and disguise it as fiction. He is given no details. He is, however, given a sizeable sum of money. Too good to be true? Well yeah, no one would read this book if there was an absense of conflict. What this young author does not anticipate though, is helping facilitate the most dangerous political scandal in the history of the United States.

I bought this book near when it was released in paperback nearly 6 years ago. It was not until I finally got enough of a recommendation from a friend that I got around to reading it. Surprisingly, it is not too often that anyone recommends books to me, though I wish they would (not that I don't have a big enough "to read" pile as it is).

Towards the end things get a little out of hand. Events seem a little too far-fetched in the interest of keeping some characters alive and making other characters less alive. It was a work of fiction, so I guess things like that are allowed, just not too often.

Gideon was a good book. It was a recommendation that I pass on. Protagonist Carl Granville is very likeable. Sometimes main characters are tough to follow; that was not the case in this book.

Buy Gideon $6.29

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The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership - James C. Hunter

March 27th, 2005

The Servant : A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. HunterIn this absorbing tale, you watch the timeless principles of servant leadership unfold through the story of John Daily, a businessman whose outwardly successful life is spiraling out of control. He is failing miserably in each of his leadership roles as boss, husband, father, and coach. To get his life back no track, he reluctantly attends a weeklong leadership retreat at a remote Benedictine monastery.

To John's surprise, the monk leading the seminar is a former business executive and Wall Street legend. Taking John under his wing, the monk guides him to a realization that is simple yet profound: The true foundation of leadership is not power, but authority, which is built upon relationships, love, service and sacrifice.

Along with John, you will learn that the principles in this book are neither new nor complex. They don't demand special talents; they are simply based on strengthening the bonds of respect, responsibility, and caring with the people around you. Perhaps this is why The Servant has touched readers from all walks of life--because its message can be applied by anyone, anywhere--at home or work.

If you are tired of books that lecture instead of teach; if you are searching for ways to improve your leadership skills; if you want to understand the timeless virtues that lead to lasting and meaningful success, then this book is one you cannot afford to miss.

This was now the second time I have read this book. In terms of a simple reading that helps to keep things in perspective, this is a fine book. The impact from the first time around was lessened, but the message is still potent.

My first read was powerful. I finished the book with an extremely positive outlook. I really felt good about myself. Sure it was a time when I needed a pick me up as I was unemployed and looking for some strength to help me start my post-college life, but I felt good just the same.

After time the second, my situation, now different, affected my response to the book. The result was still a positive one, but I am now working so the leadership suggestions had new meaning.

As unemployed, I focused on the lessons toward improving my interpersonal relationships with family, friends and those around me.

As employed, I focused on the lessons toward improving my interpersonal relationships with coworkers and gaining efficiency at work. It was then a refresher course for me on improving interpersonal relationships with family, friends and others.

I still recommend this book to anyone who finds themself in a leadership role. This can be management at work, mother or father, coach of a team, or even as just a friend. We always have influence with other people and this book serves as a guide as to how to maximize return on it. There is no attempt at personal gain, there is only a collection of stories to help you gain or increase the happiness in your life through a servant-style leadership.

You've all heard the statement, 'I will change when...' and you can fill in the blank. Perhaps the statement should be turned into a question: 'I will change...when?'

This is just one of many conversations had by fictitious participants in a leadership retreat. Whether the events in the book happened as stated or not is irrelevant. The message is important.

But where do I begin?
You begin with a choice.

Buy The Servant $13.60

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Book of the Month - April, 2005

March 23rd, 2005

Gideon by Russell Andrews

Gideon by Russell AndrewsWriter Carl Granville -- down on his luck personally and professionally -- is approached one day by a hotshot publisher who says she'll pay him a startling amount of money to turn a top-secret diary into a novel. Gift from God or devlish trap? ... The conspiracy he gets tangled in plays on some seriously topical fears.

Buy Gideon $6.29

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The Blessing Way - Tony Hillerman

March 15th, 2005

The Blessing Way - Tony HillermanWhen Lt. Joe Leaphorn of The Navajo Tribal Police discovers a corpse with a mouth full of sand at a crime scene seemingly without tracks or clues, he is ready to suspect a supernatural killer. Blood on the rocks...A body on the high mesa....Leaphorn must stalk the Wolf-Witch along a chilling trail between mysticism and murder.

This one was given to me by a coworker who suggested that I try out the author. She told me that given the books that I like, Hillerman would be up my alley. No offense to her, I disagree. The book was not bad, do not get me wrong, but I will not rush out and read his entire catalogue.

Tony Hillerman writes about a Native American detective. This idea in itself is completely new to me. None of the fiction I enjoy has ever approached this subject before. I will give him credit, his stories are extremely unique. As an experience I can now say that I have had, this book was positive. The reason the Native American perspective was difficult for me was that there were too many metaphors early in the book. The author refers to people and places not by names I would recognize, but by how the Navajo would. This was enlightening to get a glimpse, allbeit a small one, into a new culture, but it was hard to follow. As the action began, the story was easier to keep up with.

A short book, at only 284 pages, The Blessing Way had but 18 chapters (which is fine normally) but Hillerman maybe should have used more. Understand that I do not claim to be an expert in proofreading, nor do I claim to be without fault myself. Maybe it is the writing I am most familiar with, maybe it is something else; I am unsure. The author chooses to switch scenes and time of day by simply starting a new paragraph at times. The story could be in the desert in the middle of the morning in one paragraph and then have a different character asleep in the middle of the night in the next. Some authors will use a chapter break, some may just add an extra return between paragraphs, some will use **** to announce a change. These are all signs that the story will move on and is then often easier to follow.

I do not mean to be too critical of Tony Hillerman. He is a widely celebrated author who has received much praise for his Joe Leaphorn novels. All I am aiming to do is explain what did not sit right with me as I read The Blessing Way. I did not dislike the book, I simply did not like it.

Buy The Blessing Way $6.29

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Mystic River - Dennis Lehane

March 8th, 2005

Mystic River - Dennis LehaneWhen they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened--something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Now, years later, murder has tied their lives together again...

Good book. I am glad I finally read it, I had heard such good things about it before and after the movie became so popular. I am yet to see the movie, but I am actually looking forward to it more now that I've read the book. That is not usually the case with me, I tend to avoid movies for books that I have read. What is different this time is that I feel that Lehane put too much into this one. I think there was just too much going on; too many characters to keep track of from start to finish. I think truncating the story a bit, in movie form, could really make this story shine.

This being the first Lehane book that I have read, I am unfamiliar with whether or not he continues characters Sean Devine and/or Jimmy Marcus in later novels, but he certainly set himself up to do so. Sure you could call it a nice unsettling finish to end his novel, but I think there is more he could do with it.

I might like to see a first person follow up from the perspective of Jimmy Marcus more so than Devine. Do that with Devine breathing down his neck, but as a support character.

Mystic River was a good enough book, however, to keep me interested in Lehane's writing. I will be sure to check out some of his other work. Just what I need, another author to track...

Buy Mystic River $7.19

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Honeymoon - James Patterson & Howard Roughan

February 25th, 2005

Honeymoon - James PattersonHow does it feel to be desired by every man and envied by every woman? Wonderful. This is the life Nora Sinclair has dreamed about, the life she's worked hard for, the life she will never give up.

When FBI agent John O'Hara first sees her, she seems perfect. She has the looks. The career. The clothes. The wit. The sophistication. The tantalizing sex appeal. The whole extraordinary package -- and men fall in line to court her. She doesn't just attract men, she enthralls them.

So why is the FBI so interested in Nora Sinclair? Mysterious things keep happening to people around her, especially the men. And there is something dangerous about Nora when Agent O'Hara looks more closely -- something that lures him at the same time that it fills him with fear. Is there something dark hidden among the unexplained gaps in her past? And as he spends more and more time getting to know her, is he pursuing justice? Or his own fatal obsession?

With the irresistible attraction of the greatest Hitchcock thrillers, Honeymoon is sizzling, twisting tale of a woman with a deadly appetite and the men who dare to fall for her. In his sexiest, scariest novel yet, James Patterson deftly confirms that he always "takes thrills to the next level" (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).

"Already named International Thriller of the Year by the Book-of-the-Month Club and 15 other book clubs worldwide."

"All writers have a book that they know is their best book, ever. Welcome to James Patterson's."

These two comments are included in the inside cover of the book. Could this have been too much pressure? Maybe. Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Do I think this is his best? No, I don't think I do.

Honeymoon provided the mystery and suspense you expect in any Patterson novel. I find no fault in that aspect of the book. I think I was merely let down by one thing. As the book begins to take off I had a hope that Patterson would develop a new serial character. I was hoping that Nora Sinclair would become Patterson's "bad guy" character. He writes his antagonists so well maybe I feel it time that we get to see a glimpse of a main character who is not solving crime but in fact committing it. As I began the book, I had flashbacks to Cassie Black in Michael Connelly's Void Moon. Don't get excited, I am not ruining the book by telling you this isn't the case. If you've read the synopsis provided in the book (provided above) then you know it's not the case. I did not read that prior to reading the book. It was not a factor in my decision to read it. James Patterson wrote it. That is all it takes for me.

Could it be the best thriller of 2005? Absolutely. I am not saying this is out of the realm of possibility by any means. All I really question is how you can say this is Patterson's best. I think I look to either The Jester or Along Came A Spider when I try to decide which is his best.

The ending came a little too abruptly I felt, and there was one part of the book that I was hoping would be explored a little more deeply. Obviously I will not tell you in the middle of this which part I mean.

Ok, ok, ok. I will stop being critical. The book was very good. In Patterson-fashion it is a quick read. The book flows so well due to the fact that the author's writing style makes you progress quickly, but also the story pulls you in.

Read the book.

Buy Honeymoon $18.45

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For elaboration on my point above that contains spoiler information click

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Book of the Month - March, 2005

February 20th, 2005

The Servant : A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter

The Servant : A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. HunterIn this absorbing tale, you watch the timeless principles of servant leadership unfold through the story of John Daily, a businessman whose outwardly successful life is spiraling out of control. He is failing miserably in each of his leadership roles as boss, husband, father, and coach. To get his life back no track, he reluctantly attends a weeklong leadership retreat at a remote Benedictine monastery.

To John's surprise, the monk leading the seminar is a former business executive and Wall Street legend. Taking John under his wing, the monk guides him to a realization that is simple yet profound: The true foundation of leadership is not power, but authority, which is built upon relationships, love, service and sacrifice.

Along with John, you will learn that the principles in this book are neither new nor complex. They don't demand special talents; they are simply based on strengthening the bonds of respect, responsibility, and caring with the people around you. Perhaps this is why The Servant has touched readers from all walks of life--because its message can be applied by anyone, anywhere--at home or work.

If you are tired of books that lecture instead of teach; if you are searching for ways to improve your leadership skills; if you want to understand the timeless virtues that lead to lasting and meaningful success, then this book is one you cannot afford to miss.

Buy The Servant $13.60

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Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer

February 16th, 2005

Into the Wild by Jon KrakauerIn April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter...

I read Into the Wild for the first time over four years ago after I had read Into Thin Air (also by author Jon Krakauer).

The argument has been made that having read the blurb on the back cover of the book (listed above) that there is now no reason to read Into the Wild in its entirety. What more could they tell you? You know how the story ends, don't you? Christopher Johnson McCandless died at the end of his journey. What you do not know is how he got from Emory University in Atlanta, GA to Alaska. The synopsis above does not tell you how many lives he touched, and how deeply, along the way.

Chris McCandless, or "Alexander Supertramp" to a few, was not the first to bid farewell to society and try his hand at living off the land, being at one with nature. He is, however, arguably the most unique individual to do so. Krakauer has pursued extensive interviews with not only Chris' family, but also friends who met him on the road and know him only as "Alex".

How deeply do you think you can be touched by a hitchhiker as you drive him a few hundred miles down the road? Did you ever think you would wish he would not get out of the car when it comes time? I am not sure the people who did Chris a favor ever thought they would either, however in their accounts they try to put into words what was so special about this particular young man.

Chris was a very gifted athlete. He was an above average student throughout his entire academic career at one point with aspirations of Harvard Law and the grades to match. He had an entrepreneurial spirit that had made him a good deal of money and earned him a lot of respect growing up.

Why would someone with this background give it all up and walk into the woods? Jon Krakauer takes us along the path to California, South Dakota, into Mexico, eventually to Alaska and many places in between to find out.

The author seems to approach this book as if he were trying to solve the mystery of Chris' death and in essence he was doing just that. He really tells us why Chris was unable to survive his journey and in the process we find out why he began the journey in the first place. The depth of the research is remarkable. Krakauer in this, and all of his books, really goes the extra mile to talk to anyone and everyone involved and find out as many details as possible. I have the highest level of respect for the work that Jon Krakauer does for his books.

In the Acknowledgements section at the end, the author thanks those he interviewed for helping him put the book together. If you read this book I am sure you will, like I do, want to thank them as well. Less than a year has passed from the time you find out a loved one has passed away; a loved one about whom you have worried everyday since he last contacted you which was two years ago. Along comes a journalist who wants to get to know him through you. How forthcoming would you...or could you be?

If you like this, another Krakauer book I cannot recommend enough is called Under the Banner of Heaven.

Buy Into the Wild $10.36

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Peace Like a River - Leif Enger

February 4th, 2005

Peace Like a River - Leif EngerLeif Enger's best-selling debut is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, and a love story, in which "what could be unbelievable becomes extraordinary" (Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald). Enger brings us eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy in the Midwest who has a reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been controversially charged with murder. Their journey unfolds like a revelation, and its conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates.

Here it is. The long anticipated review of the book that took me more than a month to get through. My motivation to get through this book was nearly non-existent until the past few days. As per usual I finished the book in a hurry with one goal in mind: that next book. What was different about this scenario was that I had more pages than usual to bang out and finish up.

I've said many terrible things about this book over the course of our time together and I want to clear things up. This book was not nearly as horrible as I let on at first...second and third. I have decided that since the book gets off to such a slow start, I was lost right out of the shoot and had to fight too hard to get back into the book. Call it my stubborn nature, I think "determination" sounds better, but I did not put this book down unfinished and I am glad I gave it a chance.

The ending of the book was pretty good. It seemed as though the author forced some action to be able to include some story. He basically had to manufacture action to allow for his predetermined reaction. This made the end of the book pretty choppy. The action was pretty out of place, but I understand how it was necessary for the reaction.

One constant throughout the novel was the author's writing. Enger wrote a book beautifully. Notice I did not say he wrote a beautiful book. What he wrote was not the best, but how he wrote it was fantastic.

At the end of the day I still list Peace Like a River as a "Don't Read". Even though the story came on at the end, I cannot think of anyone to whom I would recommend this book. Thank you to my uncle who suggested I read it, but I did not love it.

Buy Peace Like a River $9.75

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