Saturday, October 24, 2009

Woman, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility

Mentoring. The latest book by former Veuve Clicquot CEO Mireille Guiliano is titled, Woman, Work & The Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility. In this entertaining book, she offers her personal experience as a mentoring opportunity, especially for women in business. Each of her stories makes a key point. She offers practical, plain-spoken advice, all based on her own experience. While aimed at women, much of her advice applies to men (if we are willing to read and pay attention). Any reader who thinks he or she would benefit from the experience of a mentor who was a successful executive will find something useful on the pages of Woman, Work & The Art of Savoir Faire. Someone young and inexperienced is more likely to find this book to be of practical benefit; others may find some entertainment value in the stories Guiliano shares.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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Love and Summer

Falling. William Trevor’s latest novel, Love and Summer, captures the essence of love: an uncontrollable falling. Protagonist Ellie Dillahan was raised on a convent, and ends up marrying a widowed farmer for whom she was a housekeeper. Although childless, there is no indication that she is unsatisfied in her life. Trevor presents the summer in which she photographer Florian Kilderry. Florian is in town for the summer to sell his late parents’ house, and while he is interested in Ellie, it is she who falls in love with him. Neither character is stereotypical in Trevor’s hands: Ellie is both na├»ve and experienced; Florian is feckless, but not cruel. Other characters, especially Miss Connulty, add depth to theme of love and its consequences.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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Murder Inside the Beltway

Power. Unless her estate uncovers another manuscript, the 24th and last Capital Crimes novel from the late Margaret Truman is titled, Murder Inside the Beltway. The murder in this novel is an escort, Rosalie Curzon. Her legacy was in videotaping her intimate relations with clients. The mystery is engaging, the exploration of power in Washington adds interest, and the characters are fleshed out well enough to make them real and believable.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics

WWJD. If you love satire, and can tolerate the use of Jesus as a fictional character who runs for president, you will find a lot of laughs on the pages of Roland Murullo’s book, American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics. Satire can be risky, and Murullo uses the media as the best target of his biting wit. The names Murullo uses for the media stars requires little translation to identify the subject of his lampooning. An extra layer of reading pleasure comes from the manner in which the narrator, Russ Thomas, a reporter for a western Massachusetts television station, reflects on what the campaign of Jesus means for Russ himself.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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The Strategy Paradox

Luck. Anyone who plays a role in strategy will find much of interest in Michael Raynor’s book, The Strategy Paradox. The paradox he explores in this book is described by the subtitle: the same strategy that can lead to tremendous success can also lead to colossal failure. Luck plays a huge role in how perfectly reasonable strategic choices turn out. You have to commit to a certain future to get something done, A big bet on achieving a planned outcome can be a high risk dice roll that leads to failure. Raynor proposes a balanced approach to strategy. The management of uncertainty requires an attention and a vigilance that can seem at odds with a specific commitment of resources to achieve a desired outcome. The risk reward tradeoffs can change rapidly, and falling in love with one approach can lead to disaster. An executive reader will come away from The Strategy Paradox with useful ideas and challenges especially on who within an organization should be doing what when it comes to strategy and the management of uncertainty.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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Dear American Airlines

Remorse. Jonathan Miles’ novel, Dear American Airlines, is quirky, odd and erudite at the same time. The novel is structured in part as a lengthy complaint letter narrated in the first person by the writer, Benjamin R. Ford (Bennie) to the airline to demand a refund for the flight delay that may cause him to miss his daughter’s wedding. A recovering alcoholic, Bennie reflects with remorse about his life and the disappointment he feels at choices he made. Instead of becoming a poet, he’s a translator, and part of the novel he’s translating from Polish is injected into this narrative. Miles’ writing skill appears most strongly in his language and perfect word selection. I found the structure of the novel to be a distraction, and Bennie became more of an unwanted seatmate on a flight, than someone I wanted in my life. While I laughed at times, I closed the book and stared at it for while after I finished, thinking: what was that?

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Benny & Shrimp

Passion. Katarina Mazetti’s quirky debut novel, Benny & Shrimp, is the perfect book for any reader looking for a quick and entertaining jaunt into two lives and an unlikely relationship. The novel is structured in alternating chapters narrated by Benny, a rural dairy farmer, and Desiree, a city librarian whom he calls Shrimp. If the adage that opposites attract is true, this couple confirms it. Their passion is real, and despite the myriad ways in which each can infuriate the other, their relationship comes through these pages as real and as an insight into human relationships. This is a story of love, heartbreak and hope. In many ways, Benny & Shrimp is the story of anyone in a passionate relationship. While set in Sweden, this relationship could be in Wisconsin, New York, or anyplace on Earth.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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A Gate At the Stairs

Sadness. Lorrie Moore’s new novel, A Gate At the Stairs, is a year in the life of the twenty-year-old protagonist, Tassie Keltjin, as she leaves her rural Wisconsin home for her first year in college. Funny, sad, biting, witty: the lyrical writing encompasses all that and more. Filled with an eclectic cast of characters, a twisting plot and plenty of contemporary social issues, A Gate At the Stairs taps into fears, vulnerability, and leads to laughter side-by-side with sadness. Lorrie grows up fast during this year, as she gains insight into the consequences of the things we do as adults as well as the things we fail to do. The relationship between parents and children provides much of the material for the novel. I liked A Gate At the Stairs because it does so much of what I want a fine novel to do: draw me into the lives of characters so I can learn about myself and others as I read about how these characters behave in living through life’s ups and downs.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)

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Types. When I finished reading J. Courtney Sullivan’s debut novel, Commencement, I stared at the closed book and thought, “huh?” I am willing to accept that a male reader may just not get it when it comes to an exploration of the relationship among four women, but even with that acceptance, I’m not sure that the personality types presented in these characters are recognizable in the real world. April, Bree, Celia and Sally meet when they arrive at Smith for freshman year in the late 1990s. Sullivan stereotypes them as students, and then carries their lives forward to the post-college years. I never quite empathized with any character, so no matter what happened to them, I found myself not caring. If you’re willing to take a chance on a debut novel, and have some interest in college and early adult female relationships, you may find something to like in Commencement.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)

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The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50

I noticed a seatmate on an airplane flight reading Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s book, The Third Chapter, with strong interest for over an hour, so I decided to give it a try. I reached as far as page 49 of this book, and my attention kept wandering, so I put it aside for weeks, and then for good. I wasn’t sure whether the author had made up her mind on how much of the book was personal anecdote and how much was academic. Neither component grabbed my interest.

Shelf of Ennui.

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