Grafton changes it up

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Title: U is for Undertow

Author(s): Sue Grafton

Genre: Fiction

I’ve read most of the alphabet, so it is safe to assume that I’m a Sue Grafton fan.  However, as with any series, I find that I need to spread out my reading of her books or else I can get bored with the formula that she uses for this series.  So, I was really surprised when I got into Undertow because it is really a step out of the typical PI mystery.

This story takes place in two different times – the 1980’s and the 1960’s.  It is an interesting way to approach solving a mystery and gave me a renewed interest in Kinsey Millhone.  If you haven’t picked up a letter of the alphabet lately, maybe it is time to dive back in.


The title alone will make you want to read it!

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Title: Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace

Author: Gordon MacKenzie

Copyright: 1996, Penguin

ISBN: 0-670-87983-5

Pages: 224

Date completed: 7/8/11

Every organization, whether a giant corporation or a non-profit creates policies and procedures to make everything operate more efficiently.  But, if you’ve ever been a part of an organization, you are probably familiar with the red-tape that seems to thrive in these environments.  “You need a new mouse for your computer?  Ok.  Just fill out this 3-page form and send it to your manager for approval.  Once you get that approval, you’ll need to fill out this form to submit the approved 3-page form.  From there, it will go through the procurement department where it will be evaluated and either approved or denied.  If approved, then you can expect about a two week delivery period.  If it is denied, you will need to get someone who is a VP or above to submit an exception form.”

Or, you could run over to Walmart during your lunch break and spend the $10 to get it today.

The cultures created by a world of policies and procedures is the giant hairball.  We’ve all been part of a giant hairball at some point in our lives.  If you can’t think of one, think of our education system.  If you went to school, you were part of a giant hairball.

MacKenzie’s book is about the ways that you can step outside of the hairball and march to your own beat.  Be creative.  There is more than one corporate-policy-dictated way of skinning a cat.  Use creativity to solve problems that you encounter.  Not creative enough to come up with creative solutions?  No problem.  Pick up Orbiting the Giant Hairball and let Gordon MacKenzie inspire that creativity you’ve been suppressing for so long.

French Countryside meets a murder mystery

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Title: Five Quarters of the Orange

Author: Joanne Harris

Copyright: 2007, Harper Perennial

ISBN: 0061214604

Pages: 336

Date completed: 6/4/11


This is a book about a woman who came of age in France during World War II.  She was a girl of about 9 when the war started, although most of the story is told from her vantage point as a 65 year-old-woman who has returned to her childhood home. 

I don’t think this book is categorized as a mystery, although it should be.  However, it is not a story that follows the standard mystery format.  As I read, it small pieces of the mystery of our main character (Framboise Simon) are revealed, and I had that nagging sense that I wasn’t going to be able to figure it out until it was eventually spelled out for me by the author.  I was right.  I didn’t see the plot twist coming. 

Framboise Simon is raised by a mother who doesn’t appear to have any love or connection to her children.  Plagued by migraine headaches that cause her to smell oranges, she spends most of her time locked in her bedroom, leaving Framboise and her siblings to raise themselves.  After befriending a German soldier, Framboise feels like she has found her place in the world. 

As an old woman, Framboise returns to her childhood home and lives a quiet life running a café out of her home.  She is known throughout the countryside for having some of the best food, in such humble surroundings.  Framboise is using her mother’s recipes, and finds, through her hand-written notebook, the real story of her mother’s life.

Girl Power!

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Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Date Completed: 3/24/2011
Author(s): E. Lockhart
Copyright: 2008, Hyperion Teens
# pages: 342
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-7868-3818-9

This is the second Young Adult (YA) book that I’m reading to support FirstBook’s Blogger Book Club. First Book is an organization that provides books to children in need through programs like ours. Many of the books that Building a Bookshelf has given away have come from First Book.

Frankie Landau-Banks is a girl who sees clearly into the murky waters that define life in high school. I loved this book on a couple of different levels. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me give you a teaser of the plotline for the book.

Frankie is an invisible Freshman, who becomes the very visible girlfriend of the senior ‘man on campus,’ before ultimately becoming invisible again. This all happens in the backdrop of an elite private boarding school where Frankie’s dad was a member of the secret all-male Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds society.

One of the first reasons I loved this book is because it doesn’t follow the typical ‘girl pines over the popular boy, girl gets the popular boy, girl gets jilted by the popular boy’ format. Don’t get me wrong. That is exactly what happens. But the refreshing part of the story is that Frankie never loses herself in her boyfriend. She starts to on several occasions, but she always reminds herself that she is not defined by her beau. I think this quote from the book (page 103) does a perfect job of summarizing: ‘They [girls] are so focused on their boyfriends that they don’t remember they had a life at all before their romances, so they don’t become upset that the boyfriend isn’t interested.’

I think this book is a great way for girls to learn that they should not lose themselves in the boys that they will inevitably have crushes on. Frankie gets the guy and still has her own life. Refreshing.

Second, I like this book from an adult professional woman perspective. After nearly 20 years in the corporate world, I am constantly struggling with the ‘good old boys club’ that is pervasive in our culture. There are many, many times that I’m the only woman in the conference room. On a day-to-day basis, this doesn’t bother me. But there are times when I know that there is something more under the surface that I’m not privy to because I’m not part of the club. This is the exact situation that Frankie finds herself in. Her boyfriend and all of his pals are part of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. They think that Frankie doesn’t know about it. They may be clever, but not that clever.

As I read the book, I just kept thinking that what Frankie encounters with the Basset Hounds is what she will encounter the rest of her life as she gets out into the professional world. However, she will have a leg-up because she has already learned a way [not to] push back against the good old boy network. I’m cheering for Frankie – I see great things in her future!

Young Adult Fiction for First Book

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Title: Slam
Date Completed: 2/9/2011
Author(s): Nick Hornby
Copyright: 2007, G.P Putnam’s Sons
# pages: 309
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-399-25048-4

When Firstbook asked me to read and review Young Adult Fiction, I jumped at the chance. We have similar missions – getting books into kid’s hands – so I’m happy to help further the mission in any way I can.

But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous about it. After all, I’m neither a teenager nor male, so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to understand Slam. I thought to myself, ‘what if I can’t remotely connect with the story line?’ I didn’t want to make a fool of myself or let Firstbook down.

So, I’m happy to say that I not only connected with the story line, I really couldn’t put the book down. For a novel with such a heavy storyline, it had me laughing at very regular intervals. It is a story of a teenage boy who is pretty quiet, somewhat conservative, loves to skateboard and, well, becomes a father at the age of sixteen.

There are two things I really liked about this story. First, Sam gets all of his advice about growing up from a Tony Hawk poster in his bedroom. If you don’t know, Tony Hawk is the granddaddy of all skateboarders. Any problem that Sam has can be addressed by Tony. I never knew skating was so deep! Second, I liked the way that the whole discussion about teenage pregnancy was handled. Sam starts out, like many of us do when faced with a monumental problem, ignoring it and thinking it might go away. When he realizes that isn’t going to work, he faces it head on. The story shows how his life is changed forever. He won’t be able to pursue the future that he had been planning. But, the thing that I like is that it also shows that he moves ahead with the new future that he has been given. He knows that it isn’t going to be what he was hoping for, but it doesn’t have to be the end of his life either.

Most importantly, this book gets the point across that it only takes one mistake, one lapse in judgment to completely alter the rest of your life. It gives kids a glimpse into why it is important to be responsible and make good decisions. It acknowledges that kids-will-be-kids, but also helps them to understand that they aren’t immune to the troubles and tribulations faced by adults.

What’s your story?

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Title: Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high

Date Completed: 2/4/2011

Author(s): Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Copyright: 2002, McGraw- hill

# pages: 228

Genre: Business

ISBN: 0-07-140194-6

This book is really a toolkit for helping you when you run into communication problems at home or at work.  If you find yourself either overreacting or completely clamming up when the conversation gets a little emotional, I suggest that you read this book. 

Crucial conversations are when opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions run strong.  I’ll be honest…I recognized myself in a lot of the examples used.  I’m guessing you will too. 

One of the light bulb moments for me was the concept of telling yourself another story.   When someone does something that makes you mad, the first thing you do is tell yourself a story about why they did what they did.  Inevitably, they did it because they are a bad, horrible person.  Afterall, it is your story, you can make them do whatever you want (in your own mind).  A coworker excluded you from a meeting that you clearly should have been invited to.  You are impacted by the decisions being made in the meeting, so it is only logical that you should be included.  The story you tell yourself is that the coworker excluded you on purpose so that they could get all of the credit with the management team that is there.  What a jerk!  Trying to get ahead by something as petty as leaving you out of a meeting!

It is a natural tendency to assign negative motives to someone else.  However, before you react, ask yourself what another story might be.  Maybe the coworker thought they invited you and it was just an oversight.  Or, it could be that the coworker was given the list of invitees by a manager, and it was actually the manager who excluded you.  The coworker was only following the directions of the manager.  Or, just maybe, the coworker felt like the meeting would be a waste of your time and didn’t want to bother you with something so trivial.  He may not be a jerk.  He may have just made an error in judgment.

The way that you approach the conversation with your coworker is going to be influenced by the story you’ve told yourself.  In truth, you don’t know the real story until you ask.  So, make sure you come into the crucial conversation with an open mind and a curiosity about why something happened the way it happened.   It will lead to a much more productive conversation.  And, lower blood pressure.

Recommended by a friend

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Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World…One Child at a Time
Date Completed: 1/24/2011
Author(s): Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin
Copyright: 2009, Puffin Books
# pages: 184
Genre: Autobiography
ISBN: 978-0-14-241412-5

A friend recommended this book, and I’m glad she did. It is the story of an American guy who went to Pakistan to climb a mountain and ended up spending a lifetime building the children of Pakistan schools.

After getting lost on the mountain and getting very sick, he made his way to a village where the local people took him in to recouperate. While he was there, he fell in love with the people and the village and made a promise that he would come back one day and build them a school.

The children of Pakistan generally attend a school where most of the children must learn outside in the dirt and sun. They use a stick and the ground to do their multiplication tables. Yet, they attend school with enthusiasm.

Greg Mortenson came back to the United States and started working on a plan for building a school. He determined that he would need $12,000, and set out to raise the money. He wrote 580 letters to celebrities and successful business people telling them of his plan and asking for donations. He got a $100 check from Tom Brokaw.

Not to be discouraged, he was eventually put in touch with a dot com millionaire who wrote him a check for $12,000 and included a note that said ‘don’t screw it up.’

The rest of the book is Greg’s journey to get that school, and many more like it built. It is a great story of perseverance and inspiration. You’ll also learn more about Pakistan, a country that most Americans knew very little about when Greg started his first school (1995). Although we are all more familiar with Pakistan these days, this book will give you a non-political, human perspective on the Pakistani people.

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