Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Same Kind of Different as Me

Denver's voice is the first one heard and he opens the story by saying, "Until Miss Debbie, I'd never spoke to no white woman before. Just answered a few questions, maybe--it wadn't really speakin. And to me, even that was mighty risky since the last time I was fool enough to open my mouth to a white woman, I wound up half-dead and nearly blind." Now, that's a great start to a story -- it caught my attention.

This is a gut-wrenchingly honest book (I even shed a few tears and had a hard time returning to it at one point) -- friendship, loyalty, prejudices, fears, sin, love, forgiveness, doubts, anger, pain, loss, greed, trust, dashed dreams, crushed hopes. Two very dissimilar men (Hall and Denver) become friends -- Hall's wife sort of pushes Hall into the relationship. While it is a book about friendship, the message of the book is equally how much impact one person (Deborah Hall) can have on all the people around her. Interesting way to write the book with the "voices" of Hall and Denver alternating throughout the book -- often every other chapter but, occasionally, there will be 2-3 chapters of Hall followed by a chapter of Denver.

(Disclaimer: The second time through, I received a free review copy from the publisher through their Blogger Review program, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I believed the book deserved -- an easy task with this book.)

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson created a whole new world for this novel (1st of 10 projected books). It includes various human and human-like beings as well as spren (beings that appear to show various states — fear, pain, glory, wind, anticipation, etc.), crab-like creatures that are used as beasts of burden but also produce valued crystals, and plants that are alive and move in response to stimuli. He also created legends and religion and mythology. Some humans and others are able to take advantage of powers contained within spheres and chips. These powers don't give new abilities, but greatly enhance existing abilities. It took some time to get into the story, primarily because of all the new terminology and cultural references that had to be absorbed.

In the end, the story seems to revolve around 3 primary characters. Kaladin, a surgeon's apprentice turned warrior turned slave turned bridgeman, turned Brightlord protector. Kaladin may be the most complex of the characters and, in some ways the most human of the characters as he struggles with trust and bigotry and figuring out who he really is.

A second primary character is Shallan, a girl from a once powerful family who convinces the king's sister to take her on as a ward, ostensibly to become a scholar but with the intent of stealing Jasnah's Soulcaster, to replace her family's broken soulcaster, and using it to restore her family's fortunes and position.

The third primary character is Dalinar, a Highprince and uncle of King Elhokar. Dalinar is thought to be going crazy because he has lost his passion for war and is intent on uniting the highprinces of Alethkar in order to restore the glory of past kingdoms. In that, he is opposed by all of the other highprinces because they want to retain their individual power and position and ability to gain wealth. He is also resisted by Elhokar because of fear.

These three may not continue to be the primary characters in subsequent books as Wit, Szeth (assassin), and Taravangian seemed to be ascending at the end of the book. Characters well developed and acted reasonably consistently. The worlds are strange. Legends aren't quite clear but Sanderson has a habit of introducing something as if it were clear and then over multiple flashbacks, revealing details. Definitely kept my attention but the length of the series is a bit daunting to even consider.

I read the Kindle edition and really appreciated the X-Ray function for this book!!

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Book Review: The Confession, Robert Whitlow

It's always easier for a prosecuting attorney if he has a confession ... or is it? The Confession (link to Kindle edition on Amazon), by Robert Whitlow, is a lawyer story — actually an assistant DA. As a teen, Holt Douglas was drunk but not as much as his friend. He refuses to let his friend drive and takes the keys himself. In the subsequent wreck (didn't see that coming, right?), the friend dies but Holt lives. He makes a decision to tell the police that the friend was driving and lives with the secrecy and guilt of that decision for years afterwards.

As an assistant DA, Holt begins to suspect that the death of a prominent and powerful businessman, Meredith, was not suicide as was reported. Then, with the help of Trish, a detective assigned to locating and bringing to justice men who have defaulted on alimony or family support payments, begins to uncover evidence that Greg, a supporter of the DA and huge contributor to Trish's church, was involved in the death of Meredith and decided that the DA and the Sheriff and some deputies were involved in a massive cover-up. The story involves some conflicted attraction between Holt and Trish that causes trouble between Holt and Angelina, Holt's girlfriend. Whitlow does a good job of weaving in Holt's guilt over hiding the truth about his role in the wreck that killed his friend. Trish's father was killed by a drunk driver, and Whitlow does a good job of weaving in the tension of Trish's anger, especially when Holt tells Trish the truth about his own wreck. The Bishop becomes a key part of the story as Holt moves toward faith. Then, there is a twist or two in the story.

While not great book, The Confession was an engaging read. I rate it 4/5 stars.

(EDIT: I deleted the comment about page numbers not being in the edition I read. In communication with the BookLook Bloggers administration, they said that the review edition does not come from Amazon and may not be formatted the same.)

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of their blogger review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved and receive no compensation or other benefit except continued participation in the review programme.)

Run well, y'all,
Bob

PS — I've started back running in Kampala. It's known as the city of seven hills and the hills are KILLERS!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: Known and Loved: 52 Devotions From the Psalms

Written for Moms by a Mom. I didn't realize that until I started reading — I apparently got it as a free book some time back and found it on my Kindle when I was looking for a devotional guide for the Psalms. I'm glad I didn't realize the "for-moms" part because I would not have read it. There were some really good insights into some of the Psalms. Some chapters less applicable to me since I'm a non-mom. I used it as a daily devotional supplement, reading one per day.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Traffic in Addis Ababa

This video was supposedly taken at the Ring Road in Addis Ababa. Throughout all the years I've been in East Africa, I've heard that the craziest traffic is, in order of craziest to crazy but less so:
  • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Kampala, Uganda
  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Based on this video, they're all about the same!


Run well ... especially if you have to cross traffic like this!
 Bob Allen Kampala, Uganda

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make

(Long review)

Summary: Hans Finzel, past President and CEO of WorldVenture, currently President of HDLeaders. This edition is an update of the original book written in the 1990s. He discusses the problems caused by these top ten mistakes and then talks about how to avoid them. Easily one of the most readable leadership books that I have read. Part of its value is that it’s drawn from Finzel’s experiences in leadership. Highly recommended.
From the Introduction: "Leadership can be dangerous. To understand this, study world history and the lives of great and terrible leaders and what they accomplished through others. We who are in leadership can, on one hand, move men, women, and mountains for tremendous good. On the other hand, we hold the power to do irreparable damage to our followers by the mistakes we make.” (Loc. 98)
Mistakes (chapters):
  • Top–down attitude
  • Putting paperwork before peoplework
  • The absence of affirmation
  • No room for mavericks
  • Dictatorship in decision making (I know all the answers)
  • Dirty delegation
  • Communication chaos — overcommunicate
  • Missing the clues of corporate culture
  • Success without successors
  • Failure to focus on the future
Best Chapter — Chapter 8, Missing the Clues of Corporate Culture, and Chapter 10, Failure to Focus on the Future.
It’s really hard to choose best chapters because they are all good. These 2 chapters, however, speak most directly to my current situation having just moved into a new leadership role. Chapter 8 on corporate culture practically defines culture as “the way we do things around here”. Reading the chapter, I realized that both leaders and followers have to deal with multiple cultures, not just their organization’s culture: birth family, in-law family, regional culture (North, South, Midwest, etc.), organizational culture. International workers add a new country’s culture and, in Africa, tribal cultures. As a new leader of an existing group of teams, I’m having to learn not only new country and tribal cultures but also learn the culture of this group of teams.
Chapter 10 speaks to where I think I need to focus my primary attention in this particular leadership role. Given the realities of changes in my home culture and the financial constraints of our overall organization, I need to look 5-10+ years ahead and lead for those changes.
Best Quotes:
  • ...people fall into leadership more by accident than by design. (Loc. 120)
  • After falling into leadership, we tend to do what comes naturally—we “wing it.” And that’s what gets leaders into trouble, because good leadership practice is often the opposite of conventional wisdom. (Loc. 123)
  • This leader, like most, had no clue as to how much power he wielded over his subordinates. Great leaders forget what it feels like to be led. (Loc. 156)
  • Jesus spent more time touching people and talking to them than doing any other action. His focus was not on words, it was on compassion. (Loc. 699)
  • A person or a number of key people with whom one has had real-life personal contact has been the primary change agent in the person’s life...are influenced by many factors in small ways and at a distance, but the most profound changes in our lives come through people whom we have had coffee with, roomed with, gone to a game with, played with, worshipped with, prayed with. (Loc. 732)
  • The greater the leadership role, the more important peoplework is…. (Loc. 843)
  • Organizational researchers have been telling us for years that affirmation motivates people much more than financial incentives…. (Loc. 865)
  • Leadership is inherently about effecting change in order to obtain some desired future condition that would not otherwise happen. Most people want progress as long as they do not have to change very much to get it. (Loc. 1129)
  • Learn to recognize truly useful mavericks. Some people just love to complain, but there are useful mavericks who do not just cause trouble, but rather truly want to make a difference. We need to create space in our organizations for these beneficial mavericks to flourish. (Loc. 1301)
  • We know by looking at history that the greatest strides forward in any field usually come from the “radical fringe,” as opposed to the institutional core…. (Loc. 1363)
  • The greatest ideas bubble up from the workers. “They will come from you, not from me,”…. (Loc. 1358)
  • “I’m a captain, I don’t gripe to my men. Gripes go up. Not down.” (Tom Hanks character in Saving Private Ryan) (Loc. 1440)
  • No one likes to live under dictators—they take all the fun out of life and work! (Loc. 1607)
  • Being head beagle would be a lot easier if we could learn to spread out the work to other competent workers around us. (Loc. 1656)
  • Our goal is to develop new leaders who will eventually replace us, so we shouldn’t worry about others having skills better than our own. (Loc. 1681)
  • FOUR QUESTIONS EVERY FOLLOWER ASKS: 1. What am I supposed to do? 2. Will you let me do it? 3. Will you help me when I need it? 4. Will you let me know how I’m doing? —Dr. Lorne Sonny, The Business Ministry Journal (Loc. 1744)
  • An important principle that many leaders stumble on is the need to recognize that different kinds of followers need different styles of supervision. (Loc. 1810)
  • “If everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough.” —Mario Andretti (Loc. 1854)
  • I have an imaginary sign over my doorway as you look out of my office that reads, “Did they take their monkey with them?” Don’t do other people’s work for them. That is my natural temptation, like when I ask my children to do a job that I would normally do myself. I must cultivate greater independence and responsibility in both of us by giving them a job and allowing them do it. (Loc. 1858)
  • When left in the dark, people tend to dream up wild rumors. (Loc. 1915)
  • As organizations grow, the original group of founders can become an inside elite. Since they were there from the beginning, they have the most information and power. Newcomers feel left out and in the dark. I recall one of the new employees in our group complaining about the lack of information in this vivid fashion: “I feel like I’m living on a mushroom farm—I’m left completely in the dark and fed manure from time to time.” That was a revealing statement of the kind of pain that can be caused by poor communication. (Loc. 1971)
  • There is never a time when more in-house communication is needed than when a new leader arrives on the scene. People need to know what to expect of their new leader. If you are that person, make sure you overcommunicate as an obsession. (Loc. 2040)
  • Never assume that anyone knows anything. This is a core leadership principle. We can never communicate enough in our organizations. (Loc. 1934)
  • We never communicate enough, and we usually communicate way less than we think we do. It is a rare organization that has been found guilty of over-communicating. (Loc. 2253)
  • When left in the dark, people tend to dream up wild rumors. This is where human nature always shows its dark side. People tend to think the worst of each other, instead of the best. Rumors destroy morale, and are best grown in the fertile soil of a communication-less organization. It is the job of effective leaders to build communication bridges throughout their organization and make sure that people are talking to each other. (Loc. 2261)
  • I define corporate culture very simply as “the way we do things around here.” Or to make the definition a bit more formal: “An organization’s corporate culture is the way insiders behave based on the values and group traditions they hold.” (Loc. 2298)
  • Corporate culture is a powerful force. It can at times be so strong that people develop a religious attitude toward their company, so devoted they are to its culture. (Loc. 2328)
  • One of the keys to a successful leadership transition is to learn to hold our positions loosely. The tighter the grip, the more pride and the harder it becomes to let go at any stage. A loose grip is a humble grip, an attitude that knows our finitude and dispensability. (Loc. 2965)
  • To survive and grow, a movement such as the Christian faith must go at least four generations: Paul (the first generation) mentored Timothy (second), who was in turn was asked to mentor reliable men (third), who would be qualified to teach others (fourth)…. (Loc. 2993)
  • A leader’s concentration must not be on the past nor on the present, but on the future. (Loc. 3092)
  • Leroy Eims, “A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do” (Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be). (Loc. 3134)
  • ...our past successes can be our greatest roadblocks to future accomplishments, because what worked in that foreign country of the past will not necessarily work today. (Loc. 3138)
  • The tyranny of the urgent always fights against our planning and thinking time, but if we don’t make the time to plan for the future, we will be its victims. We will develop a style of reactionary leadership. What is needed is proactive leadership that anticipates the future. (Loc. 3219)
  • Leaders ask, “Where are we going next, and why are we going there?” Managers ask, “How will we get there?” (Loc. 3233)
  • ...the world outside is changing; the international community we want to touch is changing; our new workforce is different, with different expectations; and our donor base is changing dramatically…. (Loc. 3281)
  • Creating vision and direction for the future is one of the primary responsibilities of leadership. The leader must plan for the future. He or she must direct or head the team in developing organizational goals, plans, and strategies that flow out of a crisp purpose or vision statement. (Loc. 3298)
  • “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped, to deal with a world that no longer exists.” —Robin Cook, Abduction (Loc. 3311)
  • The past is finished. Whatever happened there cannot be undone. The present is being dealt with on the basis of yesterday’s plans. That leaves only the future as the focus of an effective leader. To neglect the future is the biggest mistake a leader can make. (Loc. 3394)
Best Take-Aways:
  • ...“communication linkages.” Every time I make a phone call or write a letter or make a decision, I have to ask, “What people are affected by this decision/letter/memo/directive? What are the linkages?” (Loc. 2011)
  • Learn the culture of where I am (Chapter 8)
  • Focus on the future: “…the past is finished…the present is being dealt with on the basis of yesterday’s plans…That leaves only the future….” (Loc. 3394)

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: A Deadly Business


This was an enjoyable read. I was a little put off to find that it is the second book in a series (I hadn't read the first), but it really stands alone. Not a bad book — a bit of courtroom drama, an accidental death that might be a murder, a dead husband who turns out not to have been what he seemed, a bit of romance between Mia and Charlie (but not over the top or graphic in any way, even by implication). There were some odd things in the book that seemed out of place: for instance, Eli blurting out that Mia is his girlfriend — where did that come from? The side story about the lady and her son who were living in a friend's garage and then moved into Mia's spare bedroom seemed an odd, out-of-place, and totally unnecessary insertion in the story and the conflict over that with Gabe was never resolved. Gabe's character as a 14 year old was well developed and seemed true to life. I'm not sure what qualifies this as "Christian fiction". And I'm not sure what characterizes "Christian fiction -- is it overt Christianity (not in this book), is it morality (the language was clean and there was no gratuitous sex or adultery in the book), is it a Biblical worldview (that existed in the book but was very subtle and seemed motivated by a desire on the part of the characters to be good, not necessarily biblical)?

If you're looking for a light mystery that's an easy read with enough unknowns to maintain interest, then you will probably enjoy "A Deadly Business".

(I received a free copy of A Deadly Business for review from the publisher as a part of their blogger review program, Book Look Bloggers.  I was free to write the review that I thought the book deserved. I receive no compensation other than continued participation in the program.)

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: The Case for a Creator, Student Edition

One of my biggest disappointments as an adult has been to realize the deficiencies of my high school science courses. So, I approach books like The Case for a Creator: Student Edition very much as a layman.

The Case for Faith was the first of Lee Strobel's books that I read. It was a refreshingly clear apologetic not only in the rationality of belief in God but also for placing one's trust in God alone. Later, I read "The Case for Christ" and found it to be just as clear.

I expected the same kind of approach in The Case for a Creator and I was right. Strobel's raises the questions about creation and then consults with experts who are Christians to find the answers. The material is presented in a way that even a science layperson can follow and (mostly) understand. He presents the arguments for creation versus evolution clearly. This book should help Christian students know how better to articulate why creationism is a reasonable worldview. Strobel lays out some of the weaknesses of a belief in evolution.

After reading The Case for a Creator, I did have some concerns. First, while I haven't read the original edition, this student edition read like portions of the longer edition were simply cut and pasted to make an abridged version. Second, much to my surprise, I found that Strobel's signature method was actually a little tiring after having read two others of his books. Finally, I wonder if Strobel has addressed the most recent issues in evolutionary science or if he has consulted the most competent scholars — I don't know that he hasn't but others who have reviewed this book have indicated that he hasn't.

Apart from the content and style of the book, I found some significant issues with the Kindle edition:  sidebars are inserted into the main text in ways that are somewhat confusing and in at least one case, a sidebar is inserted in the middle of a sentence. Also, some typical navigation features are missing — direct access to individual chapters via the "Go To" menu and the "swipe up" navigation feature of the Paperwhite. My copy is a review edition provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. I've asked the publisher about these issues. They've said the review copy should be the same as the purchase copy but that they would investigate my concerns and let me know. After almost 2 weeks, I have heard nothing further. These formatting issues are not unique to this book nor are they unique to Kindle books published by Harper-Collins. They don't take away from the value of the book — they simply make it a little more difficult to read.

I do recommend this book as a basic text for students. It is helpful in developing a creation apologetic. However, I don't think it should be the only book that someone should read on intelligent design or on creationism.

(NOTE: I received a free copy of The Case for a Creator: Student Edition from the publisher in exchange for writing a review of the book as a part of their BookLook blogger review program. I have been free to write the review that I think the book deserves and receive no other compensation except continued participation in the review program.)

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