Book Review of Who Moved My Cheese?

cheeseNeed to look at change – whether it be in the workplace, in relationships or elsewhere – Who Moved My Cheese is THE book.  It’s a quick read – a parable really about mice (and little men) in a maze who discover the cheese they eat daily has disappeared.  One group of characters embraces change and goes looking for “new cheese”, whilst others find it harder, and take a much longer road to accepting that the old cheese is gone forever.  Sounds crazy – but like me, you’ll be making cheese references for weeks afterwards.

The foreword and discussion pages afterwards help continue to provide context to the parable and ensure it make sense to the reader.  A great way to get across difficult information in a way that doesn’t place blame – it just goes through natural stages of responding to change and asks you if you could have responded differently.

I read this mainly for the workplace implications, but there are ones for my personal life too.  I like “sniff the cheese regularly to make sure it’s not getting old!”.

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Book Review of Two Steps Forward

twostepsThe Camino is a point of fascination for me.  Like many (so many in fact that it is even mentioned in this book), I saw the film The Way and become fascinated with the concept of this pilgrimage and the capacity of this particular walk to change the lives and perspective of so many.  I’m not religious at all, but sometimes things like these act as opportunities to challenge ourselves and take stock of our lives.  Maybe I will do it one day.

Authors Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist (his wife) have walked The Camino several times and it is these experiences that inspired the writing of Two Steps Forward, the story of two people who at a crossroads in their lives, are drawn to The Camino.  Zoe and Martin, the narrators, each tell their story in alternate chapters, giving their background and beginning their Camino and their relationship with it and each other.  Initially – as in all good stories – they don’t like each other.  But the love story as such is not the focus of this novel, and neither character finds themselves capable of a relationship until they focus on the reason they came to the Camino in the first place.

Martin has designed a cart for walkers that he wants to patent and sell – but it needs a trial.  The longer he walks though, the less this inspires his continued journey.  For Zoe, it is a complete impulse after visiting a friend in France after the death of her husband.  She needs to consider how to frame her life without his steadying hand – even if it was not much of a love match.

It’s endearing to see real human stories and affairs of the heart that surround people who aren’t in the early stages of their lives.  I enjoyed this as a gentle read towards the end of the year.  Worth a look.

Book Review of The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

la belle sauvage

The long-awaited prequel to Phillip Pullman’s classic YA series, His Dark Materials is finally here. And fans of the original series will not be disappointed with not only a return to the world of the beloved main character Lyra Bellacqua, but a return to Lyra herself.

Just an infant, Lyra is still driving the narrative of La Belle Sauvage.  Hidden away with nuns, Lyra is already being pursued by a number of groups, and especially the real villain of this novel, Gerald Bonneville, a man so evil he torments and savages his own daemon (remember the charming quirk of this world is that each person expresses a part of their soul as a small animal).

The main character of this series though is Malcolm, a young boy who stumbles onto adventure whilst working in his parents’s pub.  Malcolm hears both about the existence of the hidden baby Lyra, and those pursuing her and takes an interest in her prospects.  This also leads him to connect with a group opposing the Magisterium – a rapidly growing group of religious zealots which we know take over the political landscape from His Dark Materials.  The closest relationship he forms is with Dr Hannah Relf, who reads Alethiometers.

Malcolm’s tender heart is captured by the baby, and when a flood occurs, he decides to take her to Oxford to seek sanctuary.  He is joined by Alice, a plucky girl he meets in the kitchens.

The two spend the second part of the novel hiding the baby from a variety of magical and non-magical foes.  This meanders a little, and feels a little like padding out the real story.  But all is clever and engaging.

A delightful return to a beloved magical world – it’s undoubtedly going to be popular with fans.  Pullman has given them more of what they want.

Book Review of Our Iceberg is Melting

Our Iceberg is MeltingA fable about institutional change, John Kotter tells the story of a penguin colony that finds themselves in trouble.  Their iceberg is melting, and the frozen water will expand and destroy their home.

Initially the penguins are sceptical, but eventually come to see that change is necessary.  The follow the good steps of change management as designed by Kotter and eventually determine a their next steps forward.

It’s an interesting story, and one that acknowledges the complexity of any human interaction.  No matter how well the penguins follow the process that Kotter is espousing here, there are still nay-sayers.  But this is sound, reasonable advice that is told in a very relatable way.  An easy read for anyone in a management position.  You’ll get some good key takeaways.

Book Review of Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping BeautiesStephen King co-wrote this novel with his son Owen, passing the chapters between them and re-writing each other.  The result is a novel that feels very much like King himself – his stamp is all over it.

Sleeping Beauties imagines a world in which women fall asleep and begin constructing some kind of cocoon. It’s a dangerous kind of slumber – when someone attempts to wake them unnatural strength and aggression is the result.  The world of men goes pretty much as you would expect – sense and reason fall very much by the wayside.  King is clearly a feminist.

Meanwhile, the women wake up in an alternative setting and begin setting up their own society which, while technologically behind the times, is pretty successful.  Time passes differently there, and while the Aurora virus has only taken hold in the real world for a few days, a year or more passes in the world of the sleeping women.

Behind it all is Evie Black, the supernatural force you would come to expect from a Stephen King novel.  Both malevolent and insightful, its hard to cast her as either hero or villain. She clearly sits somewhere in between.  Awake and safe in a prison cell, she forms much of the conflict in the text as the characters battle for what to do with her.

Nothing extraordinary here, this novel is very much “in the pocket” for King.  No more than a comfortable read.

Book Review of Robin Sloan’s Sourdough

sourdoughI am so far behind with my reviews… which is awful as this was such a great read, one of those books with a simple beauty that affirms a lot of positives in life.

Lois works for a tech company as a programmer.  It’s an all-pervasive kind of job – she often sleeps at work and when too busy to eat, has a synthetic nutrient called Slurry.  It’s tasteless, but keeps you going,  On day, she gets a pamphlet in her letterbox for a take-away service that delivers spicy soup and sourdough.  That phone call for the first serving changes her life.  Lois quickly becomes their ‘Number 1 Eater’, and daily spicy soup reminds her of the pleasures of life.  She also comes to feel she knows the two brothers – one who cooks and one who delivers.

Then, the two brothers encounter Visa issues and leave San Francisco… but before they go, they leave Lois their sourdough starter.  It is a living, breathing thing with quirks and needs of its own. Lois learns to treat it well and soon she too is baking the delicious sourdough that made her days bearable.

Sharing the loaves introduces her to so many new people and opportunities, and soon Lois finds her whole life shaped around baking and caring for the starter.  And then the critical question – is she a programmer or a baker?  It’s one she wrestles with for a while.

There’s so much more here as Lois enters the market scene where daring new foods and new ways of cooking allow her to combine her two worlds briefly – but she soon realises she cannot sustain what she has begun.

A wonderful novel, perfect for anyone who wants life to slow down a bit.

Book Review of The Making of Men

I first came across Dr Arne Rubinstein at the Positive Schools conference mid year. He making o fmenreally impressed me with his session about the importance of creating Rites of Passage for young men in the modern world, as well as how he ran the session. Initially, I was uncomfortable with the sharing and small groups, but of course by the end of it, felt much closer to the people around me. After all – according to Dr Rubinstein – ‘nobody ever liked each other less by knowing each other more’.
Between this, and a scheduled visit to my school this week, I made my way through his The Making of Men. Despite similar subject matter, I enjoyed this much more than the Carr-Gregg I finished just before it. This is a positive book full of advice about how to assist young men to be the best they can be. It’s informed by research as well as Dr Rubinstein’s personal experiences as a medical doctor and in the field. The entire last section outlines Rites of Passage in more depth and is well worth a look for parents and educators.