Saturday, December 27, 2014

87. "The Vampire Diaries: Awakening" by L. J. Smith

Smith, L. J. The Vampire Diaries: Awakening. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

276 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

After reading Vampire Diaries: Awakening, I have a really hard time believing that Stephenie Meyer never read vampire fiction. Twilight parallels this book so very closely, it almost seem like she ripped off the story from L. J. Smith. That being said, in Vampire Diaries: Awakening, Stefan Salvatore is a new guy in town and, naturally, he’s a vampire. Elena, the female protagonist of the story is haunted by the recent death of her parents and infatuated with Stefan but Stefan is too troubled about being a monster to truly let Elena into his heart. By the cliff-hanger ending, a love triangle has formed. Sound familiar?

I found this book entertaining but a bit dated. It’s dated in the ways it illustrated teenage social structures. In the story there is one “queen” of the high school (Elena) and her “crowd” of cool people. Their values and interests are shallow and materialistic. The social structures are reminiscent of the films Clueless and Can’t Hardly Wait; they’re very 90s era and irrelevant to teenagers of today’s world. My biggest issue was how manipulative Elena was in trying to “have” Stefan. I’m pretty sure Mean Girls blew this kind of behavior out of the water (again, going back to how 90s clich├ęd this book is). If she could drop the manipulation and give some concrete reasons for why she loves Stefan other than him being “so hot,” I might actually like her.

If we stripped away the 90s social structures, the story itself is pretty interesting. One of my favorite parts of reading vampire fiction is picking about the vampire mythology used in each series or book. These vampires don’t sparkle and in order to change from human to vampire, the Dracula method is used (vampire sucks human blood and then human drinks vampire blood). There are some other fun magical features to these vampires but I’ll leave that up to you to discover should you choose to read this book.

2 darts out of 5

This book is FOR people who: want a quick, meaningless read with some fun vampire characters.

This book is NOT FOR people who: want character depth or maturity.   

Saturday, December 20, 2014

86. "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni

Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

224 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Dysfunctional teams are something I’m sure many of you have experienced. You know the team—at a meeting one member stares off into space, another makes rude or sarcastic comments and the leader seriously fumbles the entire agenda. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team seeks to identify and alleviate the problems that arise when building a team. Lencioni argues that the success of a company depends largely on how successfully its leadership team acts as a high functioning team.

The first dysfunction is lack of trust followed by several others such as focusing on individual success rather than team success, lack of commitment to decisions, and an absence of healthy conflict. All of these concepts are first illustrated with a story about a team in the Silicon Valley experiencing some major dysfunction. To fix the problem, the CEO steps down and the board of directors brings in Kathryn, a woman with years of experience in leadership in the automotive industry, to fix the problems. Readers follow Kathryn as she walks the team through the steps of fixing the five major dysfunctions of the team.

Lencioni breaks down his concepts clearly and while some might think the story a bit cheeky, I found it really helpful to see how the concepts might play out in an actual organization. As a leader myself, I’m going to put some of these concepts to use and see how it goes!

3 darts out of 5

This book is FOR people who: want to learn more about management and leadership skills, and who may be interested in Industrial/Organizational psychology.

This book is NOT FOR people who: want empirical studies and intense management theory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

85. "Chronicles of Steele: Raven" by Pauline Creeden

**I was given this book in exchange for an honest review**

Creeden, Pauline. Chronicles of Steele: Raven, The Complete Story. AltWitPress, 2014.

249 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Raven is a reaper. She has been trained as an assassin, but for every life she takes she must redeem another. Her latest assignment is to protect a young boy, Darius, who has fits that cause electric and steam devices to go haywire. He’s the son of a duke who plans to have him killed if his fits are not cured. Raven’s job is to take young Darius to the Wood Witch in search of a cure.

Chronicles of Steele: Raven is a set of installments that were previous published separately. This steampunk fantasy novel takes readers on a magical quest. There are many stories woven into this journey from a romance turned heartbreak and the unbreakable bond between a daughter and her father. These stories are intriguing and, as a reader, I wish they were fleshed out more thoroughly. The story of Raven and her father could have been so much more touching had readers been given more details. I wanted to know her father’s quirks and see more of their interactions. I wanted more information about his death and why Raven felt so responsible for his death. I wanted more information about Gregory; what were some of the sweet moments they shared as children? I wanted to know more about Captain Jack. What is his back story? What has shaped him? These questions were left unanswered.

Chronicles of Steele is categorized as a steampunk fantasy novel and for people who have never read steampunk before, this would be a good starter. There wasn’t a whole lot of steam in the steampunk, though. Some of the genre staples were present: zeppelins, Victorian age clothing styles, steam powered horses and automaton servants. I wanted more of this stuff though! Steampunk is a genre that relies on details. Some of the reaper weapons were fantastic steampunk elements but there is more that could have been done here as well.

That being said I really enjoyed this book for its entertainment value and its girl power. Raven is a wonderfully feminist lead character. She’s someone I’d want as a friend and companion and I believe her to be a solid role model for young girls. The mission and story of the reapers was also interesting and I certainly hope that Creeden will continue writing stories about these mysterious warriors.   

3 darts out of 5

This book is FOR: people who want a good introduction to steampunk and a powerful female protagonist.

This book is NOT FOR: people who are deep into steampunk already.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

84. "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo

Russo, Richard. Empire Falls. New York: Random House, 2001.

483 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

I have a slight obsession with diners. There is something about old-fashioned diners with a line of bar stools, the smell of hamburger grease in the air, and a constant stream of coffee into anxiously awaiting mugs that makes me feel at peace with the world. I’m not sure why exactly, but I love any story whether told on film or in print, that has something to do with an old-fashioned diner.

Empire Falls is the story of a failing town in Maine, and the diner that is the heartbeat of the community, the Empire Grill. Miles Roby runs the grill for the invidious Mrs. Whiting. Miles is unsatisfied with life in Empire Falls, though he isn’t really aware of it. He is kindly reminded by his brother, daughter, and life-long crush that he wants more for himself and that his deceased mother had always wanted more from him as well.

Empire Falls is a character-driven novel. It tells the story of a small American town and its inhabitants, how they came to be who they are, how their pasts are interwoven and how their futures depend the next choice that Mrs. Whiting will make. Russo is an enchanting and masterful story-teller and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. Well-deserving of the Pulitzer, Empire Falls spirals into an unexpected climax that ties all the looped story lines together in a compelling and artful way. The title is apt as nearly everyone’s empire—Mrs. Whiting’s, Miles’, even John Voss’—falls by the story’s resolution.

I could not get enough of this book. I read it slowly, drinking it in as if I were sitting for coffee with Miles and the boys at the grill. It was a book that I didn’t want to end. I wanted to follow these characters through the rest of their lives. I imagine I will re-read this book several times and find something new to savor with each reading.

Empire Falls was turned into a TV miniseries that’s waiting in my Netflix queue. I’m excited to see how these characters will come to life on the “big screen. Empire Falls is by far one of the best books I’ve read in 2014.

5 darts out of 5

This book is FOR people who: like a character-driven read, can appreciate the literary artistry of a novel, and are interested in fictional depictions of small-town, American life.

This books is NOT FOR people who: want a fast-paced, action packed story, or are looking for a light romantic read (this story can get pretty heavy).