Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Goldfinch -- Donna Tartt ---------------- 4.5 Stars

Before I get into my review for the wonderful The Goldfinch, I want to note and celebrate accomplishments. 

#1 - This is my 100th book review. 
#2 - This blog has been now going for almost 6 years. 
Who would have thought back in 2009 I would still be attending to this so many years later?  Who also would have thought I would have read so many books?  Not me for either question.  I truly impressed myself!

Anyway, let's get to this fine book.  The Goldfinch is a real pleasure.  In fact, the hardest part of writing this review was trying to determine if it should be 4.5 stars or 5.  It's been floating around lately as a pretty popular book from last year and my sister said I would like it.  As she described it to me though, I got concerned.  Some orphan kid, something about artwork, use of drugs... it all seemed a bit odd to me, but man am I happy I read it.

So the plot isn't critical to the book.  Don't get me wrong, it's a very good plot with some real action at the end and some excitement, but coming in at over 700 pages, this book is much more about the characters.  And what great characters there are.  There's a variety of interesting and intriguing characters but the book is still built around the first person narrator - an orphan.  What makes the characters so wonderful?  A lot, but for me, their well fleshed out histories add so much to each individuals story.  Whether young or old, you truly understand how the history of their lives does so much to affect their current behavior.  Tartt does a great job of really rounding off each character so you can truly understand their motivaitons.

Why else is this book so good?  Well, it's wildly entertaining.  Written in modern times, the descriptions of various settings are pretty fascinating; be it New York, Las Vegas or Europe, you get a real sense for the certain places in these cities.  It also includes gratuitousness.   Not overwhelming, but the amount of drug use described could have killed a small horse.  Also, writing and including dialogue of modern speakers (with developmentally appropriate conversations depending upon character) was done quite well.

I also really enjoyed the book because, at the end of the day, it's a story about beauty.  Defining that beauty and how it might change from person to person is, of course, an underlying current but the beauty of a piece of art is a pivotal part of the story.  The idea that some paint on a piece of wood from nearly 500 years ago can so significantly pervade the livelihoods of people throughout history is truly fascinating.  What else is beauty though?  Unrequited love between a boy and girl?  Pure platonic love between two friends?  Love of an actual craft like woodworking?  All of these questions and others are identified and left for the reader to sift through in this book.  I highly recommend it to all!   

What a wonderful book to have read for my 100th review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fierce Conversations -- Susan Scott ---------------------- 3.5 Stars

This book was on my list of a work type book that still might be an interesting read.  As you can imagine from the title, Fierce Conversations, this book is about having more open, and forward conversations in work and in life.  It had a pretty good model on how to do that but one that if you followed all the way through, might make life a bit crazy.

So, this is a sort of typical self-help book with a bit more flavor to it with the author giving some interesting anecdotes from her time helping people be more open.  Basically, the book is suggesting that in all conversations, people should be honest and to the points; always considering 'what is the most important thing we should be talking about right now'.  The book has about 6-7 chapters that help explain how to have these conversations and what happens after.

On a positive, her very clearly detailed explanations for how you have a 'fierce conversation' was excellent.  She literally explains every step and how to prepare prior to the conversations and how to have them.  I also really enjoyed the later chapters in the book about dealing with the 'emotional wake' of these conversations and allowing silence to have some value and importance.  The book is told in a pretty easy way to understand and her use of stories from her experience teaching people how to do this, really did make the book more enjoyable.

What wasn't great about the book was the intense focus in the first half about the actual conversations.  I am all about being open and truthful but it sometimes felt like the author was living in a world where pleasantries and small talk don't exist.  To say some of her ideas are a bit 'intense' is an understatement.  Again, the general idea is good, but it was kind of overwhelming to read page after page about how to change conversations to be 'fierce'.  Frankly it would be exhausting to do at all times (both mentally and emotionally).

Overall, this is a book that is definitely worth the read if you would like some useful and practical strategies to better set up and have good conversations.  Although a bit intense and very detailed and clear with suggestions, there are some good ideas, especially in the last part of the book.  Just be careful not to go too crazy with the suggestions or you might find that the friends you had might not be as friendly any more.