Saturday, June 30, 2012

"Angels' Flight" by Nalini Singh

I first read one of these stories in another collection, "Angels of Darkness". I'd picked up that book primarily due to the story by Sharon Shinn; I'd read her Samaria series and absolutely adored it. Imagine my surprise at how much I loved "Angel's Wolf", the offering by Nalini Singh. I'd seen her name on some of the groups I belong to on various websites, and knew that she was considered a pretty good romance writer. I enjoyed "Angel's Wolf" so much that when I saw she had a collection coming out of four of her own angel stories, I decided to pick it up as soon as I could. (Which meant waiting for it to show up in our library system, as we know I rarely buy books anymore.)

This is a lovely book, and I must admit that it makes me want to read her full-length novels in this series (Guild Hunter). "Angels' Pawn" starts us off, and I think this was probably the weakest of the four selections. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there's a book with these two characters in it somewhere, a book I probably should have read before this story, as I felt like I was missing a lot of history between said characters. Vampire Hunter Ashwini must work with smoldering Cajun vampire Janvier to prevent an all-out war between two rival vampire factions. Of course, the vamps are being pitted against each other, unbeknownst to them (or maybe not - never really clear on that). Janvier seems like the epitome of forbidden fruit, while Ashwini seemed...I don't know. I just didn't feel her character much. As I said, I know there's history between these two, and perhaps I'll learn more if I read the series.

In "Angels' Judgment", we meet Sara, candidate to succeed Simon as Guild Director. But first she must complete one last mission, tracking down a suspected rogue hunter and delivering justice. During her investigation she meet Deacon, aka The Slayer (and yes, there is a nice little nod to his nickname coming from a certain TV show), the one sent to dispatch hunters gone astray. Of course, this is no walk in the park, as the angels that make up the Cadre of Ten will be watching Sara - watching her pass or fail the tests they set in front of her. It's going to be a long couple of days, but with Deacon by her side, she can survive anything. Anything but a broken heart: as Director, she cannot be seen as weak, and as The Slayer, he must keep himself cut off from emotional ties. Nice character development, and from what I understand, this is actually backstory to one of the novels, showing how these two became a couple.

As I said previously, I'd already read "Angel's Wolf", and it was great. The vampire Noel has been sent to investigate a potential murder plot in angel Nimra's court. There's intrigue all around, and Noel is anything but friendly toward the angels, having been beaten and broken in a previous court. But Nimra catches this damaged vamp's heart with her kindess and beauty (she has a unique fondness for kitty cats), and he quickly becomes her biggest fan. Which means he has to discover who wants to kill her and deal with them. What I loved about this story is that all is not as it seems, with some nice plot twists rounding out a nice little love story.

Finally, we have "Angels' Dance", my absolute favorite. This is the engaging and wholly romantic tale of Jessamy and Galen. Jess, a thousand-year-old angel, is the teacher and historian at the Refuge; she doesn't leave it due to a misformed wing. She is the only angel with such a deformity, and feels if humans see her, they'll know that angels have weaknesses. She spends her time instructing the angel children and tending the library. Enter Galen, a huge brute of an angel who has come to present himself to the archangel Raphael in hopes of becoming his weapons master. Galen is blunt in all he does, including his sweet attempts at wooing Jess. She can't imagine what he sees in her; she's "not right", and too skinny. He sees her inner beauty, looking at her more like a delicate exotic flower than a crippled angel. The chemistry between the two is immediate and undeniable, and when Galen first takes Jess flying, it's breathtaking. A fabulous story of what love can truly do for one's soul. This reminded me so much of Shinn's Samaria series, I found myself wanting to go back and read all five of those books! Singh really delivered on this one, not only in the character development and the plotting, but also in the exquisite scenery exposition. I literally felt like I was flying through the heavens with Jess and Galen.

Overall, if you've never read Singh before, this would be a great place to start. If you're a fan already, pick this up for the last story (there are several Amazon customers who were upset that this is almost a total reprint of previous material.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Managing the Unmanageable: How to Motivate Even the Most Unruly Employee" by Anne Loehr and Jezra Kaye

Who changed the rules of business?

It's a different game now. In an increasingly globally diverse workforce, it's vitally important that leaders understand their team inside and out. This takes a new toolbox of skills for the 21st century. Today you need winning strategies to avoid the costly pitfalls of high turnover, low morale and poor collaboration, not to mention the cost of missed deadlines and incomplete projects.

Managing the Unmanageable will give you practical tips and proven techniques to show you how to:

  • Understand what's driving your unmanageable employee.
  • Evaluate the costs and benefits of turning him around.
  • Enroll her in that effort, and help her become a valued member of your team.
  • Guide all your employees to greater innovation, cooperation, and effectiveness.
  • Communicate effectively with each of the three generations in today's workplace.
Since September 2011 I have had to work in two different branches on a regular basis. Included in my group of "new" co-workers are those who are technically my superiors, and those that are technically not. It's been challenging to try to become part of the "new" team, as I really do not have a place on said team, not permanently, and not 40 hours every week. (I work at the other branch for about 12 hours every other week). My direct co-workers at my branch also assist at this other branch, again not permanently and for only 8 hours every other week.

I was hoping by reading this book I would gain some insight into the different personalities I now encounter in both co-workers and patrons (because I do consider the patrons when I enroll in any sort of education, as they are ultimately my customers). Even though this book is directed at managers with employee issues, I thought there might be some knowledge to be gained as I looked through the list of "types": the excuse-maker, the grumbler, the egomaniac, the loose cannon, the joker, the slacker, etc. Who hasn't encountered someone that fits into a category like these?

At first the book was very interesting and informative. I was especially struck by one of the worksheets that a manager is supposed to work through before deciding to "commit or quit" on the employee: the "cost" worksheet. It made complete sense to put down how much time the manager has had to spend with the "UE", as the authors refer to the "problem" employees for simplicity's sake, how much time the manager spends soothing other employees who are upset by the UE, etc. But one of the factors is how much it will take to replace said employee, which the authors state should be calculated as 2-2 1/2 times the employee's annual salary. That can be a lot of money! And it explains why companies, at times, push for raises and other compensation to keep employees, rather than let them leave (or help them leave) and start the replacement process. If you have someone working a "menial" low-wage job, this isn't such a concern, as the replacement cost won't be very high. But if you're looking at someone who earns $50,000 or more per year, that can give one a good reason to pause and reconsider giving someone a pink slip.

However, the book became tedious very quickly as the authors worked through the different types of UE's. I understand why they went through each personality in a full chapter, as different people have different hot buttons, needs, currency, etc. But reading through the "5 Cs" each time got rather boring. And I was also put off by the examples as well; they are all in upper-level, office-type settings. Not once was a government job used, or perhaps something in retail (where you can have managers/employees making decent money once they've put in a few years and worked their way up - and where there's a lot of stress). These would all be considered white-collar jobs, and that's being discriminatory in my humble opinion. What about a production line setting? That would have been a great example! Or a construction setting, or anything "blue-collar" - where you can also have grumblers, slackers, egomaniacs, etc.

In the end, I didn't get as much out of this as I had been hoping. It's not a bad book, but it's geared towards a much smaller niche than I would have liked. I found myself skimming through a lot of the last chapters. What I take away from this is don't let small things fester, communicate by asking "open" questions, and be prepared to work if you want to "salvage your UE". And perhaps that's the best thing to remember: these are people we're talking about, not "UEs", and we should discuss them as such.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"The Bride Wore Black Leather" by Simon R. Green

In the secret heart of London, under the cover of endless darkness, the Nightside caters to anyone with any unusual itch that needs to be scratched. But enter at your own risk. The party animals who live here may be as inhuman as their appetites...

My name is John Taylor. The Nightside is my home. I didn't plan it that way. In fact, I once tried to get away. But I cam back. And now it seems I'm settling down, with a full-time job (in addition to my work as a very private eye) as Walker - the new representative of the Authorities in the Nightside - and a wedding in the offing.

I'm marrying the love of my life, Suzie Shooter, the Nightside's most fearsome bounty hunter. But nothing comes easy here. Not life. Not death. And for certain, not happily-ever-after. Before I can say "I do," I have one more case to solve as a private eye - and my first assignment as Walker.

Both jobs would be a lot easier to accomplish if I weren't on the run, from friends and enemies alike. And if my bride-to-be weren't out to collect the bounty on my head...

I'm sort of feeling a love-hate relationship with this entry in Green's Nightside series. As always, I love John Taylor and his weird and wicked world. But this time felt...somehow less. Perhaps it's due to John's new role as Walker, although I couldn't really tell much difference from "old" John to "new" John. He might be a bit more reserved in his reactions to people, a bit less violent in how he handles them, but I don't think that was it. I just couldn't quite put my finger on it...

Perhaps the problem was the pacing of the story. Once I read the book blurb, I expected John to be on the run for most of the book, and that isn't the case at all. In fact, the running doesn't start until about half-way through this story, and I never felt like John was in any real danger; I knew he'd end up being cleared. I also didn't believe that Suzie was one of the many looking to bring him in and/or kill him. I don't know if that's because I couldn't believe the character would ever do such a thing or if Green just didn't do a good enough job convincing me that she had turned on John, too.

But all is not lost; the main adventure of the story has John paired with Julian Advent. I've always adored Julian and his proper British gentleman manner, and he's a perfect foil for John. Also happy to see John's secretary/girl Friday, Cathy, who has been all too absent in the last few installments. Actually, we see a lot of John's old friends and enemies, and after reading the reviews on Amazon, I now know why: this is the last book in the Nightside series. It still doesn't change my opinion of it being a solid "C", and I guess that's what disappoints me. I would like to have felt that the last book was an "A+", sending John out with a bang, which is what he deserves. As this book stands, I would say Green sent him out with a fairly decent but reserved party. Sad to see him go, but perhaps my feelings are an indication that it's time to say farewell to this old friend.

Then again, Green's website says: Please note; This is the last Nightside novel featuring John Taylor and friends and the last Nightside novel for the time being.

I'm thinking we haven't seen the last of John Taylor. In that case, I will say "adieu" rather than goodbye...

"Fat is the New 30: The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Coping with (the crappy parts of) Life" by Jill Connor Browne

The Sweet Potato Queens are back and bawdier than ever in Southern belle extraordinaire Jill Connor Browne's ninth edition of the hysterical series. Having experienced pretty much ALL of the crappy parts of life, Brown feels it is her duty to render whatever assistance she can to her fellow sufferers - and she does so in her own inimitable fashion.

Her father taught her there are very few situations in life that we really and truly cannot change, and it is up to us to figure out how to either make fun OUT of them - or make fun OF them. And fortunately for the rest of us, Brown is well equipped for both. Including the exploits of the Queen contingent and her family, she delivers tidbits like:

  • Thinking or talking about watermelon can save any negative situation.
  • If you get drunk in Scotland, you can't have your cow with you.
  • When sanity and reason fail, you can always cheerfully resort to ridicule.
  • Denial means that every situation is perfectly perfect.
More fun that a Cracker Barrel full of monkeys, [this book] will change your life - or at least give you ideas for making fun of yourownself.

As always, an SPQ book is good for what ails ya. I laughed, and yes, I cried. Sometimes from laughing so hard, and at the end, from feeling the grief that Ms. Browne has felt at the loss of her dear mama.

I've read every book in this series, and I highly recommend them. There just really isn't anything else I can say other than read them for yourself. Funny, touching, thought-provoking, and always filled with at least one mouth-watering recipe.

In fact, now that I think about it, I find myself wanting something sweet. And something salty. And just generally yummy. Thanks Jill!