Book review of “LinkedIn for Military”

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LinkedIn for Military: A Warrior's Guide for Changing Careers

LinkedIn for Military: A Warrior’s Guide for Changing Careers provides tips on using the business social network LinkedIn tailored for veterans as they transition from military to civilian employment.  It covers how to convey your career experience in LinkedIn, writing your profile summary, avoiding military acronyms, how to use your contacts to expand your LinkedIn following, and tips on joining LinkedIn groups.

The surprising thing about this book is how short it is.  At 32 pages with 14 point font with generous spacing, this is really an article in book format.  Not that a book on best practices for LinkedIn needs to be very long, but I was expecting something more substantive.

For example, “chapter” 2 is about crafting a powerful LinkedIn summary for your profile.  There are helpful suggestions on how to go about having an elevator pitch for yourself and using your career highlights in your LinkedIn profile.  But it would have been even more helpful if the book included additional examples of strong summaries and bad ones.  Instead, each chapter only includes one or two examples, and they’re almost always Air Force examples.

One area that the book does not get into is how to share updates or posts with your LinkedIn network.  Posting information to LinkedIn periodically about your field can help reinforce your expertise and drive engagement within your business network.

The best tip in the book is that you should get some people to read your LinkedIn profile and tell you what they think.  That’s always good advice, and I would add onto it by saying you should try to get somebody without military experience to read it to make sure your military jargon is readable, and try to get somebody outside of your family to read it for an objective critique.

I liked the concept of a short book advising veterans about proper use of LinkedIn, but this book left me very underwhelmed.

Book review: Sabotaged

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Alaskan Courage #5

The premise of a thriller against the backdrop of the Iditarod sled race is an exciting one.  The novel (Sabotaged, 2015) starts strong.  Kirra’s cousin Meg is abducted.  Kira’s uncle Frank, a musher in the race, is coerced by criminals into doing a mysterious job for them before they will release Meg.  Frank is able to tell Kirra and her burgeoning love interest, Reef, what happened to Meg.  He wants them to rescue Meg without involving the police.

At first, Kirra and Reef appear to have a testy relationship.  The development of the romance between them is fairly predictable, and once it has developed, it unfortunately becomes a bit saccharine.  More conflicts or disagreements between the two as they investigate Meg’s abduction may have helped.  Though Kirra is nervous about Reef’s trustworthiness early on, he is generally depicted as strong, caring, tenacious, and faithful.  Kirra is scarred and impulsive, but he appears to have no faults, and I think because of that I became bored by their romance.

I was prepared to accept the exclusion of the police, but it did bother me after a while.  Kirra and Reef virtually become the police, seeking out leads and questioning them like characters are questioned in police procedurals.  The detective-style was an interesting but unexpected approach, and to me it almost became more technical than thrilling.

That being said, Dani Pettrey is a gifted writer who has a way with words.  The characters are grounded in Christian beliefs which is refreshing compared to other novels these days.  The Alaskan Courage series also has great covers, conjuring up a spirit of beautiful outdoor adventure.

I read this book partly because it’s on a Goodreads list called “Fiction: Police, Military & Service Dogs.”  It isn’t the fault of Pettrey that the book has been branded by readers this way, but unfortunately the listing (and cover and dust jacket involving the Iditarod) set up an unrealistic expectation for me.  I thought the Iditarod and the sled dogs would feature much more prominently in the plot.  Growing up in the South and being accustomed to labs and hounds, the idea of huskies and sled dogs always seemed very exotic and compelling to me.  I got my hopes up that I would learn something about the dogs of the Iditarod in this novel.  There was some information about the race itself, most of the action took place outside the Iditarod trail, and nothing about the dogs.

Oh well.  It was still an enjoyable romantic suspense novel if that type of book appeals to you.

Book review: Listening for Lions

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A moving little book, tenderly and achingly written.

In Gloria Whelan’s Listening for Lions (2005), Rachel is the daughter of a workaholic physician in Kenya.  The flu kills her parents and Valerie, a girl her age.  Valerie’s parents pretend to help Rachel, but actually intend her to pose as their daughter for selfish reasons to be learned later on in the book.

As an adult reader, your heart goes out to Rachel because you see how she blames herself for so many things that should be blamed on selfish grown-ups surrounding her.  Rachel fears that she will get in trouble for many things, like initially agreeing to Valerie’s parents’ plans, which, as an adult, you can see that she really won’t get in trouble for.  Despite Rachel’s intelligence and strength, she is too innocent or immature to foresee exactly what consequences will befall her if the truth of her identity does or does not come out.

Listening for Lions is written for young audiences.  It is marked by insightful, clear, but almost dreamlike prose.  At less than 200 double-spaced pages, it’s a quick read, but it’s not really the kind of book you’d want to rush through.  It encourages sitting back and weighing the words carefully, like you’re listening to a good old story from a grandmother or great aunt.

Just don’t expect much at all about lions.  Rachel loves Kenya, birds, books, and helping people.  She likes the roars of lions late at night, and she misses those sounds when she is in England.  But there is never a significant scene or deep connection involving a lion.  The lion’s roar is basically auditory wallpaper.  Compared to her lifelong interest in birds, making lions a title element is misleading.

Still, recommended, especially for smart or strong girls.

Book review: a star is born with Carrion Safari

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Jonah Buck's book about Denise DeMarco, who want to retire from the big game hunting business, but she gets an offer she can't refuse

I read a lot of novels about monsters on the attack.  Carrion Safari (2016) is the best one published since James Patterson’s Zoo (2012).  If Jonah Buck, its author, were a stock, I’d advise my clients to buy as many shares as possible, because he has a great touch and potential for growth.

Denise is a South African big game hunter and safari guide in the 1920s.  After being sickened watching a group of Belgian dentist clients mercilessly shoot a herd of elephants, she hangs up her elephant gun and quits.  But Herschel Hobhouse, representing the research arm of deep-pocketed corporation named Yersinia, offers her $100,000 to capture a specific animal.  She agrees, and travels about the Shield of Mithridates toward Malheur Island, an island of natives under vaguely Dutch colonial influence.  She finds that nine other hunters have been enlisted on the mission too.  It’s difficult to say too much more about their expedition without giving plot spoilers.

The reason that it is difficult not to reveal plot developments is because this is a well-crafted book that reveals significant developments in chunks over time.  I wouldn’t necessarily call the developments “surprises” or “plot twists”; more like miniature mysteries that are solved incrementally as the book progresses.  It makes for a nice atmosphere of uncertainty, anxiety, and even wonder.

Through pithy comments and crackling soundbites by colorful characters, Buck exhibits a great sense of humor.  Carrion Safari includes vivid and grizzly descriptions.  Buck could easily write horror if he wants to.  The plot and pace of the novel are good, so he could write thrillers if he prefers.  I’d read more of his work either way.  If this book were made into a movie, and it certainly could be, I’d be there on opening night.

Before reading this book, I read a review or two somewhere complaining that Carrion Safari has too many anachronisms.  But the thing is, the whole premise is obviously made up.  It’s about a mysterious island with actual monsters.  Readers accept that, but somebody is upset that words and traits from the 2000s being used by characters in the 1920s?  Lighten up!  Check out blockbuster contemporary movies like “The Legend of Tarzan” and tell me that transplanting our values and catchphrases a century or so is that serious of a problem.  The anachronisms are designed for entertainment purposes—the modern-sounding comments and sarcasm are funny!—they are not for the purposes of rewriting history, and should be understood as such.

My one complaint is that there are too many characters.  Each of the nine or ten hunters has his or her own traits and backstory, and it’s way too much to keep track of.  I confused a couple of them and never really understood who some of them were, which impaired my ability to follow certain plot developments.  I wish there had been a way to condense the number to five or six, tops.  That would have made things tighter, clearer, and would have earned this book a fifth star.

Book review: The Valley soars

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Atmospheric war noir

In Afghanistan, Lieutenant Black is dispatched from the relatively secure and administrative environment of Forward Operating Base Omaha to investigate a complaint at Combat Outpost Vega up the valley to the north.  The Valley (published in 2015) is basically a detective novel in a war zone, or combat noir.

What Black investigates is an allegation that the infantry unit at Vega used excessive force in calming the villagers during a tense visit.  Nobody was killed or injured during the excessive force incident.  Black knows he will not get a friendly reception since he is basically a desk soldier being sent to interrogate soldiers who are spending every day fighting for their lives about a trivial incident.  But the reaction Black gets is more than chilly.  It is disrespectful, evasive, and venomous.  Through a painful series of interviews, a disastrous visit to the village, and glimpses of the commander’s personal possessions, Black becomes convinced that there is more than meets the eye at Vega.

Where The Valley soars is in its dark atmosphere, detailed military authenticity, and its careful ratcheting up of the tension surrounding the unknown mischief at Vega.  Black is not a conventional hero.  There’s a reason he’s been doomed to a desk job, although we’re not sure why.  He is cynical and almost friendless.  He appears to have a casual attitude about drugs, which is not impressive in an officer.  But the men he’s charged to investigate are even worse:  an insubordinate gang of sullen hotheads running Vega like a cross between Lord of the Flies and Kurtz’s station in Heart of Darkness.

Renehan manages to create true suspense and curiosity in the reader’s mind about what Black will uncover, and what will happen when he finds out the truth.  This makes The Valley worth the time to read.

The book also gives an on-the-ground flavor for being forward deployed in Afghanistan, which is essential to understand as an American, a taxpayer, and a voter 15 years into the war.  To be frank, it is amazing how little time and attention has been given by the news media and presidential candidates to discuss the vital subject of America’s involvement in Afghanistan.

A small, minor note:  it was tricky to keep mental track of the fictional COP Vega in relation to the village, the “Meadows,” the supply route, and the different observation points described in the book.  A one-page map in the front would have been helpful to understand what the characters had to go through to get from one point to another.

The first four-fifths of the book was great, but it became choppy and implausible toward the end.  It felt like the author, even at the end, didn’t want to come right out and say what happened, so we kept being fed crumbs and riddles.  That was annoying.  Don’t get me wrong, there is an explanation and conclusion, but it’s broken up across too many different scenes and characters throughout the final pages.  The ending is somewhat happy; for such a dark book with a cynical main character, that struck me as inconsistent.

But I would still highly recommend this book to anybody who likes thrillers, mysteries, crime, or military fiction.

Book review: Blackout will keep you up late

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Blackout, a thriller by David Rosenfelt

This book really snuck up on me.  At first, I was put off by the prospect of a hero suffering from amnesia.  It sounded hokey and soapy.  I read this as part of a group read, and wouldn’t have selected it on my own, so I wasn’t expecting much.  But about halfway through, Blackout (published in 2016) really started growing on me.  The amnesia thing stopped being a contrivance, and set the stage for a clever and unique investigation.

New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock is investigating a white collar crime boss with potential ties to domestic Muslim terrorists.  Just as he’s about to crack the case, he’s shot and loses his memory from the past 10 years.  He has to retrace his steps with help from another police officer, Jessie, who is an ex-girlfriend doing computer forensics work for the department.  Using his GPS data, she is able to provide him with a list of locations he visited during his investigation.  The tricky thing is that he’s never sure why he went to most of the places, or who he talked to, or what they talked about.  They didn’t even want to talk to him the first time.  You can imagine how happy they are to see him a second time, being confronted by questions like, “What did I ask you about the last time I was here?”

“Is this a joke?” is a typical response he gets.  He handles it better as he runs into more situations like that.  “Hey, my partner wants to hear what we talked about last time from your own mouth.  Humor us.”  These scenes were very amusing.

Doug is rash and impulsive, repeating some of the same dangerous mistakes the second time around that he made during the initial investigation.  But this time he has Jessie working with him, and Nate, his old partner.

Time is of the essence in the case.  Doug can’t afford to wait on his memory coming back, which his doctors tell him may or may not come back at all.  Finding out how many risks he took to crack the case the first time, Doug realizes it must be important enough to take risks to solve again.

The relationship between Doug and Jessie is intentionally awkward since they started dating and broke up during the timespan of Doug’s missing memories.  The way they start getting back together didn’t quite work for me.  It seemed like Jessie was adamant about not getting back together, and then one night she seems to cave.  It was a little sudden and weird.

For me, the police investigation was the more interesting component.  Despite the GPS data, this is basically an old-fashioned, somewhat dark detective novel, which is a compliment.  Blackout is a short book with a built-in clock ticking toward the resolution.  I don’t usually stay up late to read anything, but as I came toward the end of this book I made an exception.

Book review: Elephant Company offers compelling details

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Cover of book about elephants in Burma in WWII and pre-war period

Marvelous.  For nonfiction, Vicki Croke has spun quite the yarn about Jim Williams (aka Bill Williams), elephant logging expert, and his life and times in the jungles of Burma.  Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II (published in 2014) reads almost like a novel.

In 1921, Williams signs on with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation as a forest assistant in the teak logging industry in Burma.  He supervises uzis who are the Burmese elephant handlers with multiple teams of elephants throughout his assigned territory.  He must contend with Harding, an older, grizzled Brit who likes giving newbies a hard time.  Williams is very sensitive to the needs of elephants and the Burmese people, often behaving more like biologist or sociologist than a corporate field manager.  He sets out to learn everything he can about elephants and their culture.  Eventually, Williams earns Harding’s respect.

Readers learn a great deal about working elephants in the process.  In Burma, the Asian elephant is domesticated up to a point—as somebody in the book suggests—domesticated for eight hours a day.  After working their shift, they go off to forage on their own and spend time with their elephant families.  In the morning they grudgingly report back to work, but seem to enjoy the cat-and-mouse relationship with their handlers.  We learn about elephant anatomy (for example, they can’t lie on their sides for long because of how their chest and lungs are configured), their habits (such as taking their time before river crossings until one female always steps forward to lead them across), but more importantly, their generosity of spirit, exhibited most vividly by Bandoola, the elephant hero of the book, who establishes a very close working relationship with Williams over the years, performing every logging and wartime assignment with enormous strength, responsiveness, and discernment.

Williams also meets a British woman, which isn’t an easy thing to do in the jungle, and they marry.  They are very compatible and both happy.  They experience hardships in the field, but like Williams, she is hale and hearty, and starts having children.

Then the war comes.  For those of you who are more interested in military history than in elephant husbandry, this book may not meet your expectations.  It takes a long time before this book gets to World War II.  When it comes, it is focused at first on the evacuation of women and children, which the elephants help with as pack animals.  The military wants to continue using elephants in that way, for hauling heavy loads during the war.  But Williams convinces them that elephants are smart enough that their skills be put to better use as master bridge builders.  That is the elephants’ primary contribution to the Allies in Burma during the war.  Do not read this book expecting a 20th century version of Hannibal’s elephant cavalry charge.  These are transport and engineering elephants, not cavalry elephants.

Croke’s respect for Williams, Bandoola, and elephants in general is evident throughout the book.  At a couple of points, the praise is laid on a bit thick, but it is difficult not come away with a similar respect for those depicted in the book.  For me, the highlight was the opportunity to learn about elephants and their interactions with humans in such fascinating detail.