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Member ChallengeTracking 2016-20 > J.W.'s Crazy Dream 2018

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message 1: by Jeremiah (last edited Dec 31, 2018 09:15AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments My list of challenges for 2018 will be difficult to accomplish, but increasing my reading in key directions is important.

1. 25 Total Books Read (Up from 15 in 2017)*
2. Read Books for 5 Monthly Tags*
3. Decathlon Challenge*
4. Listopia Challenge*
5. Read Harder Challenge - DNF
6. Trim the TBR (personal challenge)*
7. Leadership through Andy Andrews (personal challenge)*

*Denotes a completed challenge.

message 2: by Jeremiah (last edited Dec 31, 2018 09:18AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments 25 Total Books Read (Not necessarily in the order to-be-read)

1. The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews (5 out of 5) Completed February 18

2. The Traveler's Summit by Andy Andrews (5 out of 5) Completed July 28

3. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (4 out of 5 Stars) March 31st

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3 out of 5 Stars) February 11th

5. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly (4 out of 5 Stars) Completed January 22

6. The Black Ice by Michael Connelly (3 out of 5 Stars) Completed August 1

7. The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly(4 out of 5 Stars) Completed August 27

8. The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly(4 out of 5 Stars) Completed November 1

9. The Poet by Michael Connelly(4 out of 5 Stars) Completed November 25

10. Trunk Music by Michael Connelly(3 out of 5 Stars) Completed December 31

11. Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman (5 out of 5 Stars) (March 21st)

12. A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea
(4 out of 5 Stars) (January 3rd)

13. Memory Man by David Baldacci (4 out of 5 Stars) (March 17th)

14. A Cold Day for Murder (1 out of 5 Stars) (April 20th)

15. Go: A Coming of Age Novel (3 out of 5 Stars)(May 24th)

16. The Fishermen (5 out of 5 Stars, Favorite) June 9th

17. Dept. of Speculation (4 out of 5 Stars) June 11th

18. The Fallen (4 out of 5 Stars) July 1st

19. On the Edge of Gone (5 out of 5 Stars) July 10th

20. The Christmas Catch (2 out of 5 Stars) July 11th

21. The Power (4 out of 5 Stars) July 25th

22. The Last Mile by David Baldacci (4 out of 5 Stars) July 20th

23. The Fix by David Baldacci (3 out of 5 Stars) August 1

24. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (5 out of 5 Stars) August 9th

25. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (3 out of 5 Stars) August 19

26. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance (3 out of 5 Stars) August 20

27. Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever (4 out of 5 Stars) September 6

28. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (3 out of 5 Stars) September 7

29. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (2 out of 5 Stars) September 23rd

30. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (4.5 out of 5 Stars) October 5th

31. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (5 Stars) October 14th

32. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe(5 Stars) November 7

33. The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr (5 Stars) November 18

34. Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (5 Stars) April 8

35. Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt (4 Stars) December 14

message 3: by Jeremiah (last edited Nov 18, 2018 05:41PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Books for 5 Monthly Tag

1. April - Strong Women - The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (5 out of 5 Stars)
1a. April - Strong Women - A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (1 out of 5 Stars)
2. May - Family Drama - Go: A Coming of Age Novel (3 Stars)
3. July - Dystopian - On the Edge of Gone (5 Stars)
3a. July - Dystopian - The Power (4 Stars)
4. August - Espionage - Warlight (5 Stars)
5. September - Friendship - China Rich Girlfriend (3 Stars)
5a. September - Friendship - She's Come Undone (2 Stars)
6. November - Literary Fiction - Things Fall Apart (5 Stars)
6a. November - Literary Fiction - The Shell Collector (5 Stars)

message 4: by Jeremiah (last edited Oct 02, 2018 06:10AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Decathlon Challenge

January - Tribute to Linda - The Black Echo by Michael Connelly - Completed January 22

February - Longest on TBR - The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger Completed February 11

March - Read all Three Tags for the Month (Made up in July with Dystopian, Neurodiversity, and Christmas) On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (5 out of 5 Stars) and The Christmas Catch by Ginny Biard (2 out of 5 Stars)

April - Randomizer - A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (1 out of 5) Completed April 20th

May - Man Booker Award - The Fishermen (5 out of 5 stars, favorite) Completed June 9th

June - Pick a memory - Dept. of Speculation (4 out of 5 stars) Completed June 11th

July - Buddy Read - The Power (4 out of 5 Stars) - Completed July 25th

August - Recommended for Monthly Tag - Warlight (5 out of 5 Stars) Completed August 9th

September - Rated 5 Stars by Administrator and Fits Monthly Tag - She's Come Undone (rated 5 stars by Anita) (2 out of 5 Stars) Completed September 23rd

October - Answered the 10 Questions

message 5: by Jeremiah (last edited Dec 31, 2018 09:19AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Listopia Challenge

List: Best by Michael Connelly

1. The Black Echo by MC 4 of 5, January 22
2. The Black Ice by MC 3 of 5, August 1
3. The Concrete Blonde by MC 4 of 5, August 27
4. The Last Coyote by MC 4 out of 5, November 1
5. The Poet by MC 4 out of 5, November 25
6. Trunk Music by MC 3 out of 5, December 31

message 6: by Jeremiah (last edited Aug 21, 2018 06:29AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge

1) A book published posthumously

2) A book of true crime

3) A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) The Black Echo, completed January 22

4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person

5) A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) - Completed January 6th

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea (partially set in China)

6) A book about nature

7) A western

8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

9) A book of colonial or postcolonial literature

10) A romance novel by or about a person of color

11) A children’s classic published before 1980

12) A celebrity memoir

13) An Oprah Book Club selection Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance - August 20th

14) A book of social science The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - March 31st

15) A one-sitting book

16) The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series

17) A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author

18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

19) A book of genre fiction in translation

20) A book with a cover you hate

21) A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author

22) An essay anthology

23) A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

24) An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

message 7: by Jeremiah (last edited Apr 01, 2018 01:31PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Trim the TBR

Added many books in December of 2012. Going to knock out at least two of those books in 2018.

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger February 11
2. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell March 31

message 8: by Jeremiah (last edited Jul 29, 2018 05:25AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Leadership through Andy Andrews

1. The Traveler's Gift (Yearly ReRead) February 18
2. The Traveler's Summit July 28

message 9: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
4 out of 5 Stars

I love when a book that you have never heard of ends up in your life and is an eye opening read. I had never heard of A River in Darkness but ended up with the book as a Kindle First choice. The idea of the story was so intriguing that I decided it would be my first audiobook of the year. I am glad I made that choice.

The story tracks the author's life from being born in Japan, immigrating to North Korea as a nationalization movement, and eventually his escape. While most know that life in North Korea is not easy, and has not been for years, hearing the first hand account of the life that those in North Korea are forced to live was heartbreaking. The thought that the homeless in our country often have it better than an average citizen in North Korea is frightening.

Overall, the book is well written and engaging. The author gives you plenty of information to understand the nature of the life the people were and are forced to live and yet not so much that you get bogged down in details. I chose to listen to the audiobook and it was tremendously well done. I recommend the book to anyone that enjoys biographies, multi-multicultural texts, or social issues in particular.

message 10: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
4 out of 5 Stars
January Decathlon Challenge
Listopia Challenge

I picked up this book as part of the decathlon and listopia challenges in this group, but also because the works of Michael Connelly were on my list of mystery works which I had never read. I can say without hesitation that I am very glad that I have chosen not only to read this book but multiple works of Michael Connelly during 2018.

The Positives of The Black Echo
My first and simplest test for a mystery work is whether or not the twist and turns are too obvious. At first, in reading this particular work I thought I was going to be disappointed because the first twist was just two obvious. However, and without spoilers, the second twist caught me by surprise. I was pleasantly surprised by this portion of the book.

While the last twist was not the most believable, it was the least obvious. Furthermore, I liked that the last twist left me disappointed in a character. I always appreciate an author that is willing to leave a reader disappointed in one of his/her characters. This fact alone makes me want to read more of the works of Michael Connelly.

Finally, a positive for me with this book was generally how cleanly it was written. Not only was their a lack of unnecessary profanity and sexuality, which was refreshing, but there was also a distinct lack of unnecessary details. I truly appreciate the skill of an author that does not rely on profanity and sexuality but really appreciate one who recognizes unnecessary detail and eliminates it from his/her writing.

The Negatives of The Black Echo
For me, the biggest downside of this book, and I assume the Michael Connelly works in general is the lack of chapters. The book is divided into fairly lengthy sections which makes it hard to find easy stopping places when reading off and on during the day.

In regards to the story, I really did not have any negatives. It was really enjoyable and well developed. Again, I would highly recommend the book.

message 11: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3 out of 5 Starts
PBT Decathlon

This book had been on my To-Be-Read list for many years. Some how I made it through high school without ever reading it and since then it has resurfaced many times but never been the book I picked up to read. As part of my reading goals for 2018, I planned to read some of the books that had been on my TBR since I joined Goodreads. An additional challenge made it even more enticing as a February read.

The Positives of The Catcher in the Rye
Although The Catcher in the Rye was written approximately 16 years prior to The Outsiders the writing style of Salinger very much reminded me of the style of S.E. Hinton. The style being a mix of stream of consciousness with extremely well written descriptions. The mix of the two created an odd sensation when reading, but not necessarily a negative one. As I finished the book I was actually surprised at how much I could visualize the events in the book.

The other positive for me in reading this book was the use of time. Although the book takes place over just a few days, the pace of the book never seemed to drag nor was it overly compressed. Salinger's writing allowed you to believe that the events in the book really could happen in the time frame allotted.

The Negatives of The Catcher in the Rye
The single biggest detractor for me with this book was a simple question of "why am I reading this?" There was simply nothing about the book that stood our or made some lasting impression in my mind. I cannot shake the feeling that I must have missed something with this book. I have heard so many say that it is a book you should read at different stages of your life because it will mean something different at each point. Well, it meant nothing to me at this point so not sure how that would change in 20 years.

This book has been taught and highly praised for so many years and I simply could not figure out why. It's not that the writing was bad, I just could not figure out the point of the story.

Overall, I am glad to have finally read this book that has been on my TBR list for so long, but its not one that I would recommend others immediately read.

message 12: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews
5 out of 5 Stars

This book is an annual re-read for me. With all of the books on my TBR, why would I choose to re-read this one every year? Quite simply because this book is so masterfully written, so beautiful, and so inspiring that I choose to gift it to myself again each year.

This book is not your run of the meal inspiration book. It includes an element of historical fiction, a bit of time travel, along with a captivating narrative. Ultimately though, the message of the Seven Decisions is one that can improve everyone's life.

To be clear, this is a book that I honestly believe every person should read. Maybe just once or multiple times like me, but all should read this book.

Below is a link to my original review from 2017:

message 13: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Memory Man by David Baldacci
4 out of 5 Stars

Chose this book because we already had it available from Audible and wanted to listen to a book on our very long-one day drive back from Arizona. I enjoy listening to audiobooks, and in particular I enjoy listening to David Baldacci works in audio format. This was a great read to pass the time while driving.

The Positives of Memory Man
It seems like with every Baldacci book my first positive comment is always about the character development in the story. This particular book was no different. Amos Decker is the main character and Baldacci does such an excellent job developing and creating this character. I enjoy a good series, but I am particularly drawn to reading more of this series because of how much I loved the development of the main character. I also appreciate the fact that Baldacci takes time to develop the secondary players as well.

The second positive for me in listening to this book was the interplay of very important social issues with the fun mystery that Baldacci was creating. I truly enjoy any good mystery, but I really enjoy it when the author is willing to tackle social issues and injustices as well.

The Negatives of Memory Man
My only real negative for this book were the narrators for the female characters. I felt like the narration of the male characters in the audio version was dynamic and enjoyable but the female characters all seemed a bit fake and forced. I really lost some of the enjoyment of this book because of the lesser quality of the narration.

message 14: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
5 out of 5 Stars

The hardest part in reviewing Multipliers is avoiding writing a ten page review. I don't know how I missed this book until now, but it will easily make my top ten reads for 2018. While the book is aimed at leaders, it is packed full of useful information for employees, parents, educators, community members, and virtually any other role you fill.

The Premise
The essential premise behind the book is that leaders fall into one of two categories. They are either a multiplier or a diminisher. Multipliers, in simplistic terms, make the people around them smarter and get more from people that work for and with them. On the other hand, diminishers get less than 50% capacity from the people that work for them or around them. Diminishers fall into two categories, intentional diminishers and accidental diminishers (the more common type).

The Setup
Wiseman presents the idea that there are essentially five disciplines of the multiplier. Anywhere from being a talent magnet to a debate maker. She argues that in order to be a true multiplier a leader needs to be proficient in three of the five disciplines. In the book, Wiseman describes each of the five disciplines, provides multiple real world examples of the discipline in action, juxtaposes the way a diminisher would handle a similar situation, and provides steps to gain proficiency in the discipline. At the end of the book, Wiseman also devotes a chapter each to accidental diminishers, dealing with diminishers, and how to become a multiplier.

A Favorite of Mine
One of my favorite things about this book is that Wiseman continually emphasizes that in order to be a successful leader it is necessary to have high standards and not only expect but demand that those working with you and for you meet those standards. She repeatedly points out the fact that becoming a multiplier does not happen by being soft or having low standards.

To put it plainly, this is a book that should end up in the hands of any professional. It should be a must read wherever you are at in your career.

message 15: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
4 out of 5 Stars

In the afterword, Gladwell writes, "I wrote my book without any clear expectation of who would read it, or what, if anything, it would be useful for." This quote truly summarizes the basis for my review of this book.

The Positives of The Tipping Point
The first and greatest of the positives of The Tipping Point is the mental intrigue the book causes. I enjoy reading Gladwell's books because they shift the reader's perspective and provide a new outlook on common issues. I particularly enjoyed this book because he takes on social issues of crime, education, and poverty from a new perspective.

On top of that though, I enjoyed this book because it has no bounds. As Gladwell said he had no particular purpose or audience in mind in writing the book. Therefore, while he provides case studies and examples in the book, the ideas can be applied to a wide spectrum of applications.

The Negatives of The Tipping Point
While having no particular audience and no particular purpose behind writing the book makes it applicable across many dimensions, it likewise makes the book feel dated. Because Gladwell uses specific examples to illustrate his point, I was often wondering if the "laws" he was explaining were still applicable in today's world. I feel like the older the book gets, the more questions are opened up about its truth.

Overall, this is another intriguing work by Gladwell. If you enjoy the social sciences, good writing, and thinking about marketing this is a good book to take on.

message 16: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
5 out of 5 Stars

This was one of those books that I had forgotten was on my TBR pile. Fortunately, a monthly reading tag in Play Book Tag helped me find it again. I was afraid it would take me most of the month to read given the length, but instead it was a true page turner. Longest book I have read in a while and maybe the fastest I have finished a book in over a year.

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

The Positives of The Nightingale
This story tells a side of WWII that is often not considered. I really enjoyed the fact that this book focused on what life was like for those living in Nazi occupied France. I especially enjoyed this aspect of the book because it was clear from the recommended readings that Hannah had done adequate research to ground the story in a reality of facts.

The other real positive for me in this book was the feeling that the characters were real. So often with historical fiction the characters seem larger than life or only one aspect of their character/personality is highlighted. Hannah does a nice job of creating characters that were truly dynamic and express the feelings I think anyone would in dealing with war in their home country.

The Negatives of The Nightingale
The major negative for me is the fact that the book drifts into talking about concentration camps and this aspect of WWII. I think in general the WWII genre, whether fiction, historical fiction, or non-fiction, is completely over-done. I see that a book is WWII related and it immediately is marked off my list. Fortunately, with this book I was able to get passed the overall genre, but at times it threatened to weight the book down.

message 17: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments A Cold Day for Murder
by Dana Stabenow

April - Randomizer

Cross-Posted to April Reads: Strong Women
Kate Shugak returns to her roots in the far Alaskan north, after leaving the Anchorage D.A.'s office. Her deductive powers are definitely needed when a ranger disappears. Looking for clues among the Aleutian pipeliners, she begins to realize the fine line between lies and loyalties--between justice served and cold murder.

This novel won Stabenow an Edgar for best paperback original in 1993. Based on the description, others reviews, and winning this award, this book had been on my TBR for several years and I was excited to finally get around to it. Now, I wish I had taken it off the list as soon as I added it. This very well might be the worst book I read this year and maybe in many years combined.

In my reviews, I normally give pros and cons about a book but I am not sure that I can actually give any pros about this book. The narrator is a strong female protagonist, but she is not believable as a character because the author lacks an ability to develop her characters. After reading 80 of 190 pages I was really wondering if the story was ever going to get started with any type of plot. Over the next 110 pages the mystery never developed until the main character solves the entire story in the last twenty pages out of the clear blue. This was truly an awful book. I cannot imagine picking up another work by Stabenow.

message 18: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro, Takami Nieda (Translator)
3 out of 5 Stars

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.

This was the second book I have read this year that dealt with the treatment of North Koreans living in Japan. While this was not my favorite read and it was fiction, I find the level of racism and discrimination against Koreans in Japan to be terribly disturbing and something I was not aware of until reading these books.

The Positives of Go: A Coming of Age Novel
Although a fictional account, I find learning about the culture that surrounds Koreans living in Japan to be very interesting. As Americans we often get the idea that racism is a uniquely American problem. We have convinced ourselves that everyone else in the world is better at tolerance than we are. However, when you read accounts like this it is a stark reminder that issue of racism, nationalism, and discrimination are not unique to any nation.

The Negatives of Go: A Coming of Age Novel
Maybe it was due to the novel being a translation, but the story was very choppy. The choppiness of the story made it really difficult to understand the timing and the relationships between all the characters. The flow of the novel just never really developed and in fact the book read more like a series of novellas rather than one complete story.

message 19: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Fishermen
5 out of 5 Stars

Told by nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, THE FISHERMEN is the Cain and Abel-esque story of a childhood in Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his absence to skip school and go fishing. At the forbidden nearby river, they meet a madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book's characters and readers.

This is easily one of the best pieces of fiction I have read in many years. The novel is dense, filled with figurative language, quality character development, and well crafted plot development, and as such it reads slower but is well worth the time and effort to read.

As the book jacket summary states, this is a Cain and Abel type story but it is so much more than that even in the area of biblical allusion. It is a story of what happens when moral leadership is removed, of what happens when hope gives way to despair, and possibly most importantly it is a story of redemption. This novel is truly in the vein of great novels when it comes to the use of biblical allusion.

The book is also timely as it deals with issues of mental health and how we treat and handle those with mental health problems as a society. While one of the primary characters clearly has mental health struggles, that cause strife for the narrator's family, their treatment and handling of the one with mental health struggles also raises issues of morality and character that cannot be ignored.

Lovers of classically written high-quality fiction should add this book to their shelves, but this book should also be making it into the list of literature taught in senior level classrooms across the country.

message 20: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
4 out of 5 Stars

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

The Positives of Dept. of Speculation
There were two primary positives for me with this book. The first was the open ended nature of the writing. Offill never provides names for the characters. Throughout the entire book they are "the wife" or "the husband" and on top of not providing names there is very little physical description of the characters. Their personalities are somewhat developed, but the open ended nature of not giving them a physical description nor a name really allows the reader to fill in the gaps in their own mind. That is generally the approach Offill takes to the entire book. The writing provides a good story, but leaves plenty of space for the reader to apply their own experiences and come away with their own unique interpretation.

The second positive with this book was the use of particular tropes throughout the book. My favorite was Offill's "Theater of Hurt Feelings". Anyone who has been married or in a long term relationship, whether romantic or platonic, has experienced this aspect of being human. When we enter that place everything is just a bit more over-the-top then it probably is the rest of our lives. The use of this imagery was truly enjoyable.

The Negatives of Dept. of Speculation
The aspect I struggled with the most was the form of the writing. When I began the book it felt like I was reading a collection of poems. Then a few chapters/poems into the story I realized that the chapters/poems were connected as a continuing story. Then somewhere along the way the book transitioned from poetry to more prose and I began to think of the chapters/poems as chapters. In reality, I am not sure that the divisions of the book are really chapters, poems, or anything else. I never really could decide what the structure of the writing was and I did not enjoy this aspect as much.

message 21: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments Oh J.W., I adored this book! Thanks for reminding me of it.

message 22: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Fallen by David Baldacci
4 out of 5 Stars

Something sinister is going on in Baronville. The rust belt town has seen four bizarre murders in the space of two weeks. Cryptic clues left at the scenes--obscure bible verses, odd symbols--have the police stumped.

Amos Decker and his FBI colleague Alex Jamison are in Baronville visiting Alex's sister and her family. It's a bleak place: a former mill and mining town with a crumbling economy and rampant opioid addiction. Decker has only been there a few hours when he stumbles on a horrific double murder scene.

The Positives of The Fallen
This 4th book in the Amos Decker series continues the stories of Amos Decker, a detective with special mental abilities, and his partner and calming influence Alex Jamison. One of the best things about the way Baldacci writes these books is that you can read them independent of the others. I listened to the first book in the series but missed the next two. However, I did not miss a beat when I listened to this book. Baldacci does an excellent job of laying enough ground work without bogging down the book.

The Negatives of The Fallen
Much like many mystery/suspense novels, this one requires you to suspend reality and set aside your disbelief. However, I thought this book made required an extra measure of this at times. Some of the scenarios were a bit over the top. Not so much that it damaged the book, but enough to bring down my rating a bit.

message 23: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
5 out of 5 Stars

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

The Positives of On the Edge of Gone
It seems as though the book world is flooded with dystopian novels, and for the most part they follow a similar script. Because of this, I was very tentative about reading this novel but the combination of a unique character and a different view of how humanity would handle a dystopian situation made this novel much more intriguing.

The main character in the book, Denise, is a teenager with autism that must not only deal with the difficulties of her everyday life (defending a transgender sister and a drug addict mother) but also with a disaster that has destroyed everything she knows. The idea of a main character with autism in a dystopian novel is unique, but in this particular case it is extremely effective as author Corinne Duyvis was diagnosed with autism herself in 2004. Because of her own experiences, the descriptions of Denise and how she copes with the situations she faces feel very authentic and add great detail to the book. This unique aspect of the novel was a major reason I gave the novel five stars.

My other reason for rating this novel highly was the author's choice to highlight the positives of how humanity might react to a dystopian situation. In most dystopian novels the only thing the reader sees is that humanity would continue to destroy one another and be there own worst enemy. I was pleasantly surprised that Duyvis did not fall into this trap and instead focused on hope.

The Negatives of On the Edge of Gone
I honestly don't have any negatives with this book. The plot moved along at a great pace, the writing was clean and well crafted, the characters were unique but wonderfully written. I normally have something about a book that is not as solid, but this book was an overall hit.

message 24: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Christmas Catch by Ginny Baird
2 out of 5 Stars

Since the death of her military husband two years ago, single mom Christine White has struggled to get by. By throwing herself into her work as a Chicago copywriter, she's managed to keep food on the table but has gradually lost sight of what really matters, like building a bond with her four-year-old son. When Christine's best friend insists she spend Christmas in Vermont so she can get her life in order, Christine initially resists. Little does she know she's in for a memorable holiday that will reignite her faith and reawaken her heart.

The Positives of The Christmas Catch
The was a fun and short little read. As one would expect, the story line is the epitome of hopeless romanticism. Like any good hallmark movie, the reader helplessly falls in love with the idea that the characters are going to have a happy ending and life is going to be improved by immeasurable amounts. The biggest positive of the book is that it delivers exactly what you would expect.

The Negatives of The Christmas Catch
The negatives of the book are just as expected as the positives. The writing is nothing exceptional, the characters are certainly not dynamic, and the plot twists (if you say there are any) are completely predictable. The book is great for a easy read but is certainly not anything to be rated highly.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Last Mile by David Baldacci
4 out of 5 Stars

Convicted murderer Melvin Mars is counting down the last hours before his execution--for the violent killing of his parents twenty years earlier--when he's granted an unexpected reprieve. Another man has confessed to the crime.

Amos Decker, newly hired on an FBI special task force, takes an interest in Mars's case after discovering the striking similarities to his own life: Both men were talented football players with promising careers cut short by tragedy. Both men's families were brutally murdered. And in both cases, another suspect came forward, years after the killing, to confess to the crime. A suspect who may or may not have been telling the truth.

The Positives of The Last Mile
The Last Mile is the second in the Amos Decker or Memory Man series and the third of the series that I have listened to (I listened to the first, then the fourth, and now the second books in the series). Up to this point, it is easily my favorite in the series. In this book, Amos Decker continues to be a wonderfully written character but the addition of Melvin Mars as a character made the book that much more enjoyable. I believe one of the best skills that Baldacci has as a writer is the ability to create characters that jump off the page for the reader. Decker and Mars are truly those characters.

The Negatives of The Last Mile
I really don't have any negatives with this book. My four instead of five star rating is quite simply because I refuse to give mass market fiction a five star rating. I enjoy mass market fiction for its entertainment value, but it does not get a fifth star from me without something deeper in the message or the purpose of the book.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Power by Naomi Alderman
4 out of 5 Stars
Decathlon Buddy Read

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Rarely do I struggle as much to write a review for a book as I am with this one. Trying to sort out my thoughts has been difficult and even as I write this I am not sure I entirely know how I feel about this novel. I am left feeling both intrigued and confused. I feel as though the writing was incredibly powerful and yet, as I was reading the book, I often felt as though the writing lacked any type of quality. I am left thinking that the violence in the book is over the top at times and yet wondering if the violence is not actually understated and a bit muted. The one thing I know this book has done is left me conflicted.

The Positives of The Power
As with most novels, the last 30 to 40 pages of this book really influenced my rating of the novel. Although still not a five star book for me the last portion of the book elevated my rating by two stars and maybe more. I really appreciated the craftsmanship that went into the last section as Alderman plays with form. Some of the changes are more subtle, such as altering the voice of the narrator, and some are more obvious like altering the length of the sections and removing the chapter titles. (Both things you can clearly see from just flipping through the book.) While I found much of the other writing to lack exquisite skill, I really appreciated the talents of the author in the end.

(view spoiler)

The Negatives of The Power
My biggest negative with this book was the fact that the writing through the first 250 pages left me thinking that it might not be worth reading. While I found the redeeming value in the end and the writing works, I could easily see why many might choose not to continue. I highly respect the work that Alderman did in the book as a whole, but found the beginning of the book to at times almost insufferable. In recommending this book, I would have to know that the potential reader has the gut to keep pushing forward and see the novel as a whole.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Traveler's Summit by Andy Andrews
5 out of 5 Stars

Without a doubt, Andy Andrews is one of the most important voices of our time!

In The Traveler's Gift Andrews introduces us to David Ponder. An average American in the prime of his life; working, raising a family, and trying to be a good husband, who is faced with a life changing event. In response, he is graced with being given the status of the last traveler and learning the Seven Decisions which ultimately bring about his success.

In this beautiful sequel to The Traveler's Gift Andrews reintroduces us to Ponder in The Traveler's Summit. Once again David Ponder will be gifted an incredible experience, but this time not only to help his own success but for the future of humanity as a whole. David Ponder, along with Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, King David, Eric Erickson, and a whole cast of other historical figures examine the need for such virtues as hope, wisdom, self-discipline, and courage.

In his unique style of blending well written fiction with leadership lessons Andrews once again presents a work that is incredibly poignant for the time in which we live. The Traveler's Summit addresses the divide we are facing as a nation and as humanity and presents solutions to the problem without forcing the reader to tackle political, religious, or social commentary. Andrews' writing allows for reflection, deep thinking, and every so often laugh out loud humor. This truly is a piece of writing for right now and right here.

As a bonus, Andrews is also an incredible researcher in the area of biographies. The way in which he weaves the stories of major players in history, both famous (Winston Churchill) and less famous (Eric Erickson) into his books makes them even more enjoyable. Not only is The Traveler's Summit a great book in its own right, but it is also an incredible diving board if you enjoy the world of biographies.

While many will avoid The Traveler's Summit because it might be labeled as Personal Growth, Self-Help, or even Inspirational it is important to remember that it is written as incredibly approachable fiction. No one should leave this book sitting on the shelf.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Black Ice by Michael Connelly
3 out of 5 Stars
Listopia Challenge - 2nd Book

Narcotics office Cal Moore's orders were to look into the city's latest drug killing. Instead, he ends up in a motel room with a fatal bullet wound to the head and a suicide note stuffed in his back pocket.
Working the case, LAPD detective Harry Bosch is reminded of the primal police rule he learned long ago: don't look for the facts, but the glue that holds them together.

The Positives of The Black Ice
This is a mystery novel that is written for the mass public. There is no doubt about that and there is no looking for great writing or a mastery of the language. With that being said, I do generally enjoy Michael Connelly's writing and so far I have enjoyed the Harry Bosch series. A real positive for me so far is that Connelly does not feel the need to repeat the back history of his characters in every novel. While this makes the books a bit less standalone, it also keeps the story from getting bogged down. Oddly enough, the other thing I like about this books is the warped sense of time. A great deal happens in a short period of time almost to the point that time is no relevant to the story but in a really positive way.

The Negatives of The Black Ice
The negatives of this book are captured in the fact that it is written to be popular market fiction. The characters, other than Bosch, are not very well developed and the story line is extremely linear. Connelly does not bother the readers mind with subplots and side stories. From page one to the back cover the story is completely focused on the primary plot line. While this makes the book read very quickly, it takes away from the general pleasure of the novel.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Fix by David Baldacci
3 Stars
(This one is espionage but I am not placing the review in that folder because I listened to most of the book in July.)

Amos Decker witnesses a murder just outside FBI headquarters. A man shoots a woman execution style on a crowded sidewalk, then turns the gun on himself.

Even with Decker's extraordinary powers of observation and deduction, the killing is baffling. Decker and his team can find absolutely no connection between the shooter - a family man with a successful consulting business - and his victim, a schoolteacher. Nor is there a hint of any possible motive for the attack.

The Positives of The Fix
First of all, this was the last Amos Decker book for me to read. I read them out of order reading 1 and 4 and then 2 and 3. With that said, I will be anxiously awaiting the fifth book in the series and if Baldacci should choose to not continue the series I will be very disappointed. I really enjoy the character of Amos Decker and how Baldacci has carefully crafted this unique character.

Second, I really liked in this book how Baldacci brought one character from a prior novel in Marvin Malls, and blended them with a new character in Harper Brown. I like the story line that Baldacci writes but my favorite part of his novels is easily the characters.

The Negatives of The Fix
This was the most complex story line of any of the Amos Decker novels and at times it was difficult to follow. I did appreciate the fact that the plot twists were more unexpected and I did not figure out this novel ahead of time, but I did feel like the writing broke down a bit trying to keep such a complex novel moving forward.

Again, I really enjoy these books. They are written for the general audience of trade fiction and so the highest star I will give is four, but this one bumps down one level because the story line breaks down. Now to await the fifth installation of this series.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
5 Stars
Decathlon August Read

First of all, this book is not easy to categorize. It is fits into many different categories, such as historical fiction, unreliable narrator, and espionage. And yet, it does not cleanly fit into any of those categories. If I had to describe the novel, I think I would say that is is a human interest story. However, even at that, it is told through the winding path of human recollection. A recollection that comes in bits and spurts and doesn't always tie neatly together.

I have seen many terms used to describe the writing of Ondaatje in Warlight. Terms such as foggy or atmospheric certainly apply and do convey a sense of the writing. While I appreciate those terms, I think the term that most fits my impressions of the book is effervescent. From the very first line of the book there seems to be something bubbling in the story and yet for the most part it is just small bubbles floating to the top.

Although the book never reaches this point, the writing continually feels as though if you gave it a good shake it would explode all over your mind. Each detail is just slightly agitating prior thoughts and details to the point that you are not sure whether or not it is safe to take off the lid. Even today, almost a week after finishing the book I still get a tingling sensation when thinking about the writing.

As for the story line itself, I personally love reading books with unreliable narrators and Ondaatje captures the best of that type of story line in Warlight. While it feels at times as though there is no story line, the real story to me was about self-discovery and just how shifting our sense of self really is.

Finally, I could not help but think that Ondaatje captures the feels of past literary masterpieces with such eloquence. The river scenes in the book were certainly reminiscent of Twain and Huckleberry Finn, the boarding school descriptions and exploits reminded me of the short stories of Hemingway, and the way in which characters interacted and drifted in and out of the story brought to mind feelings experienced in reading The Great Gatsby.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
3 out of 5 Stars

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.

The Positives of Crazy Rich Asians
While this book is certainly in what I call the Popular Fiction category it was an enjoyable read. I find books like Crazy Rich Asians; books with good story lines, fun characters, and easy reading to be a great follow-up to a heftier novel. Having just finished Warlight by Michael Ondaatje this was a perfect vacation/beach read for me. The real positives of this novel have to coincide with the right reading setting. The chapters are short, the story flows easily, and while not a memorable story the book has enough intrigue to keep it moving. I really enjoyed reading this by the pool, on the beach, and in the airport. I would recommend it for that type of reading.

The Negatives of Crazy Rich Asians
The fact that the book is written as Popular Fiction is not a downgrade as that is what the reader is expecting. The only real negative I had with this book is the continual descriptions of the opulence of the characters at every turn. My paperback version of this novel was 527 pages and I easily believe it could have been just as enjoyable at closer to 400. Too many of the descriptions were not necessary for the story line nor for the development of the characters. The wealth was intriguing but the lengthy descriptions weigh the story down.

Overall, the book was enjoyable. The romance was not overdone and the characters were well developed. A nice read if you know what you desire.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
3 Stars

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Positives of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Despite the three star rating, I did find a lot of positives in the book and a lot of reasons to enjoy it and recommend it to others. The very fact that Vance lived the life in the rust belt but also escaped the traps of that life in and of itself makes the story palatable. The honesty with which he is able to write about life in Appalachia keeps the reader from feeling as though the book is a sob-story or a lengthy excuse for the problems of the region. I also appreciated that the book did not turn into a political treatise. Vance never equates the problems or solutions of the region with any particular political party or even the government itself. This is a welcome approach to a book centered on social issues. These are just a few of the reasons that despite a three star rating I would recommend this book.

The Negatives of Hillbilly Elegy
I believe I made a mistake in trying to listen to this book through Audible instead of reading in print. While I like the idea of Vance narrating his own book, the execution of the narration was severely lacking.

My other real negative with the book was that due to the scattered nature in which it was written, the social commentary was often not as hard hitting as I would have liked. I understand that the author was writing about his own family, but it often felt as though he was holding back on being completely honest about the problems and the scope of the problems in the rust belt. Oddly enough, the ending of the book provided ideas regarding potential solutions that hit harder than the stories of the actual problems.

Overall, I would recommend this book but I would certainly advise to avoid the audio book format.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
4 out of 5 Stars
Listopia Challenge: Book 3 of 6

In this classic from a #1 "New York Times" bestselling author, Detective Harry Bosch thought he'd stopped the serial killer known as the Dollmaker. Now the dead man's widow is suing Harry and the LAPD for shooting the wrong man--an accusation that rings true when a new victim is discovered with the Dollmaker's macabre signature.

The Positives of The Concrete Blonde
This book is the third installment in the Harry Bosch series. In this novel Michael Connelly employs a new technique which is solely responsible for me giving this book four stars (which is the highest rating I give a popular fiction book). While I believe the books in the Harry Bosch series could be read as standalone or out of order, I would not advise it as you miss the most enjoyable part.

So what was it that put this book over the top for me? Well, without giving away any spoilers there are a series of characters that have appeared in books 1 and 2. Either way, all of these characters are not new to the story line. You have other cops such as Edgar, Pounds, and Irving, you have a reporter named Bremmer, and you have a love interest named Sylvia. Carrying a multitude of characters through a series is not unusual, but turning one of them into the criminal in the third book was a great twist. All too often I figure out the "who done it" aspect of the book very early, but not with this one. I truly loved all the plot twists along the way.

The Negatives of The Concrete Blonde
I really did not have any negatives with this book. My four star rating is the highest I give to popular fiction (mystery, romance, chick-lit, etc.). At times the chapters are a bit lengthy, but never excessive. The plot moves along well with just enough detail so that the reader does not get bogged down but yet the story feels well developed. Really, this was a very good book.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus
Mark Devers
4 Stars

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus instructed his followers to "make disciples of all nations." But what does this command actually entail? What does it look like for Christians to care for one another's spiritual well-being and growth? In this introduction to the basics of discipling, veteran pastor and author Mark Dever uses biblical definitions and practical examples to show how Christians can help one another become more like Christ every day. The eighth volume in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series, this short book explains how discipling should function in the context of the local church, teaching pastors and church leaders how to cultivate a culture of edification and growth in their congregations.

Before getting into what worked and didn't work in this book, let me be clear that this book is not for a general audience. This book is intended for those with an interest in the act of discipling and in particular for those that believe that discipling is more about strengthening your local church rather than converting those outside of the church. These ideas were my motivation for reading this book, and why I will continue to re-read it as I launch into this study.

The Positives ofDiscipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus
First of all, this book is about exactly what it claims to be. I really appreciated and enjoyed the fact that the book is focused on discipling within the local church. This book is not about in your face religion that seeks to convert coworkers, friends, and random people on the street. The desire of the teachings in this book are to strengthen churches for the present and the future.

Second, a positive of this book is that it recognizes the real world commitments of church goers. All too often Christian literature presents ideas, such as discipling, as if the only commitment people have is church. The way Dever presents this idea in the book aligns well with my view of discipleship and discipling in that you have to work within your schedule.

Finally, I think a positive of this book is that it is founded in scripture. When I launch into studying a Christian based topic I want to be able to see the author's support for their ideas. Dever does this to an extensive degree and it is a definite positive.

The Negative of Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus
The only real negative I have with this book is the lack of depth on some of the sub-topics. It is not detrimental, but I did wish that Dever would spend a bit more time with examples and illustrations to enhance some of the sub-topics. Other than that, the book is really solid for the purpose it was written to achieve.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
3 out of 5 Stars

On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Asia, Rachel should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, a wedding dress she loves more than anything found in the salons of Paris, and a fiance willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance in order to marry her. But Rachel still mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won't be able to walk her down the aisle.

The positives of China Rich Girlfriend
This is the second book in the Crazy Rich Asians series and my thoughts on this book are very similar to the first. For me, one of the real positives of the book is that the quality did not drop off in the second book. All too often in a series the second book is a bit lackluster but Kwan does a really nice job of keeping the characters and the story line fresh and lively. The second half of the book was very enjoyable and the last 70 pages were filled with definite page turning plot.

Another real positive for this book was the way Kwan uses friendships to ground the characters. We saw that in the first book to a degree but it was really highlighted in this work. To explore this more would be to get into spoilers, but this was a very important aspect of this book for me.

The Negatives of China Rich Girlfriend
Again, very similar to the first book in that Kwan is a bit obsessive and over-the-top with some of the descriptions. I found the first half of the book to drag a bit, although it was important later on, due to the depth of the descriptions. This is a popular fiction piece of writing and so my highest rating would have been four stars, so overall I found this book to be quite enjoyable and look forward to reading the third and final book in the series.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
September Decathlon: Rated 5 Stars by Anita

I at first did not think this book fit the friendship tag, but by the end I think it definitely fits. It had been tagged by 5 people as friendship before me, but I think those five people were just the ones that read until the end and noticed the friendships. No doubt they are key.

"Mine is a story of craving: an unreliable account of lusts and troubles that began, somehow, in 1956 on the day our free television was delivered...."

Meet Dolores Price. She's thirteen, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Beached like a whale in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally rolls into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before really going belly up.

First of all, let me say that I picked up this book to read because it was chosen as a book club choice. This book was not on my radar before, and I am not sure it ever would have been on my radar. Sadly, after completing the book I would not recommend it to others and it will not be high on my list for books read in 2018. While there were certain small portions of the book that I found intriguing, the overall book was lackluster and ineffective.

The Positives of She's Come Undone
Finding the positives was difficult for me. I almost rated this book 1-star but I really didn't hate it so I decided to round up to two stars. The one real positive was some of the characters that were on the edges of the story. I liked Roberta, Dr. Shaw, and Mr. Pucci although I felt like even with these characters the development of them was lacking and pieced together at best.

The only other positive for this book was a lingering thought that possibly the narrator is unreliable. This thought was never confirmed for the totality of the book although it is hinted at in the beginning and middle of the book. If in fact the narrator is unreliable, the quality of the book is slightly improved. However, the effectiveness of using an unreliable narrator in this text is only moderately accomplished at best and really does not overcome the weaknesses of the story.

The Negative of She's Come Undone
First and foremost for me, I am driven by an author's ability to present and develop characters in a way that moves the story line along in a natural way. This was never accomplished in this book. While there were particular events that I was more captivated by, generally the development of even the main character felt forced and over-the-top. Not once did I settle into the flow of her life and understand what the author was trying to accomplish. This was even more the case with the supporting cast. The sudden and often dramatic shifts in the nature of the characters left me as the reader continually off-balance and not in a positive way.

Second, the story line was just ridiculous. The author could have cut a good portion of the events that happened to Dolores, shortened the novel by 150 pages, and dramatically improved the book. I kept waiting for the story line to have a purpose and to move in a particular direction but instead it was more like watching a toddler walk around bumping into everything and losing its balance. Not sure if this should be blamed on the author or poor editing, but something needed to be done to improve the flow of the book.

Finally, the writing was very amateur and yet the subjects addressed in the book were not. It felt like reading a YA novel without it dealing with YA topics. I tried to attribute this to the immaturity of the narrator in the early portions of the book but as the narrator aged the writing did not improve. I certainly will not be looking to pick up any more works by this author.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
4.5 out of 5 Stars, Round down to 4

Note: I had originally picked this book up for the September decathlon challenge as Jolene had rated it as 5 stars. Enough said.

Louisa Clark is an ordinary young woman living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A love story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

The Positives of Me Before You
First, I must admit that I had seen the movie based on this book a number of years ago and so I knew what to expect generally from the book. This was even more true given the fact that the movie does track very closely with the book. I am glad though that a challenge in a group here on Goodreads made me pick this one up.

While the blurb for this book focuses a great deal on the love story there is so much more to this book. The love story is great, really probably one of my favorites in a book ever, but it pales in comparison to the other themes presented. For me, the themes of self-choice, science vs. ethics, and the right to live or die are presented in such a way as to bring contemplation to the reader without the topics being thrust in your face. I really appreciated the way in which Moyes presents varying view points and allows the reader to see ideas from multiple perspectives.

One last thing on the positives, Moyes does a great job with the narration of this book. I really appreciated the fact that she did not use the multiple narrators alternating throughout the book but yet did not switch between first person and third person omniscient in order to get certain facts across. The occasional switch in who was narrating was pleasant and effective.

The Negatives of Me Before You
I really don't have a lot of negatives with this book. I thought the characters were well developed, the plot was effective, and the editing was good. If my rating were just based on characters and plot I would have easily rated this book a 5. As it is, my rating would be more like a 4.5 rounded down to a 4 because I though the sentence structure at times was clunky. I found myself thinking a few times that with just a bit more effort the sentences would have captured the beauty or the emotion just a little more fully. The writing wasn't bad, just wasn't worthy of 5 Stars.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
5 Stars
In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

The Positives of Ready Player One
There were many positives about this book for me, but the main one that I would highlight is this book stays true to the dystopian genre much more than recent dystopian novels do. I personally get frustrated because all too often dystopian and sci-fi are being mashed together and called dystopian. Ready Player One does not do that but rather stays true to tackling real world social issues and presenting a take on how we as humans are likely to deal with the problems.

I should also note that I believe one reason this book resonated with me is because of the modern Fortnite craze. This game is taking over with our young people and I see them being completely addicted to the game. They live within this virtual world and so much of it aligns with the idea behind OASIS in the book. This fact alone made the nature of the dystopia presented in Ready Player One more believable.

The Negatives of Ready Player One
I did not have a lot of negatives with this book. However, the one that I do have is that I would have liked the world outside of the virtual reality to have been developed more fully. I felt like the book was ripe for dealing with the political climate and how it lead to the dystopia of the book but the author stayed away from what could have been a powerful message. Otherwise, this book could have rivaled some of the greats in the dystopian category.

Overall, very pleased that I finally got around to reading this novel.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly
Listopia Challenge book 4 of 6
4 out of 5 Stars

Harry attacked his commanding officer and is suspended indefinitely, pending a psychiatric evaluation. At first he resists the LAPD shrink, but finally recognizes that something is troubling him and has for a long time. In 1961, when Harry was twelve, his mother, a prostitute, was brutally murdered, and no one has ever been accused of the crime.

The Positives of The Last Coyote
This is the fourth Michael Connelly book, in particular Harry Bosch book, that I have read in 2018. It is the fourth of six for a challenge I set out to complete. I still hope to read the other two in the last two months of the year as I really do enjoy this author's writing.

To be clear, it is certainly genre writing but I do enjoy the fact that I rarely see all of the twists coming with Connelly's writing. This book was no exception. The story line is unique and the writing is really less formulaic than many in this genre.

Finally, I always enjoy the time Connelly spends on character development. It is never over-the-top so that the reader is left bored but it is also never skimpy to the point you feel the characters are flat. Character development is a real strength of these books.

The Negatives of The Last Coyote
I really don't have any negatives with this book but it should be noted that this book, more so than the last two, really depends on some prior knowledge on the part of the reader. With The Black Ice and The Concrete Blonde I felt the reader could slide by without reading the earlier books in the series. I did not feel that way with this book.

Overall, if you love mysteries these are oldies but goodies.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
5 out of 5 Stars

THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.

This classic novel has all of the aspects of Nigerian literature that I have grown to love. While it does not have the depth or the beauty of writing that The Fisherman has it posses a unique ability to both be grounded in folklore and yet ethereal. Furthermore, the story captures the depth of the characters and their cultural traditions and yet the simplicity and readability of the text adds to the beauty of the work.

I truly appreciated how this novel captured both the confusion and fear of the early colonization efforts. I was reminded as I read Okonkwo's story how terribly trite it is of Americans to think that our terrible behavior towards our aboriginal peoples is somehow a uniquely American problem. So much of what happened to Okonkwo in this story could have been picked up and used to describe what happened to America's native populations. Colonization, no matter the local, was an enterprise that was often undertaken with less than ethical practices.

Finally, I enjoyed this novel because it perfectly captures how real plot lines don't happen in linear experiences but yet are a matter of dealing with various difficulties and hardships interspersed with times of goodness. Achebe memorializes a fictional life in Okonkwo that has more questions than answers.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
5 out of 5 Stars

The exquisitely crafted stories in Anthony Doerr's acclaimed debut collection take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape. Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties-metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts-and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power. Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.

The collection of stories titled The Shell Collector marked my first venture back into the genre of the short story in a number of years. At its most primal level, the short story contains the ability to be both limited and focused and yet broad to the point that the entire enterprise feels like one mass of loose ends. Despite this, when the short story is well crafted it contains both a depth of human experience and a unique capturing of the universe in which we exist. Doerr's writing is able to do both of these and elucidate emotions that dwell deep beneath the surface.

With the exception of one story, Doerr threads a common bond by exploring man's conflict with nature. Regardless of the situation, location, or character Doerr expresses a view similar to that of Jack London or Ernest Hemingway in his stories. Nature always has a power that man cannot harness nor defeat. Our best efforts to contain it, tame it, or understand it result only in loss and confusion.

Beyond this, Doerr delves into the world of broken relationships. The brokenness varies greatly between the stories and the particular characters, but each story certainly explores how some form of hubris cause a variety of sins to be exposed and heartache and longing to ensue.

In my two favorite stories, The Hunter's Wife and The Caretaker Doerr brings together the two themes with heart wrenching separation and loss. While exploring these themes he also delves into the world of cultural conflict, desperate loneliness, and how we cope with isolation. Despite dealing with similar themes and topics the stories have completely different tones and work the reader through almost opposite emotions.

I was very satisfied to re-visit this genre. The pleasure of the short story is often lost in our day and age of novels and it was enjoyable to read a master story teller at work.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments The Poet by Michael Connelly
4, almost 5, Stars
Listopia - Book Five

Denver crime-beat reporter Jack McEvoy specializes in violent death. So when his homicide detective brother kills himself, McEvoy copes in the only way he knows how--he decides to write the story. But his research leads him to suspect a serial killer is at work--a devious murderer who's killing cops and leaving a trail of poetic clues. It's the news story of a lifetime, if he can get the story without losing his life.

The Poet is the first book in the Jack McEvoy series by Michael Connelly but continues as book five, in a loosely connected fashion, the Harry Bosch Universe. Ultimately, this story is still a crime based mystery novel that revolves around law enforcement but instead of being told directly from the detectives point of view the narrator tells the story from a reporter's point of view. The take is not all that different but it does make for an enjoyable read.

In a forward written in 2003 for the mass market paperback version, Stephen King wrote "The second thing you need to know about The Poet is that it's genuinely terrifying." He continued writing, "I think of myself as relatively case-hardened to make-believe terrors, but the further I followed Jack into the Poet's world, the more frightened I became."

Unfortunately, these words did not prove to be true for me as a reader. While I was completely engrossed by the novel and had a hard time putting it down, I never found it to be terrifying. It does not have the suspense of say The Red Dragon and certainly is not as terrifying.

Once again, as with each of the Connelly books I have read this year the character development is extremely well crafted. Connelly never misses a chance to bring you further into the life of each of his characters and this makes the story, along with a well driven plot, very captivating.

I also particularly enjoyed the fact that Connelly connected this novel with the Harry Bosch series without it being an overt connection. In fact, if you are not a careful reader you might miss the connection altogether with the exception of both being set in L.A. This was a unique part of this book and as a reader I appreciated the skill with which it was executed.

As with all popular fiction, my highest rating is four stars but with this book I almost gave in and bumped it another level. Had it been as frightening as King said it was, I might have given it that extra star.

Either way, this is a highly recommended read.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt
4 Stars

We all want to live a life that matters. We all want to reach our full potential. But too often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the day-to-day. Our big goals get pushed to the back burner--and then, more often than not, they get forgotten. New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt wants readers to know that it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, he thinks that this is the year readers can finally close the gap between reality and their dreams.

I am constantly amazed by the number of working professionals that I meet that have no experience or plan for setting goals each year. If they do set goals, the process is limited to what is mandated by their performance system at their job. And by goals, I don't mean New Year's resolutions or hopes and aspirations. I mean real, concrete, trackable goals.

For me, Michael Hyatt's work is not an introduction to goal setting nor a long sought resource because my goal setting has been ineffective, but rather a refinement of how I set my own goals and how I coach those around me to set their goals. I truly appreciate the approach Hyatt takes in this book. Goal setting, to a large degree, is a worn out concept in leadership writing and yet Hyatt has a way of making it fresh and new.

Hyatt advocates for goal setting to be an active part of our lives not only in a professional setting, but also in the relationships, financial, avocational, spiritual, and physical realms of our day to day lives. However, across the board he reinforces the fact that our goals have to both push us to achieve but also have to be focused and attainable so that we build momentum based on success.

The straightforward approach to goal setting that Hyatt teaches in this book makes planning for your next year a simple step-by-step process and one that everyone should be engaged in.

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Jeremiah Cunningham | 717 comments Trunk Music by Michael Connelly
3 out of 5 Stars
Books 6 of 6 for Listopia Challenge

Back on the job after an involuntary leave of absence, LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch is ready for a challenge. But his first case is a little more than he bargained for.

It starts with the body of a Hollywood producer in the trunk of a Rolls-Royce, shot twice in the head at close range - what looks like "trunk music," a Mafia hit. But the LAPD's organized crime unit is curiously uninterested, and when Harry follows a trail of gambling debts to Las Vegas, the case suddenly becomes more complex - and much more personal.

To be honest, Trunk Music the fifth installment in the Harry Bosch series, did not live up to my expectations for Michael Connelly and this series. That is not to say that I did not enjoy this book, because I did, but not to the same riveting level.

The things that Connelly does so well, character development and dialogue, were still really well done. The more of Connelly I read the more I respect his ability to constantly grow and develop not only new characters but also those characters that he carries through the series. Furthermore, with this novel I really like the fact that he again reintroduced old characters and also developed new and interesting supporting characters in the series. Connelly is a master of character development and proved that again with this book.

What I did not like as well in Trunk Music was the story line. Normally I am on the edge of my seat to the end wondering what the last twist is going to be. However, in this novel I was not fooled at all and pretty much knew half way through the book who the guilty parties were. I don't know if it is because I am growing accustomed to Connelly's style and therefore picking up on more clues or if he just telegraphed it on this one.

I look forward to reading the next installment. I hope that maybe this one was just a fluke and that on the next story I will once again be fooled, but if not, the characters will continue to draw me back to reading this series.

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