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Member ChallengeTracking 2016-20 > JW's 2020 Reading Challenges

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message 1: by Jeremiah (last edited Dec 31, 2020 01:57PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments 1. 24 Books for the Year - Completed - Read 30
2. Bingo Challenge - Did not read three years, but never in line for Bingo
3. Poll Ballot - Stopped on this one as it was too busy


message 2: by Jeremiah (last edited Dec 31, 2020 01:52PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments 24 Books for 2020


1. How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill - 4 stars - January 13th
2. Angels Flight by Michael Connelly - 3 Stars - January 22nd
3. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger - 3 Stars - February 6
4. Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard - 4 Stars - March 2
5. Me by Elton John - 4 Stars - April 3rd

6. The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward - 3 Stars - April 4th
7. If I stay by Gayle Forman - 5 Stars - April 10
8. In the Fog by Andrew J. Brandt - 5 Stars - April 15th
9. Palo Duro by Andrew J Brandt - 5 Stars - April 18th
10. The General in His Labyrinth - 3 Stars - May 6th

11. Message in a Bottle - 3 Stars - May 11th
12. The Abduction of Sarah Phillips - 4 Stars - May 18th
13. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi - 4 Stars - June 14th
14. I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown - 5 Stars - June 24th
15. The Unwinding Cable Car by Andrew J. Brandt - 4 Stars

16. The Treehouse by Andrew J. Brandt - 3.5 Stars - July 8
17. Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami - 3 Stars - August 1
18. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders - 3 Stars - August 8
19. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - August 14
20. The New Wilderness by Diane Cook - 3 Stars - September 2

21. (Re-read) The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews
22. Killing Floor by Lee Child - 4 Stars - September 19
23. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy - 4 Stars - September 27
24. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - 5 Stars - October 5
25. The Struggle Bus by Josh Wood - 5 Stars - October 10

26. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k - 3 Stars - November 6
27. The Death of Vivek Oji - 2 Stars - November 20
28. Extreme Ownership by Willink and Babin - 4 Stars - November 24
29. The Santas by DJ Molles - 4 Stars and Moved - December 11
30. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - 1 Star - December 31


message 3: by Jeremiah (last edited Dec 31, 2020 01:56PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Bingo


2007 - How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill
1999 - N/A
1975 - N/A
1984 - N/A
1988 - Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks
2009 - If I stay by Gayle Forman
1989 -The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
1991 - N/A
1990 - N/A
2003 - N/A
1971 - N/A
1986 - N/A
1980 - Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami
1973 - Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
2010 - N/A
1997 - Killing Floor by Lee Child
1993 - N/A
2012 - N/A
1983 - N/A
2004 - Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
1985 - N/A
1978 - N/A
1970 - ??
2000 - N/A
2017 - ??
2019 - N/A
1998 - ??

*Did not read three years that were called, but did not have the correct years called to ever get a bingo.


message 4: by Jeremiah (last edited Sep 19, 2020 02:13PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Poll Ballot


Washington State (Coffee) - How Starbucks Saved my Life by Michael Gates Gill

Oregon (Ecology) - The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

Nevada (Gambling) - Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard

Alabama (Civil Rights) - Me by Elton John

Iowa (Politics) - The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Rhode Island (Sailing) - Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks

Arkansas (Education) - I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

Washington DC (Presidents) - Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

California (Hollywood) - The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Idaho - Nature - The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Virginia - FBI - Killing Floor by Lee Child


message 5: by Jeremiah (last edited Jan 14, 2020 06:35AM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill
4 Stars
Audiobook

In his fifties, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned sixty, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his twenty-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects.

One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury—a latté—brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform.


First of all, while I know that the author claims that this is a memoir, I put the book into the category of the almost fictional memoir as I am quite certain the author combined real people to make characters, left out less than flattering details, and intensified certain events to make his point. That being said, I have no problem with books that blend fiction with non-fiction in order to illustrate important leadership, business, or personal growth ideas. While the book wasn't an Andy Andrews masterpiece, it was enjoyable and met my criteria for a worthwhile read.

So what is my standard for a worthwhile read in the business, leadership, or self-help genre? My standard is that I want to take at least three valuable thoughts that are applicable to my life and work away from a book like this. As such, below are three thoughts that had an impact on me from How Starbucks Saved my Life.

The first thought that stuck with me was the idea that at Starbucks partners don't tell each other to do things, but rather everything is a favor. (At least if the employee is embracing the culture). This was a powerful concept to me and one that I think is highly applicable to work places, homes, classrooms, etc. The idea of having mutual respect so that we ask one another to help instead of just commanding that it be done is an idea that can create real positive momentum.

The second concept that really struck a chord was in regards to recognition. The author makes the point that recognition can be positive or negative for a business. He says in the book that recognition is great so long as everyone has the chance to earn recognition. But when employees feel like recognition is only for a chosen few it creates hostility and negative competition.

Finally, and this was not new but emphasized in a different way, Gill makes the point of how valuable it is to recognize the small jobs that must be done and also for the person doing them to not underestimate the value of doing it to the best of your ability. For Gill, that was cleaning the store when he first started. Many at that age would take offense to being put in that position, but Gill knowing he needed the job, poured himself into being the best cleaner he could be. As a result, he felt satisfaction at a job well done and he gained the respect and appreciation of the other partners. Being willing to do the lowest of jobs no matter the position we are in is vital to having a solid and effective team.

Overall, this was a well-written book with solid takeaways possible.


message 6: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Angels Flight by Michael Connelly
3 Stars

An activist attorney is killed in a cute little L.A. trolley called Angels Flight, far from Harry Bosch's Hollywood turf. But the case is so explosive--and the dead man's enemies inside the L.A.P.D. are so numerous--that it falls to Harry to solve it. Now the streets are superheating. Harry's year-old Vegas marriage is unraveling. And the hunt for a killer is leading Harry to another high-profile L.A. murder case, one where every cop had a motive. The question is, did any have the guts?


I would say reading the Harry Bosch series is a guilty pleasure, but in actuality I don't feel guilty about it at all. I find the books to be enjoyable with excellent characters and fun story lines, even if not always plausible. This book was no different and as such I will continue to read and enjoy the Harry Bosch series.

There is not much to include in a review of this particular book that is unique from the overall series -- I find the character development and plot development to be natural, I find the twist and turns in the book to be appropriately placed and well nuanced, and I find the ending of the book to be wrapped up sufficiently without droning on forever after the plot is finished.

Overall, these are fun reads that are well written.


message 7: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Readers of the Purple Sage

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Audiobook
3 Stars
Oregon - Ecology
Page 1 - 3 Column - 13 People

https://www.goodreads.com/work/shelve...

October 1991. It was "the perfect storm"--a tempest that may happen only once in a century--a nor'easter created by so rare a combination of factors that it could not possibly have been worse. Creating waves ten stories high and winds of 120 miles an hour, the storm whipped the sea to inconceivable levels few people on Earth have ever witnessed. Few, except the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing boat tragically headed towards its hellish center.


I must first admit there was a large portion of this book that I cannot pretend to understand. The detailed nature with which the author described the fishing, boating, and weather was at a technical level that I could not keep up with or even process at times. This is not to say it was poorly written, in fact, quite the opposite. It was extremely well research and the composition of the book was not lacking at all. I just do not have the background, eduction, nor experience to comprehend it.

That being said, I enjoyed the book tremendously at times and moderately at others. For a non-fiction book written in a journalistic style the characters were quite lively and well developed. I realize these were real people but they easily could have been the heroes or heroines of great works of fiction. The author captured so much of their nature that I was incredibly intrigued.

Overall, this book exposed me to a world I knew nothing about. It expanded my horizons and opened my eyes to challenges that are beyond what most will ever experience. It was a worthwhile read even if I know that I am more likely to misquote it than understand it.


message 8: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard
4 Stars
Poll Ballot - Nevada - Gambling

https://www.goodreads.com/work/shelve...

First page, First Column - 17 people

Daredevil Dennis Lenahan has brought his act to the Tishomingo Lodge & Casino in Tunica, Mississippi -- diving off an eighty-foot ladder into nine feet of water for the amusement of gamblers, gangsters, and luscious belles. His riskiest feat, however, was witnessing a Dixie-style mob execution while atop his diving platform. Robert Taylor saw the hit also. A blues-loving Detroit hustler touring the Southland in a black Jaguar, Taylor's got his own secret agenda re the "Cornbread Cosa Nostra," and he wants Dennis in on the game. But there's a lot more in Robert Taylor's pocket than a photo of his lynched great-grandfather. And high-diver Dennis could be about to take a long, fatal fall -- right into a mess of hoop skirts, Civil War play-acting ... and more trouble than he ever dreamed possible.


Elmore Leonard has been described as the greatest American crime writer and by some as the nearest America has to a national writer. After an early career writing westerns, Leonard moved to writing crime fiction. Over the years, he perfected his prose driven -- sparse writing style. More than anything else, he perfected the ability to write great crime fiction without the need for following a formula.

Tishomingo Blues is a prime example of Leonard's abilities. The crafting of this story is meandering and yet deliberate and uses the most interesting of plots to combine modern urban and suburban drug crime with unique American history.

It had been a number of years since I read an Elmore Leonard novel but I was really glad I returned to his work with this enjoyable twist.


message 9: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Me by Elton John
4 Stars (Print)

Alabama - Civil Rights - Page 15, Third Column

https://www.goodreads.com/work/shelve...

In his only official autobiography, music icon Elton John writes about his extraordinary life, which is also the subject of the film Rocketman.

Christened Reginald Dwight, he was a shy boy with Buddy Holly glasses who grew up in the London suburb of Pinner and dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the age of twenty-three, he was on his first tour of America, facing an astonished audience in his tight silver hotpants, bare legs and a T-shirt with ROCK AND ROLL emblazoned across it in sequins. Elton John had arrived and the music world would never be the same again.

His life has been full of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to spinning out of control as a chart-topping superstar; from half-heartedly trying to drown himself in his LA swimming pool to disco-dancing with the Queen; from friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and George Michael to setting up his AIDS Foundation. All the while, Elton was hiding a drug addiction that would grip him for over a decade.

In Me Elton also writes about getting clean and changing his life, about finding love with David Furnish and becoming a father.


I have long adored the music of Elton John. In a world of music that often feels so trite and the lyrics so simple-minded the music of Elton John has always felt like the finest of art. One of my favorite memories is seeing Elton John perform in Vegas. So when I saw his autobiography out on shelves I requested it immediately for Christmas and was over-joyed to receive it.

Like many books in the genre of autobiography and biography, the book doesn't read quickly. That is not to say it is a poorly written book. In fact, I really applaud Elton John and his editors for how this book was written. The details are there and enjoyable but not so much that you get bogged down reading one year of his life at a time. But the book reads slowly because for the casual fan of Elton John's music it is unreal the experiences he has had during his career. You think you know about his music, but there is really so much to learn and digest.

Another wonderful aspect of this book is that Elton John does not hide how broken he became. He does not sugar coat the issues or try to disguise how sick he was. Because of this, the story of his recovery and the help he has brought to others is even more powerful. In a world that needs more helpers, Elton John is the prime example of how one can realize their own weakness and turn it into a strength for themselves and others.

The last thing I will note about how long it takes to read this book is that I could not help the desire to stop reading and listen to whichever album he was discussing at that moment. Just sitting and listening to the music, soaking up the spirit of it, and then returning back to his words. What a tremendous enjoyment this book was to read.


message 10: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
Audiobook
3 Stars

When seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the "Become a Jetsetter" contest, she dreams of reuniting her estranged children: Lee, an almost-famous actress; Cord, a handsome Manhattan venture capitalist who can't seem to find a bride; and Regan, a harried mother who took it all wrong when Charlotte bought her a Weight Watchers gift certificate for her birthday. Charlotte yearns for the years when her children were young and she was a single mother who meant everything to them. When she wins the cruise, the family packs all their baggage--literal and figurative--and spends ten days traveling from sun-drenched Athens through glorious Rome to tapas-laden Barcelona on an over-the-top cruise ship, the Splendido Marveloso. As lovers new and old join the adventure, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the Perkins family is forced to confront the defining choices in their lives. Can four lost adults find the peace they've been seeking by reconciling their childhood aches and coming back to each other?


This was my first experience reading a book selected for Reese's Book Club. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in the selection. That is not to say that I will not read another book that is selected for her book club, but this one fell a bit flat for me.

To avoid including spoilers, the story is filled with heavy stories -- suicide, depression, spousal abuse, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, fear of admitting homosexuality, etc. With that many heavy story lines and all of the characters being broken the story either should have been heartbreaking or wildly hilarious and it was neither. The stories of the characters were not told in a way that made me want to mourn for them, rejoice for them, laugh at them, or even hate them. To put it bluntly, the writing did not make me invest in the characters.

So why three stars? Well, there were redeeming aspects of the book. I particularly enjoyed the story being set on a cruise ship and so many adventures happening during their excursions. This was quite creative and the irony of the excursion also revealing the characters brokenness was unique and enjoyable. Furthermore, the characters, for the most part, were realistic. It is odd, but the lack of depth in the story was not because the characters were unbelievable. The combination of these aspects made it that I wanted to listen to the book, even though my rating of the book was not overly high.


message 11: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments If I Stay by Gayle Forman
5 Stars
Print
Bingo - G - 2009

Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

I open my eyes wide now.
I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.


Sadly, this book has been on my TBR shelf (virtually, here on Goodreads) since 2017. I cannot say how it ended up there, but I am sure it was because of some high recommendations in a book club or from a reading friend. The book has won numerous awards but for some reason never made it, until now, to the top of my list.

I say that it is sad it has been on my shelf between 2 and 3 years only because it is so wonderful it should have made it from the TBR to the read shelf a long-time-ago. This book deserved to be read so much sooner than I got around to it.

There is little that I can say about this book without getting into spoilers. Yes, it is one of those books where even the smallest of details feels monumental. But I will say that every detail, every flashback, every characters adds tremendous depth to the story. Not once did I wonder why the author went down this road or included this detail. It all just felt so perfectly natural.

I might point out in conclusion that my local library has classified this book as young adult. While I can see the point of doing so, I must say that the heaviness of the subject matter in this book is not something I would approach with pre-teen and early teen readers. It is not that the book is not appropriate for them, but rather that a pre-teen or early teen reader is simply not going to be mentally and emotionally reader to comprehend this book.

I now look forward to checking out book two in this series.


message 12: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments In the Fog by Andrew J. Brandt
Kindle Edition
5 Stars

Tucked away in Texas hillcountry, the town of Decker wakes up to find every woman has seemingly vanished in the middle of the night, leaving behind their clothing and rings in their beds.

Except one woman.

When the body of Catherine Harlow is found, the victim of a gruesome murder, the town devolves into a scene of paranoia and panic, with a power-hungry police chief pulling the strings and enforcing his will.


There is so much I have to say about this book. I try not to write extremely verbose reviews, but this review requires more than most.

Quite simply, there is only one Stephen King and no one is going to match his writing. However, it is a real treat to find an author who brings a similar ability to craft a story around intriguing characters that leaves you on edge because you feel like the supernatural just might happen. It is that vertex between the real and the imagined that creates the suspense and In the Fog accomplishes this element.

I am always impressed by an author that creates and a book that has characters that I connect to without the need to spend pages upon pages developing their backstory. I must admit that when I started this book and it was less than 300 pages, I doubted that the story line could be complex enough or the characters developed enough to meet my needs. However, within just the first 30 pages I was completely connected to the main characters and invested in their stories. I am not sure that I could identify the specific elements of the writing that caused me to connect to the characters, other than they felt like real people with real reactions. That is a powerful element for an author to create.

This may not matter as much to some, but I did find how clean this book was to be super refreshing. By clean I am not referring to the editing (although for an independent author the editing was excellent) but rather the language. The book did not loose any of its edge or the suspense was still just as gripping without the language being vulgar and the scenes being gruesome. It was extremely refreshing to read a captivating thriller that I could literally recommend to anyone. I often am looking for books with a more adult spin for my advanced readers and have others asking for recommendations. I would have no qualms about giving this book to my 12 year old son and I think he would thoroughly enjoy the adult nature of the story.

Finally, without getting into spoilers, there is something magical about a book that doesn't provide all of the answers. Yes, I am hoping that the author provides us readers with a sequel or even entire series about these characters and the town of Decker, but I also appreciate being left with a sense of wonder. There is nothing wrong with an old fashioned Law & Order ending where the reader is left to ponder what really happened. Brandt does that with In the Fog. The mind is just left to wander and wonder at the end of the novel.

Overall, if you are looking for a fun thriller this is a great option.


message 13: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Palo Duro: A Thriller by Andrew J. Brandt
Advanced Copy - Release Date: May 5th
5 Stars

Palo Duro Canyon — nicknamed "the Grand Canyon of Texas" — is the second-largest canyon in the United States and the largest state park in the Texas panhandle. Once home to many Native American tribes, though long gone, traces of their civilization can still be found in the canyon to this day.

Rachel Hernandez, an anthropology student at West Texas A&M University has discovered something that hasn't been seen in nearly two hundred years: in the depths of Palo Duro, a fabled cave full of Native American carvings and paintings. Shortly after her discovery, she vanishes without a trace, the only evidence left behind is her bootprints in the trail that leads to the caves. Rachel's twin brother Ricky and her best friend Jordan seek answers in her disappearance, and what they find may be more than they had anticipated.


To be honest, I feel awkward rating a Young Adult novel 5 stars. I finished the book this morning and it left me tingling and wanting more. I sat on it, thought about it, read some other stuff, and now that I am sitting down to write the review I just can't get away from rating it 5 stars. It had everything I want in a 5 star book -- incredible characters, well crafted plot, beautifully described setting, and authentic dialogue. Yes, it is YA but it is worthy of 5 stars.

I was fortunate to be gifted an advanced copy of this book and I am so happy that I was. I am not sure the last time I devoured a book the way I did this one. I sat down to read last night and my wife asked me, is the book that good. My only answer was, yes it is amazing.

With this story being set in an area I grew up in and still live in I was afraid it would feel artificial. While the author takes some liberties with a few aspects of the setting, they were liberties that absolutely worked. Hopefully this is not a spoiler, but how Brandt focuses on the fact that Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States, is divided up between a State Park and private land authentically points to one of the great mysteries of this beautiful place. I also appreciated him capturing the wonder of how the canyon just appears in the middle of some of the flattest landscape.

As for the story line, let me just say it left me wanting to experience what Rachel experiences. The history of the canyon has always fascinated me and to bring that into this thriller novel was a tremendous joy. From the prologue on the story works. It is smooth and captivating and leaves you wanting to read the next chapter. But to the authors credit, he does not play historian and therefore avoids any offensive generalizations and characterizations.

Finally, the characters. Rachel, Ricky, Smallbone, Sheriff Jones, Colton, and Dr. Errington. They all feel so real. They all feel like people you might meet in a small town and a small college campus. The bit of love story was fun, but not overdone. The influence of heritage is present, but not overwhelming. The toxic masculinity makes me dislike some characters but is balanced by a well-rounded protagonist.

Yes, this book is YA, but it really is one I would recommend to any reader. A bit thriller, a bit science fiction, and a bit historical fiction. A touch for everyone.


message 14: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
3 Stars
Cross Posted Everywhere
Bingo - I- 1989
Poll Ballot - Iowa - Politics

General Simon Bolivar, “the Liberator” of five South American countries, takes a last melancholy journey down the Magdalena River, revisiting cities along its shores, and reliving the triumphs, passions, and betrayals of his life. Infinitely charming, prodigiously successful in love, war and politics, he still dances with such enthusiasm and skill that his witnesses cannot believe he is ill. Aflame with memories of the power that he commanded and the dream of continental unity that eluded him, he is a moving exemplar of how much can be won—and lost—in a life.


I think it is important to note off the top that I am not a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (GGM). While I recognize his importance to the literature of Central and South America and I recognize his importance in the world of translated literature from the Western Hemisphere, I do not enjoy his writing. I find in particular his affinity for magical realism to be quite off-putting.

So why did I pick up this book? Well it fit nicely for a challenge and was suggested for a buddy read with someone who really enjoys GGM. Furthermore, I read many reviews that indicated GGM did not venture into magical realism in this novel. Thankfully, all of those reviews were correct and there was only one passage in the book that trended in that direction.

It is important to note that this book is not only not historical it is not even historical fiction. According to GGM himself in the acknowledgement section, "I was not particularly troubled by the question of historical accuracy." That is not to say that GGM did not do any research, he just did not allow the facts of his research to bind his story telling. Nothing within this book should be used to form an actual opinion or understanding of Simon Bolivar.

With all of that said, I was surprised that I actually enjoyed a vast majority of the book. I put aside the concept that I was reading about a real person and just took the book to be about a fictional character. After the first chapter, the narrative was enjoyable with many memorable lines and semi-powerful imagery. I give the book some grace because I think much is lost in translation, but overall while not a masterpiece of writing the book was enjoyable to read.

All in all, I am still not a fan of GGM. I am not going to go out and read anything else by him, at least not immediately. I still have a disdain for magical realism and his obsession with it. But if you want to experience a work by this giant of a man, then I would recommend this book over his other works.


message 15: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks
3 Stars
Cross Posted Everywhere
Bingo - I - 1988
Rhode Island - Sailing

Thrown to the waves, and to fate, the bottle could have ended up anywhere. Instead, it is found just three weeks after it begins its journey. Theresa Osborne, divorced and the mother of a twelve-year-old son, discovers it during a seaside vacation from her job as a Boston newspaper columnist. Inside is a letter that opens with, "My Dearest Catherine, I miss you my darling, as I always do, but today is particularly hard because the ocean has been singing to me, and the song is that of our life together...." For Garrett, the message is the only way he knows to express his undying love for a woman he has lost. For Theresa, wary of romance since her husband shattered her trust, the message raises questions that intrigue her. Challenged by the mystery, and driven to find Garrett by emotions she does not fully understand, Theresa begins a search that takes her to a sunlit coastal town and an unexpected confrontation. Brought together either by chance or something more powerful, Theresa and Garrett's lives come together in a tale that resonates with our deepest hopes for finding everlasting love. Shimmering with suspense and emotional intensity, Message in a Bottle takes readers on a hunt for the truth about a man and his memories, and about both the heartbreaking fragility and enormous strength of love. For those who cherished The Notebook and readers waiting to discover the magic of Nicholas Sparks's storytelling, here is an achingly lovely novel of happenstance, desire, and the choices that matter most.


We should create a sub-genre just for Nicholas Sparks. The genre would be limited to books that are heartbreaking romances. Ones that leave you aching for love and then leave you crying from the heartache. Others might qualify for a book in this sub-genre, but Nicholas Sparks is by far the master of the trade.

Message in a Bottle is by no means a new book and this review is not likely to inspire any reader to go pick it up. Honestly, it had been on my TBR for quite some time and I only picked it up when I did because it fit a challenge. That does not mean I am not happy that I read it. I in fact enjoyed it a lot.

An important aspect for me with any book is the development of the characters. I particularly enjoyed how Sparks authentically developed both Theresa and Garrett in this story. I was compelled by both of them, even though I much preferred Garrett.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and found it to be a great beach type read.


message 16: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Abduction of Sarah Phillips by Andrew J Brandt
4 Stars
Kindle

Fifteen year-old high school sophomore Cameron Davis is a loner, the target of constant bullying from jocks and reeling from his parents' divorce. His father, working two jobs, is rarely home, and all Cameron yearns for is the life he had before his mother left.

His entire world is turned upside down when Sarah Phillips literally runs into him in the alley behind the apartment complex where he lives. Frantic, she tells him she's been kidnapped and requests his help. Cameron quickly finds himself in the crosshairs of the men who will stop at nothing to take her back, and as they are chased across the city, the mysteries and consequences around Sarah's abduction grow more and more deadly.


This is the third of four books by Andrew J Brandt that I have read, all this year. I normally have a rule against rating what I classify popular fiction books above four stars. That is not to say I do not enjoy their writing. I happen to really like the works of Michael Connelly, Nicholas Sparks, and others that I classify as writers of popular fiction. I just personally save my five star ratings for books outside of that classification. As such, I figured coming into reading the books by Brandt that I would not rate them above four stars for the same reason. However, the more I read of his work the less I classify it as popular fiction. It really does not follow a formula. As such, I have rated his books consistently higher.

To that point, this book would also be a five star rating except one aspect. The copy editing was just not tight on this book. I absolutely loved the story. I tore through the book in three days and basically what amounted to three sittings to read. But there were far too many typos and such in the book for me to give it five stars. That may sound nit picky, but it just damages the art in my mind. Fortunately, his last two works have not had this issue.

Now to the book -- to put it simply, this was not your typical abduction thriller. Brandt does many things really well as an author but one of my favorites is the way he plays with gaps in time. This book takes place in two sections, the second seven years after the first. This allows for so much progression in the story, development of the characters, and interest for the reader that otherwise would not be there or would take mountains of pages to accomplish. Brandt's vision for how a book can come together using this time gap makes his stories outside of the typical genre.

The other aspect that I want to highlight are the characters. Sarah and Cameron (the two main characters) are ones you immediately become attached to. I was invested in their well-being but also in their redemption. However, just because they are the main characters does not mean that Brandt loses sight of the peripheral characters either. The development of the characters on both sides of the moral equation make the book intriguing and exciting.

So yes, the copy editing of this book made me knock it down a star, but that should not be a reason anyone stays away from this story. It really is a unique and exciting take on the abduction thriller idea.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
4 Stars
Audiobook

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.


This is the second book selected for Reese's Bookclub that I have picked up to read. After reading Jetsetters I was extremely nervous about tackling another book chosen for this group because it was so disappointing. But with The Henna Artist I am incredibly glad I have the selections a second try. The Henna Artist was an excellent read and I am very happy to have found this novel.

To be honest, there were many times in the book that the story made me un-apologetically angry. The treatment of women in the culture explored at the time period of the story was inexcusable in my mind. The treatment of women as property, the open infidelity by the men that was just accepted, and the fear the women experienced was just too much. However, at the same time, these things made me love the main character that much more. Her fierce desire to define herself, to be successful in her own way, and to define her own world was beyond beautiful. I loved how strong she was as a lead character and yet how much compassion and love she showed for those around her.

I wanted to give this book five stars but there was one aspect that brought my rating down. The end of the novel just felt too rushed. It almost felt as though the author had told the entirety of the story, but then she did not want to leave the readers with the main character in a place that lacked fulfillment and so she created a rushed ending to give the book more closure. The ending was beautiful and I quoted along with the audio as I listened to the last words, but it was just too rushed compared to the rest of the novel.

Overall, it was a joy to read a book that explored a different culture and time and did so through strong female lead. I am happy I found this book and that it filled my mind on my morning walks.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
5 Stars and Highly Recommended
Audio

Austin Channing Brown's first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, "I had to learn what it means to love blackness," a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America's racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value "diversity" in their mission statements, I'm Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America's social fabric--from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.


I consider it a blessing to have had this book put in front of me. As a business leader, reader, pastor, father, board member, community member, and former teacher the concepts brought forth caused many thoughts and points of contemplation.

The way we frame up conversations about race must be considered. As we see the present Black Lives Matter movement, the question we out to be considering is "isn't lives matter the very basic level." Shouldn't we be debating about enhancing, actualizing, and valuing lives not about making them matter? It hits the heart hard that we are still talking about them just simply mattering. This is the essence of being pro-life in reality.

The thought that struck me the most in this book was that perceived racial harmony does not equal diversity. We see a room of students, professionals, or congregants of multiple races getting along and we think diversity must be present but we fail to see the suppression of voice, thought, and value that is allowing that harmony. Sometimes the best approach is communication during conflict.

I will say that the one downside I had with this book is the lack of answers or hope that is provided. The author points heavily to all of the problems, but rarely points to any solutions. I recognize the need to highlight the issues and appreciate that aspect, but I also want to hear about possible cures.

I truly hope more than anything else that all educators will read this book. It has the power to make you rethink your schools, classrooms, and instruction.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Treehouse by Andrew J. Brandt
3.5 stars rounded up to 4
Audible

In the woods that butt up against their quiet east Texas town, middle schoolers Lucas, Elijah and Tyler have spent the last three months building a secret treehouse. On the first night of spring break, they sneak out to finally spend the night in the finished project. Things quickly turn nightmarish when they witness a man bury a body just a few yards from their perch above the forest floor.

High school junior Allison Beaker isn't allowed to have a boyfriend, but she sneaks out at night to spend time with Brandon, a senior boy who plays on the varsity baseball team. On one of these occasions, their midnight rendezvous is interrupted when she and Brandon witness a man dump a body in the trunk of a car. Unable to tell their parents what they've witnessed or where they were, the boys decide it's up to them to catch the killer, in fear that he may strike again. However, his next victim may be close to home and they quickly discover themselves, and their loved ones, in the killer's crosshairs.


In completing this book, I have read everything that Andrew J. Brandt has published. To say the least, I am a huge fan of Brandt's writing and the approach he takes with his novels. I knew going in that The Treehouse was his first book and likely would not be quite as high level as say his most recent work, Palo Duro, but I enjoyed this one tremendously despite that.

My favorite aspect of this book was how Brandt explores the theory of The Bystander Effect. The basic idea behind the Bystander Effect is that people fail to intervene because of the presence of others. Most often this surfaces as people witness a crime or bullying and fail to intervene. They often think others will intervene that are more qualified or worry about their own safety if they intervene. Brandt explores this concept by having witnesses to a crime that do not want to intervene because they are worried about the reactions of others. It is a twist on the Bystander Effect but it is a very poignant twist for the world we are currently living in and really had my mind exploring this concept.

One consistent aspect in reading Brandt's work is that I enjoy his characters tremendously. I always find them to be well developed, but it goes beyond being developed. The characters in his novels feel like real people. After teaching middle school for most of my ten year teaching career the three boys were exactly like students I have had. The combination of being brave in their own way and yet blindly stupid in their decisions was exactly what I would expect for boys entering seventh grade, especially when together.

Overall, while this novel is not as polished as more recent works by Brandt, it is absolutely worth the read and a delightful listen as well.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami
3 Stars
Audiobook
I - 1980

The plot centers on the narrator's brief but intense obsession with pinball, his life as a freelance translator, and his later efforts to reunite with the old pinball machine that he used to play. He describes living with a pair of identical unnamed female twins, who mysteriously appear in his apartment one morning, and disappear at the end of the book. Interspersed with the narrative are his memories of the Japanese student movement, and of his old girlfriend Naoko. The plot alternates between describing the life of narrator and that of his friend, The Rat.


This is a very difficult book to review. With most fiction, my rating and review of a book is based on two aspects: 1) the characters and the development of the characters; and 2) the plot and how effectively it is developed and with how much authenticity. I typically value characters and their development more so than the plot, but both factor into my evaluation of a piece of writing.

With this particular novel, it is not fair to say that there was an absence of plot. There was clearly a plot line centered around the narrators love affair with pinball and one pinball game in particular. However, the plot was disjointed and rather ineffective. The multiple diversions into different experiences with the twins -- the switchboard, the golf course, etc. -- did not add to the story and seemed rather frivolous. So in regards to plot, I could not rate this novel higher than two stars.

As for the characters and their development -- although I am not sure how, I actually felt connected to the characters by the end of the novel. Oddly enough, the predominant character trait and experience that was developed and explored in the course of the novel was that of loneliness. I was particularly intrigued by the exploration into the connections we make when we are lonely and how those connections might not make sense to others. Connections to pinball, to coffee, to a bar, to a switchboard, to a golf course, to a sweater, and on and on. While the connections might seem irrational on the surface, when one is lonely those connections become vitally important and a defining aspect of our lives. This without a doubt was the ultimately redeemable aspect of this book and certainly worth four to five stars.

Finally, there is the writing itself. Much of the quality of the writing is often lost in translation, but there were particular phrases and passages that were quite stirring. It is difficult to explain, but the phrasing in many of the passages actually reflected the sense of isolation that the characters felt. The word choice was perfect to convey the emotions, but the sense the writing gave was larger than just word choice. It is difficult to accomplish, but the writing itself created an environment in which the story took place. It was this element that bumped my rating up from a two to a three star level.

Overall, reading translated literature is always an interesting experience. The balance of deciding what was intended in the writing versus what is lost in translation while also trying to understand the culture and climate of the writing makes for an engaging experience.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
3 Stars - Print Edition
Poll Ballot - Washington DC - Presidents

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.


This book is by no means new or the hottest new trend, in fact, I have had it sitting on my TBR shelf for over two years after it got a good deal of hype back in 2017 and 2018. However, despite that it is worthy of notice and being picked up by a variety of types of readers. It tells a creative story in a more than creative way.

To say that I loved the book would be more than a stretch. In fact, there were several points along the way that I was closer to hating the book than loving it. If I was one to put a book down and not finish it, I would have done so about 70 pages in. But I do not sit books aside and I am glad that was true with this book.

I do not know if any potential readers will see this review, but I will point out that possibly the greatest secret to enjoying this book is being able to read it in longer stretches. The nature of how Saunders created the story -- the opposing view points, the snippets, the multiple narrators -- make it such that reading only a small portion at a time takes away from the story significantly. When I settled in and read for about an hour or more at a time, I found the book far more entertaining and surprisingly, better written as well.

Finally, it is necessary to set aside any previously held views of the afterlife in order to accept this book. I think that is a rationale approach because I do not think Saunders is trying to create a theological perspective or argument. But his take on the time after death is extremely unusual and was something it took me a good deal of time to process. It was creative, it was unique, and overall it made the larger story work.

I was disappointed that I did not love this book more, but it was intriguing and I am glad that I experienced this unique piece of writing.


message 22: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
4 Stars
Print
Poll Ballot - California - Hollywood

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.


Admittedly, it took me much longer to get to this book than it should have. The hype surrounding this book in 2017 was tremendous and then others around me read it and loved it. For some reason, I just never picked it up and I regret now that I did not get around to it sooner.

When I did finally get around to reading it, the first 100 pages just did not interest me. I kept picking the book up, reading a bit, then sitting it aside and picking up something else. I finished off multiple books before I finally picked up pace with this book and found the enjoyment in it.

Once I settled into the book it was extremely hard to put down. I fell in love with the relationship between Evelyn and (view spoiler)

Overall, both the story line and the characters were well crafted. I am very glad that I finally got around to reading this book and look forward to reading more works by this author.


message 23: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
3 Stars
Print
Poll Ballot - Idaho - Nature

Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the City—an over-populated, over-built metropolis where most of the population lives—is destroying her lungs. But what can Bea do? No one leaves the City anymore, because there is nowhere else to go. But across the country lies the Wilderness State, the last swath of open, protected land left. Here forests and desert plains are inhabited solely by wildlife. People are forbidden. Until now.


Bea, Agnes, and eighteen others volunteer to live in the Wilderness State as part of a study to see if humans can co-exist with nature. Can they be part of the wilderness and not destroy it? Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, this new community wanders through the grand country, trying to adhere to the strict rules laid down by the Rangers, whose job it is to remind them they must Leave No Trace. As the group slowly learns to live and survive on the unpredictable and often dangerous land, its members battle for power and control and betray and save each other. The farther they roam, the closer they come to their animal soul.

To her dismay, Bea discovers that, in fleeing to the Wilderness State to save Agnes, she is losing her in a different way. Agnes is growing wilder and closer to the land, while Bea cannot shake her urban past. As she and Agnes grow further apart, the bonds between mother and daughter are tested in surprising and heartbreaking ways.


A dystopian novel based on the destruction of our environment and over-crowding of our cities sounded like the perfect novel for me.

When I saw The New Wilderness on the Booker Prize Longlist I immediately contacted my local bookstore to reserve my copy for release day. I couldn't wait to dive in.

There was a lot about the book I loved. The setting was wonderful, the characters were intriguing, and the meandering plot was the perfect tone.

The problem is too many of the stories in the novel were just incomplete for no reason. Ideas brought up and never fleshed out. I don't mind leaving things for the reader to imagine if it feels intentional, but this did not feel purposeful.

Finally, I love a book with an unreliable narrator. But I am not sure about a third person narrator that feels unreliable. That was the case with this book.

So while it was beautiful in many ways, the book just was not masterful for me.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Killing Floor by Lee Child
4 Stars
Print
Bingo - 1997
Poll Ballot - Virginia - FBI

Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is a drifter. He's just passing through Margrave, Georgia, and in less than an hour, he's arrested for murder. Not much of a welcome. All Jack knows is that he didn't kill anybody. At least not here. Not lately. But he doesn't stand a chance of convincing anyone. not in Margrave, Georgia. Not a chance in hell.


I have largely been reading literary fiction in 2020 and have neglected my love for mysteries and non-fiction. I am really happy that a reading challenge and my son's love for the Jack Reacher series pushed me to pick up this novel. It was a pleasant read as we move into the early stages of fall.

Most of the mysteries I read center around a main character that is a police officer (think Harry Bosch) or at least a private eye. The fact that this series uses an ex-military drifter is a unique take and one that expands the flexibility and relative believability of the novel.

Character development for me is always a central point and although I felt like Lee Child is a bit less proficient in this area than some other mystery writers I did love the characters in this book. I thought in particular that Roscoe and the two barbers were intriguing characters that I wanted to know more about and wanted to see more of their lives. I find a book to be successful if it makes me want to see more of the characters.

I will avoid any spoilers here, but the twist in the book while not unpredictable the details of which worked well. It is rare that a book has a twist that I do not see coming early on and so I do not lower the rating of a book just because I can see the twist ahead of time. For me, if the twist works the book is effective and the twist in this book was effective.

Overall, in the midst of the chaos of 2020 it was nice to get back to a familiar genre and read a fun little mystery like Killing Floor.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
4 Stars
Bingo - 1973

In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard--a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape--haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail. While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance.


Reading a novel by McCarthy is always an interesting venture. There are very few authors that explore the depths of the depravity of humankind in the way that McCarthy does. In Child of God McCarthy takes a unique setting and a very interesting character but explores a very real, and very realistic issue. The idea of being pushed to the outskirts of society and dealing with the ramifications of those feelings is not limited to unusual characters like Lester Ballard. This novel leaves the reader with incredible societal issues to contemplate.

Although McCarthy is very non-traditional in his writing style -- he does not use quotation marks, it is not always clear who is talking, and the story line jumps around -- the characterizations feel very authentic. I am not sure I would need to be told that the book takes place in East Tennessee to know that was the case. The authentic nature of the characters while the story line is somewhat fantastic is a nice treat for the reader.

Finally, there is a place for a shorter novel. The book is about 200 pages but any longer than that would be overwhelming. Today we often put too much emphasis on the length as a measure of development. This story is deep, rich, and did not need to be a page longer to accomplish its beauty.


message 26: by Jeremiah (last edited Oct 05, 2020 02:50PM) (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
5 Stars and A Favorite
Audiobook

In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix's efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.


At one point I honestly wondered if it was really possible that a book could be longlisted for the Booker Prize and also be picked for a book of the month selection for a book club. Those two classifications are at opposite ends of the book spectrum. Not that there is anything wrong with either end of the spectrum or somewhere in between. But mass appeal and enjoyment do not often mix with high quality writing and a poignant message.

I was pleasantly surprised that as I finished the novel this morning, I no longer had that question. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Such a Fun Age was deserving of being both a Reese's Book Club pick and a longlisted novel for the Booker Prize. It is a unique novel that both speaks to the masses but is incredible in its stature.

If 2020 in America has pointed out anything it is the lack of authenticity in our narratives. Please don't confuse what I am saying as being synonymous with the red herring of "fake news". Our culture, in America, has an authenticity problem. It is not right or left, it is not black or white, it is across the board. We create our story and then try to make the facts fit in it. I was completely impressed with how Kiley Reid pointed to this devastating truth in this novel. The main character's (Alix) entire existence relies and revolves around her maintaining her own narrative that is devoid of authenticity. The reader is completely sucked into this false narrative, even sympathizing with its creator, until it is finally splayed open and our naivete is revealed.

The other point that I thought was so poignant in this novel was that equality and fair treatment do not have to look like huge successes. We, as a society, often degrade people of color at least in the subtext of our conversations with this idea that "well, we have been on the civil rights movement now for 50 years or so. But despite that, people of color are still living in run down houses in the ghetto, they are still not going to college or taking K-12 seriously, they are not moving out of their crime ridden neighborhoods, etc." We go into the courtroom and immediately establish the context that "they were rolling the deuce in their 'black man's car' when all of this started," as if the crime was different because of which neighborhood it was committed in. The point made in this novel, that equality is still achievable even if you are working in a minimum wage job was huge. That civil rights still matter even if you don't want to stop working in a service industry was so important. I was blown away by this thought that we have to stop thinking that equality only comes when you move to a better paying job. No, equality comes in how we treat those that serve us. Equality comes in how we respect those that love us. Equality comes in how we allow people to use their skills that God gave them and honor what they bring to this world.

Finally, as a long standing feminist, I appreciated the fact that Kiley Reid clearly demonstrated that a strong woman can come in many forms. I am all for our communities being filled with female business owners. I love to see female owned business and give my hard earned money to them. But I also recognize that a stay at home mom that is running her house and raising her children is no less a successful woman. She has a mind of her own and she is adding value to the world. This novel really pointed out the fact that earnings, recognition, and status do not indicate how independent and successful a woman (or any person, for that matter) truly is in this life.

This novel was a clear five stars for me and likely one of my top three books of the year.


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Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Struggle Bus by Josh Wood
5 Stars
Print

The Struggle Bus: The Van. The Myth. The Legend. is designed to take you, dear reader, on a ride with the Wood family in the van that became an Internet sensation.

This one-of-a-kind literary adventure you are about to embark on is about more than a viral van. It's about managing the wonderful chaos of a family of 11. It's about parenting. It's about marriage. It's about success. It's about failure. It's about faith. It's about fun. It's about a van becoming a metaphor for life as it is given a fun-filled beatdown for the ages.


Full disclosure -- I did receive this book as a gift from the author, but my review is an honest one. I doubted that the book would make me laugh, but after many hysterical sessions here is my review.

As a father of a large family, not as large as Josh Wood's family, but large enough I could relate to this book. As much as you try to stay on top of cleaning the house, cleaning out cars, doing laundry, etc. it is just impossible unless you refuse to allow your kids to be involved and make them do nothing but chores every night. It is not that we do not want to have the show house where everyone can come over or that we want trash to fall out of the car when we open the doors, it is just that there is not enough time in the day or energy in a parent to always manage those things. So yes, I relate to this book more so than maybe I wanted to admit.

The chapter that spoke to me the most though is Chapter 11 -- Oil Changes. This chapter is about the importance of regular maintenance and while it is premised on the need to get oil changes for a car, it is applied to the need for maintenance for ourselves, both inside and out. One of my favorite quotes from this chapter is:

"I think one of the most dangerous things Christians do to their kids is raise them in an isolated, socioeconomic, racial, and ideological bubble."

There were several other quotes in this chapter that I underlined, but I also want to point this one out:

Our advice to you is that regular maintenance is important. Without it, something is bound to catch on fire -- literally or figuratively."

Both of these quotes speak to the importance of the perspective we must maintain in our lives. On one hand, we must keep the perspective of seeing outside of our world. Our problems seem so small in comparison to what is happening around us when we take the time to look and listen. On the flip side though, no matter how small our problems might seem, they are still our problems and without addressing them they will lead to bigger issues. This balance is so important as we move from day to day.

Overall, the book is funny, insightful, and enlightening. It is a short read and a quick read, but one that will leave you thinking. I encourage you to pick up a copy.


message 28: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k
Mark Manson
Audiobook
3 Stars

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be "positive" all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected American society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.


Honestly, I do not have much to say about this book. It was not terrible, it was not great, but it did have some interesting ideas and I do plan to re-read it at some point.

The pace of the book with an audiobook made it really all blend together. That could have been because many of the ideas throughout the book are similar and thus run together or it could have been the format. When I listen and journal about each chapter I will get a better idea.

The strongest thought that came from this is the feedback loop from hell. I caught myself again today engaging in that. The idea that other people will actually consider their views and try to change anything is such a foolish notion in today's society. It only damages us when we expect that to happen.

Overall, a three star book for me, but I will re-read at some point.


message 29: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Hardback
2 Stars

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.


Emezi uses the personal pronouns they/them/theirs.

Emezi's debut novel, Freshwater, was an absolute masterpiece that I fell quickly in love with. The writing was precise and beautiful, the story line was unique and intriguing, and the book caused massive reflection. It quickly vaulted to an all time favorite position. Because of that, I was really excited to read Emezi's sophomore attempt.

Unfortunately, it feels as though they tried to force this novel to work. Ultimately, it is a coming of age tale mixed with a need for acceptance. The idea is intriguing and certainly poignant for the times, but the execution was sorely lacking. While the writing itself was at times masterful, it lacked the overall beauty that Freshwater contained.

Sadly, there were moments as the story unfolded that it felt like all believability broke down. Details did not make sense, events were included for no apparent reason, and the overall plot was not advanced. Emezi is a gifted writer and no doubt their next work will absolutely be one to read, but I was very sad that this one fell flat.

There were a few quotations that were worth noting and a few points that resonated deeply though, in particular this one:

"If Vivek had been alive, he would never have conceded her point, but when you've stood on ground and known your child's bones are rotting beneath you, rage and ego fade like dust in a strong wind."


message 30: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
4 Stars
Hardback

Sent to the most violent battlefield in Iraq, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s SEAL task unit faced a seemingly impossible mission: help U.S. forces secure Ramadi, a city deemed “all but lost.” In gripping firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories in SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, they learned that leadership—at every level—is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.Willink and Babin returned home from deployment and instituted SEAL leadership training that helped forge the next generation of SEAL leaders. After departing the SEAL Teams, they launched Echelon Front, a company that teaches these same leadership principles to businesses and organizations. From promising startups to Fortune 500 companies, Babin and Willink have helped scores of clients across a broad range of industries build their own high-performance teams and dominate their battlefields.
Now, detailing the mind-set and principles that enable SEAL units to accomplish the most difficult missions in combat, Extreme Ownership shows how to apply them to any team, family or organization. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic such as Cover and Move, Decentralized Command, and Leading Up the Chain, explaining what they are, why they are important, and how to implement them in any leadership environment.
A compelling narrative with powerful instruction and direct application, Extreme Ownership revolutionizes business management and challenges leaders everywhere to fulfill their ultimate purpose: lead and win.


I began this book with a level of doubt that I would finish it. A leadership book written by two combat hardened Navy Seals seemed like it must be headed for a conflict heavy style of leadership. I have been leading people professionally for almost a decade and while I can always learn something from leadership books, I figured one dripping with toxic masculinity would not be a valuable resource for me.

With that in mind, I set up my journal and began to read. While the descriptions of the combat scenes were a bit over the type for me, overall, I found the book to not be too militarized to be beneficial. I was actually quite impressed with how much the authors pointed leaders away from conflict and instead to valid conversation with those you are leading. In the end, I found myself taking notes and reflecting on how the lessons taught either fit my leadership style or could improve my leadership style.

Personally, one of the strongest aspects of the book was a focus on multi-tiered leadership within an organization. I often find that leadership books, while presenting great ideas, almost need you to have sole control of the organization in order to implement them. I appreciated very much that Extreme Ownership not only recognizes that most leaders do not have that level of control over their work environment, but it also taught lessons on how to function in that setting for maximum success. There were many great thoughts in the book, but the lessons on decentralized command and managing up and down the chain of command were the strongest for me.

In summary, I could do without the level of combat scenes described but the impact of the book was not lost in the military nature.


message 31: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments The Santas by DJ Molles
Kindle Version
4 Stars and Very Moved

There's a lot you don't know about Santa.

Santa's helpers don't always dispose of bodies, but that's what Tucker Smith is doing right now. Specifically, the body of his own Santa--one of thousands worldwide--who was just murdered in an apparent random act of violence. Now, Tucker will have to somehow manage to deliver Christmas to his assigned region, while he struggles to patch things up with his family, all while training the replacement sent to him by The Organization, and trying to uncover the mystery of who killed Santa. And there's only 5 days left until Christmas.


I picked up The Santas by D.J. Molles as just a fun holiday read. Well it fulfilled that, but it also sparked some really interesting thoughts. So I hope you will indulge me with this unusual review.

“To show others that, at least once a year, we’re capable of remembering that we’re not all separate tribes of people, that our lives are not in competition to each other – we’re in this together.” ~ D.J. Molles in The Santas

The world can be a very competitive place. We spend a lot of time thinking about positions, formulating arguments, and ultimately trying to win our battles. Because of this we often develop an us vs. them mentality. While that mentality has its place and we need to be prepared to defend our positions, it can also quickly wipe the humanity and compassion out of us. When it does the world becomes a dark place.

This time of year happens to naturally be the darkest time of the year. We are near the winter solstice and the amount of sunlight we get each day is minimal. What a beautiful thing it is that in the midst of that darkness we decorate our yards and trees with lights, we decorate our homes with lights, and we share that light with others. In the very midst of the darkness, we take specific actions to bring light, and not just regular light, but amazing light to the world we inhabit.

Let us remember that this is also one of the darkest seasons mentally for many people. That is made even worse this year. After 9 months of a world wide pandemic, the enormous loss of life, the separation, and the change in livelihoods many are experiencing an emotional and mental darkness unique to this year. Already, before our current pandemic, we see one of the highest rates of suicide at this time of year.

With that, first of all, please remember that if you are experiencing that darkness there are many resources for mental health. Please take advantage of those resources.

But also, let us remember that we have the option to turn aside the darkness that can be created in our world and choose to be the light for others. Let us remember at this time of year (and honestly at others too) that we are capable of not being separate tribes. That we are capable of setting aside the us vs. them approach. Let us remember that we can choose to bring light to those around us. Let us be the light that shines in the darkest time of year.

Whatever your traditions, beliefs, and customs are – I wish you the merriest of seasons – but more so I wish you to be the light for yourself and others that we all need.

Thank you to this author for this book that was supposed to be just fun but stirred me greatly.


message 32: by Jeremiah (new)

Jeremiah Cunningham | 689 comments Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
1 Star
Audiobook
BINGO - 2004

The first book in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie Mysteries series, called "The best mystery of the decade" by Stephen King, finds private investigator Jackson Brodie following three seemingly unconnected family mysteries in Cambridge.
Case one: A little girl goes missing in the night. Case two: A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac's apparently random attack.
Case three: A new mother finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making - with a very needy baby and a very demanding husband - until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.
Thirty years after the first incident, as private investigator Jackson Brodie begins investigating all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge . . .


I hate to end the year on a negative note, but despite all of the rave reviews, this book just did not work for me. For intent, the author deserves credit for attempting to be more literary with the mystery genre. The problem is, the execution, wiped away all of the positive intent.

The most pressing negative for me was the length of the book and much of that was the repetition of having the same story told from multiple perspectives. To be honest, listening to the book as I was, the retelling of the same event by different characters not only lengthened the book unnecessarily but it also made it extremely confusing. It might have been less confusing in print, but the repetition would have still been unnecessary.

The second negative for me is that it seemed pointless to have a Private Investigator as the central hub of the story. To be frank, there was nothing about this story that was a good mystery. The bit of suspense that was attempted to be woven into the story felt entirely artificial. Had the book just told the story of these three families lives it might have worked, but the premise fell far short of a quality mystery.

Finally, the ending of the book was just simply too forced. After the supposed investigation went nowhere for pages on end, Mr. Brodie just by some miracle puts all the pieces together in all of these cases. I understand the author needed to wrap up the stories but goodness, when it is that forced find a different way.

The final result for me -- I made sure I did not have any more of this series on my TBR shelf.


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