Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Just for the Summer by Abby Jimenez

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 432 pages
Published: April 2024

Just for the Summery is Abby Jimenez' third book in her Part of Your World series. I’ve secured all three books from Book of the Month and devoured them as they have published. While the three books have some crossover characters, it is not necessary to read them in order as they are standalone. However, there are some fun nuggets in this third book that the reader would recognize and enjoy having read the previous two. I love book series like this one that are a little loose. 

This latest installment features Justin and Emma who both believe they are cursed with the strange situation that every person they date goes on to find their forever person after they break up with them. They learn about this commonality on a hilarious Reddit thread, and Justin goes out on a limb and asks Emma, who is a traveling nurse, to date him so they can both find their respective forever person post-experiment/break up. 

This is a romcom, so you can imagine what ultimately happens, but as with all Jimenez' books, she gives us a fully-fleshed plot with complex character development. Her books are of substance - physically and literarily. In addition to some of the deeper topics like abuse, neglect, and depression to name a few, the story author balances those with lighter banter and appropriate humor. For example, the Toilet King advertisement is a continual thread of humor throughout the entire book that helps break up some of the heavier scenes. 

Recommendation: I read this book over a few days while I was on a business trip, and business was really getting in the way of my reading time! I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the creative way in which it was told. This book is all the rage this summer - and rightfully so. As one of my book friends said, "You speak so highly of her books!" And it's true. This is one I highly recommend for your summer reading pleasure. Grab your copy today! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, May 31, 2024

The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

Rating: 3 of 5 stars 
Pages: 352 pages
Published: April 2024

I first learned about The Husbands by Holly Gramazio via the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club's Spring 2024 Book Preview, then the club chose the book as its June selection. The premise seemed intriguing and fun, so I ordered and copy and dug in so I could finish it in time to engage in the forums and listen to the upcoming author talk. 

One night, Lauren, the main character, comes home from a girl's night out and finds a man coming down from her attic who purports to be her husband. This seems innocent enough except she's never been, nor is currently, married. She's never seen this man before, and everyone in her life knows him as her husband. From there, Lauren learns that she can generate a new husband, and thus a new life, by sending the existing husband back into the attic for a random, made-up task. 

I was sorely disappointed. 

I shouldn't have gone into this book with any expectations, but I did. I thought Lauren would have experienced a handful of husbands and I, as the reader, would learn more about them and their respective relationships with her. Unfortunately, Lauren used the attic as a revolving door to overly judge and pick apart just about every husband we meet in depth. By the middle of the book, she's had over 100 husbands, but the reader has only gotten to know a fraction of them and sometimes for only a few paragraphs. The only character really featured in this book is the main one, and she's not very likable. By the midway point, I just wanted to quit because I didn't care whether she found her soulmate or not, but I preserved hoping that it would get better and so that I would have a richer experience in book club. 

It didn't get better. 

I think the problem with this book is there was no set-up for Lauren, the inciting action literally takes place on page 1. There's no build-up, no development. And from there Lauren's interactions with her husbands, friends, and family are largely superficial. I don't really feel like I got to know any of the other characters with the exception of Bohai, and he's largely a secondary character for Lauren's using to avoid potential plot holes. (And speaking of plot holes, since she was regenerating lives, like a video game, why didn't she just purchase her own air rifle? That one really bugged me.) There was just nothing to root for in this story. It was simply Lauren never ever being satisfied with her life, which, honestly, is kind of sad. 

Recommendation: Neat premise; poor execution. If the author chooses to write again, I think she could benefit from some better editing and beta readers. Overall, the plot seemed to be somewhat of a game, which makes sense because Gramazio is a game designer, even creating an interactive husband generator game on her website to promote the book. In terms of recommending this book, it's gonna be a no for me. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Coming Home by Brittney Griner with Michelle Burford

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 10:36:00
Published: May 2024

I used my last Audible credit on my birthday, before I canceled my membership, to purchase Brittney Griner's Coming Home where she recounts the horrifying 10 months she was wrongfully detained in Russia for mistakenly bringing 0.7 grams of medically-prescribed hash oil on a flight from her home in Phoenix. She was returning to Russia to finish out the season playing for the Russia women's basketball team after recuperating from a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

This story is so maddening I don't know that I could have made it through the book if I didn't know the ending. The non-fictional story is presented in an engaging way and provides insight and details to Griner's horrifying ordeal that we, as a nation, did not hear about on the news. Griner narrates the prologue and epilogue, and Andia Winslow does a beautiful job narrating the story in between. I was also really was inspired by how much effort her wife, Cherelle, invested in keeping the campaign for her return alive in the midst of dealing with her own trauma and carrying out her daily responsibilities including passing the bar exam. 

From a personal level, what's even more infuriating than what happened to Griner is the lack of empathy from her fellow U.S. citizens, including some I know personally, who had such vitriol to share about her. It is disappointing that people can be so black and white and not give grace or space for others. I try not to dwell on the negativity but rather the community that came together and embodied the #WeAreBG movement. Whether you agree with the politics of her detainment and ultimate release is of little-to-no consequence. She is back on U.S. soil, thank God, and you will never be able to make me believe in the same situation, you wouldn't take whatever opportunity presented to you to get back home to your loved ones. My only hope is that one day the majority of people in the U.S. will have the same amount of compassion and energy for people who look like Griner as they do for people like Amber Guyger and Michael P. Fay.

For Griner to come out on the other side of this as a person who is not only healing from her trauma but also exhibiting a very positive mindset is commendable. What she is doing to help bring light to other wrongfully detained U.S. citizens across the globe is inspiring. I admire her courage and her strength to carry on, including her plans to represent the U.S. in the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. 

Recommendation: I enjoyed getting to know more about Griner, her family, and how she is moving forward. I have nothing to send her but positive and healing energy for the future. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 387 pages
Published: August 2023

Happiness Falls, at the surface, is a literary mystery about a father who goes missing in a Washington DC-area park, and the last person who was with him was his young son who has a rare genetic condition that prohibits him from speaking. What's more is the fictional story takes place during the summer of 2020, which posed additional challenges in solving the missing person case in the midst of a global pandemic. On a deeper level, the story is more philosophical and thought-provoking. It begs the questions, what does it mean to be happy? What is the difference between being non-verbal and non-communicative? How does verbal language communicate intelligence? What role does race play in how we perceive and are perceived? How do we protect the ones we love, especially in the most challenging of circumstances?

The book is narrated by the older sister, who is a twin. She and both her brothers and mother come together as a family to work out and reconcile what has happened to the patriarch of their family. The specific plot of the mystery is not necessarily the most important aspect of the book, but it helps propel the story forward. I found this story to beautifully written, and I appreciated the way it made me think about things. There's a lot to unpack beyond the mystery, which is resolved in the course of the books nearly 400 pages. This is one I slowly savored and wouldn't mind reading again.  

Recommendation: This book was on my TBR list for far too long. I am happy I read it. This is one of those books where you're not going to get a nice and tidy ending, but you will get a complete and fulfilling story. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy cerebral reads that can easily be discussed with others. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Up Home: One Girl's Journey by Ruth J. Simmons

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 06:51:00
Published: September 2023

I first learned about Up Home: One Girl's Journey, an autobiography by Ruth J. Simmons through one of Audible's many monthly sales. Convincing myself I didn't need to purchase another book (ha!), I borrowed the audiobook from my local library. Ruth J. Simmons did such a beautiful job telling her story, in her words, in her way, I had to purchase a physical copy. 

I will start this review by providing a bit of background about Dr. Simmons. She the first African American to serve as president for an Ivy League institution, Brown University. She holds an undergraduate degree from an HBCU, Dillard University, and received her graduate degrees, including her doctorate, from Harvard University. Her research is in romance languages and literature. And as she tells the story of her humble beginnings in east Texas, she explains how her local school teacher made an impact on her, sparking her love of words. It was at this point in the audiobook I empathized with Simmons. On page 71 of the hard copy she said: 

Fascinated with the precision afforded by mysterious multisyllabic words, I began memorizing some that Miss Ida Mae used. I collected words as some children my age collected dolls, stamps, or baseball cards; the pursuit was not merely empowering, it was as if I was inheriting a fortune. 

It was her love of words and the way she shared them that made me fall in love with this book. I was also engrossed and moved by the story of this woman who grew up the youngest child of 12 and sharecroppers who would go on to become an effective leader in academia and be held in high regard. I'm sure no one in her family could have imagined that she would attain such status coming from a home where they often lacked the basic necessities. I related to so many parts of her story. My parents grew up similarly in their respective homes and have also overcome the odds of racism, societal expectations, prejudice, redlining and so much more to be successful pillars of society. When Simmons spoke of her childhood and her mom straightening her hair with a hot comb, again I related and I smiled. 

The majority of the book, Simmons talks about her childhood, the challenges with her father, her mother's untimely death, and her quest to get an education. As a reader, I felt as though she was walking me down her life's path. I only wish the journey would have been longer and she would have shared more about her career and what challenges she faced in being the "first" in a lot of spaces. Perhaps Simmons is saving that for a future book. I sure hope so. I'm not going to fool myself. I'll be buying a copy of that one too if it comes to fruition! 

Recommendation: This is definitely one of those books where representation is important and needed. Simmons testimony is not only a beautiful one but is greatly needed, and I am thankful she published her story of triumph over everything. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said, of her book, "Destined to take its place in the canon of great African American autobiographies." I certainly agree, but I might revise his quote to say this book will take its place in the great canon of autobiographies, period. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 336 pages
Published: December 2023

After reading All We Were Promised, I was in search of a lighter read, so, from my TBR list, I picked up The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner. It was definitely lighter, and the premise was fun and imaginative, but I had hoped for a little more mature book. The novel features Sadie who, at the opening of the book, has lost her job, apartment, and boyfriend because, according to her, she speaks her mind. On New Year's Eve, she accompanies her best friend to a party where she meets a fortune teller who gives her a do-over of the very bad year that resulted in her losses. The remainder of the book is a series of situations that Sadie tries to correct from the previously-lived year. In the midst of discovering who she was, she learns who she needs to be to be true to herself. 

I really enjoyed the overall idea of the story. It was an entertaining plot. However, I would classify the novel more as young adult fiction, and I do enjoy my fair share of that genre, I just would have had different expectations going in if it was labeled as a more juvenile story - not because the characters are young but because some of their actions seem immature and underdeveloped. 

While Sadie was a likable protagonist, she seemed one-dimensional. The constant repetition of her "very bad year" reminded me of Judith Viorst's "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." By employing this repetitive tactic, I think the author short-sells the reader assuming they won't be able to discern between the timelines. The story and plot were clearly written, and I don't think this distinction was needed. There were also a couple of plot holes that left me scratching my head - like how did the old lady know to bring Gio the cat to the coffee shop on that exact day? How could Sadie not realize that changing her life would change those around her? 
Recommendation: This was a relatively short book, but I really had a hard time sticking with it. This was my first read by this author. I think I might choose another written by her because I do think she has good story ideas. This one just didn't do it for me. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, April 22, 2024

All We were Promised by Ashton Lattimore

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 368 pages
Published: April 2024

All We Were Promised is the debut historical fiction novel by Ashton Lattimore, an award-winning journalist and former lawyer. The book is set during the pre-Civil War era in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and features three female protagonists serving as soldiers for justice: Charlotte, who has escaped slavery with her father, who is hiding in plain sight while his daughter poses as his housemaid; Nell, a well-to-do aspiring abolitionist; and Evie, a freedom-seeking friend from the plantation that Charlotte and her father absconded. All three of these characters' lives collide in Philadelphia where they help each other to make the ideal of freedom a reality because none of us are free unless we are all free (Fannie Lou Hamer). 

The premise of the story is not new. There have been many non-fiction and fiction stories that covered the topic of Black people who knew they did not belong to anyone and fought for something different. Additionally, the phenomenon of passing (e.g., Imitation of Life, Did You Hear about Kitty Karr, and Passing, etc.) is touched on with the relationship between Charlotte and her father. But overall this books is about American's greatest ill - its participation in the transatlantic slave trade. Do we need another book about slavery? Yes, let us continue to tell the stories and learn from history lest we repeat them, especially in today's society when the historical facts are being skewed to pacify those who cannot accept the atrocities that occurred in these United States of America. 

I truly enjoyed reading this story. I think the author did a wonderful job with portraying the horrendous acts of one group of people treating another group of people as property without being overly graphic. Her research into the actual, historical event of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall within days of its grand opening was not only handled well, but was so compelling it enticed me to seek out more about this true event. Lattimore also did a great job of created in-depth characters in Charlotte, Nell, and Evie. She also presented Charlotte's father in such a way that I was truly angry with this fictional character. To me, he was simply a slavemaster of another kind. When a book evokes emotion and provokes action, I tend to label it a good one. 

My only critique was the lack of development of some of the secondary characters and plots - like that of the relationship between Alex and Nell. I would have loved to know more about the Darcel, who befriended Charlotte as well as Irene and Daniel, who she left behind at the plantation and were mentioned by name several times throughout the book but had no fleshed-out back story development. 

Recommendation: This novel had strong themes of justice, grief, and belonging. The ending was a little abrupt, and I feel like there could have been so much more to it. My hope is that Lattimore writes a sequel to All We Were Promised because there are so many promises unfulfilled in this first writing. If she does write a follow-up story, I'll be first in line to get a copy. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The 6 Types of Working Genius by Patrick Lencioni

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 04:11:00
Published: September 2022

The 6 Types of Working Genius by Patrick Lencioni was recommended by a couple of colleagues. Because it was a relatively short book I chose to consume it via audio during a week's commute to and from work. The premise of the working genius model is that each person has natural talents and gifts and when they are put in roles that accentuate these talents, they are more successful in, energetic about, and fulfilled in the work they perform. Their non-dominate talents tend to deplete one's energy. The six working types make the acronym WIDGET. They are: 
  • Wonder
  • Invention
  • Discernment
  • Galvanizing
  • Enablement
  • Tenacity
Lencioni presents the model and the resulting working types in the form a fables, or short stories, as a creative way to define and illustrate the model. Readers can also elect to take the working genius assessment for about $25, or three fancy Starbucks drinks, to determine where you fall. The results are delivered in an easy to read PDF report and outline what your two working genius areas are, your 2 working competencies, and your 2 working frustrations. It is recommended to take the assessment before reading the book - probably because more tenured professionals can figure out where they fall after reading the short book. 

The book, its theory, and model are all presented in an easy-to-understand format. It made for an easy listen while driving. However, if I am completely honest, at this point in my career I know myself well enough to know what fills my cup up. The gem here is learning what types of workers others are on my team so I can better relate and lean in to their strengths. 

Recommendation: Books are knowledge, and knowledge is power. I would definitely recommend this book to people who work in teams - as a career or in a volunteer role - for a resource to better understand others. And we know from another professional development book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, are better when we first seek to understand others before trying to make others understand us. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Rating: 5+ of 5 stars 
Pages: 360 pages
Published: May 2022

I read Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, and now I am in love with an endearing character named Marcellus who happens to be an octopus living out his last days at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. He is a smart sea animal who is very observant of Tova who is the tenured aquarium custodian. Having recently lost her husband and being the mother of a son who went missing more than 30 years ago, Tova's third act is a bit of a lonely, sad one. But when her ankle injury requires her to reduce her workload at the same time that Cameron — with problems of his own — comes to town, Marcellus uses his intelligence to help them both find the closure they need to carry on.  

This book is a debut for Van Pelt, and it is wonderfully done. The writing is so beautiful and evokes a myriad of emotions. The mystery that runs as the book's central theme keeps the reader engaged, and the ending provides a satisfying, although not completely happy, ending. The story was well balanced and executed perfectly. It satisfied all my literary joys. 

I typically like to read stories that I believe could really happen, so having a book with an octopus narrating as one of the main characters seemed to be a stretch for me. But there's something about the magic that Van Pelt created in crafting this story that makes the reader believe the seemingly impossible is possible. 

Recommendation: This book made many book of the year lists in 2022 and deservedly so. I thought about this book long after I finished reading it, and I've also become more intrigued by octopuses. My only regret is I waited two years to procure my own copy. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Do the New You: 6 Mindsets to Become Who You Were Created to Be by Steven Furtick

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 304 pages
Published: February 2024

I will preface this review by saying I consider Pastor Steven Furtick my pastor and Elevation Church my church. I know there's a whole debate questioning whether attending online services constitutes going to church. I will tell you this: I am a happier and better person by being a part of this international ministry. So, when Furtick released his newest book, Do the New You: 6 Mindsets to Become Who You Were Created to Be, I snagged a copy. Not only because I wanted to read and learn but because I am also a part of a small group that meets virtually each week and we were tasked with studying it together. 

The book is relatively short and easily digestible. In it, Furtick proffers 6 memorizable statements to lean into when life gets you down and you need to get recentered and refocused on God. They are as follows: 

  1. I'm not stuck unless I stop. 
  2. Christ is in me. I am enough.
  3. With God there's always a way, and by faith I will find it. 
  4. God is not against me, but He's in it with me, working through me, fighting for me. 
  5. My joy is my job. 
  6. God has given me everything I need for the season I'm in. 
The book is divided into six parts that align with those mindsets, and each part contains four or five short chapters where Furtick shares personal and Biblical stories to illustrate his points. If I am being honest, nothing he is saying is earth-shattering. It all makes sense, especially if you've read the Bible and attended church before. Even more, if you've attended Elevation Church, you'd probably heard some of the content before reading the book. However, the gem is in the creative presentation and the gentle reminders that we all need from time to time to help get us back where we need to be. 

I read the physical book while listening to the audio (courtesy of Spotify). The language is easily understood, and the audiobook is narrated by the author giving deeper meaning to the content, especially his personal stories. I also noticed that the audio does not follow the book word-for-word. It appears Furtick took a more conversational approach, like he preaches, with the audio version. However, the overall meaning is the same. 

Recommendation: I find the author to be an effective writer, an engaging speaker, and an exceptional communicator. He is able to take Biblical foundations and make them applicable to real-world, present-day scenarios. He is gifted, and this book was a delightful read that I will probably turn to time and time again. Highly recommend! 

P.S. If you consume the audiobook, there are goodies at the end including a beautiful song by Elevation Worship that got me through the season of my Grandmother's last days on this side of heaven. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 309 pages
Published: April 2023

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld was recommended by Anne Bogel's Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club as a 2023 Summer Reading Guide pick. I snagged a copy from Book of the Month, but I didn't get around to reading it until this spring. When I procrastinate and the book is this good, I just want to kick myself for waiting so long. But the upside is the recommendation was solid and it was a good read, so I win ... sooner or later! 

Romantic Comedy is about Sally, a sketch writer on a late-night skit show (think Saturday Night Live) called The Night Owls. With a couple of superficial relationships post-divorce, Sally has no intention of engaging in the business of love. While on the job she writes a bit called the Danny Horst Rule, which is based on average-looking Joes who are somehow able to create relationships with glamorous women (think Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian). As fate would have it, pop music star Noah Brewster guest stars on The Night Owls, and Sally thinks they might have had a brief connection during his one-week preparation and appearance on the show. Has the Danny Horst Rule come to her front door? The remainder of the book allows the reader to explore their interactions. 

I really enjoyed this story. The writing was clever, and the emotions were very true to heart. The book is set during the dreadful Covid-19 years, but it was fun to watch the relationship between Sally and Noah blossom over email. People don't really write anymore; they text or video call, so this was refreshing. But the characters are both writers, so it wasn't too much of a stretch. As a lover of words, I enjoyed the discourse and the overall story. 

Recommendation: To be honest, as a book with the word comedy in the title, I thought it would be a little funnier. Having said that, it did not take away from the story for me. It is heavier on the romance aspect, but I really enjoyed how it was presented in this book. That slow burn that leads to the excitement of getting to know someone especially made the book engaging. Upon completion, I listened to the author chat on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club platform, which made this story an even more richer reading experience for me. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 02:46:34
Published: March 2019

I borrowed Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob from the public library on recommendation from a reading friend in my International Literary Society. As I have a longer commute to work, I find that I must consume audiobooks to keep the drive interesting and make valuable use of the time. 

This memoir shares the author's perspective on the diverse aspects of being a woman of color in the United States including figuring out who she is, exploring her sexuality as a young adult, interracial relationships, and as the book's synopsis says, "the realities that divide us." She illustrates her thoughts through conversations she's had with people close to her. The book is read by a full cast with soundtrack and effects, making it very engaging. 

I really enjoyed Jacob's wit and dry humor but also her direct honesty. There is something beautiful that comes out of vulnerable communication with people you care about, and she was able to share this intimacy on heavy topics in an entertaining and digestible way with the reader. I found her to be relatable, even on topics that are foreign to me, like raising a brown son in the Trump era. 

Recommendation: This was a quick, substantive listen and because Good Talk was a good talk, I feel like I got to *meet* Mira Jacob. My conclusion is that she and her book are a delight! Highly recommend! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 256 pages
Published: December 2006

I was tasked with reading What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter for a management course I am currently enrolled in for work. According to the book's synopsis, the author is a highly sought-after executive coach, and in this book he shares some of his consultative advice in helping managers climb the corporate ladder well. In chapter one, Goldsmith says, "My job is to make them (e.g., managers) see that the skills and habits that have taken them this far might not be the right skills to take them further." 

The book is mainly centered around these 21 habits that we can be guilty of when communicating with corporate teams and how to retrain your brain to avoid these pitfalls. The author then implores the reader to pick a few habits to work on improving. In the final chapters, he posits that you can use the following tactics to help change for the better: giving and receiving feedback, apologizing, telling the world (advertising), listening, thanking, following up, and practicing feedforward. If this seems like a lot, it's because it is. The author packs a ton of information into the book that is logical and common yet valuable. However, this is one of my criticisms of the book as well. I am not sure how you can recall all of these details and put them into practice after reading the book and also do your job. The book is a fairly insignificant investment, but I do think a reader wanting to put this advice in action would need also invest in some type of external support system or accountability partner to stay the continual improvement course. 

The other, larger issue I had with this book is it seemed targeted to men who are in the corporate arena; like Fortune 500-types. It was a stretch to apply some of these ideas to my blue-collar management job. Some of the examples he uses seem to be a little overdramatized, and I'm not sure anyone acting as he describes in the 2020s would last very long anywhere. Having said that, I think if you take the information at face value, apply what you can, and have an accountability partner to help you keep a pulse on if you're improving, the book could be helpful. 

Recommendation: This was required, not leisure, reading for me, and that's never really a ton of fun. I think today the book would be better written in an easily digestible series. I don't feel strongly one way or another on my recommendation of this book as there are literally hundreds of communication and management books in the marketplace that can help one grow and improve. So, my final note, if you have the attitude and aptitude to change ... you will! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 06:42:00
Published: October 2020

Alright, alright, alright ... let me tell you all about Matthew McConaughey's memoir, Greenlights. Full disclosure - he is one of my favorite actors, and I admire his public persona and the causes he supports. I had this book on my TBR literally since it was published, and this year I am listening to my fair share of audiobooks so I snagged a copy from Audible, and it did not disappoint. 

The book is read by McConaughey, only as he can. He is, after all an actor. He makes his stories come to life just like he does on the big (and small) screen. Throughout the telling of his life, he shares what he labels as "green lights".  And while I may not have agreed with all of his conclusions, I appreciated the creativity in which these were shared. The author provides many back stories to some of his famous films like how unlikely it was for him to get cast as the lead in A Time to Kill, how Dallas Buyers Club almost didn't get made and how "alright, alright, alright" were the first words that launched his career. McConaughey does a great job reflecting back and looking forward.

My only criticism is the varying volume levels. I found that sometimes he was yelling rather than acting and it became distracting. Additionally, I think this is part of his true character; however, personally, I didn't care for all the very colorful language. I don't think it really added to the stories he shared. 

Recommendation: In summary, McConaughey has taken his passion, acting, and made a successful career of it, but more importantly he has made a well-rounded life for himself and his family. This book is another feather in his cap. I found it to be spiritual, thoughtful and methodical. At just under seven hours, it's a quick listen that provides private depth and knowledge to an otherwise very public person. I would recommend this for mature, adult listening and reading. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, February 12, 2024

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 438 pages
Published: February 2023

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai is a fictional mystery story with protagonist Bodie Kane. A successful podcaster, she returns to her boarding school to teach a class in podcasting. Her students are tasked with creating a three-episode podcast surrounding a specific topic. Two of the students choose to work together on the criminal case that involved the murder of Bodie's roommate while she attended the school several decades prior. From there, the reader is taken on this detailed journey narrated by the main character in an attempt to find out if justice had really been served all those years ago when a school staff member was arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime back in the 90s. 

Mysteries used to be my favorite genre, but they are quickly giving way to literary fiction as I am enjoying stylistic writing rather than a catchy plot with an unbelievable twist. In this book, I think the author was trying to do too much and make too many statements. There was a lot of clutter that wasn't fully fleshed out. I also found the main character's narration where she was speaking to her former teacher to be unreliable and confusing. I understan, in mysteries, an element of confusion is often used to keep the reader guessing, engaged, and invested in the story, but this just frustrated me. I was also disappointed in the racial aspects of the story, and I don't think they were really needed. 

This book was just too much with little payoff in the end. I had a hard time staying engaged and put it down often. I've heard great things about Makkai's earlier work, The Great Believers, and I think I might pick that up and give her storytelling another try. 

Recommendation: My overall take on this book: meh. I can take it or leave it. It was a hefty book with many characters to wade through that ended with an unsatisfying conclusions. If I knew then what I know now, I would have invested my time reading something else. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 380 pages
Published: August 2023

It took me a bit to get into The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. The story begins with the discovery of a skeleton at the bottom of a well. The reader is then transported back a couple of decades where an amalgamation of diverse characters living in a small community called Chicken Hill in Pennsylvania are featured. In Chicken Hill, where Black and Jewish people appear to co-exist peacefully during a time of extreme racial tension, we learn about an orphaned boy who needs protection bringing the two ethnic communities, as well as other unlikely allies, together to provide a safe haven for the boy. 

There are a lot of characters in this book with just as many subplots, and while this story can be difficult to follow, if you close read it, the details are interwoven methodically to create a well-rounded story. McBride peppers the plot with are a myriad of nuggets that pull on your heart strings and sometimes make you laugh. I appreciated the emotional aspects of the story. Once I got acclimated to McBride's writing style I found my rhythm and really enjoyed how he told this slowly-unfolding story. I did find the ending to be a bit rushed, and I think the story could have been written without the abuse of a child and still been just as powerful. 

Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed the plot, prose, and especially the protagonist. I can definitely see why this book is Barnes & Noble's Book of the Year (2023) and on so many other favorited lists. It's a slow build, but I do feel the payoff in the end is worth it. Highly recommend! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 
Duration: 04:36:00
Published: November 2016

Last year one of my (much) younger co-workers told me about Gilmore Girls and explained her fascination with the series. During the fall and holiday season I began binge watching the entire series. While I was not familiar with the show, I was familiar with Lauren Graham, who I adored in Parenthood, and I had also read her fiction book, Someday, Someday, Maybe several years ago. I enjoyed the TV series as mindless entertainment and decided to listen to Graham's audiobook, Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls as a nice way to round out my experience. 

While many people believe that her earlier work, Someday, Someday, Maybe is autobiographical (She emphatically explains that it is not in this work.), Talking as Fast as I Can is, indeed, an autobiographical account of her time on the series and the subsequent Netflix reboot limited series. The audiobook is narrated by Graham, and I found her just as endearing in telling her story as she was playing the character Lorelai Gilmore. She presented each little story as an essay and in a comical way that made the overall book both engaging and entertaining. Additionally, it was fascinating to get a sneak peak into the behind the scenes of her life. 

My only criticism has to do with the medium I chose to consume this book. Graham references certain photos and images as she tells her story, and it was hard to enjoy those while listening as most of my listening is done in the car (read: I was driving.) These graphics were found in an accompanying PDF that had to be downloaded from Audible. So, I would say to fully appreciate this book, it might be better to pick up a physical copy and perhaps listen while reading along. 

Recommendation: This was a nice, light read to start the new year, and I'd highly recommend it to fans of the actress. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 288 pages
Published: October 2023

Anne Bogel of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club raved about The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok during her 2023 Fall Book Preview event. I thought the synopsis sounded intriguing, so when Book of the Month offered it as a selection I chose it for my monthly subscription box. 

In short, the novel tells a believable yet fictional tale of a young woman, Jasmine, who escapes her abusive husband in China in search of her daughter who she believed to have died during childbirth. Her husband told her this horrible tale because of China's One Child Policy. Because of his position in the government, he only wanted - and could only afford - a male descendant. Jasmine learns her daughter has been adopted by a white American couple - Brandon and Rebecca - living in New York. So, she puts herself into impossible-to-overcome debt and absconds to the U.S. in search of the daughter she never knew with plans to recover her and for them to make a life of their own together. 

Each chapter is told either from Jasmine's first-person perspective or from the third-person perspective when developing and defining Rebecca's character. Both women are as different in personality and socioeconomic status as in the way their stories are presented. I struggled for most of the book with this, not fully understanding the change in perspective. However, later in the book, a plot twist is revealed that adds clarity to this incongruent approach. 

Overall, the story is relatively short - just shy of 300 pages, but there are so many details offered up with such beautiful prose that one cannot rush reading this book. My favorite thing about reading, especially fiction, is a beautifully-constructed sentence, and Kwok peppers these thought-provoking passages throughout her novel resulting in an engaging story that captures, commands and captivates the reader's attention. Some of my favorites are: 

Why was it that women had to pay the price for men’s desires? -p. 85
I was trying to hold on to the illusion that I could work in a place like this and do it on my own terms, but I already knew, deep inside, that Opium was going to infiltrate my skin, soak into my pores until I wouldn't be able to tell where I ended, and it began. Walk often enough by the river's edge and your shoes will get wet. -p. 126

In China, I’d seen posters warning girls of the danger of becoming leftover women, women that no one wanted. Leftover like scraps on a table, uneaten food, both sacrilege and wasteful, something that should have nourished our country squandered and turned into rubbish: unwanted, purposeless, of no use to anyone. -p. 167-168

When you love the house, you just love the crows on the roof as well. -p. 211
Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. In hindsight, I would not have read it near Christmas as it was sad in its themes, but it did provide a ray of hope in the uplifting, but not totally neatly-packaged, ending. This is a book you read not for a highly actionable plot, although there was some of that, but the journey in following the characters and their storylinles. I'd highly recommend this book for the lone reader or for invigorating discussing with a book club. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

In the Likely Event by Rebecca Yarros

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 348 pages
Published: August 2023

I snagged a digital copy of In the Likely Event by Rebecca Yarros from Amazon through the First Reads Kindle program. Because my husband exclusively shops at Amazon and is a Prime member, I get his benefit of free books through First Reads. As luck would have it, several months later my work book club selected this novel as a book of discussion. The premise seemed interesting, which is probably why I selected this book in the first place. 

The primary characters, Izzy and Nate meet on a plane and shortly after takeoff the plane crashes in the Missouri River. Forever bound by this tragedy, the two develop a romantic relationship where timing never seems to align so that it can develop into anything more than the occasional hook-up. (As an aside, I feel like Keanu Reeves's Jack and Sandra Bullock's Annie on the movie Speed told us everything we need to know about this: "Relationships that start under intense circumstances never last." But I digress.) About a decade later, Izzy has started a career in politics and travels to Afghanistan where Nate happens to be serving in the military special forces during a volatile time. When she arrives, he is charged with serving as Izzy's security detail. This encounter forces them to deal with their past and address their future. 

The story was fairly predictable. The alternating perspectives of each of the main characters revealed a bit of relevant background leading up to an interesting, although not completely germane, plot twist. All of their romantic chatter and sexual tension is set on the backdrop of a war-torn country. And like many reviewers have mentioned, this seemed a little ... privileged. Why are they focused on "does s/he love me?" when there are way more important things going on ... like people literally dying. I think this book could have easily been set in the U.S., but perhaps the author thought the international setting would make the story more interesting. I don't think it's ever OK to use other people's true suffering as a prop for a fictional novel. But that's just me. 

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, I'm not really intrigued by reading the play-by-play of sexually explicit scenes. It just doesn't do it for me. Overall, I found most of the dialogue to be superficial, and the characters lacked depth. The premise was promising, but it fell flat in the end. I pushed through because I try to complete book club books so I can actively participate in the discussion. 
Recommendation: I'm glad I got this book for free. I've heard Yarros' latest book, Fourth Wing, is super good, but this one kind of tainted her for me. I wouldn't recommend this book and highly doubt I'll be picking up her latest. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.