February 2016 Bookshelf

Thirteen Ways of Looking: Fiction by Colum McCann
Kindle Edition - 256 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Trade for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Colum McCann sparks awe and jealousy in me with his writing. If I wrote fiction I would wish to write "just like" him. He writes with beauty, depth, meaning, intrigue. This is a book of short stories, four in all. I think one of the signs of a successful short story is when the reader finishes it and doesn't feel like it is incomplete or doesn't feel like they haven't gotten their money's worth - so to speak. Each of these stories was complete and well, perfect.
In story one, titled the same as the book title and the longest in the book, we journey along with Mr. Mendelssohn on the last day of his life - we also are privy to the investigation of the last day of his life. So many one liners caught my attention, kept me thinking. The last few lines of the story most of all, where McCann leaves the ending up to the reader. In story two, McCann almost gives the reader a sense of what one must do to write a creative fictional story well and he does it in story form. Because I don't write fiction, only non-fiction, I found this tutorial through story so fascinating. Story three is a mystery never quite solved and it is up to the reader, along with the main character Rebecca, to be okay with that in the end. And finally story four was of an older woman, a Maryknoll Nun, confronting demons in her past with bravery and grace. I liked McCann's Nun, she is real and raw and filled to overflowing with compassion.
I haven't read McCann before but he's caught my attention with this book. I really, really enjoyed it.

The Blue Jeans Gospel: Experiencing a Real and Comfortable Relationship with Jesus by Rob Cruver
Kindle Edition - 85 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and River Grove Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I appreciate Cruver's laid back approach to relationship with Jesus. However, it was rather elementary in my opinion. The caveat is that I have been a believer almost the entire length of my life so I've pretty much heard it all - every analogy, word picture, etc. Solomon is right, there is nothing new under the sun.
Cruver takes his favorite piece of clothing, what he considers to be the most comfortable, jeans and turns it into an analogy of sorts about having a comfortable relationship with Jesus. It is also a message that borders on Christianese and I am not a fan of that. I know Cruver is sincere but his message is relayed in the same way most first world pastors relay the gospel and it actually has a ring of insincerity. And it felt incomplete to me.
Overall, whether it is because of my tenure as a believer or my weariness with an incomplete picture of Christ or a combination of both, the book was hard for me to engage with and get through. I grew bored with it.

Stars (Wendy Darling #1) by Colleen Oakes
Kindle Edition - 324 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and SparkPress for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Wendy Darling is THE darling for Peter Pan. Instead of focusing on Peter or Neverland or the Lost Boys Oakes tells a story from the POV of Wendy Darling. And it is quite a different story than the ones we've heard before. Oakes story reminds me of fan fiction that can stand on its own. It's well written, descriptive in both Neverland and the characters.
I have heard before that Peter Pan actually has quite a dark side to him. That he is not all smiles and fairy dust as Disney has made him out to be. Oakes follows this dark side of Peter through Wendy's experiences. As an adult it is rather disturbing actually. This is probably considered a bit of a spoiler but Pan has many of the characteristics of a classic abuser. Perhaps that was Oakes intention, to use the story of Peter Pan and Neverland as an example of how domestic violence begins in such sneaky ways and then escalates.
Wendy is a girl who needs to be brave and her experiences in Neverland will certainly accomplish that in her.  There's a book 2 coming out in Fall 2016 and I've added it to my to-read list because I'm curious enough to read on. That being said, it was a hard book for me to connect to. I found it much too easy to put down in favor of reading something else or watching something. But I do think I will read book 2 at some point after its publication.

Beyond measure: the big impact of small changes by Margaret Heffernan
128 pages

"We measure everything at work except what counts." That's how this book, based on a TED talk, by Heffernan begins. Based on years of experience, consulting, observation Heffernan lays out the case for just work cultures that have high social capital. Say what?!  Read the book. *wink*
"Just cultures tap the ingenuity, initiative, and sheer cleverness of every single individual; they reward imagination and celebrate truth-telling....As Randy Papadellis, the CEO of Ocean Spray put it, nobody wins unless everyone wins." (page 3) "....social capital: the trust, knowledge, reciprocity, and shared norms that create quality of life and make a group resilient....Social capital lies at the heart of just cultures: it is what they depend on - and it is what they generate." (page 23)
Workplace culture is important. When it comes right down to it the culture employees live in for 40+ hours a week have direct impact on their productivity, customer service, and buy-in to the mission of the organization. And you want, actually you need, employee buy-in or else the externals you are trying to measure won't yield satisfactory results.
I'm finding it hard to review this book adequately, it really needs to be read and considered by every employee at every level of the organization. My current workplace culture is struggling with morale as a result of some leadership issues and so I've been trying to read up on workplace cultures, etc. I am tempted to wrap up this book, along with a few others I have read, and present them to our leadership team for study. *grin* But aside from wanting to push these books at them they are good for me personally as an employee. I can implement small changes and pray for big impact within my workplace and do my part to foster a healthy environment.

Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results
by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen, Kenneth H. Blanchard
112 pages

This book got some bad reviews and in my personal opinion they were undeserved. The point of the book isn't a good fiction read, it's not a novel it's a parable. Forget the story the authors tried to build around the principles that are the actual point of the book. Page 13, "Fish! is a parable, an invented story about finding the deep source of energy, creativity, and passion that exists inside each of us by learning to love what we do, even if at the moment we may not be doing exactly what we love." Taking the philosophy that the world famous fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Company practice, the authors translate it for other work situations. Yes, they create a rather cheesy story to present the four points of the philosophy but again I say ignore the story, it's the points that count, that matter.
I really liked this book. I really like the Fish Philosophy, it's simple and incredibly do-able. It's another book I want to gift to my organization's leadership team. *grin* It highlights the vitality of attitude, the importance of "play", how being present (and not distracted) improves co-worker and customer relations, and the importance of internal customer service as well as external. These four points are necessary in a healthy workplace environment. And sometimes you realize how necessary they are when they are lacking or missing altogether.

Firefly Lane (Firefly Lane #1) by Kristin Hannah, Susan Ericksen (narrator)
Audio Book - 18 hours

I'm doing a yearly book challenge with a friend for 2016 and the month of February was to read a book that I've been meaning to read. My to-read list is approaching 2400 so finding a book I've been meaning to read wasn't the problem, but picking one is!  :)  So this book I picked at the prompting of the friend doing the challenge with me. She asked me about my thoughts on the sequel to this book and I hadn't yet read this one. So here's February's book for the challenge, ha!
Firefly Lane chronicles the long friendship between Kate and Tully. Meeting when they were 14 years old, Kate and Tully follow each other through life's dreams and plans. Tully rises in her chosen career field and Kate plant's roots but they remain tight knit - withstanding arguments, ego, and heart wounds.
Hannah creates a friendship that is so rare, I want to believe it could be a realistic one but I'm not sure it could. But perhaps. It's the friendship all women desire. The story of Kate and Tully reminded me of a very popular movie, I won't say which one so I can avoid spoilers. :)
A note on audio books: it really really really depends on the voice actor for the appeal of the book. The narrator of this title was pretty good but 18 hours of her voice began to wear on me. It also made me wonder if I would have liked to book better overall if I had read it rather than listened to it. I didn't get the feels from listening to it that other reviewers seemed to have gotten.
It was good although I didn't feel 100% connected to the story.

Kindle Edition - 480 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Tim Duggan Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I tried. I gave it my best shot. I've been reading this book off and on since January 10 and today, February 28, I'm only at chapter 4. It's an extremely tedious read. Not bad but tedious. Another reviewer said you have to be very patient to get through this book and I agree. This is a topic that I am very interested in but I can't read any more. It's too much. If I were taking it for a college course then obviously I would persevere but I'm not so I'm giving it up, for now or forever. 
Snyder thoroughly unpacks the lead up to the Holocaust, the history which lends itself to the obvious thought processes Hitler and others went through in their "dilemma" to rid the earth of the Jewish population. At the start of chapter 4, where I am throwing in the towel, a very detailed history has been given of the times and maneuvers up to about 1939. It's good information, very detailed, but it's too much for the layperson - for a history major it's perfect. 
Kudos to Snyder for the time and effort he clearly put into this historical recount of the Holocaust. 

Land of Careful Shadows (Jimmy Vega Mystery #1) by Suzanne Chazin
352 pages

Last month I read book 2 in this series, not realizing it was a series. *grin* So now I'm making it right by reading book 1. The great thing about this series from Chazin is that while the books are a series they can also be read separately and the reader doesn't feel like they are missing something, at least not in the first 2 books.
In this title, the one in which we are introduced to Detective Jimmy Vega, a young woman is found dead in a reservoir. Vega and his assigned partner, Greco, start to try and find leads to who this woman is and why she was killed. In their town this proves to be easier said than done. With a large population of undocumented people nobody wants to be found or known for fear of deportation so uncovering the identity of anyone is tough, making solving a crime even harder. Eventually Greco and Vega find enough loose threads to pull at and begin to unravel the mystery but not without some surprises along the way.
Chazin incorporates into her Vega series the plights of undocumented people in the United States, humanizing them instead of just grouping them together as a non-descript people. There is always much more to the story than what you think you see or know and Chazin is using her fiction to make that point.  I really appreciate it.


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