365 Challenge: Day 72 – American

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American: originating or coming from the United States of America (USA)

As I wandered the apartment this morning, prepping for an interview and thinking about the 365 daily post, the word American popped into my head. In the first five weeks of the challenge, I choose the primary ethnicity groups that made up who I am.  I suddenly realized I never spoke about being an American. But what exactly does that mean and how has it changed over the last ~ 250 years. Two key things to clarify before I start babbling: (1) I am not political and (2) This will not be a “rah-rah” post about the greatness of my country — not because it isn’t, but because that’s not the type of blog I would post, given I’m more the kind of person who asks questions rather than provides answers. Back to the topic at hand…

Over the last ~250 years since America was created in the late 18th century, people have defined themselves as American based on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I agree with all of those beliefs, and I am proud and grateful for all of the liberties we have; however, what does it mean to be an American in today’s society? I believe it’s changed over the years, based on how we’ve grown as people and as a country. Not so much as in “How do other countries view us?” as that would be getting political, which I won’t do on a blog. But… what do you think of when you say “I am an American.” For me, a few key “normal every day” things come to mind… and I mean this seriously, not as a joke:

  • Apple Pie

  • Hot Dogs & Hamburgers

  • Hollywood

  • Stock Market

  • Tipping

  • Convenience

convnient.jpg

There are tons of other things I could have added, some judgmental and some humble, but I am not going for a controversial post… I’m going for the casual feel of “oh, yeah, that just feels American to me.”

  1. Apple Pie
    • There is the saying “as American as apple pie,” which is a well-known quote.
    • There’s the movie “American Pie,” which provides a pretty strong commentary on what it’s like growing up in American high schools and colleges.
    • Towns fight over the best way to make apple pie: type of crust, covered or uncovered, which apples, sweet or fruity…
    • I enjoy apple pie, but it wouldn’t be my first dessert. Desserts in my world require chocolate.
    • I don’t think I represent America well, when it comes to apple pie.
  2. Hot Dogs & Hamburgers
    • Quintessential BBQ food, especially on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.
    • Have been turned into a gourmet food in some places, i.e. how many different ways can you re-invent this staple of the “American diet.”
    • I won’t eat hot dogs as I’m not a fan of mystery meat, even when it’s “all beef.”
    • I’ll have a hamburger every once in a while, but I much prefer filet mignon or steak tartare. I’m obnoxious, I know.
  3. Hollywood
    • Included because it’s where everyone goes and talks about, when it comes to entertainment.
    • From Old Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s to today’s super-idolized gossip and drama, it’s been a staple defining the country for an entire century.
    • Everyone talks about TV/Film Hollywood stars; it’s the go-to conversation more than books, plays, sports… it’s a universal standard for things to talk about.
    • I enjoy films and TV shows. I talk about them. But I’m more apt to talk about books. I don’t follow or track celebrities, nor do I care if I pass one on the street. It’s a secondary thing in my life, not a driver.
  4. Stock Market
    • Driven the world’s economical impacts for many years. I’m not saying it’s the only driver, but it’s been an influential piece for nearly two centuries.
    • It’s on the news every day, especially lately!
    • It’s used as a way to judge “how the world is doing” instead of looking at how people treat one another.
    • I know a little bit about it. I invest in it. I check a few key numbers each day, but that’s more because I like watching counts go up/down and measuring numbers from day to day, regardless of if it’s the stock market or the weather.
  5. Tipping
    • The US seems to have its own tipping standards, and the rest of the world is not a fan of how it works here.
    • In all my 40 years, I still struggle with understanding exactly when to tip and when not to, i.e. maintenance in my building, deliveries, services. I probably over-tip as a result, but it’s painful even for Americans!
    • I always thought 15% to 20% was the scale. 15% if it was so-so, 20% if it was stellar. Now, I see 22.5%, 25% and 30% on receipts, taxi screens, etc. So confusing!
    • My standard now is 20% for 8 out of 10 occasions. If I had a problem with the service, I’ll drop it to 15%. If it was awesome, I’ll leave 25%.
  6. Convenience
    • In the past, it feels like the motto was either “Work hard and you’ll achieve your goals,” or “Nothing worth having is easy.” Or some paraphrasing around those messages.
    • Now, it feels like the focus is “How can we get something done quicker, faster, cheaper?” Certainly has been prevalent in history before, but now… with technology, it’s all about pushing the envelope even more.
    • Everything is being designed to accomplish more in as little time or space as possible
      • On one hand, this is great if we are saving our environment or resources.
      • It’s exhausting us and causing more illness.
    • I feel like people often think “they take it easy in America” when it comes to just doing or saying whatever we want. I would agree we are definitely all about the convenience, but at the same time, we take the worst vacations (meaning we work the entire time, and there’s little work-life balance).
    • Me personally… eh, I tend to try to do as much as possible in as little as possible time, so I probably fit this one fairly well.

So…. 6 things I think of when I hear the word “American.” All non-political and non-controversial. I’m not focusing on the land of the free… all important stuff, but I purely wanted a reflective moment, not an argumentative one.

How about you? What other attributes do you think are American? Which of these do you fit in? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve noted?

About Me & the “365 Daily Challenge”

I’m Jay and I live in NYC. By profession, I work in technology. By passion, I work in writing. I’ve always been a reader. And now I’m a daily blogger. I decided to start my own version of the “365 Daily Challenge” where since March 13, 2017, I’ve posted a characteristic either I currently embody or one I’d like to embody in the future. 365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.

The goal: Knowledge. Acceptance. Understanding. Optimization. Happiness. Help. For myself. For others. And if all else fails, humor. When I’m finished in one year, I hope to have more answers about the future and what I will do with the remainder of my life. All aspects to be considered. It’s not just about a career, hobbies, residence, activities, efforts, et al. It’s meant to be a comprehensive study and reflection from an ordinary man. Not a doctor. Not a therapist. Not a friend. Not an encyclopedia full of prior research. Just pure thought, a blogged journal with true honesty.

Join the fun and read a new post each day, or check out my book reviews, TV/Film reviews or favorite vacation spots. And feel free to like, rate, comment or take the poll for each post. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreBook Review
3 out of 5 stars to Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, a new mystery and thriller novel set to release on June 13, 2017, by author Matthew J. Sullivan.

Why This Book
For all us readers, who wouldn’t love a book with such a title? And when you read the description, learning about a horrific murder from the past, a suicide in the present, and mysterious connections between all the characters, your intrigue and suspense spidey senses will climax. I found it on NetGalley and thought it sounded like a good debut author to take a chance on. And so, I requested it, got approved and dropped it into the reading schedule for this month… as it will be released to the general public in about 3 weeks.

Overview of Story
Lydia’s mother died during childbirth, and she was raised by a father who knew next to nothing about being a parent. Refusing the help from any other family or friends, he did his best to raise his daughter, making a few mistakes along the way. During her childhood, Lydia befriends Raj, whose parents own and operate a gas station & donut shop in their Colorado hometown. Lydia and Raj seem destined to be together in the future. When Raj and Lydia meet another young girl, the three try to maintain a friendship, but something disastrous takes place, changing the future of their lives.

Years later, Lydia works at a bookstore several towns away, but she no longer speaks with her father. One night, her friend Joey, a “BookFrog” released from prison for a childish prank that went wrong, commits suicide. He leaves behind a few clues and notes for her to find, which lead to Lydia finding something that connects Joey to her past and the vicious murder of her friend and her friend’s parents. Lydia begins to realize her own father may have been more involved than he’d led her to believe. Raj re-emerges in Lydia’s life after being absent for nearly twenty years, and together, they try to track down Joey’s biological family, in the hopes they can discover all the connections. And when they do, everything implodes on them.

Approach & Style
The story is told in past tense by a third person narrator, who follows Lydia around for most of the book. It jumps time frames from when she was about ten years old to the present, when she’s in her thirties. The primary story is discovering who murdered Lydia’s friend and her family, when Lydia was a child. It’s also about learning who Joey was and why he chose to leave clues for Lydia about both of their pasts. There are a few romantic elements between Lydia and her current boyfriend, as well as Lydia and Raj, her childhood friend who stirs up feelings again in the future. Woven into the story is the common theme of how the characters all love books throughout their lives.

Strengths
There are a lot of different connections between the primary ten (10) characters, and it keeps you wondering just enough to feel some suspense. The murder scene with the “Hammerman” is dark and grotesque, giving just enough to your imagination while revealing a few core details of the hammer’s physical and emotional impact. I loved the scenes when Raj and Lydia were children. I could see their friendship blossoming. I could sense the growth between them and away from one another when meeting new people. I liked the father / daughter relationship. I felt a little slimy with the friend’s mother who seemed to sleep around a lot before she was killed. Sullivan has great character descriptions and imagination. The people all felt real, usually through their actions and with minimal physical descriptions.

Characters
Lydia is the primary character. She’s strong-willed, but has had some issues with relationships throughout her life. I don’t think she was as flushed out as a character as she should have been. There were a few holes surrounding: (a) why she and her father stopped speaking, (b) why she ran away, (c) why hasn’t she had many relationships beyond the guy she’s currently dating. It almost feels like there are some missing parts of her life which could have led to the suspense of what happened all those years ago.

Joey dies almost immediately, so you don’t get enough time with him. There are a few scenes that will immediately draw you to him, but not enough to warrant seeing him as a tragic man. He’s suffered, and he suffers a lot more when you learn in the last few chapters what became of him in the days leading up to his death; however, I wanted a longer story to have a better understanding of his lonely life.

Lydia’s dad became a recluse too quickly, and I didn’t buy his “love” for one of the other characters. Needed more story and detail around this section. He felt like two different people when looking at where he began and how he ended up.

Open Questions & Concerns
Although the motive and the killer became obvious about two-thirds thru the book, I felt there were too many open holes. I thought there were other murders happening, which confused me as to why the killer murdered anyone but the ones whom (s)he had a vengeance against.

The time gap left too much to my imagination. I wanted to know what happened in Joey’s life and in Lydia’s life to turn them into who they became. There were some details, but I often was left to my own devices, which is not always a good thing!

The ending in the epilogue was weak. It should have explored more about the immediate after-effect of all the drama.

There was another hole (until the ending cleaned it up a bit) failing to truly cover why the person who knew what the killer had done never stepped up and said anything to the police afterwards. Even if (s)he was scared, this was one of those situations where the police could have protected him/her from the killer. It seemed too much like a plot device, especially given everything else that was going on.

Author & Other Similar Books
Although the author co-wrote another book, it’s his debut as a single author of a thriller and suspense novel. It’s a typical suspense novel, jumping around between time periods and characters, dropping clues about the murderer along the way. I cannot think of anything it directly compares to, but has strong elements of family and trust.

Final Thoughts
The book is worth a read. It’s a good mystery, full of drama and emotionally-crippling scenes. It’s got a little horror and some suspense. Think of it like a good piece of cake, but it’s a bit dry at times and is missing a little more filling that would have held it together before we devoured it. As a result, you’ve got some crumbs on the floor, a funny little taste in your mouth and a bit of a thirst to read some more. I like the author’s style and would definitely read another book by him, assuming the plots are tidied up a bit more and the ingredients are fully flushed out.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

365 Challenge: Day 71 – Dark

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Dark: absence of, or very little, light

dark

When I chose the word “dark” for today, I thought readers may assume I was going macabre and evil. And while that may be a good topic for the future, as there is a little sinister part of me that is dark (in the books I read), today, dark refers to the brightness of a light. So… now you’re probably thinking I’m a little peculiar to choose this as a personality-type trait. But it’s true, I prefer to be in dark, or less bright, environments. Perhaps I should explain…

I’ve mentioned before that eyesight isn’t one of my strengths, which has always meant I’ve felt ‘in the dark’ over a great deal of things. It also means my eyes are very sensitive to bright lights. As a result, I tend to keep the lights on a lower setting than most others. Whether I’m watching TV, resting, or even having a casual conversation, I prefer a dim light… sort of mood-inducing lighting. Even when I’m reading, the lights are on only as high as necessary to not strain my vision while reading the words. It feels more calming and relaxing, rather than as though I’m under a microscope being observed by everyone around me.

Many fear darkness. I do not. I’m not saying I’d be happy to be locked in a room with no lights, nor would I want to roam a dangerous place without any way to see what’s around me. I simply mean it feels natural to have a bit of shade, a way to hide a little, from the surroundings. Bright lights tend to make me feel like I should be up jumping around, being very active, almost on stage for all to see. My quiet nature likes remaining in the background, so this makes sense based on what I’ve noted before in the 365 posts.

But darkness is also a place to go when I need to think. I’m easily distracted by noise or moving objects. If I ever need to mull over an important decision, let my emotions control me, or absorb serenity, I need to be in the dark. To me, darkness is like that stage before life begins. It’s a moment of silence to ponder all that could happen… all that you want to experience. It’s the few minutes before the world consumes your innocence, your opinions and your actions.

Darkness, not bright light, is the initiation of something for me. And that seems a bit odd to say it aloud, but it’s how I associate change or transition. Darkness is that period between two situations, two people, two answers, two of anything… like bookends, leaving what happens in between as a place for all to see. And when I need to re-boot, darkness is the source of “new” for me. I see this as a healthy mindset. It’s not a fear. It’s not a way to avoid something. It’s how I can process growth. It’s that opportunity to reflect on what needs to transition.

Think about how you feel after an intense emotional situation. You’re drained. You feel winded. Your body might even hurt. You need to re-group. You need to find energy. Some people rush to the gym or a sport to revitalize. I search for darkness. I listen to the vacuum around me. My eyes search for the patterns or lines, drawing me towards things I could not see when I was distracted by everything the light had shown me. {I’m not being figurative here… I’m purely talking about true absence or presence of light}

Few often think about these things, from anytime I’ve mentioned it to others. How about you? Do you prefer light or dark lights? Which gives you more energy? What about the brightness of light propels or detracts how you behave?

About Me & the “365 Daily Challenge”

I’m Jay and I live in NYC. By profession, I work in technology. By passion, I work in writing. I’ve always been a reader. And now I’m a daily blogger. I decided to start my own version of the “365 Daily Challenge” where since March 13, 2017, I’ve posted a characteristic either I currently embody or one I’d like to embody in the future. 365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.

The goal: Knowledge. Acceptance. Understanding. Optimization. Happiness. Help. For myself. For others. And if all else fails, humor. When I’m finished in one year, I hope to have more answers about the future and what I will do with the remainder of my life. All aspects to be considered. It’s not just about a career, hobbies, residence, activities, efforts, et al. It’s meant to be a comprehensive study and reflection from an ordinary man. Not a doctor. Not a therapist. Not a friend. Not an encyclopedia full of prior research. Just pure thought, a blogged journal with true honesty.

Join the fun and read a new post each day, or check out my book reviews, TV/Film reviews or favorite vacation spots. And feel free to like, rate, comment or take the poll for each post. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Book Review
4+ of 5 stars to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the 4th book in the “Harry Potter” young adult fantasy series, written in 2000 by J.K. Rowling. Although this one was close to a 5 for me, I think it’s enough to give 1 book in the series a 5-rating, which means this one will stay at a 4. But I still loved and adored the characters, the setting, the story, the themes… all of it! Rather than go into a detailed review, as we’ve seen too many of them (always fun to read tho!), I’m just going to chat a little bit about the parts that I enjoyed the most.

1. The selection of the 3 students to participate in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. It’s scary to think the schools condone putting the kids at such risk, but then again, I suppose they’d stop it just before anyone died or was hurt irreparably. To imagine the goblet of fire choosing one from each school, and then Harry’s name being cast as a fourth one… fantastic idea and approach. I felt the drama. And I loved having him put to the test mid-way thru the series… as he never seemed to be all that good of a student or a wizard!

2. The introduction of new characters in this one is intense. I loved all the folks at the various stages of the competition. To see feelings emerge for one another, to know they were going thru the same unrequited love and anger we all go through as teenagers. Was a good experience — I thought it was one of the more real aspects of the series.

3. The imagination for all the tournaments and the dance… fantastic. I wanted to be there watching it all happen. I can only imagine how it felt to write those scenes… knowing it would propel the characters forward in a very different path by the end. And to see the drama of how it all turns out.

I am feeling the need to re-read this series again soon…

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

Review: Scarpetta

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Scarpetta Book Review
3 of 5 stars to Scarpetta, the 16th book in the “Kay Scarpetta” thriller series, written in 2008 by Patricia Cornwell. In this book, Kay takes an assignment in NYC, where she’s handling another crazy potential killer, but one who claims to have a connection to her — again. The past keeps creeping up in these novels… and sometimes it’s just too unbelievable. I enjoyed the book, and it’s better than the last few… but I’m being harder and harder on authors who write lengthy series. It has to be about more than putting out a book a year to make fans happy and to earn more money. I want depth. I need creativity. I want something new.

The good things about the book: lots of gore, detailed autopsy-type info, crazy loons for killers… it’s a good alternative to the norm of a cozy mystery or a historical fiction novel. I like how the books take me away from reality to a place I don’t believe exists, but I’m sure there are some people who deal with murderers like this every day. The other good aspect is the delving into cyber space. Given I work in technology, I love seeing all this stuff, assuming it’s well done. Sometimes it’s dummied down too much, sometimes it’s too detailed. Can’t make everyone happy all the time.

A decent book to read in the series, but still not back on track yet.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

Review: Plum Lucky

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Plum Lucky Book Review
4 of 5 stars to Plum Lucky, one of four “in-between” novellas in the “Stephanie Plum” mystery series, written in 2008 by Janet Evanovich. As if she didn’t have enough already going on, Evanovich released several short books in between the various series she’d been writing, this time linking together Stephanie and Diesel, from one of her other book series. And as if Stephanie didn’t have enough going on with Ranger and Morelli, now she’s lusting after a possible ghost man. Well… so are we all, so are we all…

Atlantic City becomes the focus in this holiday edition where Stephanie’s tracking down her crazy grandmother. The antics with Lula are fantastic. Add in a few other core characters and you’ve got the usual ride. I like these because they are shorter, easier to read in full in about 2 hours. It’s humor and wicked fun wrapped up in memorable characters. Less about the mystery and suspense, more about the laughs. It’s a nice break, but I do prefer the longer mysteries.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

Review: If There Be Thorns

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If There Be Thorns Book Review
3+ of 5 stars to If There Be Thorns, the third book in the “Dollanganger” series written in 1981 by V.C. Andrews. After the first two books, I didn’t think you could keep the thrills and suspense going in this series, mostly because one family can only endure so much torture over the years. Surprisingly, I actually found I liked a large part of this book; however, it was a bit excessive and drawn out at times. The story, told from the perspective of Cathy and Chris’ kids, continues the saga of the torture from a wicked grandmother and mother, combining religious beliefs and family values. And it’s got a Gothic ending to keep readers enthralled the the concept of “payback’s a bitch!”

I love the series because it pushes the envelope. This one explores the theme of adoption, when two half brothers explore and learn who their fathers were and who they thought they were. Cathy and Chris are siblings, yet they are in a relationship and raising two kids. Jory and Bart are examples of good and bad growing up in a loving household, but tortured by the past. When Cathy and Chris’ mom re-enters the picture, you know something bad is gonna go down. And it takes one of the boys on a trail of vengeance. Mostly unrealistic, the books take you on a little jaunt into the wild imaginations of a tortured family who have done nothing but brought on their own destruction. Yes, some of them are innocent; some cross a line not really intending to harm anyone else. Others are truly out to instill pain, and some are just ill. Finding the balance among the different family members is good entertainment. There really aren’t any lessons in these books… just pure drama.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews