How COVID19 Has Changed My Reading Habbits

6 Apr

I think we’re all making adjustments to the new world we find ourselves in. I plan to talk more generally about how it’s affected me later, but I want to talk now about how it’s affected my reading. I’m sure other book lovers are feeling this, too.

Normally, I have about four books going at once: a physical book, an ebook, an audiobook on CD, and an eaudiobook. I read the physical book when I’m home, I read the ebook when I’m at work or waiting at the doctor’s, I listen to the audiobook in my car, and I listen to the eaudiobook when I’m working out, cooking, or doing something else around the house. It’s a good balance and I get to enjoy a little bit of each story every day.

Well, that was before. With COVID19, I’m not driving to work and my kitchen table is also my office. I don’t have a morning commute and instead, have some downtime before I start my workday.

I wake up in the morning and do some light exercise, listening to my eaudiobook. I then take a break to read my physical book for a while until I need to start my workday. Instead of breaking for lunch, I either do an indoor bike ride or go for a run while I enjoy my eaudiobook. In the evening, I read my physical book again.

So there’s a lot less time for my ebook and my physical audiobook. I’ve been trying to pick my ebook up when I think about it, but I don’t think about it much. And I’m not driving much at all but I’ll volunteer for errands periodically so I can have some time in my car to work on my audiobook. They’re both going very slowly when I usually have a good amount of time for each in my day.

So I’m adjusting. I know I’ll go through eadiobooks faster so I’m lining them up for a quick transition to another. I’m finally getting through the large shelf of physical books I’ve been neglecting for a while. And I’m enjoying it all a lot.

We’re all adjusting to this new normal. Our daily routines have been completely changed. I know I’m not alone and I know these are minor adjustments to have to make. I’m not trying to complain; I’m trying to discuss how I’ve adjusted and I’d love to hear what adjustments others have made. Libraries may be closed, but their online resources are still available and so valuable. I hope others are taking advantage of them. We’re lucky to live in a digital world.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Challenge Update, March 2020

2 Apr

What a weird month. That’s all I’m going to say about that one. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in March:

Lethal White // Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) (4/5)
August Snow // Stephen Mack Jones (2/5)
The Girls at 17 Swann Street // Yara Zgheib (4/5)
Fingersmith // Sarah Waters (3/5)
The Yellow Wallpaper // Charlotte Perkins Gilman (3/5)

And caught up on reviews! Here’s a positive side of the pandemic.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

5/12
Moving forward! I used Fingersmith to mark of the 1800-1899 time period and The Yellow Wallpaper could have been used for it, too. I’ll call that a double win. I hope to keep ticking these off, one after another.

Goodreads Challenge

14/55
I’m one ahead right now but I don’t know how long that will last. I’m in the middle of a lot of books, too, which I know will slow me down or a while but I think it will be for the best in the long run.

Book of the Month

I’m going to have to go with Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). It was really fun and reminded me while I like this series so much. I’m glad the fifth book is coming out soon so I can’t forget too much before learning more about Robin and Strike.

Added to my TBR

I’m shocked to say this is down to 55! I haven’t been this low since I joined Goodreads. I’m killing it.

  • None! Can you believe it? I’m in shock.

Personal Challenge

I’m gearing up again to track personal goals here. This is a great way to keep me accountable and to tell you about me outside the wide world of books.

  • Triathlon Age Group National Championships: Well. I’m set to start training on April 20th. We’ll see how that goes. At this point, I haven’t been in a pool for almost three weeks. I’m running or biking 6 days per week and doing stability exercise each day as well. I’m probably in a better place than most since I’m not concerned about the swim. This race isn’t until August so we should be in the clear, but I’m still not holding my breath.
  • Submit my novel: Here’s somewhere I’m slacking. With everything going on, this hasn’t been a priority. I’ll get more into it next Tuesday when I do a post about my writing, but a good summary is that I’m not moving forward with this at the time since the world isn’t moving forward at this time. I do hope to get back to this, but it may be quite a while.

How are your challenges going so far? I hope you’re off to a good start. If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for this year, it’s fun!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 1-April-2020

1 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: Yet again, I’ve barely moved forward with White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I did renew the check-out so I’ll have another three weeks of nothing with it. Oh well, it’s there when I do need it.
I keep finding excuses to drive to get dinner so I can listen to The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz. I know as soon as I get to go to work again I’ll start flying through this but for now, I’m happy to have started the third disk.
I’ll be moving slowly through Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago but it feels good to finally have my Spanish language book on the move. It takes me a while to finish one of these, but it always feels great to have finished it.
My reading buddy and I ‘met up’ so I could give her a copy of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. In reality, we met in a park and I put the book down on a hill and backed up before she came forward and picked it up. But anyway, I’ve started reading this in fits and starts. It’s what I pick up when I have a few minutes before something else starts; it lends itself well to that.
I started the audiobook of The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller. This is very different than the other Miller books I’ve read so I’m still unsure what to make of it, but it’s getting interesting and I’m curious to see where this one goes.

Recently finished: I finished up The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman as quickly as I thought. It was a fun group of short stories and I enjoyed reading them. It was even more fun when I realized that the audiobook and my physical copy had different stories so I got to read and listen. I posted a review yesterday. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

I also posted a review of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters on Monday. I was a little disappointed by the story in the end after enjoying the beginning so much. It was still a fun ride, but I’m not sure I’m going to be recommending this one to may people. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I haven’t through too far ahead because I feel like I’m just starting so many books. I guess my next need will be an audiobook.  Next up on my TBR is The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson. I don’t quite remember how this made it to my list, but books about books are always welcome.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (3/5)

31 Mar

I was given this as a gift a long time ago, I believe for Christmas in 2014. The friend who gave it to me did because I’d shared an article I read where the author says that the wallpaper in The Yellow Wallpaper was the most obvious analogy he had ever read. I hadn’t read Gilman’s stories at the time but felt that the title alone made it pretty obvious what was going on. Naturally, she called my ignorance and bought me this copy. And now, five and a half years later, I have the time to get to it. I listened to an audiobook of this collection and then realized my print edition had selected different stories and read the ones that I hadn’t listened to already.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Summary from Goodreads:

Best known for the 1892 title story of this collection, a harrowing tale of a woman’s descent into madness, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote more than 200 other short stories. Seven of her finest are reprinted here.

Written from a feminist perspective, often focusing on the inferior status accorded to women by society, the tales include “turned,” an ironic story with a startling twist, in which a husband seduces and impregnates a naïve servant; “Cottagette,” concerning the romance of a young artist and a man who’s apparently too good to be true; “Mr. Peebles’ Heart,” a liberating tale of a fiftyish shopkeeper whose sister-in-law, a doctor, persuades him to take a solo trip to Europe, with revivifying results; “The Yellow Wallpaper”; and three other outstanding stories.

These charming tales are not only highly readable and full of humor and invention, but also offer ample food for thought about the social, economic, and personal relationship of men and women — and how they might be improved.

There were some similar themes in a lot of these stories. Many focused on a woman’s happiness in marriage and motherhood and about female independence. I have to imagine that for the time they were written, these weren’t very common themes. The complaints that many of the women had and being unfulfilled were the same ones I read about in The Feminine Mystique meaning that more than sixty years later, they were still ongoing. I liked the snort and snappy stories Gilman used to highlight these problems. I think they showed the issues well and gave examples of women who were strong and independent.

It’s hard for me to comment on how credible these characters were since I don’t know very much about women around the turn of the century. I could understand the pain they felt and how they wanted to have a purpose in life aside from being mothers as I think we see that continuing into today’s culture. As far as avoiding marriage, I’m not sure how many women at the time were actively trying to avoid getting married or re-married so these characters may not be representative of the women of the time. However, they were resourceful people and I felt the way they were portrayed was very positive and a good role model for any woman who may have felt the same.

Gilman was clearly ahead of her time as a feminist. Her feminist characters want things that today are common: careers, self-determination, and the choice to marry. These are things I have (had) and can completely understand why someone who doesn’t have them would want them so strongly. I love my job and while I’ve considered having a family and staying home, I don’t think it would be long-term for me; I think I’d eventually return to the workforce in some way. I decided what I would study in school and decided to marry a man I love when I was young even when some people tried to talk me out of it. I enjoy the freedoms that Gilman was speaking about.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Image via the New York Review of Books

I can’t remember the title of the story I liked best but I think it was When I Was a Witch. It was a story about a woman who made wishes and they would come true. She used this power to meter out her form of justice amongst newspaper people who printed lies and people who owned parrots and stray cats. It was a really cute little story about a woman who discovered her own power and made changes in the world to help as many people as she could (as well as those who don’t like parrots). It was a cute and fun story.

The Cottagette appeared in the print and audio editions and I guess that it’s one of the more popular of Gilman’s stories. I wasn’t a big fan of this one, though. Two sisters take a summer cottage to practice their art at a location where meals and housekeeping are provided. One sister convinces the other to add a kitchen and keep house to impress a man who ends up not being impressed by her housekeeping but her art. It was a silly story to me and many of her other stories made much better points so I didn’t like it very much, especially after hearing so many other good stories.

The audiobook was narrated by Kirsten Potter and I enjoyed her narration. She used a good variety of voices for the different characters and her portrayal in The Yellow Wallpaper when the character was going made was great. It started as very innocent and ended up wonderfully creepy. I think I’ve heard her narrate before, she has a long list of works.

This is not radical feminism. In many cases, the women in these stories do get married but they’re doing so on their own terms. It’s a more achievable form of feminism and I think Gilman was doing well to show other women how they could stand up for themselves or have what they wanted in life without doing away with men. I hope that women who read these stories realized that they didn’t have to do away with things in life that would have made them happy or feel fulfilled.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve struggled to write a short story that I feel adequately ways what I want it to say. Reading these helped me understand that maybe I don’t need as much character development or as many plot points as I usually aim to cram in. Many of these stories were pretty simplistic as far as character development and plot and they were perfectly enjoyable. It’s helpful to read other people’s stories to see what I’m missing or putting too much into my own.

Overall, enjoyable but still not my favorite genre tor read. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Yellow Wallpaper
Symbolism, Characterization, and Themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Ms. Brigitte’s Mild Ride
Review: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Diary of a Book Friend
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia

Book Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (3/5)

30 Mar

I read my first Sarah Waters book as part of a book club selection and adored the fast-paced and Victorian setting. I was excited to dive into another. I wasn’t intimidated by the long length of this book at first and took it with me on vacation to Greece so I could dive in and get started on the journey. But somewhere along the way, I got tired of it and it started to grow slow and I began to lose interest. Never completely, as I finished this book rather quickly, but I just wasn’t as invested as I had been.

Cover image via Goodreads

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Other books by Waters reviewed on this blog:

Affinity (and book club reflection and movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways, but no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

I loved the world Waters built at the beginning of the story. Sue was a great character and I liked the battle between her kind heart and her desire to make a fortune for herself. The way she learned to live in the Lilly’s world was fun to watch and I really felt her affection for Maud grow. After the end of part one, I was geeked to see how the rest of the book would play out. But I found myself ultimately disappointed in how parts two and three were paced. Part two was a bore as I’d already seen most of the action play out from Sue’s point of view and I didn’t really need to see Maud’s view; it was pretty easy to guess just based on how part one ended and a little bit of Maud’s story to get her personality. After being disappointed in part two, part three was a little better, but still seemed to drag to get to the main action that ended the story and I found myself bored until Sue made it back to London. The good ending almost made up for the long road to get there, but I was still a bit disappointed.

I’m not sure I ever bought into Maud feeling like a real person. She’s so innocent as to be comical in part one and then so cynical as to be unbelievable in part two. By the time she makes it to London, she starts to seem real but I think it was too late for me to sympathize with her at that point. I liked Sue and I wanted good things to happen to her so I was rooting for Sue throughout the whole debacle and wasn’t too upset when bad things happened to Maud.

Sue was my favorite character. She was a sweet girl and too trusting. It came back to bite her several times but it hurt the most when Mrs. Sucksby betrayed her. She was resourceful though at times she seemed to be a bit helpless. It felt like she had more ‘true’ feelings and reactions to things than Maud did. I could understand why she reacted the way she did to her situations whereas I wasn’t sure why Maud felt some of the things she did. I could see someone falling into Sue’s situation more easily than any of the other characters.

This was a fanciful story. I can’t imagine anything like this playing out in real life because it all seems so far fetched. Nothing in this story was really relatable to me and that might have been part of why it was hard for me to immerse myself. Sue’s life is much rougher than most people in our society can imagine and Maud’s is much grander. They are two ends of a spectrum that was hard to relate to and they both seemed too different from me for me to see myself in them.

Sarah Waters
Image via Goodreads

Sue’s interpretation of her time at Briar was my favorite. I liked it even better when it was flipped on its head at the end of part one. Seeing her slowly fall in love with Maud and begin to care about her was sweet and I enjoyed it. She made Gentleman out to be a huge brute as well which was fun to watch. I’m not sure if I would have liked the book better if it had ended there, but it would have made for quite the ending.

Maud’s section of the book was too much for me. It was very repetitive and the more I think about it, it could have been cut. I’m not sure we learned anything during Maud’s narrative that we didn’t know from Sue already or didn’t learn from her later. I think it made the story drag unnecessarily and would have kept the storyline paced much better to have taken it out.

The ultimate question is what you are willing to do for a family. Sue has a rough sense of family because the people she’s lived without are not blood relatives but have helped raise her. But to Mrs. Sucksby, she is not family because someone else is and she’s willing to sacrifice a lot to restore her family. Maud sacrifices a lot for her uncle because he is family but is pushed to a breaking point and wants to betray him and ultimately doesn’t seem to care much for what happens to him. Sue and Maud are seeking a family that will love and care about them, not necessarily one that is a blood relation. You’re asked to think about which is most important.

Writer’s Takeaway: Waters has a few great twists to this story, the first one at the end of part one and a second at the end of part two that’s fully realized at the end of part three. I think the first and second were too far spaced out. I figured out the second twist based on very little information and then was bored through part two leading up to the twist and then again in part three as the twist became fully apparent. The pacing wasn’t good for me and I think it’s an instance of an author not wanting to cut out writing she liked even when it wasn’t necessary for the story.

Overall an interesting read with some fun twists but still a bit of a drag. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Sarah Waters ⋅ Fingersmith | Watercolorstain
Book Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters | The Owl and the Reader
Surprising Twists, Shifting Identities and Unexpected Pleasures in Captivating ‘Fingersmith’ | Boston Theatre Wing
Review of “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters | Rhapsody in Books Weblog
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters | Vulpes Libris

Off Topic Thursday: Greece

26 Mar

I like to use Off Topic Thursday to talk about things other than books and reading. It seems there’s an obvious topic this month with the global pandemic, but I’ll save that for later and focus on the positives: my trip to Greece with my mom.

We left on a snowy Wednesday in Detroit. This proved to be problematic because we missed our flight in Paris and had to be re-booked. This became a small nightmare as we raced through the Paris airport with no boarding pass (thanks a lot, Air France!) and had to go through security three times. We did finally make it to Athens but our luggage was lost! We had only our carry on bags and were five hours later than planned. No matter, we found our AirBNB, dinner, and a bakery. Sleep was needed.

The next morning we stored our bags and went for an ebike tour of the city. This turned out to be one of my favorite things we did the whole trip. There was a mother-son pair from the states with us and our guide was amazing (and adorable). We saw a lot of the sights we planned to check out again later and got a great overview of the city. We spent a large chunk of the day getting our ferry tickets and some more clothing before venturing down to the port. We got ourselves only a little lost before finding our ferry to Santorini and settling in for the night.

The boat was supposed to arrive at 5AM but the captain announced around 3AM that we were unable to continue on due to high winds. We were in Mykos port and would be staying there until the national weather service gave us permission to continue. That ended up being 11AM so we did not arrive in Santorini until 3PM. It gave us just enough time to make it into Thira to watch the sunset while we ate dinner.

The next day was amazing. I went for a long solo walk in Thira before mom and I took the bus to Oia. If you’ve ever seen pictures of white buildings with blue roofs against a peaceful sea, it’s likely it was taken in Oia. The city was beautiful and we spent a few hours there just taking in the amazing view. We had a great breakfast on a balcony restaurant and I ventured a long walk down to the port at sea level. Exhausted, we made our way back to the hotel and to the airport to catch flights to Heraklion, Crete. We picked up my suitcase on the way and my mom’s was waiting at the hotel in Crete. Finally, we had our clothes!

I was surprised at how big a city Heraklion was. I hadn’t thought an island would have such a bustling city, but I should have guessed such a big island would! We spent the first day visiting the Archeological Museum and Knossos Palace. I had no idea that the oldest building from the most ancient civilization in the world would be a half-hour from our hotel! It was a great place to explore. We had fun that evening getting treats and watching people walk around the main square.

With our clothes returned, I finally went for a run the next day! The sea wall made for a great path and one that was hard to get lost on. We took a cooking class and sampled foods that we both fell in love with. We were surprised how many of the ingredients the women had picked from the mountains the day before! We just don’t have anything equivalent in Metro Detroit. We made our way to a beach so my mom could put her feet in the Mediterranean Sea and grabbed the biggest dinner I’ve ever seen before heading to the port to take another ferry back to the mainland. This one was massive and happily unaffected by the winds to get us to Athens bright and early the next morning.

It was Acropolis day! We started out early and took it slow due to a knee injury my mom has. We started with the new Acropolis Museum which was really informative and well done. It helped us understand a lot once we got to the buildings. There’s no easy way to access the ruins, you have to climb the hill. Once you get to the top, it’s really breathtaking. The remaining buildings are being restored to show their original glory. Some are further along than others and it made me really excited to see how much this will advance in my lifetime. We rode the tour bus for a full circuit to see the other sights from afar and used our city pass to see the Temple of Zeus ruins. I wonder if that monument will ever be reconstructed like the Acropolis.

We used our city pass to see a lot of remails the next day. We started at the stadium from the first modern Olympics which also serves as the finish line of the Athens Marathon (see picture 1). The Olympic nerd in me was in love. We saw the Lyceum, Hadrian’s Library, The Ancient Agora, and the Roman Agora. Needless to say, it was exhausting but absolutely amazing. We spent the evening on a rooftop bar, waiting for the lights to come on the Acropolis.

We used our final day to do a trip to Delphi and see the Oracle. We got on a tour bus and had a great tour guide tell us a lot of stories about the Oracle on our way there. The ruins themselves would have been lost on me if we hadn’t had the guide. She took us through the museum as well. The story goes that the women at Delphi were probably epileptic and were also exposed to methane which induced their ‘visions’ and accounts for the convulsions they’re said to suffer. It was amazing to see the artifacts that were found at Delphi from so far away because of travelers coming to the Oracle to hear their fortunes.

Our trip home was only a little stressful because of the Paris airport again. Honestly, I’ll never fly through PDG again if I can avoid it, it was horrible both ways. But we made it home on time and I got to see my loving husband again. It was an amazing trip and I’m so lucky to have made it home before the really crazy travel restrictions were put in place. I’ve been working from home since I returned, but that’s a story for another month.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 25-March-2020

25 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ve almost come to a stop with White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I’m working from home for the foreseeable future so reading during lunch isn’t happening the way it normally does. I’ll keep renewing this one and hoping I get through a few pages from time to time, but I think I’ll remain at 5% for quite a while.
I haven’t made much progress with The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz because I’m not driving a lot. And when I am, my husband is with me. We’ll see how long this one takes, but the plus side is that I don’t have to return it to the library until they open again and that could be a while.
I picked up a new eaudiobook, The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This should be a really short one, it’s less than five hours. With how much I’m running to avoid stress, I think it should be done by next week.
I finally picked up Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago. I’ve been reading more, which is nice. This one might be a bit slow because reading in Spanish slows me down. But it’s YA, so maybe that will help me get through it in an OK time.

Recently finished: I got through The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib quicker than I thought. I’ve been doing some longer workouts to deal with stress and I got my bike software going again, which means long stretches of listening. I expect to be reviewing this next week.
I flew through Fingersmith by Sarah Waters as well. This had more slow parts to it than I would have liked and it started dragging, which was unfortunate. Luckily, increased reading time helped me power through so I was able to wrap it up. Again, look for a review next week.

Two books reviewed, too! I posted a review of Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) last week. I was surprised so many people were unaware Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling but I’m glad I was able to highlight the amazing series, especially with the fifth book recently announced. I gave it Four out of Five Stars.
I reviewed August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones on Monday. This one wasn’t much of a win for me so I’m almost glad the book club meeting for it was canceled. I gave it Two out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: My Buddy Reader and I recently picked our next book so I’ll be starting in on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern as soon as we find a time to meet up and I can pass her a copy. We’re dividing this one up into 5 sections and we’ll have to wait until we can meet after work again, but I’m still looking forward to it.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib (4/5)

24 Mar

I forget why I added this to my TBR originally, it’s not a subject I’ve read about before. It was probably recommended on some list that I trusted and added it. It only sat for a year because I’m moving through my list a lot faster lately.

Cover Image via Goodreads

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Summary from Goodreads:

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting, intimate journey of a young woman’s struggle to reclaim her life. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

This book disturbed me at times and I think that’s a credit to how well it was written. I felt like I really got into Anna’s head and could understand her struggles with anorexia. It was at times hard to relate to because I’ve never experienced anorexia, but at other times, I could understand it really well. I struggled with body image at points in my life and never revered to the levels that Anna did, but I could see traces of my fears and coping in what she and her housemates experienced. It was painful because it was so real.

The characters felt very real. Having Anna in a treatment facility made it possible to explore different degrees and types of eating disorders. It was interesting to see the differences between Anna and Julia and how they reacted to food and how they felt about their disorders. The conversation the two had in Julia’s room was really enlightening. I appreciated that the focus was really on Anna and Matthias. Having him so involved helped emphasize the impact of Anna’s disease on her family. And how she’s the luckiest girl in the world.

Matthias was my favorite character. He was so dedicated to Anna that it almost broke my heart. He was driving over an hour every night just to spend a short amount of time with Anna. And the dedication it must have taken to help her continue her plan after she came home must have been immense. I can’t imagine watching my spouse go through anorexia and feeling like I couldn’t help or fix anything It must have been really frustrating.

I’ve had bouts of poor body image in my life, though never to the extreme that Anna and her housemates did. I could relate to that; always seeing flaws in my body and never feeling good enough no matter how much weight I lost. It’s a loss of control feeling and I understand why Anna went to the extremes she did to feel in control again.

Yara Zgheib
Image via New York Times

Hearing about the internal struggles Anna had when she tried to eat were very real to me and I thought they were wonderfully done. I’ve had times where my brain seems to be fighting itself, battling between logic and some part of it that seems to have a completely different agenda. It struck home with me and I was so happy when she was able to overcome that voice. It was a great way to show her fight.

I did feel like Anna’s fight was maybe a little too easy. She sees girls come and leave the house while she’s there, but she’s the only one to leave for a positive reason. She sees these girls who have been there for ages, like Emm, but gets out very quickly. I felt it was a bit too accelerated to be believable but at the same time I want to think that treatment could be effective enough to help someone in that short amount of time.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Saskia Maarleveld. I thought she was a wonderful choice for Anna’s story. She had a good accent for a native French speaker and was able to affect a good American accent for the US-born characters. She was able to portray the fear Anna felt very well, too. I could feel the panic and I think it had me running faster when it would get really bad.

Zgheib makes a great point that Anna is the luckiest girl in the world. She has anorexia, but she also has a family that loves her and the access to care that will help her get better. Not everyone with a mental illness is so lucky. People with illnesses need access to care as well as the support and love of those around them. Emm didn’t have that support and Julia was afraid to ask for help and they suffered longer than Anna did. A visit from Sarah’s son was great for her recovery and showed how much we can help our loved ones through hard times. I think this book had a beautiful message about supporting mental illness.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had a strong message but didn’t preach or speak down to the reader in any way. It was impactful because it was true and raw. Truth tells a stronger message than lectures (thus why Jesus spoke in parables!). Zgheib does a great job of showing us Anna’s story and showing how an eating disorder can hurt an entire family.

This book was true and raw, though it did seem to show the best possible outcome of a situation. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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REVIEW – The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib | Dee’s Rad Reads and Reviews

Book Review: August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2/5)

23 Mar

This isn’t a book I would have ever picked, but my book club picked it for me. I was over halfway through when the library canceled all it’s programming through the end of the month which included the meeting for this book. I decided to finish it anyway since my weekend slowed down A LOT.

Cover image via Goodreads

August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones

Summary from Goodreads:

Tough, smart, and struggling to stay afloat, August Snow is the embodiment of Detroit. The son of an African American father and a Mexican mother, August grew up in Detroit’s Mexicantown and joined the Detroit police only to be drummed out of the force by a conspiracy of corrupt cops and politicians. But August fought back; he took on the city and got himself a $12 million wrongful dismissal settlement that left him low on friends. He has just returned to the house he grew up in after a year away and quickly learns he has many scores to settle.

It’s not long before he’s summoned to the palatial Grosse Pointe Estates home of business magnate Eleanore Paget. Powerful and manipulative, Paget wants August to investigate the increasingly unusual happenings at her private wealth management bank. But detective work is no longer August’s beat, and he declines. A day later, Paget is dead of an apparent suicide which August isn’t buying for a minute.

What begins as an inquiry into Eleanore Paget’s death soon drags August into a rat’s nest of Detroit’s most dangerous criminals, from corporate embezzlers to tattooed mercenaries. From the wealthy suburbs to the near-post-apocalyptic remains of the bankrupt city’s factory districts, August Snow is a fast-paced tale of murder, greed, sex, economic cyber-terrorism, race and urban decay in modern Detroit.

The plot in this one didn’t bother me too much, but August was not a character I connected with or liked. He was too overpowered and perfect. He was rich, smart, well connected, and physically fit. There was nothing he couldn’t do. And he surrounded himself with men who were some subset of those things as well to make a strong team. The people in this were just too perfect. It started to bother me. I also felt like someone who didn’t live in Detroit wouldn’t be able to connect to this book at all. There were a lot of city references and directions that I understood but I’m not sure someone from a different part of the state would even enjoy it.

August was just too unbelievable. For every situation, he was the only person poised to solve it. Nothing that came up was beyond his abilities and he seemed to know just the right things to keep the plot moving. It’s a similar complaint that I have about Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s books. But this one stood out to me more. The money and riches pushed it over the edge for me.

Vivian Paget was the only character I felt was realistic. She wasn’t a gun-hungry ex-military sharpshooter. She had real pain in her past and was able to add surprise to the story later on without it feeling too forced or unusual. I found her character interesting and nuanced and I’m sad she was such a short part of the story.

Despite the familiar setting, none of this story was relatable to me. The characters were really removed from my reality. I did relate to the setting. Picturesque Traverse City and a character who worked at a Kroger grocery store a few miles from my apartment hit home with me. I understood those and they helped me feel close to the story, but the characters still eluded me.

Stephen Mack Jones
Image via Publisher’s Weekly

I liked the scene in Traverse City. It’s mostly because of Vivian and the advancement in her character development. It reminded me a bit of the end of Skyfall which is my favorite part of that movie, too. Honestly, not much else stood out.

The constant descriptions of food bothered me. This wasn’t a book that needed to make me feel hungry. I also disliked how the character talked like no one in the world understood how good the food he was eating tasted and no one could experience food that tasted like that. It was annoyingly repetitive and made me binge eat more than I should have.

Snow was fighting for a Detroit he remembered that he felt he was losing. The people he remembered from his childhood were leaving or gone and he wanted some sense of his community back. It felt like he could have done it with the money he had if he’d planned a bit better, but he liked to throw it around more than he probably should have. He invested in individuals because he believed in people. I wish he’d believed in community more since that seemed like what he was trying to reestablish.

Writer’s Takeaway: As a writer, you want to engage all five senses so the reader can become fully immersed in the story. I don’t think Jones balanced them well because taste was so overwhelming. I think this could have had some more sound and smell imagery to balance it better.

Not a great binge read, maybe I would have enjoyed it more without quarantine-levels of reading time. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Post:
PODCAST: Stephen Mack Interview on Novel August Snow | KAZI Book Review with Hopeton Hay, KAZI 88.7FM, Austin, TX

Book Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) (4/5)

19 Mar

I’m loving this series so far. With all the free time I suddenly have, I may have to look into finding the BBC mini series so I can watch it as well. I’ve heard that’s well done. But I like having my own picture of Robin and Strike in my head and I’m not sure I want to change that.

Cover image via Goodreads

Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Other books by Galbraith reviewed on this blog:

Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)
The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)
Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

I’d been hoping the series would start focusing on Strike and Robin’s lives a little bit more. I think with Robin’s wedding being a large part of the last book, it was finally time and I’m so excited about the change. It was fun to see the characters develop alongside the plot and I’m OK with how long this book was to accommodate so much. Rowling didn’t give up the mystery in favor of the character development. The mystery was still twisted and fun to unravel. I hadn’t seen the end coming until the big reveal. I’d seen glimpses of it but as a whole it took me by surprise. And I loved it.

Robin is a very real character. Her relationship with Matt is so well done. I understood why she fell in love with him and why she married him even when I hated him. Her feelings are very relatable and she’s changed a lot through the books and I like how that personal growth is reflected in her marriage. Strike has been less dynamic but his relationships with women are still interesting and fun to read about.

Strike continues to be a favorite character in this series. He’s constantly underrated and dismissed by people who can’t get past his handicap. But he proves time and time again that he’s more than capable and better than those on staff at the police. I can’t wait to see where his character development goes as I think there’s some more change coming to his character soon.

I felt as clueless as Izzy through the story and I liked her a lot because of it. I didn’t understand how most things were connected or why people were acting certain ways. I was unable to switch my perception of certain characters from what I first knew to a different reality. It made it easy to identify with Izzy and understand why the revelations about her family were so hard to stomach.

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

I loved Robin’s plot line as it dealt with Matthew and Sara. That was the only thing I’d guessed before it was revealed. I think Robin was too close to it to see the obvious signs and she was too swept up in the case to look too closely at the clues. I’m glad it wrapped up the way it did and I regained a lot of respect I’d lost for Robin.

The beginning of the novel was frustrating for me. I didn’t like the strained relationship between Strike and Robin. It felt weird that after the wedding, things would be so different between them, but I understood why. After being so close and open for so long, Robin was keeping a big secret. I like that work was able to reconnect them even when Robin continued to keep her persona life to herself. Once that awkwardness went away, I was less stressed out about the book and enjoyed it a lot more.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Robert Glenister. He’s narrated all of the Strike books so far and I think he does an amazing job. The accents he uses for each character are reflective of their regions (as best as I can tell) and his voices for women don’t seem offensive to me. I liked how he changed Robin’s voice when she was acting under cover. The bored tone he gave the Chiswell’s when they were being pompous jerks was great, too.

Privilege and wealth were very prominent in the Chiswell children. It was a big motivator for all of them. Even Izzy, who seemed immune, seemed drawn to strike because he knew Charlotte and that made him desirable. It was their eventual ruin. With their father’s fortune in shambles and his life falling apart, they didn’t know what to do with themselves and the little they could continue to hold onto. The Lethal White of the title could easily refer the children who looked perfect on the outside but were destined to die.

Writer’s Takeaway: The blend between character development and mystery was great in this book. I loved the details of the case because it kept you guessing. The initial contact with Billy was great because he was so psychotic that you had no idea what to think of what he’d seen. I liked that the book ended with following up on this starting point. It was a good way to bookend the story.

Overall, a really enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to continuing the series. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Book Review – ‘Lethal White’ by Robert Galbraith | BookBloggerish
‘Lethal White’ by Robert Galbraith | papergirl