Archive | March, 2014

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (5/5) One of the darkest and scariest books I’ve ever read.

17 Mar

I finished my first ebook! I decided a few months ago to download a book on my phone so I’d have something to read in all of those spare minutes we have in life; waiting in line at the grocery, eating breakfast, sitting at the doctor’s office, etc. I’m really glad I did it because it helped me find and enjoy this gem of a book that was first recommended on my page-a-day book calendar.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Eva Khatchadourian’s son committed a heinous crime, murdering eleven people and making national headlines as a school shooter. Eva visits Kevin in his juvenile detention center and the interactions prompt her to write letters to her ex-husband, Franklin. Her series of letters take the writer back over 18 years to before Kevin was born. She tells us about how she and Franklin decided to have children, how difficult it was for her to care for baby Kevin, and her frustrations as he grew up. Her letters build layers upon layers of depth to the act that Kevin committed while not yet revealing why he did it or how. The reader is introduced to the victims families and those who Eva now associates, having sold her prosperous business to pay for legal lawyers. The two timelines, present and past reflection, converge on the Thursday Kevin committed the crime in a way that will make you late for work so you can finish reading it.

I watched an interview wish Shriver on YouTube and she talked a lot about what she was trying to say with this book. Her opinion along the Nature v. Nurture lines is pretty clear in this book. Eva tried to be a good mother and Franklin was a loving father, but Kevin himself was not going to be a good child. Kevin and Celia received almost identical upbringings and turned out as different as Mother Teresa and Hitler. When we hear a child crying in church or screaming at a restaurant, our initial thought is to blame the parents. “Why can’t they keep that kid quiet?” “Just give the darn kid back his toy so he’ll shut up and we can get back to what we’re doing.” A parent can only do so much to control their child because each human being has the ability to make choices: their own free will. No matter what Eva and Franklin did, they couldn’t change Kevin.

As the reader, I never knew what to feel for Kevin. the smallest part of me felt bad for him because his mother didn’t really love him or trust him at all. Most of me hated him and no part of me could understand why he did what he did. His desire to destroy, to kill, wasn’t something I could understand. He wanted to do something that mattered, that people would pay attention to, and instead of a creative outlet or a political stand, he committed a crime. More pointedly, he killed those who were trying to make a name for themselves through political or creative means. I loved what Shriver did with this piece and how much I loved Eva and pitied her and wanted to throw Kevin across the room myself. This was so well written.

This book is so timely because of its topic. School shootings have made news headlines for the last 20 years at least, all of my conscience memory. The past year saw a higher number than I can remember, maybe rivaled by copy-cats after Columbine. It seems to me that the media is obsessed with these incidents, going into depth about the killers, their motivations and how rough their childhoods were. I personally hate giving these men and woman (though more often men) our attentions. It seems a reward for what they did. I think this book agrees with that; we give those who do bad things so much more attention than those who contribute positively to our society. Kevin asks if he would be on TV if he got an A in Geometry. No, he wouldn’t. He’s on TV because he killed 9 people. We seem almost obsessed with violence and death and the news medias don’t help. Maybe we as a society are to blame because it seems obvious that Eva is not.

I watched the movie Friday night and it was true to the book but had one major difference. In the book, we know what Kevin did rather early on in the book and we slowly see how that day came to pass. We see the little things that drove that to happen. In the movie, only the ending reveals Kevin’s crime. Until then, the moviegoer doesn’t know why Kevin’s in jail, what terrible thing he could have done that ruined his family and mother. I almost wish I hadn’t told my husband about what I was reading. He knew how the movie ended, to an extent. I like both approaches to the story but as a reader first, preferred the book. If you’ve read the book and seen the movie, what did you think about the two approaches to the story?

Writer’s Takeaway: Shriver blew me out of the water with this book. She wrote a character that I came to know and understand so well in Eva and a character that I couldn’t understand or relate to in Kevin. She made Franklin both lovable and hated and had these three characters interact in a way that was so logical yet tragic that I wanted to scream and cry. Does that seem over dramatic? Maybe a bit, but it’s all true.

Her approach to the story was very inventive, using the letter format to take the reader backward and forward in time seamlessly worked well. Since flashbacks tend to be awkward in most books, I recommend something like this for a plot that’s destined to be riddled with the haze of memory.

A wonderful read and I highly recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver | Review | The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Review | We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver | Literary Treats
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by Lionel Shriver | Tipping My Fedora
Book | We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver | The Word in Edgewise
Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk About Kevin (Book Review) | Cult of the New

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth (3/5) A reminder not to change your narrator in the final book of a trilogy.

14 Mar

If you’ve been following, you saw me fly through Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I read Divergent and Insurgent not that long ago and on Saturday was able to finish Allegiant. I’m glad I read these so close together and didn’t have to wait for a release and I didn’t have to wait that long for this last book to disappoint me.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Tris and Tobias have made it outside the wall. Now they are being forced to come to terms with what is beyond their known world and it’s a big surprise for them to find they’ve been inside a genetics experiment their entire lives. According to the Genetics Bureau, scientists in the distant past tried to create people with preferred genetics, getting rid of genes that led people to violence or a low intellect. The experiments backfired and the genetically damaged (GDs) were created. The lack of a certain gene in their bodies amplified other negative qualities. Those with pure genes (GPs) started work to help eliminate passing on damaged genetics and large experiments were set up in formerly thriving cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis. Tris, Tobias, and their friends have just escaped from the most successful experiment in Chicago. However, the violence in the city is threatening the future of the experiment and the Bureau is thinking of resetting the experiment by erasing the memory of all of those inside. Tris and Tobias  are appalled to see that the lives of their families and friends can be manipulated by these men so easily and develop a plan to stop them.

The first thing that struck me about this book was that Roth decided to change her point of view from Tris to a shared POV between Tris and Tobias. This bothered me from the beginning and started me off in a bad place while reading this book. Because of the changed setting, I felt like this book was very separate from the first two. The enemy seemed to be very different and it was hard for me as a reader to learn all the new characters in the Bureau so quickly. This book seemed like a blur to me and not a lot of it stuck very well.

I like that Roth used this world to deal with deep issues. The first book spoke to me about family and love. The second dealt with censorship and standing up for what is right instead of what is easy. This final book spoke about not limiting your self and sacrifice and I think Roth addressed these in ways that are accessible to her YA audience. Kudos to her for that.

A lot of the book dealt with sacrifice. Tris feels that sacrificing herself for her family and faction is brave and since a Dauntless strives to be brave, she should make the sacrifice. She speaks with Tobias who reminds her the Abnigation only believed in self-sacrifice if it was the ultimate way to show someone who you loved them. Her self-sacrifice to Erudite in the previous book did not do this and she started to see that it was not brave. When someone is needed to sacrifice them self to stop David from resetting the experiment, she doesn’t volunteer and when Caleb does, she tries to reason with herself that it’s not revenge to see her brother die, but the only way he can show he loves her. I like how Roth defined self-sacrifice for this series because it made me think about why we give up the things we love and if it’s the right reason to do so.

When Tobias finds out that he is a GD, he instantly begins to doubt himself and try to limit his own abilities because he lets this label define him. Tris challenges him not to limit himself and though it takes him a while to see the truth, he is able to do this. I really like this message and I think it subtly addresses discrimination. I’m a woman but that label shouldn’t define me. Those of any minority that are told they are less because of who they were born to be shouldn’t listen. You have to stand on your own two feet and your own abilities to be who you are and never let someone define you. Tobias believed in himself before his genes were analyzed but when his own identity changed, he lost faith. Tris was his rock that helped him believe in himself.

I’m going to stop my comparison to The Hunger Games after reading Allegiant. While Katniss and Tris are both fighting against their governments to gain some freedom for their friends and family, I feel Katniss was more out for herself, trying to survive. She didn’t want to be the Mockingjay of the revolution and was always asking after her mom and sister. Tris, on the other hand, sacrifices herself and knows it will hurt the one person who is the closest to her for the good of the community. Tris is a lot more selfless, fitting of an Abnigation born.

Writer’s Takeaway: It was clear by the end why Roth decided to have multiple POV in this book, but it was really distracting for me. Having read the first two very soon before this one, I was used to Tris narrating everything and as soon as I got into Tobias’s head, I would be confused and checking the beginning of the paragraph to see who was talking. Their voices were too similar. I didn’t like such a drastic change in narrator so deep into the trilogy. What if Gale narrated half of Mockingjay? Yeah, not cool.

I thought Tris was very trusting of certain characters, Matthew in particular, which seemed out of character for her. In the first book, she was very slow to trust anyone, even Christina. If there was a character change that should have supported this, I didn’t see it.

Overall it was a fitting end to the story but the style of it retracted from my enjoyment. 3 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on

Related Posts
Allegiant – Veronica Roth | No Thanks, I’d Rather Read
Allegiant by Veronica Roth- Review by Meredith Sizemore | Nerdy Book Club
Allegiant by Veronica Roth | Review | The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Why Allegiant by Veronica Roth Didn’t Work For Me- It’s Not The Reason You Think | Moon in Gemini

Magazine Gold: March and April

13 Mar

I promised myself that I wouldn’t take advantage of the free 1-year subscription I received from Gus on Out Where the Buses Don’t Run. Consequently, I’m on my second of what will become six magazine summaries of Poets & Writers, this issue covering March and April. I didn’t find as much I wanted to share in this issue as I did the last, but there’s still some things worth exploring and discussion. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The article Where We Write by Mary Stewart Atwell struck a chord with me. She discusses if where we are from influences what we write and is enough to define us. She goes on to discuss if who we are as writers limits the characters we choose. As a white woman, would I ever write a book from the perspective of an Asian man? I almost feel I don’t have the right to. A white man, sure, but I don’t have the experience of another culture to feel comfortable writing from the point of view of another race. Have you ever written from the point of view of another race? Why or why not?

Having finally faced that first rejection letter, I was curious how someone who writes a book considered a ‘failure’ would feel to that type of rejection. So many of us dream of getting to publication because we think it will bring us the fame and recognition we all pine after, but what if it doesn’t? What if we get to publication and still find rejection and failure? Is there any way to recover? One of the authors interviewed had a book that was even a finalist for the Orange prize but couldn’t find a place to publish her book. Another of the authors, Miranda Beterly-Whittemore, was able to sell a second manuscript after her first failed. When she was lucky enough to start marketing the second one, she did everything she could to make the launch successful; blogging, tweeting, and an updated website. A lot of authors today must do their own marketing to help ensure success. Yet a third author, Nina Siegal, knew that with the ability to publish a second time that she had to take the job more seriously. Instead of writing in addition to her day job, she wanted to make sure that publishing her book was her primary goal. She had learned from her first publication that she could write a book, and this time around, she had to write a really good book.

One of the feature articles was an interview with Amy Einhorn, publisher of her own imprint with Penguin Random House. One of my favorite questions was when she was asked, “What feeling do you want to communicate to your authors at the end of your [editorial] letter?” and she answered, “Encouragement.” I love that she wants to encourage her writers and let them know that the changes she’s suggesting are not telling them that their book is bad and has no hope, but rather that they can change a few things to make it even stronger. Another part of the interview that stuck out to me was when she was talking about titles and how when a reader hears a title, it should stick with them. There’s no reason for a reader to forget a title when they go to buy it or search for it on Amazon; it should stick with them. I know my good friend Katherine is going to get her MFA soon and it’s made me look at myself as under qualified because I don’t have a degree like an MFA or even a degree in English. However, Einhorn says that maybe two of her authors have MFAs and that’s really it. I felt a little better. She also mentioned that the bio is usually the last thing she looks at when she reads a query. Thank God. She does say that voice is something that a writer has to have and she can’t teach, so I guess if an MFA will help you find voice, it might be worth it. The last thing she said that I’ll note is that she believes that marketing can only do so much if a book is not strong. She thinks that if a book is strong, it will find readers even if the marketing is a bit slow. Great literature worth reading will find its readers.

The feature topic of the issue was residencies and retreats. The first article talked about types of residencies and where you can go with them. P&W supplies a list of these on their website if you want to have a look. The difference between private and government sponsored residencies was described. Private residencies let a writer set their own schedule and to a degree let them work on whatever they want to. Government sponsored residencies tend to have more of an agenda and the writer is likely to help with environmental or documentation records in the area where they are, usually on government lands. The writers are normally expected to give back in some other way as well: donating a piece to a project that will benefit the effort.

I liked an article titled The People You Meet which discussed how to pitch agents and editors at conferences. I think this appealed to my business background because networking and making connections at business events was one of my favorite parts of that degree path. Many larger conferences will provide a forum for writers to meet with agents and editors, a large part of their appeal. Lance Cleland, director of the Tin House workshop said that writers shouldn’t think of agents as adversaries because truthfully they are the person a writer most wants in his corner. A writer needs a agent to fight for their book to have success. When pitching in person, agent Meredith Kaffel suggests sticking to themes and avoiding plot summaries. If the author can’t tell someone what the overarching themes are, who can?

Applying for a residency is a lot like pitching a novel, except that you’re trying to get someone to buy in before the book is done. Betsy Fagin is a judge for Millay Colony residency and offered some advice. She says to stick to a short letter and compelling writing sample. The letter should stick to your background, previous work, and an explanation of the project the artist proposes to work on.

The Agent Advice section in this article focused on Amy Rennert who owns her own agency. I found three points of her interview very useful. (1) If you’ve self-published without much success, don’t mention it when submitting to an agent. It doesn’t help you stand out. (2) If you are a journalist or columnist, make sure you say so. These professions tend to get a little more attention. (3) Don’t send your letter to more than one agent at an agency so make sure you research the agents at the agency before you pick which one you want to send to.

Journals Accepting Submissions

Little Star Journal, Changes in Life, the prompt, and The Rattle.

Conferences for others in the Michigan Area

Bear River Writer’s Conference, Ox-Bow, and Interlochen College.

Contests With Little Or No Entry Fee

Gemini Magazine ($5 entry), Sixfold ($3 entry), Frost Farm Prize ($5 entry), Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and Dancing Poetry ($5 entry).

Poets & Writers is a great resource. Check out their website for even more information.

Until next time, write on.

WWW Wednesday, 12-Mar-2014

12 Mar

The community surrounding WWW Wednesday that MizB has created has blown me away. Thank you to everyone who participates! I’m so glad I joined this meme.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

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

Currently reading: Will you all believe that I’m only reading three books? It’s crazy, I know. I’m buckling down and really trying to finish reading Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix by J.K. Rowling. I’ve got some time because I’ve already read my book club’s next selection so I’m taking advantage of it. On audio I’m working my way through The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I’m in love with this book and the narrator on the audio is amazing. I needed a new book on my phone and the first one I could find was The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. I decided to read this after I saw John Green tweet about how good it is. I have unstoppable faith in John Green.

Recently finished: I’ve finished two books in the past week. Allegiant by Veronica Roth was the first. I’m almost done for the review for this, it might be up as early as Friday. The other title was We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I absolutely loved this book and I’m going to try to watch the movie this weekend and write a joint review next week. We’ll see how much time I end up having.

Reading Next: I know I keep saying I will read Richard Ford’s Canada, but I know I have a Goodreads First Reads sitting in my shelf and another one on the way. I’ll probably read The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker so I can write the review I owe to the author. It will be good for me to read this prior to re-writing my second manuscript in which a character has Alzheimer’s.

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

Prompt Group: Sobriety, a Way of Life, Celebrities, and Water

11 Mar

My prompt group met last Tuesday and I wanted to share with you what we did. As always, I’ll give you the prompts first and if you want to do them as well, please link back so I can see what your responses were. I really liked all of them this week and I hope you enjoy as well!

  1. Use this quote for inspiration: “You can’t tell me not to come to work because roads are bad and then ask me an hour later to come in and expect me to be sober.” (5 minutes)
  2. Include these three elements: A way of life comes to an end, a snake, and a character going clothes shopping. (8 minutes)
  3. Describe your experience meeting a celebrity. Then, write the scene from the celebrity’s point of view. (5 minutes for each)
  4. Include the quote “I only asked for water,” and a white elephant.

My Responses:

Prompt #1

My wife is standing there, dressed in only the lingerie I gave her for Valentine’s Day and my boss is on the phone, telling me I have to come in. My computer’s on, I did some work this morning, what else did he want? I’m only taking a short break. I was being more productive today than I had been in weeks at the office. And yes, the vodka helped, thank you. So it wasn’t just that I didn’t want to come in, it was that I couldn’t come in.

“I can’t, man.” I glance up at my wife, her chest heaving as she stood over me. “My wife took my car; I don’t have a way to get in.”

“Mike, you better call a cab and get in here right now. That client of yours, the big one? Yeah, he got the wrong week for the meeting and he’s standing in your office right now and he won’t talk to anyone except you. You understand my dilemma right now?”

I understand it alright, but I don’t think he understands mine. My wife is staring down at my dick which is hanging out from where she just finished a little something, if you get my meaning. So yeah, I’m in a bind in more ways than one.

“She’ll be back in a half hour and I can get the car then. I can see you in an hour, but no sooner.”

“You better call that bitch and tell her to get her ass home as soon as she can.” His voice is so loud Sharon can hear his every word and she frowns.

“Hey man, that’s my wife. Watch your tongue.”

You better watch your tongue, you idiot. How could you tell the client the wrong week? Something as basic as a week and you can’t even get it right. Jesus Christ, are you stupid, man?”

I throw the phone on the couch next to me and look at Sharon. “Fuck him, he doesn’t matter. Come here and let’s do this. Then you can drive my drunk ass into work so I can fix his shit. Jesus Christ I need a new job. These assholes.”

She smirks and walks over to me, starting just where we’d left off.

Prompt #2

I look at dresses and bras in a completely different way now. I’m not looking at the prices or the cut or the style, I’m looking at which will hide a boyish frame with no curves, which has the best coverage for stuffed, fake boobs, and which will still look good on a fourteen-year-old boy. Girl; I have to say girl now. I have to say Jessica instead of Jason and I have to say ‘she’ instead of ‘he.’ I was the proud mother of a son and now I’m the mother of a daughter. I’m not sure I can say proud yet, because I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I walk through the aisles, touching fabrics, the way I shop for myself, by touch. But now… it all seems so different but he, sorry, she keeps telling me nothing has changed. I’m trying to believe him. Her.

I see a shirt across the aisle, there’s a cobra printed along the bottom seam which will distract from Jessica’s flat chest. It comes up high on the neck and is red, a color that always looked good on Jason and I have to assume will look good on Jessica. I finger the fabric and feel the soft cotton slip through my fingers. I shop with my hands for myself, why wouldn’t I for my daughter?

I find her size, holding it up to make sure the cut is straight. There’s a rack of sun dresses next to it, gingham print in a soft blue that will go great with black flats. I sigh, knowing I’ll never fit in it and grab one in Jessica’s size, walking back to the dressing rooms.

She’s standing there in front of the mirror, looking at her reflection in a pair of jeans, girl’s jeans. Jason had a pair before, but they were cheap, bought at the second-hand store behind our backs. These were nice jeans, the quality I bought for Jason, I mean for Jessica, before Jessica was Jessica.

“They look good,” I tell her. She doesn’t look at me and spins in front of the mirror, seeing how they look from behind. “Maybe a little tight in the… well…” I gesture toward the front of his jeans. Woman’s jeans don’t hide a male anatomy well.

“I know,” she says in a soft voice. “I’m thinking a size bigger might help. The stitching’s cute.” She sticks her hands in the back pockets and looks at me.

I smile. The stitching does look cute. I wish Jason had talked to me about these things instead of hiding them in the back of his closet. I’m glad that I can talk to Jessica about them. These are things I enjoy; feminine hemlines and make-up, doing my hair just to go to the grocery. These are things that were mine in a house with two men. Now, I realize, they can be ours in a house with two women; my daughter and me. I can’t stop smiling.

Prompt #3

“Excuse me, where’s the bar?”

I shrug my shoulder in the direction of the club house. “Up the stairs and to the left.”

“Thanks, mate.” He sidles away and I finally look up, watching his broad back saunter away toward the club house. It was the accent that made me look up. You don’t get a lot of Australians in Ohio and I studied him critically. It was like he felt my eyes on his back and turned around, grinning at me. My jaw dropped as Chris Hemsworth winked at me, the sun shining off his blonde hair. I gulped and swallowed, not wanting to be caught gaping and returned to the boat I was cleaning, finishing off the knot to connect it to the dock. Then I stood, eyes trained on the club house and waiting for him to come back. His friend’s boat was docked farther down in a slip I couldn’t see. When he reemerged, I moved behind a big sailboat so he couldn’t see me and started scrubbing the deck. I didn’t want to be caught staring again. He walked to his friends with a beer in each hand, giving one to a blonde girl in a bikini. Typical.

She was short with dark hair and, boy, was she cleaning out that boat. I’d never seen someone care so much about another person’s things and I instantly respected her for it. The T-shirt with an anchor on it identified her as a marina employee so I cleared my throat, trying to get her attention. She only brushed the carpet harder.

“Uh, excuse me, I’m looking for the bar?” Everything I said sounded like a question. I didn’t know what to say when I didn’t have lines.

She pointed to a big white building with her elbow. “Club house, up the stairs and on your left.” She didn’t look up, still concentrating on the grey carpet and a stain next to the driver’s seat. I shuddered to think what it was.

“Thanks, mate.”

That was when people would always stare at me. I think if I didn’t have the damn accent I’d have half a shot of staying anonymous in the United States, but these American’s can’t deal with the friendly ways of the Aussies. I walked away and knew that she’d looked up, knew that she was watching me walk away and wondering why an Australian was in Ohio. I would only come to this hell hole to film a movie. There is no other reason: ever.

I couldn’t help looking back. I hated and loved the lost look on people’s faces when they recognize me. If I was incapable of remaining anonymous, why not flaunt it? She was staring of course, and not subtly. I turned back to the club house, sent to get my wife the beer she wanted so badly that we had to dock.

Prompt #4

It was the worst Christmas Party ever. No one understood the fun of a white elephant exchange, no one. I got a candle and a year subscription to People. Who gives these things? I was starting to sweat, my gift still sitting in the pile. It was supposed to be funny, it was supposed to make people laugh, but I think they were all going to be uncomfortable. And damn it if I would tell them it was my gift.

My boss of all people reached for the box and I flinched. He unwrapped it carefully and pulled out the peppermint schnapps and chocolate syrup. The card fell into his lap. I knew what it said: For fun, mix in mouth and swallow. He read it slowly and looked up with a surprising smile on his face.

“Anyone want a try?” He held the bottles up and my heart started beating at a normal rate again. “Michelle? Adam?”

Michelle, the admin put her hands up in protest. “I only asked for water. I have to drive home.” I rolled my eyes. Admins were always the party poopers of a group.

I hope you have fun with these prompts! Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (2/5)- A meandering love story that only leads to a sequel

10 Mar

This immediately goes to the top of the ‘Longest Audiobooks I’ve Listened To’ list. 28 disks, over 30 hours and yes, it took me over a month to finish. To be honest, it got rough toward the end. I’ll explain later.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

World War II is over and Claire Randall and her husband, Frank can finally be reunited. On a trip to the Scottish highlands to reconnect, Claire wonders off to explore some ruins and is transported back in time over 200 years, to 1743. She is taken to the MacKenzie lands and determined not to be a threat, but must find a place for herself in the new time. Claire hopes to return to the ruins where she was transported through time and joins a routine journey with the MacKenzie men during which she’s stopped by John Randall, descendant of her husband, Frank, who thinks she might be a threat and hopes to interrogate her. To become a Scott and remove herself from his English command, she marries Jamie Fraser, nephew of the MacKenzie lord. The adventures don’t end as Jamie has a price on his head for murder and the two must continue to escape Randall’s sphere of influence. Facing prosecution for being a witch, Jamie takes Claire to the ruins where she passed through and gives her the opportunity to go back. Claire decides to stay in the 1740s and stay with her new husband and try to save the Highlanders from the massacre that will come when Bonny Prince Charlie tries to take the English throne.

Outlander is the first of eight books in the series written by Gabaldon. I’ll be honest and say I have no intention to continue the series after reading Outlander. Most of my complaints are from a story-telling perspective, not from an entertainment perspective. On the contrary, there are some wonderful stories within the book. I read that Gabaldon starting writing the book to see if she could do it, not really planning anything or knowing what would come of it. I feel like she never got an editor that explained story arc or character development very well. I think the book could easily have been 500 pages shorter. So many of the mini stories didn’t further the plot (which I’m now confused as to what it is) or develop the characters. There’s only so many times Claire can be almost-raped and saved by Jamie at the last second before I think she’s careless.

I was also not a fan of Claire as a narrator. I know I’ve said it before, but she had that ‘Nick Caraway’ quality as a narrator; she was a window through which I watched the story. She had very little internal dialogue, thoughts, or emotions. Most of what she said was description of action. The reason this really bugs me is it felt like she wasn’t interacting with her own story. She seemed blase, not an endearing character in a narrator.

The thing that bothered me the most was how quickly Claire seemed to forget about her first husband, Frank. They had a weird marriage, from the sounds of it, but I still think she forgot him rather quickly. It was implied that because of the war, they weren’t together for very much of their seven-year marriage and that because of this, they had an understanding that both would be unfaithful and that there would be no questions about it. I’ve never been involved in a wartime relationship and I’m not going to pass any judgement over this, but I will pass judgement on how soon after arriving in the 1700s Claire seems to stop thinking of Frank. He comes up every 50 pages or so, interspersed with how in love she is with Jamie and many near-death experiences. I find it hard to wrap my head around how she seemed to move on and give up on the life she was building for 30 years in about four months.

As with many books about time travel, Gabaldon touches on what would happen to the 1940s if Clair changes things in the 1740s. She has an in-depth conversation with a French scholar at the end of the book when she is deciding what she should do about the pending destruction of the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden. Does she have the right to interfere and maybe change history? They decide that her knowledge of the future is a gift from God and to remain inactive is to deny his blessing. I really like this idea. Claire’s biggest concern is the death of Jack Randall, ancestor of her 1940s husband, Frank. He died sooner than family records indicate; does that mean if she goes back, Frank will not exist? These are the kinds of questions I love about time travel.

I realize that this is starting to be me ripping on the book more than a review of it and I apologize for that. I follow Gabaldon on Twitter now and I saw that she is heading to Scotland to film a TV series for the Starz network based on her books. I feel these books will make a better TV show than they do novels, honestly. The up and down of the action will lend itself well to one-hour segments. While I’m not going to get cable to watch it, I’ll try to find it on Netflix when it becomes available. From me, that’s a huge compliment.

Writer’s Takeaway: I was talking to my friend Alex, who is also reading this book and he said that he heard Gabaldon was a ‘pantser,’ meaning she wrote with no plan. I’m in the midst of trying pantsing myself, being quite the planner, and I think this book is the epitome of the bad things that come with pantsing. It seems like Gabaldon had no direction for her book, which becomes increasingly obvious as the book goes on. I felt that she finally figured out she wanted to talk about the effects of one’s actions on changing the future very close to the end. The pregnancy at the end felt a lot like Fifty Shades of Grey which had much of the same feel.

I think Gabaldon did a great job with character development. Claire was not as well-developed, but Jamie and the MacKenzie men were each their own, distinct character and I really enjoyed reading about them. They had very realistic strengths, especially Colum, the handicapped leader who was as sharp as a tack. None of her characters, even Jamie, seemed to have any ‘super natural’ heroic qualities. I thought the villain, Black Jack Randall, was perfectly loathsome. I loved him.

I also must add, Gabaldon writes some really quality sex scenes. This is, after all, a romance novel, and she does it well, without the action seeming overly explicit or underdone. She’s a good example of this.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. Only two out of five stars.

This book fulfills the 1700-1799 time period for When Are You Reading? and Foreign Country: Scotland (UK) for Where Are You Reading?

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon | Rhapsody in Books WeblogThe Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon | the redheaded reader
Review: Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (Cross Stitch) | Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews

Recently Added to my To-Read List 7-Mar

7 Mar

I realized the posts I do where I update you on what I’m planning to (eventually) read are a lot like the Friday Finds on MizB’s blog, so I’ll try to time them up with those. Let’s cut to it, shall we?

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I could swear that my husband told me about this book, but he’s never heard of it. I saw it on someone else’s WWW Wednesday post. The story follows a boy who has received messages from a classmate about the 13 reasons why she committed suicide.
  2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This one had been in my periphery for a while, but after a coworker praised it to me one day, I knew I had to bite the bullet and add it to the list. The main character is perpetually reincarnated and tries to make the most of each of her short lives.
  3. O, Africa! by Andrew Louis Conn. This was a Goodreads First Reads win, my first in a while. Two brothers trying to make it in Hollywood try to stay ahead of the curve by going to get the next big thing: footage of Africa. Did I mention this was 1920s? I’m a bit excited.
  4. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. With all the Rowell buzz going around today, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. I saw a book blogger review it positively and it jumped on the list, aided because Nicole has a copy I can borrow! The main character falls in love with a woman whose conversation he’s monitoring for security reasons. (I suspect in true Rowell fashion that this will be a lot better than it sounds.)
  5. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I’ve seen this play before and really enjoyed it. When I asked for suggestions on a book to read for the 1890-1909 period for When Are You Reading?, Katherine suggested this title. A classic farce of mistaken identities and Wilde’s wit.

So there they are! The next five books to be added to the never-ending ‘To Read’ pile.  What have you added to your list? Anything on my list strike your fancy? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth (5/5). The trilogy ramps up!

6 Mar

I know I said I read Divergent quickly, but I flew through Insurgent. I think I read 95% of the book in three sittings, the last one being Saturday morning where I didn’t get out of bed for three hours because I wanted to finish it. I considered giving this 4 out of 5 stars as well, but I liked it a lot more than the first book, so it gets a full 5 stars. By the way, there will be massive spoilers in the summary. You have been warned.

Cover Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

Cover Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Starting off exactly where the first book ended, Tris and Tobias must find a way to defeat the Erudite and the rebel-Dauntless who have murdered half of the Abnegation. They try to find support in Amity to no avail and hide themselves temporarily among the factionless before seeking refuge among the Candor. When they learn they are a bargaining chip the Candor leader will use to save his own pepole, the Dauntless return to their home. Jeanine has had the rebel-Dauntless raid the Candor headquarters before they can escape, shooting a simulation chip into most Candor and some Dauntless. Tris and Tobias fear that with this power, Jeanine will attack again and the Dauntless numbers are not high enough to fight back. The Dauntless align themselves with the factionless in an attempt to eradicate the Erudite and their knowledge.

Meanwhile, Tobias’s father knows that there is some secret information that Tris’s father died to protect. Jeanine is keeping it from the rest of the population because it will change the way society functions so entirely that nothing will never return to the way it was. Without telling Tobias, Tris finds a way to avoid the Dauntless invasion, instead sneaking in with a team of four and trying to uncover the information. While Tris fails, Tobias find the information and is able to broadcast it to the entire population. It would seem that everyone is living in a giant experiment that hopes to find those with the ability to problem solve from different points of view: the Divergent.

I am much more enthusiastic about this series after reading Insurgent. The summary I gave leaves out a bunch of things for the sake of simplicity and still probably doesn’t make much sense. I’m too busy thinking about reading Allegiant to care. The ending reminded me of a book I read way back in middle school, Running out of Time, where the main character discovers she’s living in a time capsule and that outside of her town, it’s not the 1700s but the 1990s. I’m so excited to see where Roth goes with the final book and I’m anticipating finding out what happens beyond the walls.

Insurgent is about power: who has power, who deserves it, who we should trust with power, and what to do once you have it. Evelyn, Tobias’s mother and leader of the factionless, gains power and tries to usurp the factions and impose a faction-less system. Jeanine obviously has power and she keeps it through careful guard of information and limited access to full details. Tris is nominated to be a Dauntless leader but turns it down, knowing that there are others who will use the power better than herself. The question of whom to trust is hard to answer. Johnanna, the leader of Amity, seems to be one of the most trustworthy to me. She defies her own faction in order to stop the fighting, realize that what’s happening is bigger than her and Amity. Even in the end, the most powerful thing is information and it’s only through freedom of information that power can be restored.

Jeanine withholding information is a good reference to censorship and what it can mean for a population. In Insurgentthe population doesn’t know their origins and when Jeanine finds out and knows it will hurt her, she keeps the information hidden. This reminds me of the Freedom of Information Act and how scared politicians seemed that the information revealed would damage them personally. Government censorship is a hot topic in many countries today, North Korea being a prime example. Censorship can oppress a population into submission.

Comparison to The Hunger Games is obvious. An oppressive government that wants to hold off a revolt through withholding information, etc. The change that I like in the Divergent series is that the oppression really comes from within. Whatever exists outside the fence has set up the world that Tris lives in, but Jeanine is keeping them there. I really like this twist and it feeds on fear of the unknown.

Returning to the theory that dystopias are popular now because of our dissatisfaction with the current government and economy, I think that censorship is a great topic for Roth to cover in her books. I’ve heard before that those outside the US think we’re ignorant of world issues. I wonder if Roth is commenting on this and how the information we receive is filtered. On the news, I’m more likely to see a piece about local high school sports than the Ukraine. That’s a form of censorship.

This is probably the least coherent book review I’ve written and I think it’s because of what a whirlwind this book was to me!

Writer’s Takeaway: Talk about action! I almost think there was too much action in this book. In each of the short chapters, there was a massive amount of action packed into the terse prose. The plot kept moving so quickly that I didn’t have time to absorb what was happening some times.

I also thought there were a lot of characters and it was hard for me to keep them straight. I was glad that Roth didn’t re-introduce every character at the beginning of the second book, but even characters I thought had clear relationships in my mind got confused by half way in. I couldn’t remember everyone’s girlfriend, parents’ names, original faction, and loyalties; it was too much.

Despite these complaints, I still think this was an excellent example of a YA book with action and meaning. I think it was a great sequel. A full 5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review- Insurgent (Divergent Series. Book #2) by Veronica Roth | Book Gossips
Insurgent by Veronica Roth | Review | The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Insurgent by Veronica Roth | Nerdy Book Club
Lottie Reviews: Insurgent by Veronica Roth | Lottie Reads
Insurgent by Veronica Roth Review 3/5 | Blogs-of-a-Bookaholic

WWW Wednesday, 5-Mar-2014

5 Mar

I’m trying to become a regular in the WWW Wednesday meme hosted by MizB on Should Be Reading. Here’s my second in a row (yay for consistency)!

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

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

Currently reading: I’m down to four books, which is good for me. In print I’m reading Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I’m tearing through the series, it’s a bit frightening actually. I’m also still pecking away at Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix by J.K. Rowling. I’m into this one for the long haul. I did manage to get some read before my husband brought Allegiant home for me. He took it from his classroom library. I’m not really stealing from 7th graders, it just looks like that. On my phone I’m getting close to finishing We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This book is crazy good and I hope I can finish it up soon. I’d say this week but, you know, Allegiant… And on Audio, it’s The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and I’m liking it a lot more. It’s my drive-home-book now, too.

Recently finished: I finished two books on Saturday, Insurgent by Veronica Roth and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Insurgent review will be up tomorrow, Outlander some time next week.

Reading Next: I’m pushing myself to finish Harry Potter, and I still hope to read Canada by Richard Ford next. We’ll see how long it takes.

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

Book Club Reflection: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

4 Mar

I had highly anticipated our group discussion of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. If you recall, I wrote a highly enthusiastic review of it really shortly after we were assigned the book. I’ve been giddy for the group meeting ever since!

Mostly everyone in our group enjoyed the book. Strayed did a wonderful job at melding her back story and her adventure on the hike together so that the flashbacks never seemed sudden or out-of-place. A lot of us enjoyed how she started the book with the scene in which she loses her shoe over the side of a cliff because it gave us a lot of tension. As we followed her on the start of her journey, we were already weary of a conflict she was going to face down the road.

Despite this, we didn’t find Strayed very likeable as a person. We wanted to empathize with her, but she was in such a unique situation that none of us could relate to her. I personally found I understood her better by the end. One thing that bothered us was that her decisions seemed so reckless, especially the way she would spend the little money she had on the trail. Using $18 of $20 to buy dinner at one stop? That seems a bit over the top.

There were more than a few things she did that seemed foolish to us. The most obvious is the amount of stuff she carried. When Albert went through her pack, there was so much that seemed obviously unnecessary and as she hiked, the things she didn’t have became very apparent. Though she got a lot of advice from the guys are REI, she really should have done some more research about the conditions she would be hiking in and the terrain she would cover. Those seemed to be her weaknesses. Though she admits she should have practiced with the weight, we still faulted her for not listening to the most basic advice. Not breaking in her shoes? Rookie traveler mistake; I wouldn’t go on a weekend trip with shoes I hadn’t broken in, yet alone a three-month trek the width of the US.

One thing we thought she should have brought and didn’t was something more to protect herself. Besides the loud whistle, she didn’t have much and I think it became obvious when the day-hiker seemed sexually aggressive toward her. Someone from our group suggested that mace or pepper spray could have been a good idea.

Someone volunteered that the only thing she did seem prepared for was to find a hook-up on the trail. Strayed had brought a roll of condoms with her for the hike. Having commented that the PCT is one of the lesser-hiked trails in the US, this seemed a strange thing to pack. I don’t think she even met enough men to use one for each. But then when she did actually need one, she was too embarrassed of her scabs to even consider using it. What an irony that is.

Her time with Jonathan the Bartender was probably not the highlight of her life, but it was something that Strayed didn’t try to hide. She doesn’t seem at all embarrassed by the casual sex that she admits to having. There’s really not anything about her time on the trail she seems embarrassed about. We wondered if she’s really proud of the things she did; if this book is one she would want her children to read. If I’d written it, I wouldn’t want my offspring to read it.

All of the people who Strayed met on the trail were very giving, which was very refreshing after hearing multiple news stories about how those trying to help someone in need will frequently fall victim to assault. We felt that in a situation like hiking, people are generally nicer to those they fun into. Ed, the trail angle, was my favorite example, and one of our favorite characters, along with Jonathan. Because they have the same shared experience, they feel a sense of camaraderie that strangers wouldn’t feel otherwise. Though, we felt the others on the trail didn’t have the same drive as Cheryl; they had other lives to go back to, options they could take if the trail defeated them. Strayed was very stranded on the trail.

We questioned why the PCT seemed attractive to Strayed at that stage in her life. Now, as a wife and mother, we doubt that she would be so willing to go hiking alone for three months. We think she wanted to get as far from her life as she could; she was unhappy with her divorce and felt she had nothing left in Minnesota that was worth sticking around for. She was desperate to do something on her own and hiking alone is probably one of the most solitary things a person can do. We believe she wanted to do it as a sort of confidence booster as well. We felt she’d lost a lot of faith in herself when her mother passed and that hiking alone helped boost her self-esteem. One of our members suggested that she might have done the hike to have something to write about, being a writer after all. Whatever her motivation, we were all amazed she never gave up.

Strayed seems to pinpoint her reason for going as the death of her mother. We felt that her mother was the only thing giving her life direction before she got sick. Without the rudder of her mother to hold her on course, Strayed didn’t have a paddle to steer with. She gave up her life to grieve for her mother. Having the ability to stop living to grieve is a luxury and after dropping out of school and getting a divorce, she couldn’t afford that luxury any longer. Her time on the trail finally gave her the time to grieve. She was so angry on her mother’s 50th birthday, anger being the second stage of grief, a long-awaited step for Strayed to take.

Even before her mother’s passing, Strayed seemed a little off the beaten trail. Her mom and she didn’t have the most stable relationship, either. Her mom was somewhat in-and-out of her life, never around because she had to work and then coddling her children when she could afford to. We never understood her mother’s financial responsibility, which might explain Cheryl’s recklessness as well. How could she insist that she needed a horse when her family couldn’t afford running water?

Strayed never seemed to take responsibility for her actions, something she may have gotten from her mother. She didn’t finish college, even though she was only one class from graduating. Now, we see that she’s gone back to finish it, but at the time it wasn’t something that crossed her mind. Her younger brother, Leif, was only eighteen when their mother died and Cheryl didn’t provide comfort or any means to him when he was left alone. The thing that bothered our group the most was how she abandoned her relationship with Paul. She began acting like he didn’t exist or matter, cheating on him with every chance she had. Being on the trail forced her to take responsibility for her actions.

We debated if the hike helped her get over Paul and our consensus was that she didn’t need to get over him, he needed to get over her more than anything. They were still very involved in each other’s lives after the divorce, something that I think hurt Paul more than Cheryl. I’m glad that they were able to move on, but I still think it’s weird that they got ‘divorce tattoos.’

One of the reviews we saw for the book called it ‘funny,’ but not many of our group agreed with that statement. There were a few funny moments, when she urinated on the road because there was no one around and seconds later a car went by being one example. We also laughed when she ran into the stoned hippies looking for a music festival, when she was covered in mini frogs, and when she shook someone’s hand minutes after putting a natural sponge in for a tampon. Overall, we didn’t find it that funny.

One of our members did think there were a few eerie moments that almost seemed supernatural. The first was when she saw a fox on the trail and called out to it, ‘Mom!’ It felt like she had felt the presence of her mother in the animal. The other was when the Swiss woman said she was her calling to rub Cheryl’s feet (244). I think this reflects Strayed’s sentiment that she was supposed to be hiking the trail.

Someone compared this book to Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods. I’ve never read Bryson, but I’ve been told this title is very funny; probably as funny as the lone reviewer found Strayed’s book to be. It got me thinking a lot about how I’d like to go hiking, but geographically it would make more sense for me to hike on the Appalachian Trail. One of our members had done what’s called ‘hut hiking’ on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. I don’t know about you, Reader, but I think this looks incredible.

There is a moving coming out soon based on this book with Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl. We talked about how we’d expected someone younger, but that movie magic can take off years. We pictured someone more like Ellen Page, Amy Adams, or even Dakota Fanning to play the role. Who do you think would be good in the role?

Our next book for this group is Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding which I’m currently listening to on my phone. I think that will make for a wonderful discussion as well.

Until next time, write on.