Archive | April, 2014

WWW Wednesday, 30-April-2014

30 Apr

My number of in-process books is slowly going down. Slowly. It’s still a bit out of control. I’m glad MizB’s WWW forces me to deal with my obsession.
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’ve got one book more or less on hold right now. It’s The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which is a Goodreads First Read I’ve been wanting to get into for months now. I hope to power through it in a few weeks when the book club stack slows down.

On audiobook I’m back to listening to Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk. I think I’m getting close to the end on this one and I’ve really enjoyed it for the laughs.

I just started The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa for my book club. No report on it yet but I’ve heard it’s a fast read. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going but it’s starting to get interesting again and I’m excited to keep at this one. I think it will be well worth it in the end. I’ve also started The Maze Runner by James Dashner. You can expect to see this on my list for a few months because it’s my first Read-Along selection. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’ll have read Chapters 1-9 by May 10th.

Recently finished: Finished one book Monday and one on Tuesday! I’m so glad I can report something. I finished the audiobook for And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and a physical copy of The City and the City by China Mieville, which was a book club selection. Reviews coming… eventually!

Reading Next:  I want to re-read the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo so that’s next on my list. Sadly, no link to a webpage for it yet.

Phew that was long! 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.

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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Book Club Reflection: Never Let Me Go by Kazo Ishiguro

29 Apr

This was my first time going to a book club without having read the book in the previous month. I know what you’re thinking, that I’m falling behind. No, don’t think that. I read the book, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, in February 2013 and I didn’t think it was worth my time to re-read it so soon after. I remembered the book pretty well and only felt disconnected when our group members talked about specific word choice. Not too shabby.

We’re on a short science fiction kick in this group (and by that I mean this book and the next) and a good place to start in science fiction is the setting. I didn’t think too much about the setting when I first read this book, but our moderator said it was supposed to be an alternative 1990s England. I wondered what it was in the 90s that made Ishiguro imagine it so differently. The book was written in 2005 so he was reflecting on a time gone by. Our group proposed that it was the cloning advancements in the 90s that might have spurred this line of thought. I remember as a child hearing about Dolly the Sheep and wondering when my turn to be cloned would be. As a writer, I wonder if Ishiguro thought of the idea for this book in the 90s and didn’t get around to writing it until the early 2000s, or has been working on it since the early 2000s.

We wondered what was different about this parallel 90s that we didn’t see in the book. One member asked why there were so many organ donors needed. It’s revealed that there are many places like Hailsham where clones are raised. Is the world Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy live in more overrun with disease that large numbers of organs are needed? Is this an extension of the current National Health System? What organization has put together this system? One option we discussed is that due to advances in medicine and technology, the ‘normals’ wanted to live longer and to survive into old age, they needed young and healthy organs.

The society the ‘normals’ live in is never really explained well. We wondered if the normals knew that the clones were clones. Was there something about society that they didn’t know? Did they dress differently? Speak differently? Was there some way to know that they were not going to live to see 30? I wonder how the normals reacted to these people.

We asked each other at what point we started to suspect something was fishy in this world. One of our members only made it a few chapters into the book and she had assumed the characters lived in an orphanage. We felt that it was when donors and carers started coming up that something was fishy. One member thought the book was going to be very medical from the way ‘donor’ was used. I guess, in a way, she was right. One phrase that was used to describe the setting was ‘quietly disturbing.’ I love that.
The characters in the book grew up in such a strange environment that their development seemed a bit odd. They’re all very co-dependent on each other. They don’t have families so their relationships with the other children are very important and they’re very well aware of group dynamics and keeping everything civil between each other.  Kathy and Ruth had a very competitive friendship, but Kathy was always careful to make sure it never came to a head. Tommy was a sort of game between the two girls and even when Kath had feelings for him, she never said anything because he was with Ruth. How much Ruth and Tommy made a good couple or Ruth was using Tommy just to deny him to Kathy is debatable.

I don’t mean at all that the characters were poorly developed. Quite the contrary. They were developed so well that as readers our hearts were wrenched when the characters died. We cheered for Tommy and Kathy when they went to visit Miss Emily and Madame. We hoped they would get a deferment. Instead, the book took a twisted turn and we learned the full truth about Hailsham and the cloning industry. I liked that Ishiguro waited until this far into the book to describe the world more fully. The story of the one boy who tried to run away and had his hands and feet cut off stuck in a lot of our minds. It can only make us think, ‘Well, at least things were better at Hailsham.’

The question raised by this visit was if the Hailsham kids were better off. On one hand, it’s good that they had happy and fulfilling childhoods. Even though they have a bad lot in life to live, they enjoyed it while they were alive. I feel this makes it even sadder when they die. They knew happiness and what it could feel like to enjoy living and then it was cut short. We were conflicted on if we thought the Hailsham kids were lucky or unlucky.

Kath was an interesting narrator to choose. She is very detached from her life and able to describe it in a very abject way. She seems confused by the situation she finds herself in and not really sure how to describe the loss she feels her entire life. She is a carer for so long and sees everyone she loved dying off around her but is very detached from the sadness. We wondered if having her be a carer for so long was a risk to the program. Wouldn’t seeing Ruth and Tommy ‘complete’ (aka DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH) make her more likely to run? In our minds, yes. But in the world Ishiguro created, Kath had to believe on some level that what was being done to her was right and that it was for something greater than herself. And even if she did run, could she blend in to the normal society? She had no paperwork, identification, or anything to prove who she was. There was nowhere for her to go.

One of the Hailsham teachers, Miss Lucy, was kicked out of the facility for telling the kids what their future held. We wondered what the best way is to raise someone who will be used for organ donation. Do you tell that person when they’re young so that they know their whole life what their future holds? It’s a sort of brainwashing, like one hears about in extreme kidnapping cases. Jaycee Dugard didn’t run because she was brainwashed with fear. These children were brainwashed to think their bodies and lives belonged to some governmental agency that would kill them in the end.

Certain plot elements in the story were a bit strange to us. The gallery was one. Why was there so much emphasis put on creativity and art?  Funny enough, I saw this video on Facebook today and it helped me answer that question.

Being able to create is proof that someone is a sentient being, a living thing capable of thought, process, and creation. (As a side note, I am assuming these elephants are just really well-trained. The idea is that people believe they are capable of creating.) Having the children create art proved the humanity of the clones and that real people were being killed for the organs. We wondered if it was some sort of ethical project to try to boycott the ‘organ farms’ where the children were raised.

Another scene we didn’t understand was when they went to see the empty boat. We were confused as to what it meant. The only thing we could come up with is that the boat took a different path than boats are supposed to take. That’s why it’s on dry land so far from water. We guessed that it was supposed to represent how the world had deviated so far from its normal path and Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy were like stranded boats. It’s a weak assumption, but it was the best we had.

The final ‘What the eff did that mean?’ scene was when they went looking for a copy of the tape Kathy wanted. What we liked about it was that they spent their time in the ‘real world,’ some of their very little time with normals, looking for something that was a memory of their time with other clones. We’re not sure what it really meant, but it was a nice nod to how they were stuck in their own reality and detached from the ‘real world.’

There were two themes I’ll discuss before I sign this off. The first is the comparison with animals. There was a reference to how the clones were bred to be sterile and we knew that the ‘normals’ didn’t like this. It gave them a sense of inferiority. There was a guess from one of the clones that they were cloned from prisoners and other undesirables of society so that normals wouldn’t feel like the clones were better than them. We kind of saw this as similar to animals raised for food. There are genetically modified chickens specifically used for large chicken breasts or more tender meat. Is that any better? Is the way science can change things creepy and too invasive? Some people are vegetarians because of this treatment. Were there people in the book’s universe who wouldn’t take organ donations because of the treatment of the donors? The characters had several connections to animals that made us wonder what kind of connection we were supposed to draw. Tommy’s art in the latter part of the book is of animal hybrids. Ruth talks about wanting to ride horses. However, there were never real animals, only drawings and references to them. We wondered what Ishiguro was trying to say.

The other interesting topic was sexuality. Because they couldn’t get pregnant, the characters had very little pause about having sex with each other. It was a very casual thing and they engaged in it because it felt good and for little other reason. Kathy doesn’t even deem her experiences important enough to tell the reader until she’s accused of not having had sex (if I recall correctly). The only concern was disease but by keeping it within the clones, that was not an issue. However, our moderator recalled that they had a negative and childish attitude toward gay sex, but our group couldn’t figure out why that would be. Any ideas?

Ishiguro’s writing is really engaging. I’ve read this book and also The Remains of the Day and I have to say I much prefer this title. He has a great style of adding enough detail to bring a passage to life without bogging it down. He likes to write about people who have a certain lot in life that can’t change and what they do with it. In his own words:

It’s something I do instinctively in my writing and with this book it was a very important feature that escape was not an option. It’s about how we’re all aware of our fate, in that we have a limited time in life. Escape isn’t an issue in the book, because it’s never really an option in our own lives. Characters like Stevens and the kids in Never Let Me Go do what we all do; try to give meaning to our lives by fulfilling some sort of duty.

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!

Review: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian (5/5). A family’s worst nightmare is having a vegan in the house

28 Apr

This is yet another example of a book I never would have picked up if it weren’t for my book club. I’m so glad to have these experiences because they’ve let me to some amazing books.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

A hunting riffle goes off on the last night of July in a small New Hampshire town and changes the lives of the Seton family. The bullet strikes Spencer McCullough in the shoulder, permanently injuring him for life and rendering his limb useless. The shooter is none other than his twelve-year-old daughter, Charlotte who thought she was shooting the deer that tore up the family garden. The gun belongs to Spencer’s brother-in-law and Charlotte’s uncle, John Seton. The following pages unravel the story of how the daughter of an animal rights activist came to be shooting at deer and who is really to blame in this lamentable but very real family tragedy.

I was very reluctant to dive into this book. The reviews I saw on Goodreads were polarized and the plot seemed like it would be a little winding and wordy. I realized quickly that I didn’t care how wordy the story was because I loved every single word. I thought the sentences were beautiful and the characters were dynamic and deep and I just feel in love with it. I started reading faster and faster to see how the family would resolve their differences before the book ended and I’m really happy with how it happened.

Part of what made this book so awesome for me were the well-developed characters. Charlotte reminded me of all the girls in middle school that drove me crazy and I could picture her in my head. I sympathized with Catherine’s struggles to make herself happy midst her husband’s obsessive veganism. I cheered for John to forgive himself as a task he put off had disastrous consequences and someone had to be blamed. Everyone was painted so vividly that I was cheering for them all and for their problems to be resolved so that the family could be reunited.

Spencer was my favorite character. I hated him and loved him at different points in the book. At the beginning, I really hated him because I felt he was putting his family aside for his career. When I see people at work who I think are doing this, I get mad. I think as Americans we work too hard and that it hurts our family lives and might be a contributing factor to the high divorce rate. I make a point to take time off for my husband and spending time with him.

After his accident, I felt bad for Spencer. My mom had a very traumatic injury when I was young and I loved how real his struggle to function was. When you’re severely injured, the stupidest things are staggeringly difficult. Putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, opening a jar, and simply taking a shower require monstrous effort and help. I saw my mom go through this and went through it myself after a hip surgery while in college.

Once Spencer started realizing what he had done to his family with his actions before the accident, I liked him. And boy did I really like him. I loved that he got his priorities sorted out and that he was able to do it in such a dramatic way. He almost ruined his career for the sake of his family but he knew he needed to do that. I loved Charlotte’s devotion to her father at the end and her love for him really helped me love him, too.

As I said, I saw my mother go through a traumatic accident and because of this I could relate to Charlotte. I was about her age (12/13) when it happened and as a child, you want to help but feel very helpless. There was only so much you can do when you’re small, don’t have money, and can’t drive, but you do as much as you can. Charlotte couldn’t imagine leaving her father to fend for himself while he was still figuring out the world and I can completely understand that.

I related to Catherine on a different level. I loved that she had to hide that she ate meat. It’s something that seems so normal to most people and yet in her family, it was taboo. I can’t think of a specific example, but I think we all have something that we wouldn’t mind flaunting in front of friends but hide from our families (or vice versa). I adored her struggle.

I’m not sure I had a ‘favorite’ part of the book. There were parts I thought were so real to life they scared me, but I’m not sure if they were my favorites. I liked the scene where Charlotte and Willow are at the bonfire. I also really liked how Spencer recalls working at the lobster restaurant. My ‘favorite ‘ parts of this book were lines and scenes more than plot points.

I didn’t like the part of the book immediately following the accident. I hated how John blamed himself so much and how Spencer was being moody and angry. It was realistic, but so frustrating. I understand that people involved in such a traumatic event wouldn’t want to start talking to each other right away, but wading through their emotional baggage was tolling.

The most obvious topic to discuss with this book is guilt. Many of the characters feel guilty for something and are suffering from the effects of that guilt in the book. Charlotte feels guilty for shooting her father. Willow feels guilt for not telling anyone about the drugs and alcohol surrounding the accident. John feels guilty for not taking better care of his rifle. Catherine feels guilty for eating meat and wanting to leave her injured husband. Spencer’s guilt is for his dependence on his family. All of the characters have an internal struggle to deal with this weight and eventually ‘get off their chests’ what’s holding them back.

I loved the roll Nan played in the book. She was the life force of the family in the exposition; getting them to move and interact and enjoy each other. After the accident, she felt lost and unneeded while she was still in New Hampshire. It was only when she returned to New York that the families could start to communicate again, using her as a means of communication. When they had talked to each other enough and resolved their problems, Nan’s role in the book was done and she could leave gracefully. I loved this author’s technique.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not normally a reader who enjoys character studies but I adored this book. I think how Bohjalian combined his character study with a very action-packed event helped that. Even in books that talk about human nature, there still needs to be some motion.

I also loved his use of language. Everything was so well described and the pictures the book created were very real. The only complaint I have about the book is that in the sections that followed the girls, Charlotte and Willow, the language was equally as descriptive and I felt that the girls wouldn’t use such eloquent words. I’ve never heard a 13-year-old say ‘placid’ before and it struck me as odd.

A completely thrilling book that I adored. I can’t wait to meet Bohjalian on the 30th! A full 5 out of 5 stars.

This book covers ‘New Hampshire’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Before You Know Kindness Book Review | Book Club Queen
Before You Know Kindness – Book Review | Caribousmom
Recent Read: Before You Know Kindness | Grey Cat Blog

 

Did you like this review? Give it a ‘like’ on Goodreads and help others find the review!

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!

And So It Begins

27 Apr

Today is the start day for my first Read-Along With Me event! If you haven’t signed up yet, this is the best time to do so. We’re reading James Dashner’s The Maze Runner which comes highly recommended and there’s a movie coming out in August.

How perfect! There are currently seven people participating, including myself. The main page for the read along is here. If you want to join in, send me an email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com and I’ll get you added to the email chains.

Happy reading and until next time, write on.

How Writing is Like Math

25 Apr

I’ve decided that writing and math are a lot alike. Let me explain.

I recently got admitted to an MBA program and it’s safe to say I’m beyond excited. Because my bachelor’s degree is in Business, I was expecting all of the foundations classes to be waived. However, two weren’t: Statistics and College Algebra. I took both of these classes as AP credit in high school that my undergraduate university accepted and waved. So, I’ve never taken college-level math. And that’s not going to fly for the MBA program.

I’ll accept that I need to take Statistics. I was 17 when I took the class last. However, seeing ‘College Algebra’ on my list really peeved me. The class is titled MAT 1500, which says to me that it’s a Freshman level class. Come on! I took AP Calculus BC when I was 18 and owned it. I think I can do some basic algebra.

I found out I can take a placement test to have the credit waved. The testing center pointed me to some practice material and I’m planning to take the test on the 30th so I started going through the material. There are three levels: A, B, and C. I need to get 38 out of 55 questions right, and five of those must be from level C. I did level A: no problems. I read a few questions wrong, had to re-aquatint myself with the laws of exponents and Googled the equation for the vertex of a parabola, but not an issue. I’m feeling good.

I did level B. Now I’m not feeling as good. This class isn’t only Algebra but also Geometry, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus. It’s everything just short of Calculus itself. Now I’m looking up logarithms and radical inequalities and my brain is hurting. But I got through it. A few questions took me a couple tries, but I got through it. Deep breath, on to part C.

And that’s where I gave up the first night. I didn’t remember what an asymptote was, let alone how to find one. I made a neat stack on my desk and went to bed angry at myself and frustrated that I couldn’t figure it out. The next day I tried again, figured out a few more problems, remembered what a Unit Circle was, and promptly ran into another brick wall. At my mom’s advice, I went to the library but the books I got didn’t help much. As of writing this, I haven’t worked on it for 24 hours and I’m looking at the stack on my desk with dread.

And here is where I started to draw parallels.When I was in high school, I wrote fanfiction. I had a decent following and I was confident in my writing. When I finished college, I started writing again, thinking it would be easy for me to jump into again. But I was so wrong.

I started my first draft with the same enthusiasm I had with section A. It was easy and I would stay up late working on it like I would with my fanfiction in high school. No one could stop me before I typed ‘THE END.’ It might cost me sleep and mental health for a few weeks, but I’d make it. And I did. My first manuscript is just under 50,000 words and I’m very proud of it. Then I did another first draft during NaNoWriMo, proving to myself I could do this part and do it well. No one could get in my way.

With my Novel Girls friends, I went through a chapter-by-chapter edit of the first manuscript, finding small things to change and moving chapters around if needed. No big changes, but a better product on the other side. It was like Part B in the math review: it was a little harder, but still I could get through it with a bit of help. No big deal.

But re-writes have stopped me. It’s like trigonometry where I look at it and am so overwhelmed that I just put the paper back where I found it, pretending it hasn’t moved at all. The print out of my NaNo is on my shelf, waiting to be read and marked up in red. It’s going to be a lot of hard work that I don’t feel like doing. And unlike the math test, there’s no deadline hanging over my head pushing me to finish it.

For the placement test, I have a plan. I have tools and resources to tackle these killer problems. I have someone to turn to if I need help and I have books to research help and tips. I need to study and do well so I can register for classes. My deadline is fixed for math, and I’ve realized I need a fixed deadline for my writing if I’m ever going to apply the same determination to it.

I need a goal for myself. I need to put my foot down and decide that editing my NaNo is going to happen the same way re-learning trigonometry is going to happen. Be my witness here: I will do a second draft before I start MBA classes in August. That gives me four months to finish what I wrote in 20 days. I’ve got this. Right?

My tools are set: I have a printed version of the manuscript, a few good friends to beta read when the time comes, pens, sticky notes, note cards, and determination. Look out world, I’m about to go math on this manuscript.

 

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!

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (4/5). Like Princess Diana’s death, if she was a model in 2010.

24 Apr

I waited five months for this audiobook and I think ‘devoured’ is the proper adjective to describe how quickly I got through it. I’ll admit that I wanted to read this book only once finding out that Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling. I was semi-impressed by The Casual Vacancy and wanted to see if Rowling could do something else better. I think she succeeded.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Cormoran Strike is not what one thinks of when the word ‘hero’ is mentioned. Strangely tall, missing a leg and none-too attractive, Cormoran is down on his luck in a floundering private investigation business. To top it all off, he’s just broken up with his long-term girlfriend the same morning that John Bristow walks into his office. John wants Cormoran to re-investigate the death of his sister, super model Lula Landry, whose passing has been ruled a suicide. Thinking he’ll find nothing, Cormoran starts interviewing witnesses and friends and soon finds out that there was a lot more happening in the life of this rich and famous model that anyone originally though. It’s not only Lula’s secrets that Cormoran will uncover by the end of the book but those of most of London’s elite.

Having read all of Harry Potter and also The Casual Vacancy, I wasn’t sure what I should anticipate from this book. I knew it was about a PI, but I guess I didn’t expect it to be a mystery novel. I realized as I typed that how stupid it sounds. I guess you could say I went into this with an open mind. That seems fair.

One criticism I have for Rowling is that she has too many characters. For a seven book series, you can have hundred of characters, but for a stand-alone book like The Casual Vacancy or a book where (one assumes) the characters won’t re-appear in later installments, she tends to create too many. That being said, I love the characters she does create. She created characters that broke their own stereotypes. Ciara Porter is going to read Literature at Oxford, Lady Bristow is smotheringly affectionate, and Lula herself  seems to have a stronger moral compass than any of the characters put together. At the same time, some characters are exactly who you think they are, such as Allison and Cyprian. Rowling has a natural talent for creating characters.

Robin was by far my favorite character. I loved her fight between doing what she enjoyed and what she should. Even though her fiance Matthew tries to get her to take an HR position, she wants to stay with Strike so badly that she avoids telling him about the other position and has to defend her boss to her new fiance on a nightly basis. The decision between exciting detecting work and a better paying repetitive desk job haunts Robin’s time in the novel. I loved this because it mirrors how I feel about writing and books. I work to live. For me, life is about writing and throwing myself int a book and less about [insert what I do for a living here]. I’m jealous that Robin could do something she enjoyed for a living.

My other favorite character was Strike. I loved how he was an unlikely hero with so many layers. His time in the army affected him and in his investigations the father he’d never known defined him. I look forward to more books with Cormoran because I’d love to see where Galbraith goes with him.

I loved the part when Cormoran goes to a club with Ciara to meet Evan. I thought the way Ciara acted was a perfect stereotype of a dumb blonde model and it had me laughing the whole time. I could picture Duffield so perfectly in my head that I knew he was drawing his knees to his chest before it was in the narration. Strike was so out-of-place in the scene that it was overly comical and yet highly emotional, two feelings that played well of each other in Rowling’s appraising eye (can you tell yet I don’t know if I should refer to the author as Rowling or Galbraith?).

The one thing I didn’t like about the book (and I suspect this is personal preference) is that there weren’t many clues that Cormoran was figuring out the mystery until he finally reveals his findings to John in the book’s climactic scene. I would have liked to see Coromoran’s suspicions connecting along the way and the pieces falling into place. I suspected Tony Landry for a lot of the book but I couldn’t figure what about him I found fishy until Cormoran laid it all out. I think solving it a little at a time instead of all at once would have been better for me.

This book seemed a little like Princess Diana’s death to me because of the focus on media influence. Lula’s life was in turmoil because her privacy was constantly invaded by the media; her phone was tapped, they waited outside her flat, her relationship with Evan was public knowledge, and a picture of her dead on the street was front page news. I wonder if Rowling wanted to comment on this because of her new-found fame after the Potter success. I hope that there aren’t paparazzi lurking around her house and taking pictures of her kids after school. I’d feel really bad if they did.

Writer’s Takeaways: I think the one lesson I learned was even if a character is only appearing briefly, that’s no reason not to develop him or her. Rowling develops all of her characters so well when introduced and it’s a really admirable strength. However, if you can’t develop a character, maybe he or she isn’t needed. There is such thing as too many characters.

A really fun read. I greatly enjoyed it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review | Cormoran Strike: #1 The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) | The Skeptical Reader
Book Review Wednesdays: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) | so writes rachael
Stephanie on Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith | Russell Books

 

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, 23-April-2014

23 Apr

I’m always overwhelmed by my own post for WWW Wednesday hosted by MizB. I hope I can finish all the books I’m starting. Also, should I start including pictures? What do you all think?
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 feel like I’m adding more to this list than I’m taking off. I started reading The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which really excited me because I didn’t think I’d get to! This is a Goodreads First Read I got ages ago and haven’t been able to start. I’m only a little bit in and really enjoying it, but I’m putting it on hold because I’ve got a wave of book club books tumbling down on me. The first is The City and the City by China Mieville. Can anyone spell his name phonetically for me? I’m curious. It’s very science-fiction-y and that’s not usually my thing so we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good. On my phone I’m still working through The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going here. The story is good, but not grabbing me the way I hoped it would. I hope it picks up soon.

On audio I’m about half way through And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’m sad to announce that I’m not as into this story as I’d hoped to be. I’m hoping it’s a slow start, but it’s dragging a little. I think part of it is the narrators. Two of them have such strong accents that it distracts from how much I’m enjoying the story. I still have Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk to listen to while I’m cooking and cleaning and I’m really enjoying this option. It makes cooking funny.

Recently finished: I finished reading Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian on Friday. I adored the book, a full 5 out of 5 stars. I’m writing the review now and it should be up next week. I got tweeted by the author and it made my day!

Reading Next:  I’ll be starting two more books in the next week. The first is The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa which is for my book club. It’s a short one so I’m hoping I won’t be held up on it for too long. The second is The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This is the book chosen for my first Read Along With Me series. We haven’t started yet and there’s still time to join. There’s more information here and you can email me at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining us.

Phew that was long! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Cutting, Adding, and Your Own Weakness

22 Apr

There is no way to describe how much I love meeting with my Novel Girls. It’s the perfect thing to do on a Thursday night to put me in my weekend brain a bit early. Then I float through Friday in a cloud, which is really wonderful.

This week it was me, Katherine, and Nicole and we met at Nicole’s new place again, which is great. I’m super jealous of her book shelf, by the way. It’s so well-organized and mine’s a total mess, haha. We all brought short stories, which was a nice change of pace for us, as we normally bring chapters of our novels.

My story is one I had rejected recently. Not my proudest moment, but I’ll live with it. I took the piece to another writers’ group and got a bit of feedback on it, but I was looking for more. The girls had some good advice on where I can make some cuts in the piece. They felt a part of it was entertaining, but didn’t develop my character. I thought that was really good feedback. The other part where they suggested I cut something is when my character’s finally revealing something about himself, but it gets muddled in the wording. This was hard for me to hear because the other group had said this part wasn’t long enough and needed more because the importance of the secondary character was watered down. One group wants more details on her, my girls wanted less and for me to focus on my main character. I’m still trying to decide what to do here. Reader, what do you do when you get two pieces of advice that seem great but contradict each other? I”m stuck in an author’s limbo!

Nicole seemed to have the opposite problem from me. In her story, we as readers wanted more! We wanted more detail as to what both were thinking, what started the conversation they were having, and what they were doing. The piece was very emotionally charged, very hard for both of the characters to endure, and very detailed. We felt the emotional changes the characters were experiencing merited a more in-dept look because of how their lives were changing in this ten minute window. Because it was such a rough time for both, I suggested giving the story a little more of a starting point and frame of reference so that the reader would understand how out of character some of the things were for these characters and how this was something that was hard for them to do. I think it will be a really strong piece when it’s finished.

When I read Kathrine’s piece, I knew that there were two spots which didn’t show her best writing. When I pointed them out, she agreed. She’s felt that these were two weak points herself when she’d sent it off to us. We talked through some ways to improve them and I think Katherine was glad to have some other people to talk to about those two parts. It was a reminder to us all that if something sounds weak when you write it, the reader will probably notice. It’s better to re-word or re-structure the part then to assume your reader will ‘get it’ or hope no one notices. This shows how helpful a close group of writers can be.

I hope all of your writers groups are going well. Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (3/5). The only proper way to give your book 20 endings

21 Apr

I wish I could have read it faster, but I’m really glad I got to read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. My co-workers and I will get together sometime this week to talk about it and I’ll put up a summary of what we talked about.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

In a mix between reincarnation and the movie Groundhog’s Day, Ursula Todd is reborn on the same snowy day in 1910 when she dies. In each of her lives, she’s subtly aware of the lives she’s lived before and is able to avoid the terrible tragedies that befell her and her family. She remembers their maid bringing the Spanish Flu into the house and killing her and her younger brother. She remembers the London Bombings by the Luftwaffe and how she’s died in them. She remembers an abusive lover and the death of a young friend. In each life, she has to decide which tragedies to avoid and which to bare.

I didn’t know when I started this that Ursula was going to continue reliving the same life. I thought the book was more about reincarnation. I think I prefer the alternative that Atkinson pursued with this novel, however. It was a really unique idea and raised a lot of good questions. What would I have done in Ursula’s situation? If I’d known of a huge international war that was coming, what would I do to stop it? In my life time, that’s September 11th (though I would still be a bit young to do much at the time). How could I have stopped that and would I have done it? I love powerful books that make you ask yourself that question.

I loved how layered the characters in this book were. We got to see them on several different life paths in the book and we could see how they reacted to Ursula in her different lives. I loved Sylvie as a character because she was well developed, but I didn’t like her. In the life where Ursula was raped, Sylvie is so rude and hateful toward her daughter that it tinged how I felt about her in all of the following lives. I liked getting to see different sides of Teddy depending on if Nancy lived or died. I adored Ursula’s change in romantic interests between lives and how she would deal with those people in her other lives, remembering them slightly as if they were ghosts. Characters in this book were very strong in general.

Ursula herself was my favorite character. I loved seeing her thrown into so many terrible situations and reacting with such insight and poise that it was incredible. She was, quite literally, an old soul in her youth and a very practical woman in middle age. Though the reader gets to see her grow up sever times, we still see her as dynamic across her lives.

There wasn’t a character that I could particularly attach myself to and relate to well. It’s sometimes hard to do that in historical fiction where the setting takes a very strong role. Having never been bombed or lived during a World War, it was difficult to relate to the characters and the struggles they felt. There were moments when I could sympathize with Hugh or Izzy or Ursula, but on a whole, I didn’t think the characters were much like me.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

My favorite part of the book was the time Ursula spent with Eva Braun in Germany. I thought it was a really interesting way to have Ursula connect with Adolf Hitler. Most WWII books written from a German point of view tend to focus on suffering (like The Book Thief or Stones from the River) but this one focused on the luxury and affluence that Hitler allowed himself. Eva and Ursula were so far from Berlin when they were in the mountains that Eva would be bored, not even aware of the war and death. I thought this was a really unique perspective of a terrible situation.

I think the repeated deaths in the London Bombings were my least favorite section of the book. It was dark, depressing, and bordered on repetitive. We would invest in Ursula so much, only to see her killed in the same building. While I know showing us her life until the point of death each time made it harder to see her die, it also made the book drag in the middle and it got to a time when I had to keep putting the book down to do something lighter and happier.

I loved the theme of sacrifice in this book. Ursula has to decide between her own happiness and doing something for the greater good, which might not even matter if the world was to begin again. How big of an impact did killing Hitler make if she has to do it in each life? Like Billy Murray in Groundhog’s Day, is she searching for the most meaning and impact a single person can make in one life? Would that be killing Hitler, or is it saving the people of London from burning buildings? What sacrifice is the greatest and how can Ursula make that sacrifice?

Writer’s Takeaways: I adored how Atkinson was able to develop characters by giving us different views of them in Ursula’s different lives. I think this would be a hard style for another writer to follow or copy, so it’s a good one to appreciate from a distance. Atkinson’s creativity must be commended.

A solid three out of five. It dragged, but it was well worth reading.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Life After Live, by Kate Atkinson | The Marlborough Reading Group
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson | mrsmamfa
Audiobook Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson | literary hoarders

And The First Read-Along Will Be…

17 Apr
Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

I gave it a week and I’ll now announce that the first read-along I’m going to host will be for James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Yes, get excited. I think this is a great choice because we’ll all have it read before the movie comes out and it will give us one more chance to write about it then.

Let me know if you want to join in. I spelled out the structure in this post.

So, some logistics. The following bloggers have already expressed interest. Please send me an email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com so I can have your email addresses. If you didn’t sign up before but want to join in, just send me an email; it’s still a good time to join.

I’ll try to contact you all if I don’t hear back soon and we can discuss how this will be set up.

I’m really excited about this project and I hope you’ll join me. I put a tab in my menu where I’ll post everything about this community.

Until next time, write on.