Archive | May, 2014

Read Along With Me #1: The Maze Runner by James Dashner Chapters 10-19

29 May

ReadAlong1Maze

It’s time for Part 2 of my Read Along with James Dashner. If you still want to join us, it’s not too late! There are details on my Read-Along page and you can see a list of participants on the hub page along with links to their posts. This section was Chapters 10-19 so if you haven’t read the book, beware of spoilers!

Question from Barb: Thomas has seen two Beetle Blades with the word “Wicked” written on the side. One was in the forest right before Ben tries to kill him and one was while he and Alby are hiding in the vines of the wall. Thomas thinks the Beetle Blades are wicked, but perhaps the Beetle Blades are warning Thomas of impending evil (Ben and the Griever). Do you think the Beetle Blades are trying to help Thomas?
I love this thought. It seems strange that they seem to come in time to warn him of impending danger and I suspect this will be cleared up for us in the coming chapters, but for now I do think they are trying to warn Thomas of impending evil. I feel like he’s somehow chosen by the Creators and the Beetle Blades might be their way of communicating with him to try to keep him safe while in the maze.

Question from Ashlee: Did the Creators throw a girl into the mix just to see how the boys would respond? Or do you think she has another purpose for being there?
I suspect that the girl was sent there to communicate a message. I wonder if she got in a fight with the Creators and put herself in the box, which could be against protocol because of her gender and explain why she remembers Thomas. There might be some sort of war going on that she escaped or there might be some ‘memory wiping’ portion of the box that brings her in which caused her unconsciousness. I think it’s a coincidence she’s a girl and the message she has to communicate is more important.

Question from Nicole: On page 85, they discover the dead Griever. What importance is the death of the Griever? They seem to make it a huge deal and I’m not sure why. They stay outside of the Glades, so I’m not entirely sure what the big fuss is about. Also… what significance is their name to the story or to the maze?
I suspect the boys would like to be able to study the Griever’s body and perhaps find a way to defeat them. The best way to defeat your enemy is to study him. I think the Grievers are seen as an enemy because they prevent the boys from finding the exit to the maze that they are so certain is there. They’re someone to be conquered to insure the boys own freedom. I think the name comes from the fact that the boys ‘grieve’ the deaths of the Runners trying to beat them. It seems a stretch, but it’s all I can come up with.

Question from Katherine: Ben’s rants against Thomas were pretty interesting. I expected him to be worried that Thomas would destroy them or betray them or something — but instead he was upset that “He’ll wanna take us home…He’ll wanna get us out of the Maze.” All Thomas’s memories of the outside world seem to be “normal” memories…but could there be something terrible (personal or widespread) that would keep the boys from WANTING to ever get out of the Maze? Or did the Changing just poison Ben’s mind to think that?
Wow. Never thought of that. Yay virtual book clubs for making me think more. This is taking me back to my Allegiant comparison and makes me think the boys are trying to figure out some part of humanity that has been lost, like genetic impurity. It’s possible that ‘home is so messed up that these boys have to figure out a way to overcome the difficulty that’s been created. Now I’m really curious to find out the ending!

Question from Lynn: So far I can’t say that I’m really attached to any of the characters. I don’t particularly dislike them but neither do I think I would be greatly impacted upon if one of them left the story. I am however curious about Chuck – I’m not altogether sure that I trust him yet. What are your feelings on the characters so far?
The only character I was growing attached to in any way was Alby, and it’s not looking too good for him! I feel like Chuck is trying too hard to act older than he is. We’re told that he’s young and I think he wants so badly to be Thomas’s age and feel important that he’s acting out to try to make himself seem important. I don’t know if I trust him because his whole personality seems like a facade. We’ll have to see going forward.

Question from Sultana: On page 102, Newt talks to Thomas about the importance of order in the Gladers’ society, saying ” ‘Reason we’re all sane around here is ’cause we work our butts off and maintain order. Order’s the reason we put Ben out–can’t very well have loonies runnin’ around tryin’ to kill people, now can we? Order.’ ” The Gladers are willing to go to extreme lengths to keep order in their society, so much that they would rather follow the rules and banish Ben to the Maze and Grievers then jail him and treat him for his lunacy. Discuss why you think that order is so important to the Gladers, and if you think that order and relative normalcy will last for them throughout the book.
I think that in a primitive society, there’s not enough resources to secure a jail system. It requires more resources to keep someone jailed and threat them for a chronic illness, so it’s easier for the boys to banish him and free those resources to search farm or look for an escape from the maze. I don’t think they’ve considered it much beyond this. I think order is important because they have no way to control their fates outside the maze so they want to control them inside as much as possible. In the small society, they need to make sure everyone is pulling his own weight to continue surviving. I’m not sure the order will last for them because I think for there to be a plot, there needs to be some disturbance in the story. I’m curious to see how much it’s disrupted.

Please send me an email if you’re interested in joining us. The hub page will have links to all the other posts.

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!

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WWW Wednesday, 28-May-2014

28 May

So there’s progress to report for MizB’s WWW but no finished books. I guess you win some and you lose some, eh?

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 made slow progress on my NaNo novel. I try to read it when I’m not really tired and can devote my whole brain to critiquing it, so I guess I’m saying I haven’t been reading it a lot. Still working on it. My other physical book is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is my work-book club book and I’ve got to read it first so I can pass it on to the next person.

I’m still on hold for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Update pending. I finished the third part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This book is getting hard to put down which makes it difficult to stick with the Read Along timing. I’m doing my darndest! On audiobook I’m listening to Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. I’m really enjoying it so far! The narrator is good and the story is really moving. It’s a great mix of medical study and human interest story. My carpool buddy and I are still working on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It’s a bit slow going because we don’t carpool every day and I had a call-in meeting last week, but we’ll get there.

Recently finished: Nothing finished, but my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa went up last week. Enjoy!

Reading Next:  I’m really hesitant to say anything right now. I’m in the middle of so many that I’m not ready to look forward to another just yet. It might be a book club selection, but I’m hoping it’s an ARC!

Hopefully I can get one or two of these finished in the next week! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and 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!

Negativity #2: The After Effects of an Outburst

27 May

After much delay, I’m ready to do part 2 of my negativity series. I posted Negativity #1: Reply Letter to a Hater two weeks ago. This is something else that happened to me on that Wednesday that fought to bring me down but I’m not going to let it. Please note, this one was a lot worse.

About a year ago, I joined a writing group that meets on Wednesday evenings once a month. I really enjoyed the group for a few months and was sad when my second job stopped me from being able to go. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a situation that let me quit my second job, thus freeing up my Wednesday nights. I was excited to dive back into this group.

The group discusses three pieces at each meeting which are distributed ahead of time for members to read. I like that the members of this group are usually brutally honest but offer really great advice to fix anything they find fault with. It’s good to get such honest feedback from these people.

However, I had an issue with it this time. One member shared a piece he wrote where a non-native English speaker is having a conversation with the protagonist. We discussed the scene and offered feedback and were ready to move on when one member spoke up. It was the first time she’d said anything the whole meeting.

She said that the writer was making huge mistakes and glaring errors and went on to highlight one example. The heavy accent that the character had spoken in had contained a few grammatical errors, indicating that the character did not have a strong grasp of English. This member of our group had presumably taken offense at this because she attacked fiercely. She did some research and was able to find articles on Wikipedia that the language structure of the character’s native language would not have lent itself to him making mistakes in English the way that he did. For example, he wouldn’t have dropped a definite article and would have been more likely to mess up certain phrases. She ended her feedback by saying that these mistakes tell her as a reader that the writer is lazy, doesn’t care very much about his story, and that she felt she shouldn’t bother reading if he didn’t care enough to do this research.

I was struck dumb. Her words were so pointed and obviously directed at the writers ability to write well and not at the writing. She crossed the line that critiquers have to be sure to avoid and went after the person, not the art. This was something he was bringing forward for critique, obviously looking for advice like what was at the base of her attack; that he should research the language structure of his character’s native language. But I’m shocked that she went where she did instead of, “You should look up language structures for these characters. I found information on Wikipedia that will be helpful.” Why the parts about his personal character and ability as a writer?

As writers, we’ve voluntarily decided to participate in an industry that is already against us. Paying to submit work that you get paid very little for in exchange for the hours of work that went into your pet project. Why in the world would we want to discourage each other from doing something that requires so much dedication? Why would we ever tell someone that their work isn’t what it should be and discourage them from trying again when we pay editors to tell us that and they do it in a nicer way? You’re giving a free critique and the writer’s publication opportunities are not riding on what you have to say so he doesn’t have to listen. If you have a real suggestion, phrase it in a way I might listen to instead of yelling at me. No one responds well to being yelled at.

Here’s the worst part of the situation; no one told her to stop, myself included. I was so shocked I couldn’t say anything and it wasn’t until the writer snapped back that any of us were able to move on to something else. So we did another critique and were ready to leave when a member brought up what had happened and said we should talk about it. His message was not to take things so personally. I think that’s very fair advice. HOWEVER, you can only ‘not take things personally’ when they’re not personally directed at you. The critiquer’s comments were pointed, direct, personal. The member who brought this up saw more fault in the writer than the critiquer. I completely disagree.

I’m trying to decide if I ever want to go back to this group. I’m bothered that this woman thought it was okay to say what she did, that other members found fault in the writer’s reaction, and that from the conversation surrounding it, I get the feeling that this has happened before.

There seems to be a culture in the group that I can’t get on board with. Even when I hate something that someone’s written, I find a nice (or at least emotionless) way to say what I think needs to change. I would never say those things to anyone because I would never want them said to me. I’m thinking of giving the group one last try, but I’m really tempted to never go back. I’m considering another activity that would conflict and it’s easy for me to decide what to drop. I don’t feel comfortable enough bringing my work to the group so what benefit can I get from attending?

One of my faults my entire life has been to not quit something when I should. It leads to unhealthy relationships and commitments that I’m reluctant to make. I’ve been trying to work on this opportunity so I can focus my efforts where they count and I’m seeing this as a test of my strength. Maybe I shouldn’t give it another chance to be sure, but maybe I should make the cut.

Reader, I hope you’ve never dealt with such strong negativity, but I’m curious to hear your experiences if you have. How do you deal with harsh critiques? Have you been a part of a group whose culture was not supportive? What did you do?

Here’s to moving past this negativity and finding light and encouragement!

Until next time, write on (and never stop).

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!

Novel Girls: Poetry, slang, and likable characters

26 May

We had a Novel Girls meeting back on May 1st and it’s just being published today. That should tell you how much I’ve had to blog about! I love sharing with you all.

Katherine and I both shared a poetry piece this time. I’m not much of a poet so I was really curious how this would go. We raised a few questions about poetry critiques and how that would go. I like to write very structured poetry with rhyme schemes and certain numbers of syllables. I like to keep to conventional grammar and use periods and commas. Katherine wondered if I needed periods. Was capitalizing the next line enough to tell the reader that the phrase ended? I’m a stickler for punctuation so I want to keep them, but does it take away from the poetic flow of the poem? With commas, the reader will pause while reading, which is the same thing many will do with a line break. In a structure that’s more rigid, I can’t use line breaks where I would want my reader to pause, but does that mean I can’t use them? Are commas within a line awkward or a good guide for the flow of the poem? Nicole had said she’d like to bring some of her poetry in as well, but that her poetry is a very personal thing for her and she writes about her own emotions in a very raw sense. If something is that personal, can it still be critiqued? If something is very raw and personal, how much can you critique content? You can always suggest structure and spelling changes, but telling someone you don’t like their emotions, feelings, or reactions doesn’t feel right.

Nicole’s piece had a character that used slang words like ‘Gunna’ in his speech. As a reader, I’m very distracted by characters who speak in slang and I think it says something about their education level and intelligence. Katherine wasn’t bothered at all. I write characters who don’t use shortened words or slang and it sticks out to me when someone does. Does slang in prose bother you? What does it make you think about the character who uses it?

Sometimes the character we want the reader to like is overshadowed by another character who has a big personality. While it’s great that a character stick out because he or she is well written, you don’t want your protagonist to be overshadowed. We ran into a situation where I knew very little about the main character and more about a side character and in comparison, I didn’t really care about the protagonist. I needed something to latch on to, some level to relate to her on, in order to care about her change. In the premise of a short story, this can be really hard to do. My suggestion was to make the main character like something, be it a color or a sports team or a jacket, so that I can like her. If a character appears dispassionate about the world around them, I’m not inclined to like the character. Even if a character likes the Pittsburgh Penguins and idolizes Sydney Crosby (shudder), I can still like the character because he or she is passionate. Do you know other tricks to make a character likable?

There were a few other things we touched on that are worth sharing. Katherine had a wonderful quote which was “Titles are rudders of intentionality,” which she believed she had read somewhere. I just Googled it and couldn’t find anything, so if that is original, copyright to Katherine!

We talked about a technique that we’re calling ’emotional blocking.’ In theater, blocking is how a character gets from stage right to stage left. In literature, emotional blocking explains how a character gets from happy and smiling to angry and screaming. There are steps in between to get to the destination and it’s important that the writer gives the progression of these emotions to explain the change to the reader.

Out final quick topic was convenience. It’s convenient that I have a knife in my sock and want to stab the shop clerk’s neck. It’s convenient that I can find the receipt I need in my cluttered purse in a split second. If something is too convenient, there needs to be a reason. If too many things fall out of the sky into your characters’ waiting hands, you need to start explaining why. Go back a few pages, add something in that will make this less convenient. I went to the store with the intention of killing the clerk. I knew I would be returning the ugly socks my husband picked out so I had the receipt ready. Adding these things in can help make your story seem more real.

That’s all from the Novel Girls this time. Go check out Nicole and Katherine‘s blogs to see what they have to say.

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!

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (4/5). Proof that math is literary.

22 May

One of the lovely ladies of my book club recommended this book a while back. When we were looking for books to put on our schedule, I suggested we all give it a try. This book is so cute and little and the story itself followed suit. I’m so glad we all got to read it.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper is a simple woman looking for a simple job keeping house. It’s the only thing she knows and she does it well. When she gets assigned to the professor’s household, there are a few side notes to consider. The man has been in a bad accident and his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Before the accident, the professor was a celebrated and talented math professor. His ability to do complex formulas and his lover for numbers have never left him and he still revels in the joy of prime numbers. When he finds out the Housekeeper has a young son, he insists that the boy come to his home after school instead of heading home to an empty apartment. Root and the Professor form a fast friendship that has to be re-established every day as the Professor forgets about his surrogate family. The Housekeeper and her son (nicknamed Root) overreach the duties of her assignment frequently in sacrifice for their new friend, the Professor

I adored this book. It made me happy and sad and it made me think. There characters were delightfully simple, not even having real names. It was like tapas; a quick little bite that made you want more, but there’s only one on the plate so you savor it.

Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa

The characters were very well-developed. I felt like the Housekeeper and Root were god representations of any single mother and son I’ve met. She was strong and determined and he was loving and attracted to a strong male figure. The Professor was a bit unbelievable, but that’s the best part about fiction; you can believe the unbelievable. I think his personality was consistent and likable. I felt so sorry for him throughout the book.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character. There were really only three major characters and all of them were so great. I think the Professor would have to be my favorite. He was quirky and hard to figure out at first and I felt like the Housekeeper as we delicately stepped around him, trying not to make waves and avoid getting sucked under by the current. His character became clear after a time because his personality didn’t change. Things that upset him at the beginning still upset him at the end. Because of his limited memory, he was a static character. The only change he made was in his memory capabilities. I loved that despite his memory loss, his brain was still more than capable of figuring out the most advanced math problems. I liked that he was still a strong character despite his disability.

I related most to the Housekeeper. I’m a person who likes to see my work all the way through, even if it’s beyond the call of duty. The lengths she went to with her position were very understandable to me. I admired her dedication to her clients and how thorough she was with all aspects of her life. I try to show extreme dedication to anything I decide to do and I could sympathize with her.

I loved the part of the book when they went to a baseball game. I enjoyed reading about the balance the Housekeeper and Root had to strike between telling the Professor the truth about the team and lies to cover up the years he had missed. I loved how protective the Professor was of Root and how much he cared about him. I know it was the turning point of the story, when the Housekeeper realized that he couldn’t live on his own any more, but it was still a happy scene in my mind.

I didn’t understand the brief period when the Housekeeper was fired from the Professor’s house. I think the sister-in-law overreacted and I thought it was unfair to the Professor to take away a Housekeeper that had been so good to him after the many previous housekeepers had obviously failed to assimilate to his quirks. It seemed very rash to me to fire someone for working past their end time, something that screams of dedication. I thought this part broke up the novel too much.

The message I take away from this book is that love is blind and maybe even forgetful. It didn’t matter to the Housekeeper and Root that the Professor didn’t remember them day-to-day or that to him they might not even be friends. They believed in their friendship with him and that made it strong. Even the sister-in-law could see that. Years later, they still loved the man and went to see him knowing that he would have not even the faintest idea who they were. I love the message of love and dedication that Ogawa gave us.

Writer’s Takeaway: I loved that this story was short and impactful. There are many times that I read a book and think, ‘This could have been 100 pages shorter.’ Not with this book. It was the perfect length and I loved how every moment meant something. I think we could all use a little less fluff.

Four out of five stars for a great impact and heart-warming story.

This book fulfills Foreign Country: Japan for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Like this review? How about clicking ‘Like’ on Goodreads?

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

Related Posts:
‘Esoteric equations and calculations sound beautiful and beguiling’ – The Housekeeper + The Professor by Yoko Ogawa | Bookmunch
The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003) – Yoko Ogawa | A Novel Approach
Book Review No. 1 – The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa | Vishy’s Blog

WWW Wednesday, 21-May-2014

21 May

I’m so glad to have progress to report for MizB’s WWW after having so little last week. I think this spurred me into action.

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 finally reading my own book! It’s the really really rough draft of the book I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It’s in rough shape, believe me. Hopefully I can gain some semblance of a structure and consistent characters when I do a re-write.

I’m on hold with The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Someone put a hold on it and I didn’t know, so I have to wait three weeks to start back on it. Those bastards. I finished the second part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. My first Read-Along post went up on Thursday last week. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’re just starting chapters 10-19 and will be done with them by 26-May. On audiobook I’m listening to Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. It’s a true story about a reporter who was almost institutionalized while suffering from a rare disease. This is my book club selection for June. In a lovely turn of events, my carpool buddy agreed to try some audiobooks! After day one, she’s fallen asleep and I’m pleased. We settled on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley which she’s read and enjoyed and I’ll be reading for the first time.

Recently finished: Two books finished!  The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker is an ARC I’ve been wanting to read for months. I’m glad I finally did. The memoir focuses on Walker’s mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s; a similar battle to the one my protagonist faces in my NaNo. I also finished I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak on audio. The narrator was great, but I’m confused about the ending. I’m not sure I really understood it.

Reading Next:  I’m going to take a jump on these ARCs. Next up is O, Africa by Andrew Lewis Conn. It’s set in the 1920s, so you can judge my excitement from that.

I’m feeling better about books moving forward. I see a bright light full of words and libraries. 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!

Prompt Group: It could have been deported parachute pants.

20 May

Wow, it’s been a while since I posted prompts. I guess that’s because it’s been a while since I visited my prompt group! Nicole and I grabbed dinner before heading to a very crowded group. I haven’t been in a while and there were some new people I was excited to meet.

We did three prompts. I’ll list them below and if you want to try them, please do and post the results! Link here so I can read them. I’ll put my responses below that. (NOTE: There is some cursing in these prompts and responses. Please be warned and do not read if it offends you.)

  1. But it could have been worse. (3 minutes)
  2. Imagine you are part of a different ethnic group. Write something from that POV. (8 minutes)
  3. Parachute Pants. Fuck Yeah. (2 minutes)

 

And my responses:

  1. It was raining and my car broke down.
    But it could have been worse.
    My jack wouldn’t fit under the body
    And I had to break down and call AAA
    Even though I made fun of my brother for calling them last week
    But it could have been worse.
    AAA gave me a wait time of two hours
    And showed up with the same car jack I already tried
    So they had to send another guy who took another hour.
    But it could have been worse.
    Because while I was waiting for a jack
    And then the right jack,
    I escaped.
    A world where fathers are shot by their own daughters
    A world where a thought can span an entire generation
    And memories can slowly be restored.
    It was a world with mysterious messages
    And prison mines underground.
    So yes, I lost four hours of my life because AAA is incompetent
    And I’ll never get it back.
    But I had a book, so it could have been worse.
  2. Mamá pulls the empanadas off the stove and puts them in front of me. I stare at them but I’m not even able to pick one up.

    Se regresarán,” she says, trying to comfort me. “No te preocupes.”

    I nod, but I don’t feel like being cheered up. So I reach out and grab an empanada and don’t flinch much when it burns my fingers.

    My mother does this. She tries to comfort me with food all the time. When I was younger, I let her but now I’m trying to take care of myself; to forge my own path. I’m doing well in school and I thought I’d be more than a kid from the barrio. I’d been so sure of it.

    José and Manuel always gave me people to look up to. They were set to graduate first in their class and had dreams of going to college. They wanted to go to TCU and Manuel was going to be an engineer. Not that it mattered any more.

    I can’t eat the empanadas. I only picture Jose eating empanadas off the stove in Mexico. His mamá, crying as hard as ever and her tears dripping onto the hot surface of them. His papá, sitting quietly at the table like I was, trying to keep his head up. But he can’t. And José can’t meet his own father’s eye. There’s no good way to tell your son that his college dreams have been dashed because you were speeding and gotten pulled over. When you failed to produce a driver’s license and blew numbers, even .09, citizenship and residency started to be called into question. And when those questions started being asked, there was no way to take it back. There was no way to slow down the car or find your license in your wallet when you’d left it at work or to have filed for residency properly. There was no way to stay after that.

    And if José and Manuel couldn’t stay, couldn’t earn their diplomas and move their tassel from the right to the left, why would I ever think that I can? Why would I ever think that I’m better than that?

    Mamá lays her hand on my elbow and I realize that the empanada had not yet made its way into my mouth.  “Come.” I put it in my mouth but don’t chew. “No eres lo mismo que ellos.”

    I shake my head.

    Estudia su matemáticas. Será bien.”

    I go to my room and open my computer but I don’t do math homework. Instead I Google how an illegal immigrant can avoid being deported if his parents are. I Google if I could be different or if I am the same as them.

  3. Of course they have different pants for skydiving. They have different versions of everything to skydive. There are skydiving glasses, skydiving hair ties, and skydiving shoes. So yes, of course, they have skydiving pants. And yes, thank you for asking, they make my ass look A-Mazing. So don’t go asking me where I got my ‘awesome running pants’ because I’ll slap your ignorant little face out of a jet flying over a bad drop zone. These are my skydiving, parachute-safe, no drag, no snag pants. Fuck yeah.

Thanks for reading, all! Take care and until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (3/5). Family lasts forever, no matter what.

19 May

I waited for eight months for the book-on-CD copy of this book. Yes, EIGHT MONTHS! By the time I got it, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me. I’m not sure why. I loved Hosseini’s other books, but this one let me down. Oh well. Read on to find out why.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The way two people’s lives can separate and come together is an amazing thing. The story follows siblings Abdullah and Pari through their lives though not often in a direct way. The two are separated when Pari is only three and is sold to a wealthy man whose wife is unable to have children. They raise her as if she were their own child and Pari is never told that she has a brother.

The book is told from the point of view of various people who interact with their complicated relationship. One character is the uncle who arranged for Pari to be sold to the wealthy family. Another is Adel, the son of a warlord who has claimed the land Abdullah and his family grew up on. Through these characters the reader watches the years pull Pari and Abdullah apart until they finally crash back together again.

My friend Leah, me, and a distracted Hosseini

My friend Leah, me, and a distracted Hosseini

I had mixed feelings on this book. I am a huge fan of Hosseini’s other works, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I heard him speak when I was in college and have this (terrible) picture of me with him. He is a really inspirational person and has done a lot of great charity work with the UN. So I wanted to like it. I mean I really wanted to. But it just didn’t happen for me. I liked the back-and-forth time period enough, but the switching points of view was a bit much. It felt more like a collection of short stories than a single novel to me and it was difficult to get into. I listed to this on audio and there were three narrators, including Hosseini. I found their accents distracting, to be honest. At least at first. It got easier by the third disc or so.

Hosseini writes amazing characters. I loved the way he wound cultures and countries together and showed us that no matter what a person’s upbringing is or what language they speak, they’re still a person and they still affect everyone around them. Idris impacts Roshi by not acting and Amra impacts her through actions. The decisions we make impact everyone and I think Hosseini did an amazing job showing this. When I met him, he seemed very ‘American’ to me. He talked about watching football on Sundays and yard work. I think this plays into his message that we still are ourselves no matter the setting and people around us. It doesn’t matter that Hosseini lives in the US and watches the NFL. He’s still an Afghan and loves his country.

My favorite was Markos, a doctor in Kabul. He rents and later owns the home where Pari’s adopted parents lived before the house was gifted to Pari’s uncle, Nabi. After Nabi dies, it’s Markos who finds Pari and tells her the truth about her parents. Markos has a back-story that really touched me. He grew up with an adopted sister with a serious deformity. Even though he was at first disgusted by it, he learns to love her and learn how beautiful she is. His faith in humanity and in her beauty inspires him to do a lot of things such as becoming a doctor and returning to visit his mother. I felt that he was more affected by the story of Abdullah and Pari than any other character.

I think the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters was part of what made this book less enjoyable to me than the others. The only character I felt any connection to was Idris and that’s because he lived in the US and experienced the ‘US bubble’ that we see around us every day. We think, ‘How terrible that people are starving in Africa and those in Haiti still don’t have homes. I need to go buy a $500 computer so you can’t have my $10.’ We’re all guilty of it. And this made me angry with myself more than I sympathized with Idris.

Khaled Hosseini (image via Vulture.com)

Khaled Hosseini (image via Vulture.com)

I loved following Pari’s life in Paris. I loved her as an independent woman and her struggle to relate to her mother. Nila was hard to understand and relate to as well and I’m glad (from a story point of view) that Pari and Nila struggled to get along. Nila was so selfish that she was hard to love. I hated more than anything that she lied to Pari about her adopted father’s condition and that she was adopted. Was it really too hard to say your adopted father is disabled and we adopted you? Any way. I loved Pari’s attitude and her drive to accomplish something so different than her mother. I found her really inspiring.

I thought Adel’s story was a little too far removed from the plot and it took me out of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of my favorite stories (after Markos) in the novel, but I saw it as too much of a stretch. Adel didn’t have siblings and his relation to Abdullah and Pari was through their younger half-brother, Iqbal. I don’t know, it seemed disjointed.

I just looked through the Wikipedia page (because it’s a reliable source) and saw that a reviewer from the New York Times said this book is about sibling relationships as told through several pairs of siblings. I did not pick up on that until now. There are a ton of examples: Pari/Abdullah, Parwana/Nabi, Idris/Timur, and Markos/Thalia. The more I think about this, the more I like it. All of these siblings have drastically different relationships with each other, but it remains true that they affect each other throughout their entire lives. Hosseini’s first two books focused on parent/child relationships and I liked the switch to siblings in this novel. He went for a very different narrative style but still kept the focus on family.

Writer’s Takeaway: Hosseini made a bold move by changing his writing style so much for this novel and I’m not sure if it paid off. On one side, I liked seeing so many different people from such different backgrounds but I think it diluted his message by muddling the story of Abdullah and Pari with so many other plot lines. It’s unfortunate that as authors we’re supposed to pick a style and stick with it and that those who want to change styles or genres many times have to use a pen name. I think it’s great that Hosseini attempted something different and I think it worked for the majority of people, but it didn’t work well for me.

I think I might have liked the physical book better than the audio on this one, but it was still enjoyable. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: Afghanistan’ on my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

 

Related Posts:
Sacrifice and Redemption: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini | The Book Vineyard
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, Book Review | Shivani Ahuja
Book Review – And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini | flyingbubbles
Book Review – And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – 3 1/2 stars | Strive to Engage

 

Read Along With Me #1: The Maze Runner by James Dashner Chapters 1-9

15 May

ReadAlong1MazeIt’s here! The first round of Read Along posts about The Maze Runner is upon us! If you haven’t read about this yet, you can check out my Read Along page and the hub page for Read Along #1. If you want to join in, you’re not that far behind. The way this works is that we will read the assigned chapters and then pose questions about what we read to the other participants. If you haven’t read the book, beware of spoilers!

  1. Question submitted by Katherine: Do you care about Thomas yet? Have you gotten a read on him? And is 66 pages too long or too short to really establish your character?
    I really don’t care about him yet and I didn’t realize this until Katherine asked. I think he’s too confused to really project much of a personality. He seems lost but I don’t think he’ll have a ‘lost’ personality. I think it’s because of the confusing situation he’s in. In most books, I think the protagonist needs to be pretty well established in the first 50 or so pages, but this book seems to be an exception. Dashner wants us to be just as lost as Thomas is and experience this with him and from that perspective, he’s doing a great job.
  2. Question submitted by Ashlee: I’m really distracted by their unique language – shuck face, good that, shank. Is it driving you nuts too?
    Yes! Very much so. I put something into my own questions that language is part of what defines a unique culture and I think Dashner was trying to establish that these boys are a shut-off and unique set of people. However, it’s at a point where as a reader, I’m too distracted by the words to enjoy the story 100% of the time. I understand his tool, but I think it’s too forced here.
  3. Question submitted by Lynn: Why do you think the boys are there?  What are your guesses about what the place really is?
    This guess is going to come from reading Allegiant so I’m sorry to Dashner for not giving him any points for originality. I think the boys are being tested in some way. I think the designers are trying to find a trait in them that can’t be tested in any other way. Maybe bravery, athleticism, intelligence, survival instinct, or something I’m not thinking of yet.  I think the boys were selected based on some quality to be entered into this experiment. The Glade has an almost Hunger Games arena feel to me and the most intriguing thing is how far above the launch point it is. A half hour ride in the box? That’s crazy deep in the world.
  4. Question submitted by Barb: Is the amnesia which Thomas is experiencing the result of a “mind wipe” or is it an on-going effect of the Glade?  Thomas has intermittent memory flashes in the first day he’s in Glade.  He has general impressions of a past life but no concrete memories.  I have experienced traumatic amnesia and there is no middle ground to remembering; it was a complete blank.  The symptoms which Thomas experiences seem to be a temporary condition which allows him to begin assimilation into the Glade.  As he falls asleep the first night he feels an unexpected calm which Chuck foreshadows in some of his statements about things getting easier.
    I think the memory loss the boys experience is some sort of futuristic technology that allows a person to erase memories of a period of time. Maybe their memories are stored somewhere, either on a computer or in a part of their memory that can be accessed by a ‘trigger word’ or something. I made the note while reading that the memories they do have seem very emotionally detached. He remembers people walking in a city, but not being there or why he was there or who he was with. They’re very detached memories. I think that once the mystery of the book is solved, Thomas will somehow remember who he was before. It also seems that the girl has not lost her memory completely so we might get a lot of answers in our next set of chapters.
  5. Question submitted by Nicole: I remember an older movie called The Village. I can’t help but compare the two plots. What are some similarities and differences? In the movie, the main motive was to keep the people safe, so they scared them into thinking that they had no choice or options outside of the village. Do you think that this could be happening in the book as well? What is outside and why were they placed here with wiped memories?
    It’s been a while since I saw The Village but I remember the premise. There was a monster that kept the people in their village, much like the Grievers keeping the Gladers in their walls. I don’t think I can think of any differences yet, having seen the end of the movie and being just into this book. In the film, there was a larger almost government-like force keeping them in the village and I suspect we have something similar in the Glade. In the film, there was someone on the inside who was helping to keep the order and I think some of my fellow readers think Alby is doing something similar. It will be interesting to see if these plots are parallel as we read on.
  6. Question submitted by MovieGeek: Do you think the narrator should have only focus on Thomas because I would have love to know what Chuck, Alby, Gally and Newt felt.
    So far I’m a fan of the third person limited point of view. It’s a breath of fresh air from all the first person narrations I’ve read in YA books lately. After this question, I’m thinking about hearing from the other boys. I actually think I prefer following Thomas because I’m just as confused as he is. Maybe if he understood as well as the other boys I would want to hear from them all but right now I relate to Thomas because of this confusion so I like sticking to his head.
  7. Question submitted by Sultana: Environment plays a huge role in shaping a person. By removing the boys from their past environments (family, friends, society, etc.) and by removing their memories, does this fundamentally change the boys? If so, how? If not, do you think that the nature of who they are is innate and wins out over environmental factors? By having these boys “start fresh” in the Maze, is Dashner exploring how a person becomes who he/she is?
    This reminds me of Thomas’s suspicion that they’re in a prison. If their memories are erased, are they still criminals? I read on a bit and he suspects the boy who slaughters the animals of being a serial killer. I think it changes them because they don’t have a frame of reference to judge decisions and people. The Glade is their new frame of reference. I believe that who we are is a mix of nature and nurture and I’ll go back to my Divergent-esque assumption that the ‘Big Brother’ in this book is searching for some type of innate trait that these boys might have.

Yay, that was fun! If you’re interested in joining us, it’s not too late! Send me an email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com and tell me you’re interested.

Until next time, write on.

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

WWW Wednesday, 7-May-2014

14 May

As anticipated, my carpool has slowed down my audio book consumption. It’s still at an okay pace, but nothing like it was before. I’m sad to say that my edition of MizB’s WWW will, for the first time, report little progress!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 trucking through The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker. I should be able to finish this before next week! It’s a bit slow right now. A little too much memory and not enough action. The flashbacks are long and seem disjointed. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s still a slow drive, but I’ve been reading in very small pieces. I’m on m second part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. My first Read-Along post will be up tomorrow so check back to read that. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’re just starting chapters 10-19 and will be done with them by 26-May. On audiobook I’m working on I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s nice that this audiobook is on my phone because I can listen to it while I do house chores.

Recently finished: Nothing new to report! I posted a review of The City & The City by China Mieville, but I finished it a few weeks ago. Hopefully there’s more progress next week.

Reading Next:  Still planning on reading my NaNo. I’ll get a new book club selection on Monday but I hope that doesn’t slow me down! There’s a Poets & Writers on my nightstand I need to read, too!

Expect slower progress from me in the future, unfortunately. I’m trying to figure out a way to balance this carpool and my book obsession. 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!