Archive | April, 2015

Stay Gold

30 Apr

IMG_1797For Christmas 2013, one of my fellow writer friends, the amazing Katherine, got me a present that I’ve cherished ever since. She ordered bracelets for me and my other two friends that had a quote on them that was important to us. Mine says, “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good.” I wear it every day to remind myself that intentions matter. The fact that it’s very seldom I’m actually up to no good is irrelevant. It makes me think of the Weasley twins and that’s a great feeling during a slow work day.

I’m a terrible friend and missed Katherine’s birthday. And my friend Sonia’s birthday. I’m going to make the excuse that both are very close to mine, but that’s a bad excuse because really, I should remember them better because of that. But I started thinking about what Katherine had given me and what I could give her and I ended up coming up with something I really wanted for myself.

IMG_1798I looked up stamped aluminum jewelry, the same style Katherine had given me, and found a few vendors on Etsy. I ended up messaging Stephanie Leigh about ordering seven of a custom message and she was great working with me. I think they came out really well.

I decided to buy these for the six girls in my life that mean the most to me. And I kept one for myself, thus the seven. (Yes, someone already commented on the Lord of the Rings comparison to the rings for the dwarfs. I think we’re better looking than dwarfs, but that’s just me.) So this gift was kind of for me, and a bit for some missed birthdays and some just because.

My girlfriends are awesome for not laughing at me because of the letter I included with the package. I’ve copied my ‘book report’ of a letter below to share with you all.

I’m going to try to explain what the quote means to me. This is likely to sound like a high school English essay with the number of quotes I’m going to throw in, but stick with me. I promise it has a point. The quote is from my favorite book of all time, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

Main character’s Pony and Johnny are staying out in the country in this scene (page 85 of my copy):

The dawn was coming then. All the lower valley was covered with mist, and sometimes little pieces of it broke off and floated away in small clouds. The sky was lighter in the east, and the horizon was a thin golden line. The clouds changed from gray to pink, and the mist was touched with gold. There was a silent moment when everything held its breath, and then the sun rose. It was beautiful.

“Golly” –Johnny’s voice beside me made me jump—“that sure was pretty.”

“Yeah.” I signed, wishing I had some paint to do a picture while the sight was still fresh in my mind.

“The mist was what was pretty,” Johnny said. “All gold and silver.”

“Uhmmmm,” I said, trying to blow a smoke ring.

“Too bad it couldn’t stay like that all the time.”

“Nothing gold can stay.” I was remember a poem I’d read once.

“What?”

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

Johnny was staring at me. “Where’d you lean that? That was what I meant.”

“Robert Frost wrote it. He meant more to it than I’m gettin’, though.” I was trying to find the meaning the poet had in mind, but it eluded me. “I always remembered it because I never quite got what he meant by it.”

The poem is called Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost. The boys begin talking about other topics, but Johnny comes back to the poem later. On page 157, he says to Pony, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.” Thus the quote on your rings. Later, he explains to Pony what he meant. From page 186:

I’ve been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you’re gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid, everything’s new, dawn. It’s just when you get used to everything that it’s day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep that way, it’s a good way to be.

I love how Johnny describes this; it’s exactly what I want to stay. We’ve been friends a long time and seen things change and we might be coming into the ‘day’ of our lives, but we still have some gold left in us. There are things in our lives that keep us young and we have to be reminded of them sometimes. You are a part of what keeps me gold. Having close friends that make me happy and with whom I can talk to about the ups and downs of the day keep my spirit young. I wanted this ring to remind me of that and I wanted to share it with you so that you would never forget it either. 

I hope you can all see why this quote means so much to me. I’ve worn my ring almost daily since I got it to remind me to cherish what makes me happy. I hope you all can do that, too.

Stay gold.

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, 29-April-2015

29 Apr

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

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

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


White TigerCurrently reading:  No movement with La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Please don’t be mad. I want to finish this and I will return to it.
Steady progress with Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. I’m close to the end but know that I’m nowhere close to the end of this story. It’s obvious this first book will barely touch the tip of the iceberg in the series.
I’ll be a long time reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s been a good journey so far, but I’ve only just begun. Not sure how long this is going to take, but I’m guessing a while.
I finally started The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga! Yes, after such a long wait, I’ve finally started. So far, it’s alright. The narrator has a very strong voice that makes the whole thing really fun.
I’m unable to cook without an audiobook now so I started another on my phone, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. My amazing friend Katherine suggested this one to me because it’s set in the 1920s and she knows how much I love the 20s. So far it’s really fun. I’m excited to get more into it.

DarklyRecently finished: I finished A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick last week. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was ok. Review coming next week.

Speaking of reviews, I posted two this week. I reviewed Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling on Monday and posted a review for Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell yesterday. Take a look and tell me what you think!

Reading Next: My book club met Monday and our next book is going to be The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer. This is part of the ‘Everyone’s Reading’ program so I’m sure there will be some other posts about this book. I hope I enjoy it!


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

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell (2/5)

28 Apr

My mom doesn’t recommend books to me often so when she does, I take them seriously. She recommended this one to me after I read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth which I really enjoyed. I guess this is in a similar strain as Pillars, but I felt it was really lacking and I wouldn’t consider the two comparable.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell

Summary from Goodreads:

Four thousand years ago, a stranger’s death at the Old Temple of Ratharryn-and his ominous “gift” of gold-precipitates the building of what for centuries to come will be known as one of mankind’s most singular and remarkable achievements. Bernard Cornwell’s epic novel Stonehenge catapults us into a powerful and vibrant world of ritual and sacrifice at once timeless and wholly original-a tale of patricide, betrayal, and murder; of bloody brotherly rivalry: and of the never-ending quest for power, wealth, and spiritual fulfillment.

Three brothers-deadly rivals-are uneasily united in their quest to create a temple to their gods. There is Lengar, the eldest, a ruthless warrior intent on replacing his father as chief of the tribe of Ratharryn; Camaban, his bastard brother, a sorcerer whose religious fervor inspires the plan for Stonehenge; and Saban, the youngest, through whose expertise the temple will finally be completed. Divided by blood but united-precariously-by a shared vision, the brothers begin erecting their mighty ring of granite, aligning towering stones to the movement of the heavenly bodies, and raising arches to appease and unite their gods. Caught between the zealousness of his ambitious brothers, Saban becomes the true leader of his people, a peacemaker who will live to see the temple built in the name of salvation and regeneration.

The summary makes it sound like the book focuses on building Stonehenge but, in fact, Stonehenge doesn’t appear until late in the novel. I was listening to the audiobook which totaled 17 hours and Stonehenge wasn’t even engineered until about 13 hours into that. The first 13 hours dealt with other temples, Gods, side characters, and minimal character development. I felt like most of it could have been cut. There were so many characters that I had a lot of them confused soon after they were introduced. Whereas Pillars never seemed to get too off course, I felt this story was derailed from the start and I wish it had been a little more focused.

Cornwall did a great job of creating an ancient culture with little historical record on which to base his facts. The extensive author’s note at the end described the little he did have to go off of but showed how much of what he created was from his own imagination. I think he created some great characters and Gods which were relatable today.

Saban was my favorite character because he seemed to be the only one with any sense. Lengar was a jerk, Camaban was power-hungry, and Saban’s women were zealots who blindly followed Camaban. It was easy to sympathize with him because as a reader I shared his frustrations with the other characters. Saban was obviously a very smart man and it was easy to like him.

Bernard Cornwell Image via the Daily Mail

Bernard Cornwell
Image via the Daily Mail

I liked when they were finally building Stonehenge. There was no more dragging of stone or wars over where the stone could be moved or visions from priests or anything else to get in the way of the story. I wish the construction had been the focus of the book. I thought the engineering that Saban had to follow to get the structures to stand was well described and his construction techniques were really interesting to me.

I thought the portion of Saban’s life that he spent as a slave was very unnecessary. He rose again to a position of power and I didn’t think he grew from the experience of being a slave. If the point of it was to drive a rift between him and Lengar, I didn’t think it was necessary. The two were already on rough terms. The first half of the novel was too much character building for me because none of the characters grew during the time, only revealed their personalities to the reader.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Frederick Davidson. I was not a fan of the narration. I thought he was very monotonous and I had to turn the book off sometimes while driving to stay awake. The voice he used for some characters was really grating on my ears, particularly Sanas and some of the older men.

The only message I can gather from this is a warning about blindly following anything. Many of the characters blindly followed Camaban and Orena who say they are receiving messages from the Gods though those messages frequently change and often benefit them personally. Many of those followers meet tragic ends. Other than that, I found this book merely entertaining and not teaching very much.

Writer’s Takeaway: Kill your darlings. I’m sure it’s as hard for a seasoned writer as it is for me, but a lot of this book could have been cut.

I found it rambling and the comparison to Ken Follett hurt it in my mind. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Bernard Cornwell – Stonehenge | Firefly’s Book Blog
Stonehenge (by Bernard Cornwell: Fiction) c. 1999 | Wandering Through The Stacks

Book Review: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling (5/5)

27 Apr

I’m so glad I knew about this book. I saw it on Pinterest and didn’t know when it was coming out. Then fellow book blogger Read A Latte posted about it and I knew it was available at Barnes & Noble. So during an Educator Appreciate Event, I made my husband come with me so I could grab this and a few others at 25% off (reason to marry a teacher!). I felt like a stud because the buy at the register hadn’t seen it yet. Epic win.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

Summary from Goodreads:

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives offers J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound and provocative questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force.

As the description says, this is a speech and it is a very short book. I don’t want to misrepresent that. I read the whole thing in about a half hour. But that’s not to diminish its value. This is a really great book and a good read. J.K. Rowling is my writing icon and knowing how much she went through to get to where she is now is very motivating to someone aspiring after what she’s done. I liked that this was a speech to college graduates. When I was about to graduate college, I was a very different person than who I am now, a short 3 years later. Rowling recognized that in these students and the speech was perfect for the audience.

A lot of the questions I use to guide my reviews are not relevant because of the format of this book so my review will be brief. I could relate to Rowling’s definitions of failure. There have been times that I’ve been down on my luck and known that in someone else’s eyes, I was a failure. But that doesn’t mean I had to brand myself in the same way. Rowling never let society’s definition of failure hold her back and I think this has helped her flourish. She talked about how friends helped her when she needed them most and I think that there is no success without the support of others. That’s why you always see lists of people thanked in the back of books and hear as many names as possible in acceptance speeches. We all achieve with our network.

Rowling talked about how her experience and time working at Amnesty International shaped her opinions and feelings on many things. For me, this confirmed that her books are about oppression from someone, perhaps an African warlord, and having the strength to stand up and say something. I’ve compared Voldemort to Hitler but maybe she was thinking of Theoneste Bagosora, one of the orchestrators of the Rwandan Genocide. To me, this confirms that her books are aimed at ending racial or ethnic hate among people. I was really glad to read this.

J.K. Rowling Image via The Telegraph

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

Rowling had two main messages which are spelled out in the subtitle of the book, The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. I’ve already talked about her section on failure, but I want to comment on her remarks regarding imagination. She’s not talking about all of us being able to write stories about magical wizards and orphans changing the world. Rowling says that with an exercised imagination, humans are able to imagine what others are feeling and why they are acting in a certain way. Imagine enables us to empathize with other humans. Here’s is my favorite quote from the book,

…those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.

I am in love with this quote. I have a new one to live by.

Writer’s Takeaway: I would love it if I were one day asked to make a commencement speech at Harvard. I would hope that I’m able to come up with such wonderful lessons as what Rowling was able to impart in her words. She used good anecdotes to get her message across and did it in a short amount of time. Bravo, Ms. Rowling!

A wonderful book. I only wish it hadn’t taken 7 years to make it to print. A full 5 out of 5 Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
5 Inspiring Quotes from J.K. Rowling’s New Book ‘Very Good Lives’ | Screen Reels
5 Essential, Inspiring Quotes from J.K. Rowling’s ‘Very Good Lives’ | Read a Latte

Harry Potter Lessons: Family First

23 Apr

My apologies for such a long break between Harry Potter Lessons posts. I’ve been wanting to do one for a while now but was struggling with a topic. Family seems to be a really good option. There are a lot of examples of traditional and non-traditional families in the book that teach us a lot about how important it is to love our families.

Image via Youtube

Image via Youtube

Molly Weasley is the most obvious example and probably one of the best. She loves her family fiercely and fights to defend them multiple times. While she’s active in the Order of the Phoenix and believes in the cause, she’s reluctant to see her children join because they might be harmed. When Molly faces a boggart, her biggest fear is that her family members die. And I think we all remember the infamous line, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Only the best mom ever would say that! (Re-watching it on Youtube now made me cry!) She won’t take crap from anyone when it comes to standing up for her family, no matter the consequences to herself. She’s also a surrogate mother to Harry. She cares for him because she wants to, not because she has to. With seven children already, the last thing the Weasley’s need is another mouth to feed and head to shelter. But Molly knows Harry needs a family to watch over him and take care of him so, without thinking, she takes Harry in. I’m going to guess she was okay with him becoming a son-in-law down the line and I bet he has a better-than-average relationship with his in-laws.

Image via HelloGiggles

Image via HelloGiggles

Harry tells us multiple times that Sirius is the closest thing he has to family. My uncle is my Godfather and I can’t say I’m particularly closer to him than I am to my other uncles, but Harry and Sirius and family to each other. Both is alone in the world; Harry having been orphaned and Sirius disowned. When Sirius was in school, he says he went to the Potters in a similar way to how Harry goes to the Weasleys. We continue to hope throughout the series that Sirius will be cleared of charges and Harry will be able to live with him as if they were a proper family. Sirius and Harry are a great example of a non-traditional family that shares the love and commitment usually associated with a traditional nuclear family. I absolutely love the dynamic between the two characters and how much love they show.

Image via the Harry Potter Wiki

Image via the Harry Potter Wiki

Have you ever heard that alligator mothers care very fiercely for their young and are extremely maternal? Well, you should Google it. I think of Narcissa Malfoy like an alligator mother. She’s very similar to Molly in her fierce devotion to her family, especially her only son. She makes an unbreakable vow with Severus that forces him to protect Draco when he most needs it and defies one of the most powerful wizards in the world to his face for the long shot that it will help her son. Who else would be brave enough to lie to Voldemort about Harry Potter being dead? Only a loving mother alligator! I think Narcissa is a great way of showing that no matter what your morals or way of life, family has to come first because our families (traditional or not) are the most stable institution on which to base our loyalties.

Image from Twitter

Image from Twitter

My last example is another one that I absolutely love. Mr. Xenophilius Lovegood is arguably the most devoted father in the series. He lost his beloved wife and has only his daughter Luna left and he loves her fiercely. He’s made a wonderful impression on her because it’s very clear Luna looks up to her father and idolizes him. She’s copied a lot of his personality quirks and defends him to those who speak negatively of him. When the Death Eaters take Luna away from him, he’s desperate to get her back and goes as far as to betray the Order’s cause (though I recognize he is not a member) and try to turn Harry in to get Luna back. Yep, he’s willing to help Voldemort win if it means his daughter will be unharmed. Talk about devotion! You can fault him here, but it’s hard. If you had to choose to help something you morally opposed in order to save a child, would you do it? Xenophilius would! I think he’s an amazing character and I adore the relationship between him and Luna.

So there are my four favorite examples of family in the Harry Potter franchise. Petunia Dursley was a close fifth, but I tried to keep this to four. Who else would you include? Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

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

WWW Wednesday, 22-April-2015

22 Apr

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

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

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


GameofThronesCurrently reading:  No movement with La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It will come, I promise, but not just yet.
I’ve made some minor progress on Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It’s getting there, just taking longer than I thought. I’m about 60% done now and 10% of that was in the last week so don’t give up on my yet.
Will making my way through A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. Not a huge fan so far. Science Fiction I like is rare so I’m not surprised by this one, but we’ll see how I like it when I’m done.
New audiobook to announce! I hope some of you will be happy to hear I started A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin! It’s too early for me to say how I’m feeling about it, but this will be here for a long time for me to give out my opinion.

VeryGoodLivesRecently finished: I finished the audio for Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell on Friday. Look for a review coming soon!
I also picked up a copy of J.K. Rowling’s Very Good Lives. It’s a super short book and I read it in about a half hour, but totally worth picking up. I was proud that the man ringing me up at Barnes & Noble didn’t know about the book. I’m such a trendsetter, haha!

A few of you were asking for my review of Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. I posted it yesterday if you want to see what I thought.

White TigerReading Next: It will be The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I’ll start it as soon as I finish Scanner so hopefully it’s off this list next week!


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

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

21 Apr

It’s been a long time since I went to a book club meeting and no one had anything particularly negative to say about a book. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad it’s one I got to discuss with other book lovers because there was a lot to talk about! To see my thoughts, you can read my review.

Please know that this post will discuss the book in its entirety and will spoil the ending for those that haven’t read it.

When we were introducing ourselves and saying a quick something about the book, one member said something that stuck with me. “I found myself agreeing with things I don’t normally.” She was talking about capital punishment and how much we wanted Lark to suffer for what he’d done. A few said the book reminded them of Stephen King’s The Body, which I haven’t read but feel that the main boys probably help with the comparison.

This book comes with the highest acclaim. Yes, it won the National Book Award but even more than that, it’s highly recommended. One of our members recalled watching a TV special where a panel of authors were being interviewed, one of which was Toni Morrison. When asked who her favorite contemporary American author is, she said Erdrich. And if one only had time to read one of Erdrich’s books, The Round House is the one to read. I tried to find a video of this somewhere but was unable to. If anyone is able to find it, please let me know and I’ll add it here

One of the comments I made in my review and a lot of others agreed with is that Erdrich is very convincing as a 13-year-old boy. She’s a very talented author. Many found the book to be very descriptive, which I didn’t notice. Maybe the audiobook influenced that. The beginning was very heavy and started out with some tough subject matter and we were all surprised by the amount of happiness and humor stored later in the novel. It was a nice surprise after rape and racism early on.

We talked about why it was important that Joe was 13 during the course of the book. The obvious answer was that he was primed for a coming-of-age tale. He was full of raging hormones and emotions, mainly anger and wanted to act out. He lost his childhood very quickly when some of his friends were still boys. These friends were very key to him during such a tumultuous time in his life, especially Cappie. The boys seemed a little older than 13 to us, but we think that is due to the environment where they grew up. They were exposed to a lot and had to have thick skin growing up. A lot of us were struck by the racism expressed by the pregnant woman at the hospital early in the book. It helped set a stage for how the Native American characters were going to be treated throughout. By the end, Joe’s mom was treating him like a man instead of a boy. He had an adult relationship with his parents and he was a man in the other characters’ eyes.

If Joe had been a female character, we think the book might have been a little different. We wondered if a female would have reacted int he same way. Would violence have been the answer? Or would a girl be afraid that she was next? If her mother isn’t safe, she’s not safe and should be scared. On the other hand, a female might have been just as violent, thinking that if she didn’t stick up for her mother, no one was going to stick up for her if the same thing happened to her. It could have gone in a very similar way, but the motivations behind it would have been very different.

Our moderator had pulled up some facts about Native American/White crimes. Approximately 1 in 3 Native American Women are raped by a white man. Why are these crimes not prosecuted? Well, we have to turn to the 1978 US Supreme Court case of Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe which ruled that Native Americans do not have the right to prosecute non-Indians. Wow. There have been a lot of other cases since, I’ll mention, but this is a major decision. We were surprised that with all these statistics and legal loopholes, there weren’t more cases of rape and violence mentioned in the book.

One of the techniques Erdrich used that we liked was the Native American legends and stories. The stories Mooshum told in his sleep, the spirit animals that seemed to follow the characters around, and the rituals all played a bit part in the story. It gave everything a slightly unreal tinge to it and made the whole story feel like a legend itself.

The story challenged the westernized idea of family. The family that took care of Joe and raised him was larger than his immediate relatives. His grandmother fed his friends like they were her own grandchildren and Linda looked out for Joe like he was her own child.

Joe’s immediate family relationships were challenged through the novel. His parents were older than most, calling him ‘Oops’ because he was unplanned. He thought of his father as old and slow at the beginning because he didn’t take action, but the relationship between the two matured quickly after Geraldine’s accident and they two were very respectful of each other at the end. He respected his father’s inaction and recognized that it was the right thing for him to do. Basil was so far into his wife’s pain and helping her deal with it that he wasn’t processing his own pain and it was putting a damper on his relationship with his son.

The point of view used in the novel was that of a memory. Joe was talking about what happened when he was 13 from an undisclosed age, likely around 50. He reveals some things about the future to us, such as his marriage to Margaret, his job as an attorney and his father’s eventual death. So the open-ended ending does have some answers.  If he’s a successful attorney, he likely never went to jail for a crime. Or if he was prosecuted the Native American/White discrepancy kept him from being charged and he was still able to practice law. A lot of our members felt a little more at peace with then ending after ruminating on this.

The minor characters in this story were great. Sonja was a favorite of mine though many of us were surprised when she took Joe’s money. Surprised and a bit mad. She’d had a very hard life before Whitey and though being with him felt like being rescued, she was still in a bad place. Maybe even a worse place. We were surprised when Whitey said she was coming back. Maybe she’d run out of money already because we couldn’t think of another reason to come back.

Linda was a great character as well. None of us knew how she was going to react to her brother’s death  and we think her relationship with Joe before the event was a big reason she reacted so mildly. If she and Joe had been strangers, she might have pressed charges. I was surprised that Joe hid the gun at Linda’s house, but we rationalized that after Linda had saved her brother’s life, she would be the last person anyone suspected of killing him.

Joe felt a strong need for justice. To him, the issue was black and white. A man hurt his mother, someone needed to hurt the man. He didn’t see shades of grey, but his father did. If Basil had taken up the shot-gun, would he have been prosecuted. I have my theory on why Joe never went through the justice system and it mainly has to do with Cappie. Basil would have made the first shot. Would he have been charged with the crime?

But the story we’re presented with has Cappie killing Lark. He’s Joe’s best friend and always had his back. Then Whitey covered for him at the gas station because (I don’t understand why) he knew what had happened. They all covered for each other because the sense of an extended family was present. They were all in it together. They’d been taught from childhood that they had to watch out for each other because the government and legal system were against them. I liked this part of the ending.

The part I didn’t like was how abrupt the book’s ending felt. One of our members saw an allusion to Cappie’s death earlier in the book, but many of us missed it. I don’t understand why it had to end that way and it made me sad. Thought I still loved the book.

Our next selection will take us into the world of science fiction with A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. I’m halfway through now and have some mixed feelings. We’ll see how I feel when this is over.

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: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Murello (3/5)

20 Apr

Another book club selection here. Never would have picked it myself and I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. A bit middle of the road. But hey, you need that sometimes, right? Good books only stand out next to bad and OK books. I’d rather read an OK than a bad book, so I’m okay with this. I digress.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Summary from Goodreads:

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger—and amuse himself—he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world—and more important, his life—through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

For a ‘spiritual’ book, this was very light. Merullo wasn’t trying to push an idea or convince the reader that he or she was going to hell for some reason or another. I guess there was a tinge of a minimalist lifestyle in here, but nothing smashing you in the face or over the top. I read this quickly; the short chapters made that easy, but I didn’t overly enjoy it and it wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down. It was perfectly OK.

I liked Otto as a character. He was flawed in many of the ways most American’s are, but not so much so that I pitied him at all. He had a good relationship with his wife, so much so that it seemed like a stretch, but still believable. I’m not sure if I think Rinpoche was believable or not, but I liked him. I pictured him like the fat, smiling Buddha on the cover, but I realize he was probably a thin, stout, sturdy man. He always talked about eating less, he couldn’t be very big!

Rinpoche was easily my favorite of the two. Browsing the reviews on Goodreads, not many people mention Rinpoche, instead concentrating on Otto’s journey. Rinpoche was the teacher instead of the pupil even though Merullo tried to write in that Rinpoche was learning, too. I didn’t feel he changed much as a person during the drive. But I liked how calm and happy he was. That’s something I would like for myself so I admired Rinpoche for his ability and I thought about some of his lessons.

Otto’s struggle to live like Rinpoche reminded me of my struggle to live a life more in line with the Catholic Church. Some days, it’s a struggle to reject small sins (no snacking on Ash Wednesday, no sausage on Fridays in Lent, etc.) but when you boil it down, it’s about freeing our minds to spend more quality time with God and learning from that. I could relate to Otto a lot and based on the response to this book, I think a lot of people could, no matter their religion.

Roland Merullo Image via 'Lunch with Buddha' website

Roland Merullo
Image via ‘Lunch with Buddha’ website

I liked the scene where they stopped in Hershey, PA. I thought that was a very classic and touristy thing for the pair to do and was so perfect at the time. Rinpoche’s reaction to Kisses was great, too, and it was an early indication of his self-control and commitment to overall wellness.

My least favorite part came at the end, so skip this paragraph if you intend to read and don’t want something spoiled for you. I was mad when Otto knew Cecilia was pregnant. To some extent, you could tell she was romantically involved with Rinpoche, but I never saw that one coming. I guess he knew his sister really well, but I felt that as the reader, I was being kept in the dark. So much of the novel is filled with Otto’s thoughts, but this one was left out. Why? I felt like Otto was lying to me.

I feel like I was supposed to learn something from this novel, but I’m not sure what. I don’t feel preached to or lectured to in any way that gives me a take away spiritually, but I think this was a spiritual book. What to think. Perhaps not to indulge so often in whatever is our vice. For Otto it was food and Rinpoche told him repeatedly to eat less. For me, it might be reading or knitting. Do that less. And what instead? Meditate, clear your mind of anything that makes it impure or unable to communicate with God. Maybe for me this should be pray instead of mediate. Or both, I’m not sure.

Writer’s Takeaway: Merullo had a very conversational style which was easy as a reader. I liked the way he took us through Otto’s spiritual transformation by showing us his skepticism and misgivings. I liked this because I find it unbelievable when characters jump in with both feet.  I’ve already pointed out the one time Merullo didn’t do this and it bothered me, but for the most part, it was well written.

Good but not outstanding. A bit of a muddled message. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Interview with Roland Merullo by Chris Beal | Buddhist Fiction Blog
Breakfast with Buddha, Roland Merullo | Your Next Best Book

Friday Book Memes, 17-April-15

17 Apr

Welcome to the ‘It’s Spring!’ edition of Book Beginnings and The Friday 56 hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda on Freda’s Voice. It’s likely that I’m on a plane as you read this. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.


My newest book is A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, which I’m reading for a book club. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Bob Arctor is a junkie and a drug dealer, both using and selling the mind-altering Substance D. Fred is a law enforcement agent, tasked with bringing Bob down. It sounds like a standard case. The only problem is that Bob and Fred are the same person. Substance D doesn’t just alter the mind, it splits it in two, and neither side knows what the other is doing or that it even exists. Now, both sides are growing increasingly paranoid as Bob tries to evade Fred while Fred tries to evade his suspicious bosses.

BB.Button

Book Beginnings is all about that very important opening sentence (or two) that us writers are always worrying about!

Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his hair.

This is not one of my favorite book beginnings. I didn’t like the first few pages of this novel, really, but I’m getting more into it now. The book starts with the druggies the summary refers to but I didn’t know that and it made me a little hesitant to get into the book. Things are going better for me now.


Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

Page 56 is a conversation between the main character and one of his coworkers.

“I’ll tell you one that’ll get you for sure. You’re aware of the three babies over at Fairfield Hospital that they have to give hits of smack to every day, that are too young to withdraw yet?”

I haven’t gotten here yet, but seeing as how the book follows a narcotics officer, this doesn’t particularly surprise me. It’s sad to think about the children of drug abuse but I’m sure there are tons of stories like this one about how children are affected by drug use and I wonder how much of this story is fiction or if Dick ripped some of it from the headlines. Kinda creepy to think about.

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!

Historical Fiction: How Accurate Should It Be?

16 Apr

I’ve had this post in my draft folders for ages! As I’m seeing a small drought in reviews and other such things to post about, I thought this would be a good time to brush the dust off and write this article response.

I love historical fiction. I read it a lot and I’m writing a 1920s novel. I love the research and learning that come along with writing this book. I know a lot more about 1920s cars and mixed drinks than most people do and it makes me really happy whenever there’s a 20s reference I can recognize. So reading this article from The Guardian piqued my interest.

How true should historical fiction be? by Stephanie Merritt

I believe there’s a slight license to change the past when writing historical fiction: slight. In my novel, I’ve removed some of the notorious mobsters of the era to replace them with my own characters. I think that’s perfectly fine. Maybe you disagree and want to fight me in the comments. Go for it. There is a line with this that I will not cross, however. I’m not going to introduce space travel or repeal prohibition or anything else that would alter the culture of the time. I’m going to do my research about electricity availability and what a high school boy would take for lunch. The details matter and I know that if I were my own reader, I would appreciate this.

I’ve read novels that took things a bit too far. When I read The Tilted World, I knew some of the 20s facts were a bit too stretched. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if there had been an author’s note. I think these make all the difference because it’s a writer’s way to saying, “Yes, I know this is wrong but for the sake of story, I changed it.” Then  you know the author did his or her research even though those who are historically savvy can point out holes in the setting.

So, a bit of a short post for you all today, but I’m curious to see what you think. Does inaccurate historical fiction bother you? Does an author’s note make it all better? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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!