Archive | May, 2015

Book Review: Waiting to be Heard by Amanda Knox (4/5)

28 May

I needed to read a memoir. It had been a really long time and memoirs are one of my favorite genres. I think A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard turned me off to them, but it’s been a long time and I needed to try again. And I’m really glad I did. I have a lot of memoirs on my shelf and now I’m itching to get to them!

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox

Summary from Goodreads:

In the fall of 2007, twenty-year old college coed Amanda Knox left Seattle to study abroad in Perugia, Italy for one year. But that November 1, her life was shattered when her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher, was murdered in their apartment. Five days later, Amanda was taken into custody and charged by the Italian police; her arrest and the subsequent investigation ignited an international media firestorm. Overnight, this ordinary young American student became the subject of intense scrutiny, forced to endure a barrage of innuendo and speculation. Two years later, after an extremely controversial trial, Amanda was convicted and imprisoned. But in 2011 an appeals court overturned her conviction and vacated the charges. Free at last, she immediately returned home to the U.S., where she has remained silent, until now.

With all of these true crime books, there’s always a skew in the direction of who is ‘right.’ And by ‘right,’ I mean who won the court case. After Knox’s appeal case, she was ‘right.’ So I have to take what she wrote as ‘right’ because the courts ‘proved’ it was true. Do you see my skepticism here? Good. All of this aside, I liked this book a lot. Knox writes well and her story was really interesting. I could tell that her facts and references to court proceedings were well researched and augmented her memories. I found the parts where she was recalling her friends from jail were very engaging and I could tell her prison diaries helped her keep these memories fresh. Obviously there was a lot of press around this case and it was good to hear what was true and what was blown out of proportion. Overall, this was a really solid read.

I felt a little more skeptical of the beginning of the story than I did toward the end. Maybe I got wrapped up in it. A lot of it seemed to be Knox maturing. When she first got to Italy, she did a lot of dumb things that made me frustrated with her. By the end, she was more responsible and level-headed and I believed her story more readily.

Knox did a good job of portraying those around her though my favorites were those she knew in jail. Again, I think this is because of her jail diary. She did a good job of showing that these women weren’t blameless and some of them needed to be in jail, but that they had redeeming qualities and quirks the same way she did.

I liked Rafaele and I wish we’d gotten to see more of him. Because so much of the book focused on the trial, Rafaele quickly became a minor character. From the little I’ve read about him, he was pressured to say Amanda had been the killer and that he wasn’t involved but he never betrayed her like that. It’s good he didn’t or he would have had a reduced sentence instead of being acquitted!

Amanda Knox Image via NBC News

Amanda Knox
Image via NBC News

It’s hard to relate to someone living in jail, but Amanda made herself relatable. She read a lot, specifically Harry Potter, and she still had relationships with her friends and family, though they were strained. There were things that made her like any other young 20-something despite her environment. I don’t think people change completely when they’re in jail and I’m glad Amanda kept the happy side of her alive.

Knox’s memories of the crime itself seemed hazy which is what made me skeptical. Especially contrasted with her very vivid memories of her time in jail. I understand why this was with the trauma she had endured. Memory is a funny thing in times of high emotion. I, for example, don’t remember getting engaged because I was so excited. Apparently I said yes, which is good. I was getting frustrated reading about Knox’s reactions after the event and how she refused to go to American authorities when she was being questioned. She thought being a grown up meant not asking for help and this is so flawed that I was angry.

Image via Seattle PI blog

Image via Seattle PI blog

The book talked more about media influence than I expected. Knox describes how in Italy, the jury is hearing a civil and criminal case and supposed to filter which data applies to which case. On top of that, those who are chosen are hounded by media attention on the case which can influence their decisions even further. The one item that I remember from the (limited) coverage I heard was about the bathroom covered in ‘blood’ (see image). This is in fact not blood but a chemical agent used to test for blood that oxidizes and becomes pink after being applied. None of this is blood. But if I were to see this picture running in the Daily Mail and was told it was blood, I would think Knox was guilty and sick. I would be an influenced juror. There are a lot of reports that came out before the trial that were later found to be false. It reminded me a bit of the media influence in Gone Girl. We can’t always trust what we read in papers or on-line. This makes me sound like a skeptic, but more than that I’m not opposed to changing my opinion on something when facts come up later.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing every day helped Knox cope with her situation. I think it also made her a better writer. If nothing else, it helped her keep memories very vivid when it came time to write her memoir. For anyone who thinks they might write a memoir, I would recommend a diary or some kind of daily log. Maybe you’ll never end up using it, but at least you’ll have written more. I need to stop before I talk myself into keeping a diary again.

Very entertaining and well written. I recommend this book. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox (review) | The World of a Crazed Writer
Waiting to be Heard – Amanda Knox | Una Vita Vagabonda
Amanda Knox’s Memoir: Waiting to be Heard –  A Review from Andrew Cattanach | booktopiablog

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WWW Wednesday, 27-May-2015

27 May

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!

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The Three Ws are:

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


BohemiansCurrently reading:  No movement with La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I really want to work on this one over the summer so I’ll be getting to it in the next few months.
Good progress with A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I’m not sure how far I am into it because the format I’m using isn’t very conducive to figuring that out. I guess it will end at some point?
I hope to finish The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine soon. I’m listening to it while I cook which will be more this week because my triathlon is over and I don’t have to worry about training for a bit.
I’m still a bit skeptical of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. So far, it’s interesting but not anything special for me. Reviews I’ve looked at said to wait until you pass the first section because then it becomes amazing. We shall see
I’m making steady progress with The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff. It’s a bit dry, but it’s a historical narrative so that’s to be expected. I hope to finish it soon and move back to some fiction. Also, the author favorited my #FF tweet, so that was awesome!

Recently finished: After finishing two last week, I’m not surprised I didn’t finish anything. I did get to a review for The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer so go check that out when  you have time.

WidowReading Next: Still planning on it being A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I hope to get it soon and read it second so I’m not the last of our group to read it this time!


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: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

26 May

The date for my book club meeting got changed at the last-minute but me, my husband, and another member still decided to meet on the original date so we could discuss Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. I wonder what the other group thought of this book.

The title comes from a Biblical quote, 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.” To the characters in this book, a scanner is a surveillance camera, like what we think of as a security camera. So the title is referring to the obscurity when looking at things through a lens or camera. I’m reminded of the scene where Bob sees Donna’s face melt on the screen. It’s obscured, in this case by what he remembers seeing and what he thinks he will see again. It’s only face to face that we can see the truth. We thought the scramble suits made this impossible for Bob most of the time.

The woman who joined us grew up in the 60s and she said she related to the characters whereas I did not. She recalls that the drug culture in Detroit was not quite like that described in California but had some similar elements. Perhaps I would have liked this book more if I’d grown up during the time it was referencing. The setting seemed very real, not quite the SciFi I saw in Blade Runner when I watched that film. We suspected that was because the real advanced technology, which was referenced one or twice, was reserved for the rich and elite of the society while our characters were more working class and poor.

The first part of the book was a lot of character development, which is where I lost interest. These characters were men in their late 20s or early 30s that weren’t the type of people I would want to associate myself with. It made the progression from Bob in his right mind to Bob beyond help very stark, but I felt it went too slowly. My husband pointed out the slip between first and third person points of view as Bob’s brain started to disassociate and have ‘cross-chatter.’ I guess it’s odd that I found this part so dull.

Barris was the primary secondary character. Bob viewed him as this crazy villain who had secrets and a gun and who could hurt the rest of them if he put his mind to it. But Barris saw Bob in a very similar light. He’s very skeptical of everything Bob does and knows about the gun under his desk. Bob’s secrets could have done in Barris as well. They were similar characters.

With all the bad things Bob did, why did we like him? What did the reader have to grab on to that could make us cheer for such a person? I guess we thought he would recover. We thought there would be a happy ending until he got to New Path. He seemed to lose track of everything by the end and we felt bad for him. The hemisphere separation which caused him to speak in German and interrupt his own thoughts with it was disturbing to read. The scenes where he saw the drug-addled girl’s face melt into Donna’s were confusing, but we felt we figured out a good grasp on them. Our theory is that the first time, he thought he saw it in a dark room in a drug-induced state. The second time, his brain had deteriorated further and because he thought he’d seen it the first time, he saw it again, whether it happened or not. At this point, we knew he was going nowhere good.

We had two different interpretations of the last paragraph of the book. Here it is reprinted,

Stooping down, Bruce picked one of the stubbled blue plants, then placed it in his right shoe, slipping it down out of sight. A present for my friends, he thought, and looked forward inside his mind, where no one could see, to Thanksgiving.

My interpretation was that he was taking some of the drug to share with his friends who are also addicts back at the New Path facility in the city. He wants to abuse the drug again. He’s become a druggy. My husband thought it meant that he was going to show it to Donna and the other narcotics officers to show them where the drug was being grown. Now I’m not really sure what to think about it because I think it could be interpreted either way! What do you think? We were surprised that it was a naturally growing plant because the investigators were always making a big fuss about it being synthesized in a lab.

I was surprised that the government was running the drug ring. I wasn’t expecting that twist. Though it was very convenient to have drug-abused minds growing the drug that had ruined their lives. It made you wonder why the government would sacrifice officers to investigate the drug when it was government-run.

Our favorite cop character was Hank. And we have a theory. It’s a big one, are you ready? Donna is Hank! Yep. Think about it. She knew not to get into a romantic relationship with Bob because she knew he was a cop who was trying to bust her and it could get messy. She knew Fred was Bob because she knew his friends, had seen Fred and Barris in the same room, and knew Luckman was too far gone to be a cop. Thinking back on it, it makes perfect sense to me and I’m not convinced this is true. At the time of reading the book, we were blown away that she was an officer, but it now makes more and more sense. We wondered if she lied about her age because she was described as ‘too young to buy’ but if she was a cop, might have been older than she looked.

My husband, who really enjoyed the psychology of this book, told us a little about the history of psychology and what he saw of it in Dick’s book. Psychology was a very young discipline in the 50s and by the 70s, when this book was written, it was making great strides in the study of the brain. He conjectured that the ‘advanced tests’ the doctors were running were part of Dick’s best guess at where psychology would be another 20 years later.

The authors note touched us all in different ways. One thing that struck us was how much Dick continued to associate himself with those he was in the drug scene with. Many people we knew who had been into drugs in younger years no longer associated with the people who participated in those activities and have moved on to different aspects of their lives. Buck Dick, after achieving so much success, still associates with these people. There’s speculation that he is the ‘Phil’ referred to in the list and if that’s so, maybe it was their permanent damage that linked them: their shared pain after the drugs were gone.

I’m excited to get back to the bigger group. Our next book is Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane which I finished just a bit ago and I think will make for a great discussion.

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 Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer (3/5)

25 May

I’m not big on thrillers. I find the characters unbelievably lucky and the premise unbelievable. So yes, I went into this book skeptically. And yes, that has affected my rating. But I always enjoy the ride and this was no exception. Things are never how they seem in a thriller. When this was chosen as our book club selection I thought it seemed like an odd choice. I learned that Meltzer is coming to speak in the area in June. I’ve got tickets to go with my mom. So expect a few more posts about him and his work.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

Summary from Goodreads:

Beecher White, a young archivist, spends his days working with the most important documents of the U.S. government. He has always been the keeper of other people’s stories, never a part of the story himself…

Until now.

When Clementine Kaye, Beecher’s first childhood crush, shows up at the National Archives asking for his help tracking down her long-lost father, Beecher tries to impress her by showing her the secret vault where the President of the United States privately reviews classified documents. After they accidentally happen upon a priceless artifact – a 200 hundred-year-old dictionary that once belonged to George Washington, hidden underneath a desk chair, Beecher and Clementine find themselves suddenly entangled in a web of deception, conspiracy, and murder.

Soon a man is dead, and Beecher is on the run as he races to learn the truth behind this mysterious national treasure. His search will lead him to discover a coded and ingenious puzzle that conceals a disturbing secret from the founding of our nation. It is a secret, Beecher soon discovers, that some believe is worth killing for.

I wasn’t aware that this was the first in a series until the end and I wish I’d known that because I would have been ready for the ending. It wouldn’t have seemed so abrupt. But oh well. Like I expected it was a fun ride but not the kind of book I really enjoy. The characters were incredibly smart and the premise seemed a bit twisted from the beginning. Everyone seemed really lucky (well, except Dallas) and managed to escape awful situations unscathed. It reminded me of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series and how surreal those seemed. I guess you could say I was very ‘meh’ about this one.

Some of the characters were believable. Strangely, I thought Nico was very believable. I thought Meltzer did a good job writing someone who was mentally ill and explaining their obsessions and thought processes. I thought Beecher was pretty credible, but he was very trusting in things that seemed outrageous. As someone whose job is grounded in facts, this seemed a bit out of character. I thought the rest of the characters seemed, well, right out of an adventure novel. That is to say, I didn’t believe there could be people like them. It’s so removed from my life that I couldn’t picture it. Thus my problem with this genre as a whole.

I don’t normally like the protagonist, but, in this case, I think Beecher was my favorite character. I liked figuring things out with him even though I was allowed to jump into other people’s heads for a bit at a time. It’s probably because he was the most realistic character, as I described above. I think I would have been more upfront about my involvement in the beginning, but other than that I understood his motivations.

Part of what makes me dislike thrillers is that my life is so different from the characters. I can’t imagine finding out my father tried to kill the president. I can’t see myself trying to track down the secret the President has been protecting for 26 years. It’s so far from my life and it makes me disinterested.

Brad Meltzer Image via the author's Twitter page

Brad Meltzer
Image via the author’s Twitter page

I liked learning the truth about Minnie. If you haven’t read this book, this is a huge spoiler. Skip the rest of this paragraph. I liked learning that she isn’t the meek person she’s presented as in the beginning and learning how the relationship between her and the President is so strong and deep made me happy. I almost liked that she stood up for herself, but at the same time I stopped trusting her as a character. She invoked the most complex reactions in me and I liked that about her character.

I didn’t like the ending. Again, spoiler here so skip ahead. Finding out that Beecher’s father might be alive was too much for me. The book started off as a fun story where the President has a spy ring. Now we’re talking about a secret military experiment that’s been going on for years and years. It was a turn I wasn’t anticipating and it seemed a bit extreme for me. I’m not tempted to read the sequels because I think I’d be disappointed in the premise after reading this book.

Another thing I find disappointing about thrillers is that they seem to lack a theme much of the time. I would say the strongest themes in this book were both not to trust anyone and to trust in those who you’ve trusted for a long time. Maybe it’s best to say every man is out for himself and if you do have to trust someone, do so with caution.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked Meltzer’s use of short chapters. This is one thing I really like about thrillers. Yes, it keeps me going from one chapter to the next quickly, but it also allows me a lot of stopping points. I like the short chapters because if there’s a character I don’t like, I’m not stuck with him for a long time. I think it works well for the modern short attention span. My writing tends to have slightly longer chapters than Meltzer writes, but I’m a fan of this style.

Overall, fun and a quick read, but not a genre I enjoy. 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:
A Review of The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer |Bill’s Book Reviews
Book Review – The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer | Tim Busbey

Book Club Reflection: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

21 May

Because I was the last person to read The White Tiger in my book group we were able to discuss it very soon after. It was a short discussion because it was preceded by learning that SB was moving to another building. We still intend to continue our book club meetings, but this will slightly complicate a meeting location. Fingers crossed that we can continue everything as normal.

We used the Lit Lovers Discussion questions to guide our conversation. I will be reviewing the book in its entirety and the ending will be spoiled. Proceed with caution.

VV choose this book. She was born in India and travels there to visit friends and family. She told us that the plot line of a low-born person rising to a position of power and wealth is a common theme in Indian movies and stories. In that sense, this book’s plot is not original. Though I doubt many of the stories involve murder and such questionable morals.

Did Balram win us over? SB said no and I have to agree with her. He did so many terrible things that his ambition was unrelatable to me. I understand wanting to better your station in life, but the cost was too high. VV understood where he was coming from. It was his ambition that made him stand out from the million other low-born in the country. Without ambition, he would have been like the boy killed on his bike. She didn’t agree with what he had to do but could see what drove it.

Balram’s story is told through a series of letters to the Chinese Premier, a man of very high rank. The fact that Balram thinks he is worthy of addressing such a man and in a very informal manner says a lot about his character. He saw them as equals; both focused on themselves and ambitious to go after something others might see as unobtainable. The informal language and references to his sex life either show a familiarity between them or Balram’s lack of education about proper manners.

SB and I both related more to Ashoke. We understood is complaints with Indian bribery because it was something he learned while studying in the US. In business school, ethics was drilled into our heads in every class. No bribes, no extravagant gifts, etc. Ashoke had learned that and then gone back to his homeland where everything was different. We felt as bewildered as he did.

Balram educates himself by absorbing the knowledge around him. He listens to what others are saying about stealing the car or sending back less money and learns to exploit these to better himself. He listens for opportunities and then chases them down.

Balram repeats this couplet to himself in the latter parts of the book,

I was looking for the key for years
but the door was always open.

We felt that this couplet spoke to him about missed opportunities. If he didn’t try the door to see if it was open, he could be wondering around for years looking for a way to open it. It was better to try to learn he needed to find a key than to look for the key outright.

Balram’s grandmother wrote to him to try to guilt him into sending more money. Instead, he let them die. She pointed out that he was shirking his responsibilities, which he knew he was doing. He resented having those responsibilities in the first place. He wanted to be free and not have his family relying on him for money. VV pointed out that the family he was supporting kept growing. There were children, like Dharam, that he didn’t even know about. As the family grew, they were asking for more money and as Balram’s salary grew and he felt he could use more of it for personal reasons, more of it was being demanded. He would never be free of his family.

We felt that Balram stopped caring about Ashoke when they moved to Delhi. Once he saw the opportunities in the city, he wanted it for himself. The divide between him and his family was now larger than it had ever been before and he got greedy so started thinking of ways to take advantage of his masters.

There were stark differences between the way the characters reacted after Pinky hit someone while driving and when Balram’s driver did. It was hush money for Balram versus paying for ones loss with the driver. VV told us that blaming the driver is more common than we would think. She pointed us to a recent court case in India where actor Salman Khan drunkenly drove over five men and his driver initially took the blame. He has now been sentenced to jail for the deaths (can I say 5 years seems really short?).

The final question asked us if we thought this was a cautionary tale or a hopeful one. SB felt it was cautionary and didn’t offer any venue for hope. VV felt it was a truthful account and gave a good indication of where the country is headed. I think it was more cautionary. If Balram is the future, that’s not very hopeful.

Our next book will be A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I hope the others love Irving as much as I do!

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, 20-May-2015

20 May

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!

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The Three Ws are:

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


CloudAtlasCurrently reading:  Minor progress on La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Two more book club books coming my way so I can’t even promise I’ll get to this soon.
Still going with A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I’ve been having to make a lot of calls in my care lately or have been with someone else so I’ve slowed this down a bit. I hope to pick it up again soon.
Things are going more quickly with The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. The plot is moving very quickly and I’m really enjoying it.
I started a new eBook, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I’m really excited about this one because it’s been #1 on my TBR for about a year now. I tried starting it once  a while back and never made it past page five. I’m beyond that already now. This should be a fun ride.
I’ve got a new book club selection as well.  The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff. Not too far into it yet and I’m excited that it will help me fulfill the 1800s for my When Are You Reading? Challenge. I need to focus on this one more.

OceanRecently finished: I absolutely flew through Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox. I haven’t read a memoir in a while and it was really refreshing. Knox’s story is fascinating, even if what I read was biased and has been called into question. I hope to review it soon.
I also finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This was a great little story. It was a bit more fantastical than I was anticipating, but I still enjoyed it a lot.

I wrote one review this week, Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Take a look and let me know what you thought of these books.

WidowReading Next: My work book club selected our next book and it will be A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I’m stupidly excited for this selection because it’s off of my TBR and Irving is my favorite writer of all time. I can’t get my hands on it soon enough!


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: Left Behind by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye (3/5)

19 May

Another ebook done! I’m getting better at reading in this format, but I still don’t like it. Anyway. I asked a friend a long time ago about book series and he said the only book series he’d ever read was the Left Behind Series. So naturally, I added it to my reading list and was lucky enough to find an e-copy at my library. And it only took me three months to read it.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Summary from Goodreads:

An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.

This book fell flat for me early on and then tried to redeem itself and almost succeeded. Almost. My problem was with Rayford as a character. I didn’t buy him. He seemed like a man whose actions were very thought out before the apocalypse. He flirted with Hattie, but never too much. He had a steady job and approached religion with a skeptical eye. Then in a heartbeat, he converts to Christianity. Believable given the events that have just happened. But then he throws himself into it 100%, converting everyone he knows and joining a task force to oppose the Antichrist. It seemed out of character. Or maybe too unlike myself. I related to Buck and Chloe’s struggles to accept what was around them and was happy when they decided to become devout Christians. But Ray, as the main character, bothered me. I couldn’t see myself in him and it ultimately ruined the novel for me.

Besides Rayford, I thought all of the characters were very credible. Buck was my favorite. It showed that such a traumatic event can turn even the biggest skeptic into a Godly man. And I thought his character arc was very natural. I won’t spoil it too much, but the last few pages with him had me on the edge of my seat! He had the most exciting plotline in this book and I wish he had been more prominent than Rayford.

Chloe was my favorite character (though probably a close tie with Buck) because she was the most like me. She was the only favorable female character (I started disliking Hattie early on) and she seemed very real. I hope she’ll feature more prominently in future novels though I’m unsure if I’ll continue reading this series.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins Image via the Left Behind Kids Blog

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Image via the Left Behind Kids Blog

I loved the ending of this book. It was well paced and exciting! I only wish it had come sooner in the book so there could have been some action following it. I don’t like feeling like I’m left dangling with a book and this one did that to me. This is probably why I don’t read a lot of series. Regardless, I liked the action and the direction the characters took because I did not see it coming.

The aftermath of the rapture was something else I really enjoyed. I felt the writers thought out the realities of what would happen and small details such as the parking garage and car accidents were interesting

As I’ve said, Rayford’s quick conversion was hard for me to believe and made me dislike the book. I won’t get into it again but having this major event at the beginning of the book set a bad tone for me that lasted the rest of the novel. Even with redeeming events and character conversions later, I had a foul taste in my mouth.

Obviously this book is meant to educate the reader what the Bible says about the apocalypse and what will happen after. It’s obvious that the writers are very well-educated and I think they did a good job of communicating this point in a fictional book. This is a very handy educational tool for those who need to learn about Christian teachings. I think the message to not wait and to give yourself to Christ in earnest is a good one and well communicated here.

Writer’s Takeaway: Not all books with a message are dull. This book has an obvious message and agenda but was able to communicate them and show them in a very entertaining way and without overburdening the reader with quotes and facts. I always try to write with a message in mind, but I’m afraid I come off heavy-handed. I’m not sure you can avoid it and deliver your message and this book assured me that a message in fiction doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Overall, well written and enjoyable but with a protagonist I didn’t relate to which ruined it for me. Three out of Five stars.

Note: Upon further research, I found that these books promote the idea that Catholics cannot go to Heaven. As a Catholic, I find this offensive and will not continue reading this series. This is (obviously) a core belief of my faith and I do not want to immerse myself in something that opposes it.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Book Review: Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins | Mugglenet
Book Review: Left Behind by Tim F. LaHaye | Read Watch and Think

‘Wild’ Movie Review

18 May
Movie Poser via IMDb

Movie Poser via IMDb

It’s been almost a year since I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and had a great discussion with my book club about the book. I’d been waiting for a copy of the movie to be available at the library and finally had to Redbox this awesome movie so I could see it for myself. I was happy with the film.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Reese Witherspoon. She did an amazing job. This is one of those movies where the lead gets a lot of face time, much like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I heard that she was fighting for this project to take off and she is credited as Producer. Strayed was involved in producing as well and helped write the script. I think this was set up for a win.

Hiking advice. Reading this book taught me a few valuable lessons about hiking and I’m glad those were kept in. A lot of them were taken out, but a few key items were left in. This isn’t the exciting, glitzy type of thing that moviegoers tend to want to see so I was happy to see it was left in.

Trusting in humanity. The film did a great job at showing how vulnerable Cheryl was and how much she had to trust in those she met and hope they would have her best interest in mind. She did a good job of quickly finding out who was worth trusting and who to avoid and I thought this came across well on-screen.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

REI problems. In the book, Cheryl had a lot of problems re-ordering her boots and having them available for her at a station. The movie skipped this and I’m really fine with that. I don’t think it added to her overall struggles and seemed a bit repetitive in the book.

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

Heroine use up until she left. Cheryl talked about how soon before her hike she’d used heroine in the book and for me, that helped place the hike right in the middle of her struggles, not a task she undertook to re-set herself after getting over her dark period. It was her own rehab.

Things That Changed Too Much

Financial problems. The movie touched on her financial struggles in small ways. Saying she didn’t have anywhere to live after the hike to the Hobo Times reporter, declining her favorite Snapple at stations, etc. But the book focused on how little money she had to her name. She dropped a dime in the snow and lost half of her wealth. Where was that in the movie?

Explicit Content. I get that it sells movie tickets, but for a movie about a woman walking alone on the PCT, there was a lot of explicit content. Yes, a good amount of it was in the book, but the flashbacks and images of her racy behavior were a bit much for me. I wasn’t ready for it and I think it was too much.

Overall Reactions

I liked the movie but didn’t love it. It was a good rendition of the book and was entertaining. I’d recommend it but not enthusiastically. I guess it was solidly OK.

To those who have read this more recently, what did I miss? Anything you would add to my lists?

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 Club Reflection: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Murello

14 May

I wasn’t the only one who liked this book more than they expected to. None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into and, of course, there are a few dissenters, but on the whole we liked this book. If you want to read my thoughts, you can read my review.

We read in the author interview that Merullo did a drive similar to the one Otto describes, but not with a guru. Some in my group felt that parts of the book read like a travel journal because of all the roads and turns and towns listed, but some of us felt it made the book seem realer. We also liked that it was in the Midwest because we’re Midwesterners ourselves and thought about how much a man in a robe would stick out in our part of the country.

In the Q&A in the back (page 328 in our copy), Merullo talks about what he was trying to communicate with his book. He didn’t want to be preaching or try to convince people to act or live a certain way. He wanted to entertain. We thought he’d done well in accomplishing this goal; we were all entertained. While I felt let down that there was less of a message, others didn’t seem too perturbed. We all liked that the only religion he specifically addressed was Catholicism. Merullo was raised Catholic and that might be the only reason he chooses to use that religion, but it made a good contrast with the free-form and relaxed thought that Rinpoche stuck to.

Otto was a good narrator for this story. I thought it was a bit of a cheat to make him a writer in a first person narration. This is a personal pet peeve because writers would describe things the way the author would. Part of what makes first person narration so hard is thinking like the character and it’s easier for writers to think like their characters if their characters are like them. Think of Skeeter in The Help or Eva in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Great books, but first person narration by a writer. I’m just saying. Anyway. We liked that Otto was a food writer and could bring in all the details and joys of food. Having taste prevalent in writing is hard to do and Otto make that seem natural.

We found a lot of instances where it was clear Otto was developing as a character. The scene where the two went swimming in the lake would have embarrassed Otto in the beginning. He learned to mesh with Rinpoche’s world by the end and open his mind to a new way to do things. We liked these little changes.

One member thought Rinpoche wasn’t necessary for Otto to make his transformation. She argued that he could have had the self-reflective time by himself or with someone else. Many of us argued back that the quiet time he had with Rinpoche is what helped him open his mind and because of Rinpoche’s connection to his sister, their relationship could be healed when that would not have been possible with another person.

Otto’s transformation is even more remarkable when he confesses to having suicidal thoughts a few years before the book takes place. He says that his sleep disorder drove him to a depressed state. This reminded me of a dark time in my life when I had an undiagnosed tear in my hip. I couldn’t walk, sit, stand, or do anything in between without terrible pain. It drives you into a spiral of self-pity and hate that can go a dark way. It took me a long time to come out of that and I’m not sure I could have if my grief had been compounded by the sudden death of my parents. Otto came across as a very strong person.

The things Rinpoche preached made a lot of sense to us. We should be mindful of what’s going on around us, take things in moderation, and not worry so much about everything. Our group is split pretty evenly between Christians and Jews and we could all agree that this was a good doctrine by which to live.

I expressed my frustration about Rinpoche being the father of Cecelia’s child and one member piped up that it never said that he was the father. Disbelieving, we all looked back and couldn’t find it! If anyone can find the words, let me know! Cecelia was portrayed as a little morally loose, but I would still be surprised if there was another father. We were struck by how Cecelia’s initially selfless intentions of giving Rinpoche the land became very self-serving in the end when she choose to stay and live on the land.

We used the questions in the back of the book to guide part of our discussion. Question seven asked us what the book had to say about modern American society. Rinpoche’s stress on moderation made us realize the excess built into our country, be it food or sex or success. We are a country of self-reliant individuals who are competitive to reach the top, even if we have to put others down to get there. There’s little room for humility in a society like that. But no matter how flawed we may be we’re polite about it! We look the other way when something bothers us and try to put on a face and give a nice word when we might be embarrassed or upset.

Question twelve asked how Otto changed as a result of his quiet meditation with Rinpoche. Many of us had never been able to find that peace of mind. It’s hard to quiet your mind and be at peace when we’re racing to accomplish a million things at once (including a book blog, I might add!). Those who practiced yoga had a bit of experience but some still struggled to clear their minds. One has to focus on being of a clear mind and not let other thoughts come into one’s head. (Like how I need to pick up my delivery at 5:30 and have to remember the receipt…).

A lot of us adored the humor in the book and were literally laughing out loud. The bowling experience was a good laugh and we had a moment of schadenfreude as Otto struggled through yoga. We all related to the food obsession that comes with fasting from our own experiences with Lent and Passover. Merullo’s attempts to make us laugh were very well received.

I got an email from a member after our meeting, asking what I thought about how much we attribute to those who don’t speak much. My writer-brain went to how it’s used as a literary device. When a character doesn’t talk much, the reader and other characters listen when he does have something to say. Rinpoche knew the value of moderation so was not going to be a man to fill the hours in the car with idle conversation. He was going to talk when he needed to and when what he wanted to say would help Otto grow spiritually. I think the author wants us to attribute a lot to these types of characters and because of how they’re written, we do.

It was a great meeting and I’m looking forward to our next discussion on Brad Meltzer’s book The Inner Circle. It should be a good one.

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, 13-May-2015

13 May

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!

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The Three Ws are:

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


KnoxCurrently reading:  I was able to read just a little bit of La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Right now, it’s looking like I’ll have time for it more this summer but not much before then. Stay tuned.
Still going with A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s good and I like it, but I’m not going to be moving very quickly through it.
I’m enjoying The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. I’ve gotten to the part that’s more of a story line and less of a generic flashback/back story. I like this a lot more.
I’m really enjoying my eBook, Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox. It feels good to be reading a memoir again and this one is really riveting.
My newest book club selection is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It’s a nice short one I hope I can knock out in one week!

InnerRecently finished: I flew through my latest book club selection, The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer. I enjoyed the fast-paced thriller even though it’s not normally my genre. I did find it a bit far-fetched, which is normally my complaint. Review coming soon.

I wore a review for The White Tiger that posted Monday. I’d been talking about this book for a long time and a lot of you asked about it so click over there to see my thoughts.

BohemiansReading Next: Next Monday I’ll get a copy of The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff. It’s our bi-annual non-fiction which I tend to either love or hate. We’ll see.


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!