Archive | December, 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (5/5)

31 Dec

So many good things had been said about this book so I was excited to read it myself. This book was chosen as the Great Michigan Read for 2015-2016 by the Michigan Humanities Council so there are a lot of events and discussion focused on this book in my area. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll remember how many times I posted about Annie’s Ghosts. Expect the same from this book.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Summary from Goodreads:

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

I’ve spoken with people who are put off by this book being ‘dystopian.’ The way they speak about it makes it sound like a lesser genre and one that wasn’t deserving of being chosen by the Humanities Council. I think this book is a perfect choice. It’s a big ‘what if?’ book, a type that has been very popular before (1984, A Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, etc.). Because that ‘what if’ involves a step backward in civilization does not make it a lower book. I find it says even more about humanity. I loved the characters and how they were related to each other. I liked the jumps forward and backward in time. And I really liked Kirsten’s relationships with the other characters. It all worked really well together to make for a book I found hard to put down. When I did put it down, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

There was a huge variety of characters and I loved that about the book. Some were rich, poor, smart, uneducated, old, and young. I thought Mendel did a great job of explaining the different life paths that people were led to as a result of the flu. The main characters, Kirsten and Jeevan in particular, were great and I could sympathize with their fears. I found the prophet to be a bit unbelievable, but I think that was the point. I thought it was realistic how Kirsten’s brother died and I’m glad they addressed how people would die in ways that wouldn’t have been an issue in the old world. It seemed very real.

Kirsten is a very likable main character. She bridges those who remember the old world too well and those who didn’t know it at all with her age and limited memory. She has a good amount of mystery to her (who did she kill, what happened during the year she forgot?) but not so much that she’s unlikable. You know enough about her to like her. The friends she had in the symphony were good people and you could see that she would do anything for them and it helped me like her.

It’s hard to say I related to any of the characters directly, but I could see myself in Kirsten and Jeevan. When Jeevan hold himself up in his brother’s apartment, I kept thinking that it was what I would have done. I would have waited for things to calm down before I’d gone outside, I would have waited as long as possible before venturing into the new world. I would have tried to find a community like Kirsten where I got to travel and where I felt needed. Their stories together let me picture what my life could have been like in the world of the book.

Emily St. John Mandel Image via Michigan Radio

Emily St. John Mandel
Image via Michigan Radio

I found the descriptions of ransacking to be incredibly beautiful and haunting. Thinking about what would be left in a school and what would be valuable was eerie. Thinking of finding the dead there was strange as well. I would have thought of raiding grocery stores and sporting goods stores, but looting houses and classrooms seem desperate and it was a good way to show how the world had changed.

Okay, major spoiler here so skip to the end of this paragraph to miss it. When Clark showed Kirsten the city with lights on and then nothing came of that, I was upset. I thought that was something too big to gloss over at the end. I think we’re told the symphony is headed that way, but we don’t find out much on top of that. Are you kidding me? I’d be running there ASAP, trying to figure out if they were able to bring the world into the 20th Century. That would be incredible.

The tagline of the entire book is ‘Survival is insufficient.’ Merely making it through the world is not enough, there has to be a way to contribute to it and to remember what there was before. The symphony has a wonderful way of doing this with theatre and music. The importance of what came before is so important in the story. Clark collects mementos of the previous world because he hopes they might once again be needed or that remembering they existed will help somehow. The cities with electricity or bringing back the internet could prove that one day these things are again needed. It’s the same reason we study history. We have to remember what happened before so we can learn from our mistakes and make better decisions the next time. Maybe all we learn about the flu is how to better protect against it before, but remembering all we learned about civilization, technology, and geopolitics is worth remembering and remembering well.

Writer’s Takeaway: Gosh, with a book like this, I’m intimidated to write this section. What did I learn from reading the book? Just that I wish I could write like Mandel. It’s hard to put my finger on what I liked about this one. Part of it was the mystery she kept about the characters and the setting which was appropriate because of the state of the world. The other was her organization and layout of the plot. There was a lot going on and it all came together in the end but to get there, it took a lot of organization and building. Mandel did it beautifully.

I enjoyed this book immensely and recommend it to everyone. Five 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:
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel | Savidge Reads
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel | Dream by Day
Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven | Faulkner House Books

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WWW Wednesday, 30-December-2015

30 Dec

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?


PleaseCurrently reading:  I got to check out I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and I had time to read it during lunch on Thursday, which was really nice. I got to read a bit before mass started on Christmas Eve, but that’s about it for the week. Not a great reading week in general.
I got through very little of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. I was with my family and friends almost non-stop this past week so it wasn’t a good time for audiobooks.
We all stayed up late talking so there wasn’t much time before bed for One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’m guessing y’all are feeling like the excuses are in abundance this week. They are.
Minimal progress (again) with Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. I’m absolutely loving the story now but I have limited drive time. I hope this picked up in the new year.
My husband and I started a new audiobook for our long Christmas drive and New Years drive, Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I got the book through the Ford Audiobook Club before it ended. So far, it’s fun and enjoyable, though I liked Tina Fey’s better (just a bit).

Recently finished: Nothing finished. Poo. That’s what I get for all the traveling and family fun times.

And just one book review, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars.

PrincipeReading Next: I put Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling next to my bed. It’s pretty certain to be next. However, I’m hosting the 2016 When Are You Reading? Challenge so I might have to pick up some historical fiction books to fit the time periods. If you’re interested in joining, please let me know! I posted about it Monday and you can read the details on this page.


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: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (4/5)

29 Dec

After all of the press around this book, I was reluctant to read it. I was in no rush, but I did put it on my TBR. It was out of curiosity, really. I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ while I was in 9th grade and it was enjoyable but wasn’t my favorite book from school or one I’ve re-read for any reason. It had a good story and made for a good study, that was all. After hearing the controversy (catch up with the NY Times if needed), I was curious and angry, not excited. But armed with an audiobook and holiday baking to do, I dove in and was pleasantly surprised.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Summary from Goodreads:

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience.

I went in expecting nothing. Honestly, that might be why I liked it as much as I did. It sounds terrible, but going in with really low expectations helped me like this book. I thought it would be a much rougher first draft and I fond the book to be reasonably well polished. It makes sense that she probably edited it a bit before taking a debut novel to an editor. I guess the press made me expect the worst. I thought the flashbacks were a little often and a little long which I feel a good editor would have pared down. A lot of them didn’t relate to the story being told, either. I’m thinking of the story of the kids playing ‘Revival’ and being caught by the priest. It illustrated a character that didn’t play a role in the main action so why was it there? To make the book longer and sell it for more. I also thought the book lacked a solid plot. The story was Scout’s journey to accept the town she grew up in but the process was confusing to me and a lot of things that happened weren’t relevant to that journey. It needed some serious editing.

I’m not sure how credible I think the characters are. Alabama during segregation is very different from where I live or have ever visited. I can’t imagine the tensions going on in the town. To me, Jean Louise seemed like the sanest person in a world of quiet bigots. They don’t want anything to change and refuse to come around to the northern way of thinking. They’re stubborn as mules and in the end, Jean Louise accepts what they say. She doesn’t agree, but she accepts it and that was hard to read as a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. That Atticus is even listening to a pro-segregation speech is hard to listen to. We have to consider that these characters are different from the ones we grew up loving. Editing changed Atticus so he’s no longer the same person.

Scout was a great character. As a northerner in 2015, I related to her mentality more than the other characters. Being inside her head and hearing her internal thoughts helped me feel connected to her. Hank and Aunt Alexandra were great, too, because they were vivid and well described.

Scout reacted much the same way I do when I encounter something that goes against my idea of equality. I get angry! I don’t understand why some people believe others are inherently better and why they’re not open to hearing a different opinion. I saw a lot of myself in Scout and I really liked reading about her reactions to her hometown. She grew up in that environment and it must have been startling to see how much it had changed because of national decisions.

Harper Lee Image via Biography

Harper Lee
Image via Biography

I liked the parts with Aunt Alexandra. She was a great female figure to have opposite Atticus. She had a great attitude and I liked how strong she was despite what had happened with her husband. The descriptions of her corset and her gossip with the local ladies had me smiling whenever she showed up in the narrative.

Listening to Uncle Jack and Atticus defend segregation was excruciating. The balance they were looking for in their lives being set into turmoil by human rights seemed like a dumb thing to complain about and seeing Scout come to accept that was hard. I can’t imagine the shock to her memories and her belief in her father to hear those things when she came home. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear from the book and I think it’s what gave it so much bad press. It’s too easy to think of Atticus in this book as the same lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird and it makes it worse. I understand why so many readers were disappointed.

I was skeptical of Reese Whitherspoon as the narrator for this audiobook. I didn’t realize she was from New Orleans and would be able to do the voice and characters so well. I forgot it was her half the time I was listening. She brought a lot of her acting talent to the job and her inflection was incredible. I really recommend the audiobook.

Lee wanted to write a book about race and this sure fills that role. I strongly think that To Kill a Mockingbird did it so much better that they’re incomparable. Accepting the hatred and inability to cope with change she sees at home is not the ending I wanted as a reader. It’s not the ending Scout’s story deserved. It says something about race for sure, but not something I wanted to hear.

Writer’s Takeaway: Flashbacks! That was the editing need that stuck out the most to me. Flashbacks can serve a purpose but I felt a lot of Lee’s didn’t in this story. They made me love Scout and miss Jem, but didn’t develop the story. It’s a good reminder to use them sparingly if at all.

I enjoyed it more than I thought, but I wish I’d been able to go in with higher expectations. 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:
Review: GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee | What’s Not Wrong
‘More than a little divisive’ – Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee | Bookmunch
Book Review: Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee | The Booksellers New Zealand Blog
REVIEW: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee | Around the World in 80 Books

Announcing the 2016 When Are You Reading? Challenge

28 Dec

when are you reading 2016 final

If you’re picking out your 2016 reading challenges, add this to your list! I’m hosting the 3rd annual When Are You Reading? Challenge! It’s a short challenge, only 12 books, which challenges you to read books set or published in different time periods. Those periods are:

  • Pre 1500
  • 1500-1599
  • 1600-1699
  • 1700-1799
  • 1800-1899
  • 1900-1919
  • 1920-1939
  • 1940-1959
  • 1960-1979
  • 1980-1999
  • 2000-Present
  • The Future

At only one book a month, this one has always been fast and fun. Often I find the books I was going to read anyway fit into the time periods. There are very few ‘rules’ associated with the challenge. I put it in quotations because you’re free to do what you want with it.

‘Rules’

  • Determination of what year a book belongs in is the decision of the participant. On the whole, choose a year where the largest part of the action occurs or the most important event.
  • I will compile a list of those participating on this page but you must link back to this page to be added to the list so that other participants can find us!

It works best if you dedicate a page or post to tracking your books so I can link to it. I had four participants last year and I’m hoping to up that again this year.

If  you’re interested, let me know and grab the graphic my fabulous husband designed (isn’t he great?!) to let others know you’re participating. I can’t wait for you to join!

Pages for the 2016 challenge will be up soon. Check back for updates and further announcements.

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!

A Mini Writers Retreat: Sharing

24 Dec

My writers group met for the last time this year for a nice little get-together. It was a smaller crowd than we’re used to, but that worked out in our favor this time.

We practiced reading our pieces aloud. It’s surprisingly terrifying to share what you’ve written, though, fortunately, this group stresses sharing what you have no matter what you think of it. When I first joined, it made me nervous to share a prompt response I’d just written. What if it was terrible? I figured out pretty quickly that everyone hated what they wrote (or at least 90% of people) but they didn’t care, they shared it anyway. Part of writing is sharing what you’ve written. Books are published for public consumption, not for the author’s own pleasure. If it’s hard to share something you wrote in five minutes that has low expectations, it will be a lot harder to share something you worked on for years.

For this meeting, we shared stories we’d already written, our latest work in progress. We went around the table and each shared our first sentence, critiquing as we went. Then we shared the first paragraph and then the first section (about three pages or so) with a critique after each one. I found it helpful to read the beginning of my latest draft out loud. I know it’s improved since the previous draft, but there were still a lot of places that it needs some help. There were things I didn’t realize needed help that the other members were able to point out which helped, too.

I’m a big fan of critique. I’ve had five friends and my husband read my 1920s novel and each reader finds something I can improve upon. Of course, it’s terrifying to share my work with others, but it becomes less terrifying each time. Now, it’s not as painful and I’m not constantly stressing about how far the person is or what they’re thinking. Sharing my work has made me ready for backlash and bad reviews I might receive in the future. It also helped me prepare for rejection letters from lit mags. It’s been an overall positive experience.

So share your words, Reader! They could always be improved, but there could be someone who likes them, too.

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, 23-December-2015

23 Dec

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?


DeadWakeCurrently reading:  I placed a hold on I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I hope it comes to me soon because I don’t want to start anything while I wait for it and I’m impatient.
I’m still listening to A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab around the house while I’m working out or cooking or cleaning, etc.It makes for some good listening. I think I’m finally getting into the action. I thought the build-up with Kel was a bit slow.
I’m slow getting into One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’ve read the first two chapters, but it hasn’t grabbed me yet so I’m finding it easy to put down. I hope that changes.
I started a new audiobook on Thursday, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. I really enjoyed The Devil in the White City and I’m hoping I like this title just as much.

CloudAtlasRecently finished: I finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell!!!!!!!!!!! I’m so excited about this. I had twenty minutes to spare before I went to the gym and figured I could finish it off and BAM! Now I can watch the movie and indulge myself in that to remind myself how it started. It took me seven months to the day to read it and I’m so proud that I finished it.

Three book reviews for you as well. The first was Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Thank you to those of you who read that review already. I welcome other opinions on my takeaway.
The second is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I really enjoyed this audio, a lot more than I thought I would, too. I’m glad I jumped on the bandwagon and read it.
Finally, Animal Farm by George Orwell. I don’t plan on reading a lot of other ‘classics’ in the next few weeks so it will be nice to have that behind us.

PrincipeReading Next: The plan is still to pick up Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling. I don’t think I’ll finish Marquez before the beginning of the year so I’ll put some more ‘for fun’ books in the beginning of the year when my book clubs are overlapping.


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: Animal Farm by George Orwell (4/5)

22 Dec

Surprisingly, it came up a lot between my husband and I that I’ve never read Animal Farm. It’s such a short little story that he finally convinced me to check out the audio so I wouldn’t be an embarrassment anymore. Well, now I’m proud to say I’m not embarrassing and I enjoyed it a bit as well.

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell

Summary from Goodreads:

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

So I more-or-less knew what this book would be about and how the plot would unroll. I spent the entire story trying to remember as much as I could from my Cold War history class and my economic theory classes to get all of the references to Stalinism and I think I picked up on most of it. It would have been nice to read this with a teacher who could point out the things I was missing because to be honest, I probably missed a lot.

I liked reducing political figures and communist citizens to animals. It made it funny to think of pigs on their hind legs and the friendships between donkeys and horses. Besides the pigs, I struggled to find a single person represented by the other animals. I saw them as the different people living under Stalinism. There was Boxer who was the ideal citizen until his death and Benjamin who is never inspired to take part in the farm. It showed a good variety of how people would react to the change in the economic system.

Boxer was my favorite character. He was likable and agreeable and I thought his story was the most interesting. He believed so hard in something, never questioning the direction he’s given or the people in charge, and it completely screws him over in the end. Appropriate, huh? I think there’s a character like him in every story involving the government. There have to be those that follow blindly and buy in 100% for any leadership to work.

I didn’t relate to any of the characters, but I don’t think I was supposed to. The characters are caricatures of people living under Stalinism and not real people with a journey. As far as I could tell, only Napoleon and Snowball were based on real people, neither of whom I wanted to relate to on any level. The only part of the novel when I sympathized with the characters was when they were sick of Mr. Jones. I think we’ve all felt at some time or another that a teacher or boss or other authority figure had no idea what he or she was doing and that we could run the thing better ourselves. The difference is, we never did it.

George Orwell Image via Wikipedia

George Orwell
Image via Wikipedia

I loved how the pigs kept changing the Seven Commandments to fit what they wanted. I thought that was very telling of what it was like to live under Stalinism. Even the creators didn’t want to live like that full time, they wanted to be part of a superior class and tried to change the rules without letting any know they were changing the rules. This always made me laugh.

I thought the symbol of the windmill was overused. I just looked up on SparkNotes what it’s supposed to represent and I understand why it’s important, but I still think it was too much in the book. Especially the collapse and rebuild parts. I could have done without it falling down and still gotten a lot of the story.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Ralph Cosham. I have mixed feelings about him as a narrator. I felt he was a bit dull at times and didn’t put a lot of emotion into his reading, but at other times I loved him. He did great at singing ‘Beasts of England’ and I liked how he did the sheep. But for much of the story, it felt flat.

I’m not sure what I can say about the themes of this book that hasn’t been said already. It does a good job of showing how flawed Stalinism is and how even those who created the system can’t abide by it for the long-term. Using animals and a farm makes it more like a children’s story and it seems like a kid could understand where the flaws are in the pig’s logic and see the hypocrisy in their actions. It’s a good tool to illustrate the system though so much being hidden in every word makes it exhausting to read.

Writer’s Takeaway: The long introduction in my copy talked about how Orwell saw this story as a fairy tale.  He wanted to use that medium to say something very serious about the Russian government. Often, I find that books for children have more complex messages than those for adults. I liked that he couched his message in this book. You don’t need a complicated plot to say something profound and Orwell did that well in a short piece. Brevity should be valued.

A good, fast read though I would have liked it better with some more historical background. 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 Post:
Animal Farm ~ George Orwell | North Winds Journey

Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (5/5)

21 Dec

With how many World War II novels I’ve read lately, I put off reading this book. I didn’t think something different could be done. I didn’t think I could sill be surprised by an ear that has dominated the Historical Fiction market lately. I should have trusted that the Pulitzer Prize winner would be worth it, though. I wish I’d read this sooner.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Summary from Goodreads:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Marie-Laure is the last character I would expect to stare in a WWII novel and that was part of what made this novel so exceptional to me. Werner I could expect and understand, but Marie-Laure made this book for me. I went into the book thinking it would be all like Werner’s story, but adding in an alternating plot line kept me going. This isn’t to say I didn’t like Werner’s plot, it was just more of what I’d expected from the time period. I liked being surprised and learning about shells and museums and stones. It was a great addition and what really brought the story together for me. Talking about radios was unexpected as well. I liked something that was very applicable to the time but under-represented in history making such a dominant appearance int he novel.

I don’t know much about being blind, but I felt that the accommodations Marie-Laure had were ingenious. Counting storm drains and using strings to find her way were great ideas her father had. I liked her story and how she grew up: the struggles she had and parts of life that Werner went through that she missed out on. Werner’s story is one I was much more familiar with because of similar stories I’ve read and I wasn’t as impressed with him as a character. He seemed like another complacent Nazi Youth.

If it’s not obvious, I’ll say now that I loved Marie-Laure. She was so strong and insistent that she could do everything that needed to be done around the house. She did what she could for Etienne after Madame Manec passed and did things he couldn’t do himself. Her father helped her as much as he could, but he still made sure she was self-sufficient. I liked the ending because it showed what she was capable of.

It’s hard to grow up in a confusing time. The 9/11 attacks happened when I was 11 so the confusion and war of my time are the War on Terror. There have been times I felt scared to leave my house and times when I had to be brave. Flying in November 2001 scared the pants off of me. It’s not the same as having bombs falling around your house and your father missing, but I can understand how Marie-Laure felt afraid of what was going on around her without being able to understand it. Things seemed to happen for no reason.

Anthony Doerr Image via The New York Times

Anthony Doerr
Image via The New York Times

I thought the last parts of the book were beautiful. From the time Marie-Laure and Werner met to the end, I was enchanted (and thankfully needed to spend one and a half hours in the car). The story wrapped up in a way I wasn’t expecting which is so rewarding as a reader! I hate coming to the end of a book and I can figure out how it’s going to end. I was surprised and excited the whole way through.

I thought there was a small drag in the middle when Marie-Laure was waiting for her father to come home and Werner was in school. The intense action of the beginning and end of the book ebbed then. I think it was covered well with flashbacks and von Rumpel’s story, though, and I didn’t lose my interest.

My edition was narrated by Zach Appelman and I thought he did well. He kept the suspense up when it needed to be and had a good voice for female characters. He didn’t do very much vocal changes for characters as I’ve experienced in other narrators, but I liked that in this book. The plot and narrator were fluid so there would have needed to be a lot of different inflections to have one per character. It would have been too much. I like Appelman’s decision to do this sparingly.

I’ve seen a lot in books lately about how much our lives intertwine with those of others and how this begins before we are aware of it and can change our lives forever. Marie-Laure and Werner met for such a short time, but he saved her life twice. The ways he did it developed when he was very young and first heard her grandfather on the radio. She didn’t know he existed for years. No one he loved knew how he died, his life ended after saving Marie-Laure’s. Was that his purpose in life? Once he’d fulfilled it, was there nothing left for him to do? If that’s so, what was the great thing she accomplished that was worth Werner’s life? I’m not sure I can think this way about the book, but it’s things that it made me think of.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing multiple points of view is very hard. I’m trying to do it in my 1920s YA book. Both characters are the star, one cannot be favored over the other and they have to be very different people. Doerr did a great job with this in Werner and Marie-Laure. I admire his balance in their stories though I’m not brave enough to bring in a von Rumpel to push them together! That’s another person I’m not ready to write.

I really enjoyed the plot, story, and characters when I wasn’t expecting to. 5 our 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:
All The Light We Cannot See – Guide | Novel Gobblers Book Club
BOOK REVIEW: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr | Commas and Ampersands
Review of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr | A Thousand Finds
Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr | My Happy Coincidence

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (2/5)

17 Dec

I never would have read this book if it hadn’t been an ArtFolds. I bought three of these books last year. One went to my friend for her graduation party, one went to my husband’s classroom, and the other I’ve been holding on to ever since. Finally having time to read for fun, I picked it up. In truth, I just wanted to do the folding (picture below).

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Summary from Goodreads:

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

To be fair, I went into this book with my grumpy face on. I read Pride and Prejudice in high school and (unpopular opinion coming) I hated it. It’s not the story at all, it’s the style and the setting. I don’t like long complex sentences that interrupt themselves. I don’t like hearing about money and how someone have to marry someone to have inheritance and how some small social faux pas is going to cause mother to faint and an engagement to be broken. It’s so far removed from me that I have trouble caring about the characters. There were times I sympathized with Marianne or Elinor, but most of the time I couldn’t. It’s too far removed from my life.

I have no doubt that Marianne and Elinor were average women of their time and status. I believe that the things they were concerned about and thought of were expected and welcomed. However, I’m not Elinor Dashwood and I’ve never known anyone like Elinor Dashwood so it’s hard to say if she’s believable. I’m assuming based on the popularity of these novels that the characters are quite typical and based on other books of that era, I believe that they are. It only makes me glad I was born in 1990 and not 1790 because I find their concerns tedious and the men of the era unbearable. I understand that Willoughby was supposed to be insufferable and irredeemable, but I didn’t find him too different from all the other male characters. I just wanted to get past the men.

Elinor seemed to have a head on her shoulders, unlike her emotional sister. I think if Marianne had narrated I couldn’t have made it halfway through the book. I liked that Elinor was cynical. She never trusted Willoughby and barely trusted Colonel Brandon. She was sharp and seemed to be looking out for people to prove themselves to her. She was very different from all the other women around her and I appreciated that.

My biggest complaint with writing from this period (the early 1800s) is that I can’t relate to the characters and it ruins my enjoyment of it. I know I’m going to get a bunch of hate for this because the story is about finding your true love and heartbreak, but the formality of courtship in the era and the relationships between men and women are so different from today that it’s hard for me. I understand there is love there, but the formal language and customs it’s wrapped in make it look like something different to me and I can’t find love through it all.

Image via The Guardian

Image via The Guardian

Maybe it was because I was stuck on a plane, but I found the part where the sisters visited London to be a faster read than the rest of the book. Being in the city, there was more action and more characters going on during those scenes and I was able to read the middle half of the book quickly.

I thought the plot with Willoughby was overly dramatic and I got annoyed with it quickly. He took up such a large part of the book that I’d almost forgotten who Edward was by the time he reappeared in the book. It felt like a distraction to read his story when it was obvious Colonel Brandon was a much better character. I kept focusing on him instead.

 

Everything I’ve read says this is a story of true love. Honestly, I don’t agree. I find it hard to think that two people are truly in love, even some couples that have been married for years. I think love and marriage in this book is a matter of convenience, family connections, status, and money. Several marriages seemed to be made for financial reasons and even those of our heroines had some level of inheritance involved. To me, it’s like saying that royal marriages in the 1500s were for true love, not to keep royalty within a few families. They didn’t know each other well at all and, at a minimum, it’s a true infatuation, but I wouldn’t call it love.

Writer’s Takeaway: I couldn’t stand the writing structure. Whole paragraphs were made from one sentence with four parentheticals and two asides. It was frustrating and hard to follow. As someone trying to write for a YA audience, it’s important to remember that this type of sentence structure is going to frustrate a young audience even faster than it frustrated me. I need to keep a simple construction. That doesn’t mean at all that the sentences are short or ‘easy,’ just that the structure isn’t as hard to follow as Austen. I would never want to map out some of those sentences.

The style and content were not for me, even if this is a historically significant novel. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

My completed ArtFolds edition.

My completed ArtFolds edition.

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:
Thoughts on Travel in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ | Jane Austen in Vermont
Novels Inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility | AustenProse
#14 A Review of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen | Reflections of a Book Addict

WWW Wednesday, 16-December-2015

16 Dec

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?


100 yearsCurrently reading:  I’m almost at 90% of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Still hoping to finish this by the end of the year so I can take it off my list.
On hold with I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Stay tuned.
I put A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab on hold but I’m starting back into it today. I’ll likely interrupt this again for another audiobook. I do that with ones I own. It’s probably not fair to them.
I started One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a little ahead of when I thought I would. I’m still in the first few chapters, but all I’ve read about this makes me excited and a bit nervous to dive in. We’ll see.

Station ElevenRecently finished: I flew through Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Those of you who said I’d love it were 100% right, it was really amazing. I highly recommend this one to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
I started and finished Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee! It came in on Thursday morning last week and I finished it last night. It was better than I expcted because I went into it with really low expectations. happy surprise!

No book reviews this week, but they’re piling up for next week so get ready for that.

PrincipeReading Next: Wow, having finally made it through my huge bedside stack, I’m not totally sure what I’ll read next. It might be time to start my Spanish language read of the year, which can take me forever sometimes. It’s time for another Harry Potter read so it will likely be Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling.
If I think I have time to squeeze in another book, it will probably be Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. I’ve had it on my shelf forever and just want to read 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!