Archive | April, 2016

Book Review: Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (5/5)

12 Apr

I love when a book club read knocks it out of the park for me. I get so excited to go to the meeting and I try to convince a few other people to read the book and join me because I’m sure they’ll love it, too. This was one of those books and I’m so glad it was selected for us to read.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller

Summary from Goodreads:

He will not admit it to Rhea and Lars – never, of course not – but Sheldon can’t help but wonder what it is he’s doing here..

Eighty-two years old, and recently widowed, Sheldon Horowitz has grudgingly moved to Oslo, with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband. An ex-Marine, he talks often to the ghosts of his past – the friends he lost in the Pacific and the son who followed him into the US Army, and to his death in Vietnam.

When Sheldon witnesses the murder of a woman in his apartment complex, he rescues her six-year-old son and decides to run. Pursued by both the Balkan gang responsible for the murder, and the Norwegian police, he has to rely on training from over half a century before to try and keep the boy safe. Against a strange and foreign landscape, this unlikely couple, who can’t speak the same language, start to form a bond that may just save them both.

Wow. I was not expecting that. This book grabbed my shirt in its fist and ran with me. It was a part murder mystery, thriller, war novel, and very psychological. It took me a while to figure out how Sheldon’s mind worked, what was true and what was in his head. Once I did, I loved the parts he’d narrate. I wanted to know more about Paul as he was easily my favorite character for no reason than I was rooting for him. Great novel overall and I’m really recommending this one.

Sheldon reminded me of my grandfather. He was very realistic in the way he had memory lapses and suffered from physical limitations but he was so smart and his age didn’t dull that. I liked that about Sheldon. As much as Rhea and Lars discredited him and the police though catching an old man and a boy would be easy, he consistently outsmarted everyone and I would say he won in the end.

As much as I liked Sheldon, Paul was my favorite character. It’s hard to guess what was going through his head the whole time and he was brave beyond reason. I wondered if he was deaf with how little noise he made and how he never talked.  There was a lot I didn’t know about Paul, but I still loved him. I thought it was great how much he enjoyed dressing up like a Viking with Sheldon. It was such a perfect moment for a boy and I loved seeing him happy if just for those few minutes.

In a small way, I could relate to Rhea. I have older grandparents that live in California (I’m in Michigan) and I’m constantly worried about them. I can’t imagine how worried Rhea was after she moved to Norway and was so far away from Sheldon. I can understand wanting to move him closer to her and the burden that would be. I wish there had been a little more from her in the book, but I understand that she wasn’t the focus.

Derek B. Miller Image via The Times

Derek B. Miller
Image via The Times

The ending was great. I absolutely loved seeing Sheldon in his element years after the fact. I thought it was good for us to see him prove that he was a sniper and that he knew what he was doing in a combat situation. I thought the ending was exactly what it needed to be and I appreciated Miller’s ability to finish a story with just enough fact to satisfy me as a reader. Again, I was blown away.

I didn’t enjoy revisiting Saul in Vietnam. I thought it was a bit much, especially with all of the revisiting Korea that Sheldon did, too. I understand why the flashbacks were necessary, I just thought it was a bit much. I could have done with a little less blowing up and a little more Paul.

 

Sheldon was ready to sacrifice anything for family. After losing his son and his wife and a great-grandchild, he felt his family was slipping away from him and I think it hurt him more than he let on. He was primed to look at Paul as another member of his family, willing to include the small boy who represented both his lost son and lost great-grandchild. I thought it was great how Sheldon took care of Paul so well. He wasn’t as far removed from raising children as most men his age because of Rhea and he fit the role well.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve seen a lot of writers trip up when trying to write a character who doesn’t have a complete grip on reality. I thought Miller did it extremely well. It was clear when Sheldon was talking to God and when he was talking to someone who was really there. I thought the ending was really impactful in this way. It was very obvious how upsetting the whole event was for him and how ready he was to sacrifice everything for Paul and Rhea. I think choosing a character we knew to be dead made it very obvious when Sheldon was in his own world. I found this much clearer than when I read The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey a while back.

 

A great read and one I can’t wait to discuss with the book club. 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:
Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller: A Review | Scandinavian Crime Fiction
Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller | Dulwich Books Review
“Norwegian by Night” by Derek B. Miller | Karen’s Two Sentence Book Club Reviews
BOOK CHEWING: My Interview with Derek B. Miller Author of NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT | Bite the Book

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Book Club Discussion (Round 2): Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

11 Apr

Because Lisa See is coming to my area to speak this week, both of my book clubs decided to read her title Shanghai Girls. You can read my review and previous book club discussion for some of my other opinions on the book.

Most of the group liked this title. See made us care about the characters, especially the sisters, and they were well-developed. I don’t have sisters, but those who did said the fighting between the characters reminded them of growing up with their siblings. It felt like See knew Pearl and May well and we wondered if they might be based on members of See’s family.

The first thing we had to talk about was May turning Sam in. None of us could believe she’d do something so stupid. It was hard to believe that she honestly thought she was helping. If she did, then she would have told Pearl and Sam. By keeping it a secret, it’s very evident that she’s trying to hide what she did. May is too modern and open in the American style to keep her mouth shut. If Pearl had done something similar, she never would have told. She would have died with the secret. The fight the two had at the end was a very central part of the plot and adds to my frustration of the book seeming unfinished. We were really shocked that it took 19 years for May to throw in her sister’s face who Joy’s real mother was. It seemed like something May would have resorted to it much sooner. A lot of us hadn’t realized how much Pearl was martyring herself until May brought it up. It wasn’t something that Pearl ever complained about. She almost seemed to enjoy her life and felt safe being a martyr. It was unlike Pearl to erupt at May the way she did and we wondered if some of her anger were misplaced and was really anger at Sam more than it was at her sister. We asked ourselves if May and Pearl could have repaired their relationship if Joy hadn’t run off. Would they have cut each other out of their lives if they didn’t have Joy to pull them back together? Pearl is always upset that their father preferred May though we felt that their mother preferred Pearl. The way their mother acts toward Pearl before she dies felt that way.

A lot of us hated May for what she did to Pearl in having an affair with ZG. I was alone in being blindsided by this twist. Everyone else saw it coming! I guess I’m blind to it all.

Several times, it was pointed out that May wasn’t as smart as Pearl. We didn’t really agree with that. On Angle Island, May shows us how smart she is and how she kept them there long enough for the baby to be an American. She didn’t let on when she was doing something smart. Only when it benefited her did she let on. May was good with money and found ways to keep the family going. She hid money away for an emergency the same way their mother had. She was resourceful, even if she wasn’t as book smart as Pearl.

One of the things that seemed inconsistent to us when it came to the girls was being Beautiful Girls at the beginning. We couldn’t believe that their parents would allow them to do that in Shanghai. The money must have been good for their parents to allow it. It seemed to be very against the cultural expectations they had for the girls.

In my last book club discussion, we focused on the Zodiac signs of Pearl and May. This time, we focused on Sam. He was the Ox, one who would plod along and be reliable, working for the family and doing what was needed of him. His suicide fits into this role, in a way, because it was a selfless thing for him to do in order to protect his family. We questioned if the Zodiac sign of a person morphed him or her into what they were instead of being a prediction of their personality type.

A lot of us learned a lot of history from the book. We weren’t aware of the Paper Son phenomenon and were a little blown away with how meticulous and thought-out the process was. We were equally shocked at the number of people claiming citizenship after the San Francisco Fire. I’d never heard of that! Most of us were familiar with Ellis Island immigration stories but Angel Island was something new. The holding and treatment of the women described sound terrible and we were shocked it hadn’t come to our attention prior.

Lisa See is 1/8 Chinese. She had writers in her family but never wanted to be a writer. She was told that you had to have sadness in your life to be a writer and didn’t want to be sad. I think it worked out for her anyway.

It was a really good discussion for us and we had a big turnout. Our next book is Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. We’ll see how the discussion goes, soon.

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: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (3/5)

7 Apr

I always struggle to review ebooks because I read them so slowly. A few of you commented on how long it was taking me to finish it and it’s because of how I read ebooks. Usually, while waiting for the doctor or while eating lunch at work. Not the longest stretches of time, I’m telling you. So this was a good ebook for me because it was short and I can remember the beginning now that I’ve arrived at the end.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Summary from Goodreads:

Slaughterhouse-Five introduces Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow him simultaneously thru all his life’s phases, concentrating on his (& Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as a prisoner of war who witnesses the Dresden firebombing.

The aliens were a surprise. When I said that in a WWW post, a lot of people were surprised that there were aliens in this book but I assure you there are. It was a surprise for me, too. It was a good tool to use for Billy to travel through time and I liked them. They were even my favorite part of the plot. I wasn’t a fan of Billy, though. He was a fool and I know that was Vonnegut’s purpose but it made him hard to like. It’s how I felt about Daisy in Gatsby. You want to like him, but he’s too foolish to be someone you sympathize with. The time jumping was fine with me, I tend not to mind that in books. Overall, it was enjoyable but not something I’d instantly deem a classic. Maybe with some distance (or this review) I’ll see why. I think it’s interesting that Vonnegut chose Slaughterhouse-Five as the title. It was a small, yet significant, part of the plot. I’ll have to focus my pondering on that.

I liked Billy’s feeling of misplacement within the world during the war. I can understand why he felt that way and I’ve seen similar themes in other war novels. I liked when Vonnegut would tell me that he was one of the other soldiers in the war with Billy. I liked how that let me believe he was writing from memory but not about himself. It’s hard to say if I thought Billy’s behavior with the aliens was credible or not. I can’t imagine how I would react if I were kidnapped by aliens but I think I would be a bit more like Montana. I found that relationship a bit odd. I’ve heard she shows up in some of Vonnegut’s other books and I’d be interested to see in what capacity.

There wasn’t a character I particularly liked in the novel. Billy annoyed me and everyone else was minor. I liked the fellow soldiers best, the British soldiers at the POW camp. They had a very startling attitude toward the war and it was a great contrast in the book. I thought their attitude toward the Americans was appropriate and it made me dislike the Americans and feel sorry for them at the same time, the way the British felt.

I could understand Billy’s sense of loss after experiencing the Tralfamadorian time travel. He knew how life would end. He knew when people would die and could jump from time to time. It’s like watching the movie you’ve already read the book of. You remember some parts better than others, but you understand who will live, who will die, and who isn’t important. It would be weird to live like that, but it made for a cool view on life for the character.

Kurt Vonnegut Image via Wikipedia

Kurt Vonnegut
Image via Wikipedia

I liked the scenes on Tralfamadore. I’ve read a lot of WWII books but this was the first involving aliens and it was a nice change. The feeling of displacement between Germany and Tralfamadore were similar and maybe that’s why Billy adjusted to life on the planet better than Montana did. It was funny to hear how the aliens reacted to the humans and the things we did that might confuse them most.

I didn’t like old Billy. He was so passive-aggressive and pitiful that he was annoying and unlikable. He felt sorry for himself so I wasn’t about to feel bad for him. I felt the same way his daughter did: frustrated. I wanted those scenes to end so I could get back to the war or Tralfamadore.

 

Billy couldn’t change anything. He knew what was going to happen and was powerless to stop it. The phrase ‘So it goes’ comes up constantly. Billy couldn’t change the things to happen, so life continued on the way it was always going to happen. People would die and terrible things would happen. So it goes. Billy couldn’t change the war or his death, it just happened. Most of us are powerless to stop what happens around us and even if we think we’ve made a change, maybe it would have happened that way regardless. We can’t see the future but if we could, could we change it? Not likely.

Writer’s Takeaway: There were devices Vonnegut used in the book that I liked and made the style stick out to me. The first was, as mentioned above, the repeated use of ‘So it goes.’ Having a phrase like this is memorable and helped me when book switching to get back into the novel. It’s memorable and talks about a major theme of the novel. I also enjoyed when Vonnegut would identify himself in the book. It was cool to see what parts of the book might have been his memories and what parts were imagined or observed. It felt more legitimate to have Vonnegut tell me he was part of the book.

An enjoyable book with memorable characters, but to me, it wasn’t an instant classic. 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:
Unstuck in Time
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut | Musings of a Literary Dilettante’s Blog

WWW Wednesday, 6-April-2016

6 Apr

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

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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?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Child44Currently reading: I’ve been able to return to Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling for the past few days which has been nice. Even in that short reprieve, I missed Harry. This is my comfort food.
I’ve been able to make some headway with A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin during my workouts. It’s not the best pump-up track, but hearing about all the war feels motivating, haha.
Honestly, I haven’t read much of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. There hasn’t been a lot of time for me to read on my phone with the vacation time we’ve had. I guess that’s a good thing? I’m enjoying my vacation so I haven’t had a ton of time for my phone.
I just started Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and haven’t made much progress with it. I thought I’d listen to it when I drove across the state but my husband and I talked instead. Oh well. I’m on disk 1 of 11 still. We’ll see how this goes, I’m not a huge fan so far.

NorwegianRecently finished: I was able to finish Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller while on my vacation. It was really good, I gave it a full 5 stars! I’m excited to talk about this one with the book club.

My review of Brooklyn went up last Thursday and as I told y’all last well, I really enjoyed it! Let me know what you thought.

Reading Next: No plans now. I’d like to finish Harry before I worry about starting anything new. I’m bogged down with audio right n ow so I won’t be picking another out anytime soon.


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!

Challenge Update, March 2016

5 Apr

I keep reminding myself I only have one month left of this life-absorbing class. I’ll be done at the end of April but back at it in early May. I’m praying my next class leaves me with more time for blogging. I miss blogging and reading for my challenges. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in March:

Black Duck // Janet Taylor Lisle
Slaughterhouse-Five // Kurt Vonnegut
Brooklyn // Colm Toibin

I’m still working through a few long ones that I hope to see populate here soon. I said it last month, but I’ll say it again. I’m hopeful next month looks a bit better.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

7/12
This is my challenge to read a book from 13 different time periods. You can read about it hereBrooklyn took care of 1940-1959 for me which is most welcome. I’m surprised I hadn’t filled it already because so many WWII books can go there. I could have chosen Slaughterhouse-Five to fill it, even. Oh well, I liked Brooklyn more.

Goodreads Challenge

11/45
It feels good to be on track with this one! I’ve been worrying about how long I’m taking to get through some titles but seeing ‘You’re on track!’ makes me feel great. I hope to keep this pace (3-4 books per month) going for the rest of the year, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Book of the Month

Book image via Goodreads.com

Book image via Goodreads.com

It’s going to be Brooklyn this month. As much as the ending frustrated me, Eilis was a great character and I really really loved her story. I’m tempted to read more of Toibin’s work and I’m blown away at his ability to write in a woman’s voice.

Added to my TBR

Despite some adds for book clubs, I’m at 138 at the end of the month, down one from last month. I’ve added two worth mentioning here.

  • SuperFreakonomics by Steven Levitt. I loved the first one and just found out there’s a second. Woo!
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This is the July book for my book club. We’re planned out all the way until then so I hope to not add much more for a while.

How are your challenges going? I hope you’re killing it. If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge, it’s fun!

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!

‘Brooklyn’ Movie- Somewhat more of an ending.

4 Apr
Image via Coming Soon

Image via Coming Soon

I’m very fortunate that the good folks at ThinkJam Media contacted me and offered a free copy of Brooklyn on Blu-ray if I would do a review. Sorry to say this is a bit late, but I had to power through the book first! I really enjoyed the book and gave it 4 stars in my review. I watched the movie in celebration of my birthday on Thursday and was really blown away. Beware of spoilers below.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Tony. He was perfect, just how I imagined him. I had a movie crush on this Tony to be sure. He was a great mix of confident and vulnerable and exactly how I pictured him. He looked the part, too. It was great casing.

Seeing Rose react to Eilis’s letters. These almost had me in tears knowing how the book would end. Seeing Rose miss her sister so much and knowing that Rose was sick were heart wrenching. I may have teared up a few times.

Watching Eilis change. She looks so different from the beginning to the end of the film and I loved that touch. She learned to do her hair and makeup so that when she went back to Ireland, she looked so different from the other girls. It really emphasized how much Brooklyn hand changed her.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Taking the brothers out. Other than Jack, the brothers didn’t do much in the story. Jack’s main purpose was to ask Eilis to go home and I honestly thought it was a weak excuse in the book. The boys could just as easily have stayed home. (Ugh, gender roles.) It was a clean cut in my mind.

The ending. It was more of an ending, if not the one I would have written. I think screenwriter Nick Hornby knew that moviegoers would want a little more resolution than the book had. Even opening the letters from Tony was enough for me! I knew he wasn’t dead, haha. The scene with the girl traveling to Brooklyn for the first time was a great way of wrapping up and emphasizing how Eilis now belongs in America.

Book image via Goodreads.com

Book image via Goodreads.com

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

The bathing suit scene. I found this scene really disturbing because of how uncomfortable Eilis was. It was well written and I felt the discomfort Eilis experienced. I did think the scene in the book needed more follow-up to it, though, so maybe it’s better that it’s cut. It bothered me a bit that there was a bit of it remaining. I would have cut the whole thing rather than leave the trail that was in the movie.

Mrs. Kehoe and Eilis’s fight. I felt that the fight was another thing keeping Eilis in Ireland. She was unhappy with where she was living and Ireland seemed so comfortable for her. In my mind, it added to her thinking Ireland was home and not wanting to return to New York.

Things That Changed Too Much

Not kissing Jim. I hated this part of the book, but I hate it more taken out. Going back to Tony seem so obvious when she and Jim aren’t very involved with each other. It was too easy without the more blatant romantic connection.

Rose’s death. It was too much to see her on the floor. In the book, she died in bed while sleeping and Mrs. Lacey thought she overslept. The scene in the book was almost too violent for me. I didn’t like it.

Standing up to Ms. Kelly. I thought this was too much for Eilis. She was a passive character so it made no sense to see her stand up to someone like Ms. Kelly. She was too nervous to tell her mother she was married, how is she brave enough to admit it to her old boss? I liked her walking out silently instead.

I’m so glad I got a copy of this movie. It’s one I can see myself watching again. Reader, have you see the Brooklyn movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.