Archive | January, 2017

Book Review: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (2/5)

31 Jan

I think it was my cousin who said I would like this book. It was easily available on audio so I decided to give it a try once I finished some nice, long audiobooks and was looking for something shorter. I now know that my cousin hates me, so that’s refreshing. This book drove me crazy and I’m trying to be polite and think that listening to it rather than reading it made it worse than it would have been otherwise. I’m trying to be nice.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Summary from Goodreads:

In this vivid portrait of one day in a woman’s life, Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is much more than a perfect society hostess. As she readies her house, she is flooded with far-away remembrances. And, met with the realities of the present, Clarissa reexamines the choices she has made, hesitantly looking ahead to growing old.

I couldn’t stand the scream of consciousness in this book. I got so confused as to who was narrating and if what I was hearing was narration or thought and it was beyond frustrating as an audiobook. The only thing I really got out of the book is that everyone is very selfish except for Lucrezia. It made me want to smack Clarissa and punch Peter for being so full of themselves. Maybe they should have ended up together. They might not have noticed because they would have been so caught up in themselves that they wouldn’t bother to talk to the other. I was frustrated with most of the characters and I found some of them, like Dr. Holmes, unnecessary in the plot. I read that Clarissa’s story is supposed to parallel Septimus’ but I didn’t see that very well. I thought she might end up dead like he did but, alas, this isn’t The Awakening.

I hope most of these characters are an exaggeration of real people. Clarissa was so distraught over not being invited to a luncheon and others are so upset over not being invited to her dinner party. Richard seems to forget that he’s married at all and seems blown away by the idea he should show affection toward his wife. I hope these characters are a reflection of their time; when relationships between people were less familiar than the ones we see today. The thoughts that the characters scared was slightly scary only because some of them were so extreme.

Lucrezia was my favorite character only because she was the most logical person to me. Everyone was pining after someone else but I thought it more reasonable that she was pining after a healthy version of her husband and not a lost friend, lost love, or a version of herself she’d never achieve. She really cared for her husband and was doing all she could to keep him in his right mind and help him get better.

As much as I hated Clarissa, I could relate to her pining for her past and wanting to know how things could have been different if she’d made different choices. I think everyone thinks this way sometimes. If I’d chosen a different college or dated a different person in high school, would I have ended up where I am? Maybe not.

There wasn’t a part of the book that stuck out to me and that I enjoyed. A lot of the book ran together for me. On audio, it seemed like it wasn’t broken up by chapter or had any break between characters. It was seven hours of whining.

Clarissa was my least favorite of the narrators because she seemed the most self-absorbed and the most superficial. I could find moderately redeeming things in the other characters, but anything Clarissa talked about made me roll my eyes.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Juliet Stevenson. I don’t think Stevenson’s reading added anything to this book for me, but I don’t think it detracted from the book either. She seemed very whiny but the book called for that. My frustration was with the material so I won’t pretend that Stevenson had anything to do with how little I enjoyed this book.

If we’re all so obsessed with ourselves, we’ll never realize how much other people are obsessed with themselves. I struggle a bit with anxiety so as I write this, I feel hypocritical. As much as each character thought their problems were the biggest ones in the world and as much as they dwelt on their problems, other people had bigger issues and no one was helping anyone else. We’re all so obsessed with our own ‘dinner parties’ that we don’t stop and look around us and see other people struggling on their own with much bigger problems.

Writer’s Takeaway: Stream of consciousness is not something everyone enjoys but there are some people obsessed with this book. I, obviously, am not one of them. You’re never going to please every reader, so don’t try.

This was not a book for me and I don’t recommend it at all. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled the 1920-1939 time period in my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Mrs Dalloway | The Novels of Virginia Woolf
The meaning of the omnibus in Mrs Dalloway | Blogging Woolf
Mrs Dalloway’s Party – Virginia Woolf (1973)  | Heavenali

Book Review: World Without End by Ken Follett (5/5)

30 Jan

My mom has always been a fan of Follett’s and I read his first book, The Pillars of the Earth, and loved it. I put this second book on my TBR but took my sweet time getting to it because I knew it would be long and it would take me a long time to get through it. It was a real struggle. I listened to it on eaudio and lost the hold, having to wait almost three months before I got it back and still did not finish it. I got through the last 8 hours with a book-on-CD edition that was equivalent to a passenger in my car for about a month. Per Goodreads, it took me over five months to read this book. And I loved every minutes of it!

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

World Without End by Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth #2)

Other books by Ken Follett reviewed on this blog:

Pillars of the Earth (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, but this sequel stands on its own. This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas— about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death.

I was a little skeptical that this book wouldn’t live up to the first one but man, was I worried about nothing. This book was incredible from the beginning and I loved every second of it. I cared about every character (maybe Ralph not so much) and I adored getting to know them and watching them grow up during the book. The length was daunting but I knew it also meant getting rich characters and a deep plot.

I loved the variety of characters Follett created. It was fun to have two clever young people as the main characters in the story. Watching them grow up and become a man and a woman in charge of their town was rewarding. But Follett has other characters who aren’t as smart and who balanced Merthin and Caris well. Gwenda and Wulfric seem like more grounded examples of people from the time and who made the book seem grounded in history despite Merthin and Caris feeling like people ahead of their time. Ralph helped root the story in a time when military prowess could change a man from an outlaw to an Earl. He was just the right amount of evil for this book.

It was easy to love Caris. She is very modern in how practical she is and how self-sufficient she can be. She loves Merthin, but there are things she finds more important than him and will put him aside to deal with. Her dedication to the hospital is commendable and her logic in a time of crisis makes her stand out. She was saying things that I, as a modern reader, wanted to say. Listening to other medical professionals made her smart, but figuring out what worked and what didn’t was where she excelled. It was like seeing how medical advancements were possible. She was really inspiring.

I related to Caris best. While Gwenda was a good character, she had a lot of terrible things happen to her that I had trouble relating to. Merthin was more of an engineering mind than I am and I’d hate to think I’m anything like Ralph. Caris was almost single-minded in her focus and I know that’s something I do from time to time. Her dedication to something reminded me of myself and how I’ll sometimes ignore my family or other obligations when I have something I’m focusing on.

Ken Follett Image via the author's website

Ken Follett
Image via the author’s website

The Black Death was a great antagonist in this book. Fighting against Philemon, Godwyn, and Ralph was bad, but the Black Death was the best fight in the book. It seemed almost convenient that our main characters were all immune to the disease and I almost wish at least one of them had died of it because it would have been a bit more believable. The fear Kingsbridge expressed at the third outbreak was very justified and I believed that they were willing to forgo so much financially for a chance of missing the plague completely.

All the parts of the book I disliked were about Ralph. He was so angry and mean that every time he narrated, I expected something terrible to happen. I started to expect it. What he did to Gwenda, Tillie, and Philippa was terrible and was made worse by how he justified his actions. He was an awful person but Follett gave him motivations that were believable which was the worst part.

John Lee narrated the audiobook and I was excited to hear his voice. He did an incredible job with Pillars and I knew he’d do a great job with this one. I only hope he does the final book as well. His voices for different characters were distinct without being annoying and they fit the characters well. Wulfric, for example, had a slower cadence to his voice which fit with him being a thoughtful person. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another book with ‘Lee’ and ‘Follett’ on the cover!

Follett had a lot to say about love. Caris and Merthin had to wait a long time before they could be husband and wife and even then, it would be interrupted. Caris was a nun for a large part of the book and it seemed she was going to put Merthin off indefinitely so she could pursue the hospital. But in the end, like in Pillars, love finds a way. Gwenda and Wulfric were married for most of the book but Gwenda was always jealous and thought Wulfric could be tempted away. She didn’t fully trust him around other women until the end when she finally realized how dedicated Wulfric was. It was touching to see all the fears her narration had put into my head squashed when she realized his dedication.

Writer’s Takeaway: Follett doesn’t let a plotline drop. Small things that happened along the way would come back into play. The very opening scene with the children and Sir/Brother Thomas in the woods played a crucial role in the end. Comments about what was being built or who was ill would come back and be important later. It’s best not to load a reader down with information that isn’t important to the scene and isn’t necessary later in the book. With a book over 1,000 pages long, Follett had to be sure every sentence mattered and he did.

I adored this book and recommend it very highly. You don’t have to read Pillars to enjoy this book, they could be read separately and be loved. A full Five out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the Pre-1500 time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
World Without End (Ken Follett 2007) | The Discerning Writer
How deeply can a book influence you? | Francette’s Blog

Book Review: The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge (3/5)

26 Jan

I was contacted by Open Road Media and received a copy of this book. I read two other Bainbridge novels which I enjoyed (links below). I thought I might as well take the opportunity to receive a book I was likely to enjoy. This time I was slightly less vested in the characters and maybe that took away from it for me a bit.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

Other books by Bainbridge reviewed on this blog:

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (book club discussion)
Every Man for Himself (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

In this stunning novel, award-winning author Beryl Bainbridge offers a fictionalized account of the doomed Antarctic expedition led by Captain Scott in 1912. At once hair-raising and beautiful, here is an astonishing tale of misguided courage and human endurance. The Birthday Boys of the title are Scott and four members of his team, each of whom narrates a section of the book. As the story progresses the reader discovers that these men may not be reliable reporters. Their cocky optimism is both ghastly and dangerous. Brought up to despise professional expertise, their enterprise is lunatic, amateur and gentlemanly. Beryl Bainbridge makes it hauntingly clear: the men are fatally doomed in their bravery, the very stuff of heroes. Captain Scott’s poignant trek becomes, in this remarkable novel, a historical event which prefigures the terrible new world dawning in Europe. It was an inept rehearsal for the carnage of the first world war, the ultimate challenge for the arrogant generals who shared Scott’s skewed notion of courage that led men qualmlessly into harm’s way.

I thought this book was a great fictionalization of an important historical event, something Bainbridge does amazingly well. I knew nothing of the 1912 expedition and maybe that’s because I’m an American and our education focused on who got to the moon first because winning is most important in history, right? Moving past that political tirade, I think the biggest distraction in this novel was the changing points of view. Each person seemed to have a strong relationship with one or two other members and their account would focus on those people and seemed to ignore everyone else so when we switched to another head, I had a hard time remembering who the now-important side characters were. They seemed to have different personalities in different points of view which was interesting but confusing at the same time. It made it hard to remember the characters.

I thought it was really admirable how the men kept moving toward the pole and followed Captain Scott when things seemed so bad. It seems a dedication I’m not sure many people would show today to a cause that seemed so unreachable and defeated. I’m not sure how much of their bravery was fictionalized and how much was historically recorded but Bainbridge painted these men in a rosy light.

I liked the first section, narrated by Taff Evans, best. He was more relatable than the more senior members of the expedition and it made his account easier to read. I could also relate to leaving like Evans was leaving his wife and could relate to the sadness he felt. Though he was less senior, he had a lot more experience than some and his flashbacks and advice gave the novel a good start.

I sympathized most with Titus. At the end when he wanted to push on with everyone else but also wanted to die, I could relate to his feelings of being lost but determined. I think that determination is what keeps me competing in endurance sports. These men had a similar mentality. If someone can do it, why can’t I do it, too? They weren’t the first ones to make it to the pole but they were not going to turn back and not make it because of that.

Beryl Bainbridge Image via the British Council

Beryl Bainbridge
Image via the British Council

I enjoyed the detail of living in a camp at such cold temperatures. I think of camping in the summer and being so warm in my tent. I never would have thought of being as cold as these men were and the idea of a sleeping bag freezing seems ludicrous to me. It also blew me away how long the men were gone. This was 1910, there was no taking a plane over and jumping on a snowmobile to get to the pole. It was a very strenuous commitment that the men didn’t undertake lightly.

I was expecting an abrupt end from Bainbridge and while I think a lot of people will say they disliked that most, I’m going to say the nicknames and head-hopping together made it frustrating for me. Everyone had a different name for the same person and for a while, I thought there were 20 or so people on the expedition. I didn’t get that The Owner, Captain Scott, and Con were all the same people. That was really frustrating.

 

Humans can be bull-headed once we’ve set our minds to something. Like myself as an endurance athlete, these men weren’t going to give up on their goal no matter how bleak it looked. Human determination can be an amazing thing but it can also be deadly, as this book shows. I see this story as a cautionary tale not to be so focused on a goal that you ignore your humanity.

Writer’s Takeaway: Bainbridge’s style is very casual and I like that about her. It feels like Taff or Birdie is telling you the story or wrote it in his journal to be read later. Nothing sounds too explained or detailed, everything is very much how the men would describe it. I sometimes struggle with first person narration because I want to give details but I know my point of view character wouldn’t provide that detail. I think Bainbridge does this well.

Good and enjoyable but not my favorite of her work. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1900-1919 time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
The Birthday Boys: Beryl Bainbridge | His Futile Preoccupations
The Birthday Boys (Beryl Bainbridge) | Random Reviews
The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge ** | Seattle Book Mama

WWW Wednesday, 25-January-2017

25 Jan

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm 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?

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.


dallowayCurrently reading: I’m on the last disk for World Without End by Ken Follett and I hope to wrap it up today or tomorrow. I’ll be sad when this one ends but it was a great ride and if there’s a third in this series, I’ll read it in a heartbeat.
I’m making steady progress with Misterio de la Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie. Reading in another language puts me to bed really fast so I don’t get a ton of this read each night, but some. I’ll keep chipping away at it.
Again, nothing with Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs. I’ll have to wait until February when we have a few road trips planned. Sigh.
I started a new audiobook on my phone, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Maybe this is one not to listen to but I’m not enjoying it very much. It’s turned very inward and jumps around between the characters a lot which I wasn’t ready for and I’m having trouble following it.
I need a new ebook and decided to turn to The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. I have a lot of time to read at lunch this week so it will be nice to escape for a while. This book was really hot for a while but seems to have faded out a bit since then. I’m excited to pick it up and see what it’s all about!

Rbirthdayboysecently finished: I decided not to get out of bed on Saturday until I finished The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge. It didn’t take too long as most of the last 10% of the book was a biography of Bainbridge full of pictures. My review will be up tomorrow. As always, I enjoyed Bainbridge’s style but this time I had a slightly harder time following the characters than I have before.
I finished South of Broad by Pat Conroy on Thursday and absolutely loved it. My review went up on Monday so please check that out if you have the time. It was a great book. I gave it a full Five out of Five stars and I now want to go to Charleston.

Hanging OutReading Next: I keep having to stop myself from grabbing Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling off my shelf. I will as soon as I finish Christie but not before then.

Shameless Plug: If you’re still looking for reading challenges in 2017, take a look at my historical fiction reading challenge, When Are You Reading? Let me know you’re interested and I’ll add you to the participant list. I had 13 people participate last year and I’d love to have a bigger group this year!


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!

Library Writers Group: Writing Concisely

24 Jan

My writers’ group (four strong at the moment!) met last week and one of our members discussed writing concisely. At first, I was wondering where she would go with this topic but we talked about wanting to write concisely to get to our points faster and be as succinct as possible while still being comprehensive. With these ideas below, I took a piece at 500 words and cut down another 80!

The first is to obviously try to cut words. There are many lists available of words different writers recommend cutting. These can include look, feel, so, just, even, really, finally, only, and many others. Words like see, feel, think, and know usually can’t be cut themselves, but are an indication that there’s a way to cut words around these words. There are phrases known as redundant pairs that can always be cut such as sit down (sit) and stood up (stood).

Rephrasing is another way to cut words. Passive voice is usually wordier than its active alternative. Phrases can be shortened altogether, taking ‘the chair with brown legs’ to ‘the brown legged chair’ (5->4). Clauses starting with that, who, and which, can be turned to phrases. ‘My teacher, who I respect very much, likes hiking’ becomes ‘my well-respected teacher likes hiking’ (9->7). Sentences that start with There/It are/is can usually be shortened as well. ‘There are three bookshelves in my living room’ becomes ‘I have three bookshelves in my living room’ (8->7). The final thing we covered was a new term for all of us. Nominalization refers to turning a verb into a noun and makes sentences a lot longer. ‘The reconciling of monthly statements is Mary’s job’ becomes ‘Mary’s job is to reconcile monthly statements’ (8->7).

Many times, sentences become redundant. We were given the example ‘Some ideas can be incorporated into another sentence. This will make the writing simpler.’ I got this 14-word idea into 5: Combining ideas makes writing simpler. Combining can be done at both a sentence and paragraph level. I find myself repeating things within a paragraph from time to time.

There’s more cutting to be done. Taking out weak words and adding strong ones can make something shorter by avoiding repetitive description, adjectives, or adverbs. Prepositional phrases can often be cut. We read an article that recommended outlining after finishing the first draft. It can show pacing to show the author where to cut and any subplots that weren’t finished and can be taken out. Another suggestion was to look at each scene and break down the elements of a scene within it. This can also show pacing and show which elements might be over-done and could use some cutting.

We covered some ways to practice concise writing. My favorite is tweeting. When you’re limited to 140 characters, you have to make each one count. A fun exercise we did was taking the first part of a Wikipedia article and cutting the word count in half. This was really fun to do and I highly recommend it.

We’ll be back next month with more. I’m excited I won’t have to miss this group while my class is in session. 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: South of Broad by Pat Conroy (5/5)

23 Jan

I don’t know why I thought this book would be boring. All I knew was that it was about Charleston, SC. I have a cousin who loves living there but for some reason, that told me it would be boring. This book was awesome. It had love and death and racial tension and homophobia and murder and stardom and a bunch more. I loved it all the way through. I can’t wait to discuss it with my book club next week.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Summary from Goodreads:

Against the sumptuous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal and a well-known Joyce scholar. After Leo’s older brother commits suicide at the age of thirteen, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, and Leo, lonely and isolated, searches for something to sustain him. Eventually, he finds his answer when he becomes part of a tightly knit group of high school seniors that includes friends Sheba and Trevor Poe, glamorous twins with an alcoholic mother and a prison-escapee father; hardscrabble mountain runaways Niles and Starla Whitehead; socialite Molly Huger and her boyfriend, Chadworth Rutledge X; and an ever-widening circle whose liaisons will ripple across two decades- from 1960s counterculture through the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The ties among them endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, and Charleston’s dark legacy of racism and class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for.

I loved these characters. Sheba, Trevor, and Niles stood out the most to me and I thought they were great. Sheba and Trevor were so strong because of what they’d been through as children and I think that made them so likable. I liked that the AIDS epidemic was a big part of this book and I liked that though racial integration was a big part of this book, we were told the story through the eyes of someone who already believed in equality. Others had to be convinced, but Leo and the other Kings were already on board. The secondary characters in this book were great, too. Mrs. King was very memorable as was Wormey. I’ve never been to Charleston but Conroy had a way of making it come alive that I admired. The setting was truly a character in this book.

Trevor and Sheba were a bit over the top, but that was part of their charm. I thought everyone else was very grounded in reality, especially Ike and Chad. Chad was the deplorable person we all needed to hate with so many lovable characters in this story. Without a person to dislike, I might have disliked Fraser for no other reason that she was a bit annoying. Leo was a good narrator and I liked that he had his own story in addition to the main action. His relationship with Starla was sad but also pivotal to the story. His mother’s travels from the convent were a great background and gave a reason the King family was so rooted in Catholicism. All in all, the characters made this story.

If I have to pick a favorite, it was Trevor. He had to face a lot of criticism because of his sexuality and he always did it with a smile on his face and a sarcastic comment ready. He was unafraid of who he was and was so much like his sister that I think it hurt doubly when Sheba died because the twins were broken apart. I adored how much he loved life and every second of it that he was free. I hoped he’d find a million perfect moments.

There were parts of each character that were relatable. I related to Fraser feeling she had to explain her childhood, Niles feeling he was never good enough, Molly feeling she’d made a mistake, and Leo feeling he had to take care of all of his friends all of the time. I think having so many characters helped Conroy give someone for every reader to latch onto.

Pat Conroy Image via USA Today

Pat Conroy
Image via USA Today

I liked the part of the book in San Francisco. Seeing the friends taken out of Charleston solidified for me how united and strong they were. It wasn’t proximity that joined them but a true and deep love for one another. What they did for Trevor was commendable. The financial commitment and the way they threw themselves in harm’s way for a friend was truly heartbreaking and were a joy to read.

Hugo was my least favorite part. I understand that it was the destruction and rebirth of Charleston who, as I said, was almost a character in this book. I also understand it was the ending of one of the most menacing subplots. And I understand that it was probably historically accurate. But to be honest, it didn’t develop any of the characters in a way I found meaningful. It seemed to me that Hugo was something Conroy lived through and he wanted to put his experiences into the book and there wasn’t an editor brave enough to tell him to cut it.

I was jealous of the friendships between the characters and I felt that was the purpose of this book, but explore friendships. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about how wonderful friends can be even when a family can betray. These characters were so lucky to have each other. Without Ike and Niles, Leo would have a missing wife and a reclusive mother. Without Leo, Sheba would have an alcoholic mother, murderous father, and missing brother. These characters found what was missing from their relationships with each other and it was really beautiful.

Writer’s Takeaway: Conroy’s personification of Charleston was most impressive to me. As someone writing a historical novel, I want my setting to come alive and for people to feel like they are in 1929 Chicago. The way Conroy did this with South Carolina was something to envy and emulate if possible. I felt like I could get around the city without a map after reading this.

This was a great book and it really took me by surprise in a good way. A full Five out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1980-1999 time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
“South of Broad” Readers Guide (SPOILERS!) | Melodiesintune
Getting Lost in a Novel: Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad” | Laura Stanfill
“South of Broad,” by Pat Conroy | Sense and Nonsense

You know you want another challenge… The 2017 When Are You Reading? Challenge

20 Jan

There’s still time to join the 4th annual When Are You Reading? Challenge!

when-are-you-reading-2017-final

If you want to join in, let me know! I’ll add a link to your blog or tracker page in the event details. If you choose not to join, I promise not to get mad as long as you enjoy your books in 2017 and stop back often to share with me how it’s all going.

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!

Bookstore Destinations for Travelers

19 Jan

I’ve got a couple great trips looming ahead of me this year and I’m really excited to for two staples of my travels: beautiful churches and books. Every time I travel over the weekend, I try to go to a local church (preferably the cathedral) and see the architecture of a different part of the country. Northern Michigan versus Arizona versus Florida, etc. I love to compare them and see beautiful buildings. The other part of my trips is going to bookstores. I love local and usually used bookstores. They reflect a great character of the area and often have tons of people excited to talk about books with you.

It seems I’m not the only person who does this. My friend Sue sent me an article before Christmas that shares some favorites of author Ann Patchett (see book review for Truth and Beauty). If you have some travels planned for this summer, take a look at this list for some suggestions and things to fill your itinerary. It’s always a welcome add to a trip.

This may be a bit early (except for those of you in Australia), but happy travels for this year! Bring a good book with you and see if you can find another one along the way.

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, 18-January-2017

18 Jan

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm 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?

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statesofconfusionCurrently reading: I only have three disks left in World Without End by Ken Follett. The audiobook is so big it will be nice to have it out of my car soon, haha. Yay for progress!
Not too much with The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge this week. I had some irregular lunches and not a lot of time waiting at the doctor this week. It’s going pretty fast, though, and I think I’ll wrap it up in the next month or two.
I didn’t listen to South of Broad by Pat Conroy during my long run this weekend. I needed to concentrate on my breathing in the cold weather so I missed out on about an hour of that. Ah well. I need to finish it up in the next couple weeks for my book club meeting but that should be no problem.
I’m back into Misterio de la Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie though it’s slow going. I usually take longer to get through my Spanish books so it’s expected. I hope to wrap up soon-ish.
Again, nothing with Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs. We’re going on a road trip next month and to be honest, that might be the next time I listen to it at all.

Recently finished: I finished up States of Confusion by Paul Jury pretty quickly. It was a fun memoir, but not my favorite. My review for it went up on Monday if you want to check that out. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

I also finished my review for Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum. It was not a genre I enjoyed, but it was still a fast read. I gave it Three out of Five Stars as well.

Hanging OutReading Next: The plan is still to read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. It’s tempting to put Christie aside and start this, but I’m going to wait it out and try to shrink my Currently Reading list just a bit.

Shameless Plug: If you’re still looking for reading challenges in 2017, take a look at my historical fiction reading challenge, When Are You Reading? Let me know you’re interested and I’ll add you to the participant list. I had 13 people participate last year and I’d love to have a bigger group this year!


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: Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

17 Jan

My book club had very split opinions about Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River. I was a huge fan. Others disliked Margo and by default, didn’t like the book. With such a strong narrator, it didn’t surprise me we were polarized.

Bonnie Jo Campbell is a Michigan-born author from the West side of the state. She was born in Kalamazoo in 1962 and for those out of Michigan, yes, a lot of our cities have awesomely fun Native American names. She got her Bachelors’ in Chicago, the closest big city to that side of the state. Her Masters’ is in Mathematics and her MFA is from KZoo’s own Western Michigan University (undefeated in the regular season this year!). She’s married but our moderator couldn’t find if she had children or not. Her other books, which have been well received, are primarily short story collections. We were able to find that her first book is about a girl born on the river with a mother named Margo. Um….! I might have to read that.

Being a Michigan-based author, we felt Campbell did a great job creating rural Michigan. The East side, where I’m from, is very different from the Michigan Campbell describes, but it reminds me of the parts of Northern Michigan I visit, where my parents own a cottage. It’s fun to remember how diverse a single state can be.

Though the Stark River and Murrayville, the settings Campbell created, are fictional, they were great representations of the state. The water is very important to the story and it’s used in a lot of ways. Margo is cleaned in it, eats from it, and recognizes that on it, she can be cleansed of her past. It’s also lethal (spoiler ahead). Smoke is literally dragged down into the river and couldn’t be saved. The river is always moving and changing. When Margo needs to run away, she can follow the flow downriver or make her way upriver to find a change and that’s what she likes about the river. Lakes are different. Her mother lived on a lake and Margo didn’t like the feel of it. She craved a river.

One thing we noticed is that while rape and sex were present in this book, they weren’t focal points. Especially when Cal raped her, it didn’t feel terrifying and victimizing. It was confusing and uncomfortable which we felt was likely more life-like. Margo used sex with various men as a survival tactic. She wasn’t looking to have a good time, she was trying to find her next meal and some shelter. I really enjoyed her character and strength.

Not everyone liked Margo as much as I did. We all agreed she was mature for her age and was very resourceful. A lot of people saw her as a misfit who didn’t fit in. I felt she fit in on the river but there were several references to her not fitting in amongst her peers. She was trying to get herself in order and have her life together and as a reader with a much different lifestyle, it was hard for us to recognize at first, but she had her life in order by the end of the book. She had what she wanted as far as a boat and a place to hunt and she was ready to start a family and settle down. Margo didn’t talk much. She was alone a lot so there weren’t a lot of people to talk to. There were some people who wondered if she was mentally impaired. A reporter asked Campbell if Margo had Autism. Campbell didn’t purposefully create a character with Autism but has said it’s possible Margo does. It wasn’t her intention.

A lot of Margo’s luck seemed to come to her because she was beautiful. She never says this about herself, but the men in the story and her mother say she is. She might not have been able to find shelter with men if she wasn’t, but it seemed incongruent with her rugged lifestyle. If she’d spent as much time looking good as her mother did, she would have been a knock-out.

Each of the men who loved her had a different name for Margo. It was a nod to how she recreated herself each time she was with another guy. All the time, she was trying to recreate the best relationship she’d had with a man until then, the relationship she had with her grandfather. In this respect, Smoke was the closest she found. He and Fishbone were the only ones who didn’t try to have sex with her and some of us think it’s because they’re gay. It’s implied in the story that the two loved each other but Fishbone wouldn’t admit to it. It reminded me of Brokeback Mountain. It’s hard to admit to a different lifestyle if there’s a lot to lose and Fishbone stood to lose his family and didn’t want to risk it.

Paul and Margo’s father were both shot in the book. In the case of Paul, Margo was in control instead of her cousin. We wondered if she noticed this. Michael was at risk and she stepped in the way her cousin did to save someone she loved. The difference was that she pulled the trigger instead of watching.

The Indian was the most confusing character for many of us. He was a personification of the river, something Margo loved. He gave her money and a ride, much like the river. With him, she leaves the river for the first time and maybe she needed someone who reminded her of the river to get away from it. We found it funny that he was trying to find his culture and, though Margo was in no way a Native American, she was living the culture he was looking for better than anyone else he’d found.

I’ll be missing my book club for a few months due to my class falling on the same night until May. I’m sad about this, to be sure, but I’m sure they’ll be fine without me. I’ll miss writing these for a few months but they’ll be back! 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!