Archive | October, 2017

Star Wars Reads Day 2017

12 Oct

Last weekend, my husband and I ventured out to the library to celebrate the fifth annual Star Wars Reads Day at our library. Despite this being the fifth and it being sponsored by the Friends (of which I’m a board member) and a good friend of mine being a key organizer, this was my first time attending. I won’t like, it was the light saber battle demonstration that got me to go.

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My library is better than yours! #fclswrd17 @farmlib

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If that doesn’t get people to the library, I’m not sure what will. It’s worth noting how quiet it is in that room because five minutes earlier, the Jedi talking about their training was drowned out by yelling children.

In addition to the demo, there were crafts for kids to create masks, Yoda ears, and practice their Jedi skills on a balancing course. Of course, there were cardboard cutouts that my husband and I used to take a pretty sweet picture. It was recommended we use this for our Christmas picture this year but we usually have our pet turtles in the picture and I’m not sure how we’d PhotoShop them in this time.

Part of it being Star Wars Reads Day is that the library was giving away free Star Wars novels. As the library receives donations, any Star Wars books are sorted out and set aside for this day each year. My husband grabbed one to add to his classroom.

I wanted to talk about this and highlight some of the amazing events libraries are putting on. Friends funding helped build this event into something many patrons look forward to each year.  I’m so proud to be on the Friends Board of Directors and I love my library! If you haven’t gone to check out the programs at your library or explore what is offered besides material lending, I urge you to do so.

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, 11-October-2017

11 Oct

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?

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.


Currently reading: I started reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison last week. It seems to be going fast because my ereader already says I’m 10% of the way through it after only two lunch readings. I’m thinking this one will move very quickly.
I started Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and I’m very engaged so far. I know it’s set in the 30s but it has a very 20s feel of it to me so far. We’ll see how this goes!
I started Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks on audiobook very recently. It’s still a bit too early for me to make a call on it so stay tuned!

Recently finishedI made great progress to finish Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. I’m glad I read this one and sorry it took me so long to get to it! It was a better version of Edan Lepucki’s California and I’m glad I found it. My review went up Monday so please go take a look.
I was able to wrap up The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory as well. I can’t say this was my favorite of Gregory’s books, but I still liked it. This was a little heavy on the history and didn’t seem to have much drama to it. I like when Gregory invents scandals (or embellishes the ones that are already there) and romances. This one seemed too teemed in history. A review went up yesterday so you can see my complete set of comments there.

Reading Next: No plan now as I just started three books! I’ll see how these progress before I decide on the next one to pick up.


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: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

10 Oct

I found this book at a used book sale, I believe. When I started going through audiobooks of books I owned, it made it to that list. When I was getting worried about the When Are You Reading? Challenge this year, I chose this one to help me finish up some hard-to-fill time periods. I always enjoy Gregory so it was no hardship for me!

Cover image via Goodreads

The Other Queen (Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #16) by Philippa Gregory

Other books by Philippa Gregory reviewed on this blog:

The Boleyn Inheritance (4/5)
The Lady of the Rivers (3/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Two women competing for a man’s heart.
Two queens fighting to the death for dominance.
The untold story of Mary, Queen of Scots.

This dazzling novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory presents a new and unique view of one of history’s most intriguing, romantic, and maddening heroines. Biographers often neglect the captive years of Mary, Queen of Scots, who trusted Queen Elizabeth’s promise of sanctuary when she fled from rebels in Scotland and then found herself imprisoned as the “guest” of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick.

The newly married couple welcome the doomed queen into their home, certain that serving as her hosts and jailers will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court. To their horror, they find that the task will bankrupt them, and as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Elizabeth, their loyalty to each other and to their sovereign comes into question. If Mary succeeds in seducing the earl into her own web of treachery and treason, or if the great spymaster William Cecil links them to the growing conspiracy to free Mary from her illegal imprisonment, they will all face the headsman.

As always, Philippa Gregory makes history come alive in her historical novels. She has great figures, like Mary, Queen of Scots, speaking in a way that makes her feel real and relatable. She makes sense of a history that at times seems twisted and outlandish. I love that about Philippa Gregory. What I didn’t like about this one is that it felt too strongly settled in history with no fun to it. There seemed to be written accounts of everything Mary said or Bess referenced that stand today. Not much seemed invented and fun. I wished for a little more scandal and maybe a few fewer characters. I miss Gregory’s storytelling that you see in her earlier novels. This one felt a bit too much like a history book.

I’m certain the three narrators are as historically accurate as possible. There’s an author’s note at the end that talks about how the Queen Mary we see in this book is based on new evidence about her plotting and life in prison with the Talbots. I’ve never doubted that Gregory does her research. The three have distinctly different personalities and the audiobook narration did a wonderful job of accenting that. The two women are night and day of each other and George was given a rather distinct, though not admirable, personality.

Bess was my favorite character. George was so weak that he was hard to like and Mary was such a liar I found her hard to like, too. Bess, on the other hand, was smart. She was always thinking of her future and her children’s inheritance. She knew what she wanted and would go after it. She wasn’t afraid to say what she thought, either. I take care of finances in my home and it was fun to see a woman doing that 500 years ago and the pushback she got for doing it!

I think Bess was the most relatable character in the book. She had a great rags-to-riches story and I think she appeals to a modern woman. She was very ahead of her time with how concerned she was about her share in a marriage and amassing wealth. It made her unusual in her own time but someone a modern reader could relate to very well.

Philippa Gregory
Image via Fantastic Fiction

Bess’s back story was fun to read about. She endured a lot to get to where she ended up and it made her easy to root for. I have to imagine there were few people like her in England at that time and it makes it understandable why she liked Cecil and why she would treat Queen Mary the way she did.

I found this book a bit dull in places. It seemed like Gregory was so determined to use all of the historical research she did and include every note between Queen Mary and her friends, conspirators, and lovers, that there was so little action for long stretches of the book. She would sit in the castle and plot for chapters at a time before another plot would come and fail. I felt this should have been sped up a bit and could have done with a few chapters removed. Though, when you get to the sixteenth book in a series, your publisher is probably about done editing you.

The audiobook had three narrators. Jenny Sterlin was the voice of Bess. I thought she did an amazing job. Bess was authoritative and bossy while still being submissive and demure when needed. Sterlin got the anger in Bess’s inner thoughts just right. Stina Nielsen did the voice of Queen Mary and was my favorite of the narrators. She was cunning and sweet at the same time, just marvelous. Ron Keith did the voice of George and I have to say he did well because I hated George as I was supposed to do. He was weak and whining. Ugh. The three narrators together had a tremendous effect and were very helpful for keeping straight if it was Bess or Mary narrating.

Though in school we learned about all the great things Queen Elizabeth I had done, this book shows her darker side. We also see a woman who was executed for treason and a murderous plot and how her deepest wish was to be freed. There are two sides to every story and two sides to many people. While this book shows the dark sides of each woman, it’s important that it shows a positive side to Queen Mary, who history painted in a very dark light.

Writer’s Takeaway: Historical research is paramount for a historical novel but I feel it was overdone here. When I research for my historical book, I only end up putting about 30% into the story. The rest is for me to know and build a back story for my characters. I think that’s important to remember and sometimes, authors seem too eager to throw everything into a book and I feel the plot can suffer for it.

Enjoyable but a bit dense. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1500-1599 time period in the 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:
Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory | Tudor Blogger
The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory: a tale of two women, if not more… | Vulpes Libris
Book Review: The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory | Love London Love Culture

Book Review: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (4/5)

9 Oct

I met Watkins over a year ago when I went to the Midwest Literary Walk and heard her speak. The book sounded interesting, like a better form of California, and I bought a copy. Unfortunately, it took me so long to get to it but I’m glad I finally did.

Cover image via Goodreads

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Summary from Goodreads:

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

I was pretty spot on by thinking this would be a better version of California. It was similar at the beginning, talking about a futuristic American West that descended into chaos due to an environmental crisis. I thought this book had more to it. The introduction of a child, Ig, into Ray and Luz’s lives was a great addition. I liked the bit of background we got about these two and their path forward in life. I thought it was interesting that the plot shifted to the Amargosa but Levi and his cult of followers were really interesting and it got into Watkins’ life a bit as well. Her father was a member of Charles Manson’s Family but eventually testified against Manson and left the group. I found it interesting that Watkins would choose to talk about this topic in her book but she made it seem very natural for Luz to join the group and I wondered if this was a way for her to explore what could bring her late father into such a group.

My inscription from Watkins.

I found Ray and Luz very realistic. When there’s not much to do, you either make things to do or lay around. When you think someone is being mistreated, you either act or do nothing. When you think someone is dead, you let go or hold on. They were opposites of each other in all of these ways yet they continued to come together and be good for each other. I thought it was very real to have them still so attracted to each other.

Ray was my favorite of the two. He was more like myself in the ways he reacted to the situations he found himself in. He was resourceful and determined and I admired his loyalty more than anything else. He’s the kind of guy I would want to have with me if I was living in a water-deprived world like Luz found herself.

There wasn’t much in this book that I could relate to. The conditions they lived in were very harsh and the decisions they had to make were very removed from the reality of the modern world I live in. Though, being unrelatable didn’t make me like this book any less. It was very escapist and a fun story.

Me and Claire Vaye Watkins

The end of the book with Levi was most interesting to me. I never would have expected the book to take a turn toward cults when I started it. Having Ray convincing Luz that she was being manipulated was hard to read about but I was rooting for Ray the whole time. Knowing what I did about Watkins’ family, I found it even more engaging and wondered how much was drawn from her father’s story.

I was bothered by Ray and Luz taking Ig at first. I was mad to think they could just take a child, even if that child seemed to be mistreated and not cared for properly. I wondered if she was being cared for by a reckless older brother for the day when there was a proper, caring mother waiting for her girl to return home. I never stopped thinking that and at the end, I wondered if Ig was better off having been taken or not.

 

Survival was a key theme in this book. There were many things the characters did to survive and they had to give up parts of themselves and their identities to survive. Ray gave up his driver’s license and his ties to the military. Luz gave up her comforts and Ig. It’s up to the reader to decide if it was worth it. I’m inclined to say some of it was, but other parts were not worth losing.

Writer’s Takeaway: Watkins created a terrifying future because it’s so easy to see something like this happening. Climate change has started to affect our world in startling ways. If not checked, could we see a growing desert in the southwest that slowly moves to overtake other parts of the country? Would animals really evolve to survive so quickly? Speculative fiction is so scary because it’s so eerily similar to our world and we can see it coming to pass. I feel Watkins did a great job of moving our world to a terrifyingly realistic crisis.

A fun read though I thought the plot was just a bit wandering. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the ‘Future’ time period for the 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:
“This isn’t any ordinary debut novel” – Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins | Bookmunch
Review: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins | wildeonmyside
Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus | Reviews from Pages Books on Kensington
Review of “Gold Fame Citrus” by Claire Vaye Watkins | Rhapsody in Books

Sick Day, Back Monday!

5 Oct

I’m taking today off. I was sick over the weekend and have been running behind ever since. I promise to be back Monday with content! I’m close to finishing two books and with any luck, I’ll be reviewing them next week! There’s something to get excited about.

Until next time, write on.

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

WWW Wednesday, 4-October-2017

4 Oct

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?

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.


Currently reading: I’m still making good progress with Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. If I wasn’t in school, I’d likely plow through this one a lot faster but as it is right now, I don’t leave a lot of time to read before bed at night because I’m so exhausted! I’ll keep on trucking through this one.
I took some time out from The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory to finish another book (see below). I’m back on this one now and I think I’ll have it finished up by next week! And yes, I’m only reading two books right now. Do you even believe me?

Recently finished: I lost my ebook hold on Armada by Ernest Cline but I was able to find it as an audiobook and I finished it up! I was so excited about this. I had a long run and a long car drive on Saturday and I had only twelve minutes left when I got home. Pretty perfect. I wrote a review which was posted yesterday. Please go check it out! I heard this one was sold as a movie already but no definitive timeline for when it will come out. I wonder if Ready Player One doing well as a movie will help this move forward.

Reading Next: I’ll still get to Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks as an audiobook, no change there.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is sitting next to my bed, waiting for me to pick it up.
I haven’t started a new ebook since I finished Armada. I think it’s going to be The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I won this in a giveaway ages ago and never had a chance to pick it up


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: Armada by Ernest Cline

3 Oct

It was over two years ago that I bought this book. I was in Chicago for a conference and my bookstore exploring found me a signed copy of Armada right after I’d read and enjoyed Ready Player One. I was ready for some more Cline in my life. But then, of course, things got in the way and it’s only now that I’m getting to this one. I actually enjoyed both the ebook and audiobook of this one since my hold returned the ebook before I could finish it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Armada by Ernest Cline

Other books by Ernest Cline reviewed on this blog:

Ready Player One (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

That’s one heck of a description, huh? The description of this book made it sound like a cross between Ender’s Game and War Games and even after finishing it, I would make that comparison. The writing was great, much like Cline’s other novel, but it didn’t seem to be as original an idea as his first book. Honestly, I may have liked this one more if it hadn’t been the second Cline I read. I had super high expectations and while this was good, it wasn’t great.

Because of the compressed time frame, I felt most of the characters were really flat. Even Zack didn’t develop too much. There was a lot made about his anger issues, but they seemed to fizzle out with little notice when the plot got going. This was definitely a plot-driven novel and the characters really took a back seat.

There wasn’t a singular character I felt any attachment to. I liked Lex, but only because she was fun and quirky. I didn’t care too much what happened to her. Zack’s mom was likable but didn’t have much of a role. Xavier was hard to figure out and seemed both insane and reliable which made him hard to trust. With how flat I felt Zack was, I didn’t attach too much to a character in this book.

Their experiences were too unique for me to feel very attached to anyone, either. I was never super into video games so I didn’t relate to that culture and I’ve obviously not been a part of an alien invasion effort, so that was hard to sympathize with, too.

Ernest Cline
Image via G4TV.com

I was most interested in the interplay between Zack and his father. I’m not sure what I thought of it, though. I figured it would either be ‘well, you’re still a total stranger’ where they’d be super skeptical of each other, or ‘long lost loving father!’ and they’d be inseparable. It was neither of those and I found it interesting to see when they started to trust one another.

This is minimal, but it really bothered me that Zack’s mom had another baby. How fertile is this woman that she gets pregnant when she’s not even trying after being with her husband for 2 hours? It was too convenient and not necessary to the plot of the book. I think it should have been left out.

I listened to the second half of this book after enjoying the beginning as an ebook. Wil Wheaton narrated the audio and I thought he did well. He put slight accents on for the other soldiers and it was enough to tell them apart without it being distracting. I’d heard he was really good at narrating Ready Player One but that was an ebook for me. I’m glad I finally got to hear it!

Xavier and Zack had to be brave to speak out. When they did, it was still hard and then had to take things into their own hands. The information that Xavier gained access to wasn’t supposed to be available to everyone but having it changed everything. I think Cline’s point was about freedom of information, but more about not being afraid to speak up when you need to. For Zack, it saved the world.

Writer’s Takeaway: Cline’s writing is great for people the age of his character but also for the generation before that. His inclusion of 80s and 90s references is always welcome for those who remember them, but not so overwhelming as to put off someone who doesn’t. That’s what readers loved about his first book and while not as strong here, they’re still fun.

This book was fun, but I had high expectations. 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:
Ernest Cline’s Armada Invades Science Fiction | Narrative Species
Armada- Ernest Cline | Lucybird’s Book Blog
Armada by Ernest Cline | Literary Escapist

Challenge Update, September 2017

2 Oct

School started, football season started, and I haven’t seen my husband in a few days now. Life is certainly picking up! It’s making reading time even more valuable but I’m always excited to escape into books whenever I can. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in September:

Love in the Elephant Tent // Kathleen Cremonesi (4/5)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao // Junot Diaz (4/5)
The Detroit Electric Scheme // D.E. Johnson (2/5)
Still Life // Louise Penny (4/5)
Armada // Ernest Cline (3/5)

This month went better than expected! With all of the craziness of life picking up, I wasn’t expecting to see so many books on this list but it feels good to know I can still get through so many! I have a few books I’m nearing the end of soon that will add to this for another long list next month!

When Are You Reading? Challenge

9/12
Well, no surprise that there’s no movement here. I have prioritized finishing this challenge so two of the books I’m currently reading will count here. Next month, this should read 11 and I’ll only have one more to finish. At least there’s a plan.

Goodreads Challenge

41/50
Still three books ahead and feeling good about this! Nine more books by Christmas should be a piece of cake. One less thing to worry about, haha.

Book of the Month

Cover image via Goodreads

I was blown away by Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao this month. I didn’t know anything about this book when I bought it at a used book sale but I’m really glad I did. Even though I ended up listening to the audio, I still loved the book and it’s one I’d recommend.

Added to my TBR

I’m down just a bit to 109. If I can break 100 before the new year, I’ll be ecstatic. But don’t bet on it!

  • Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks. This will be my final When Are You Reading? Challenge book for the year! It will be very exciting when I get to it.
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. This is my next book club read so I’ll be starting it relatively soon. So many people have said it’s amazing so I’m really looking forward to it!

Personal Challenge

I mentioned in my challenge announcement post that I had some non-reading goals set for myself in 2017. I figured this would be a good place to keep myself accountable to those as well. Here goes!

  • Keep my 4.0 GPA: Only two papers back so far but looking good!
  • Knit blankets:  I had a friend announce that she was pregnant but it’s still too early to know the gender. This is my first friend to have her second since I started knitting blankets so I guess I’m setting the precedent that I’ll send one for each kid.
  • One race per month: My last triathlon of the season! It was also my second Olympic distance and my second time running this particular race. The water was calm, unlike the 1.5-foot waves from last year and it felt great! It was a bit cold, though, and I wished I had sleeves during the bike. There was only one other woman in my age group but I won! It felt nice to stand on top of the podium.
  • Get my novel out to beta readers: No one has sent me feedback from this last round. Even if they did, this is not the time of year I’d be able to get back to them. I think this challenge may fall flat until I finish school.

How were your challenges? I hope you made it. If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for 2017, 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!