Archive | March, 2018

Continuing a Series

13 Mar

I found myself reading more and more stand-alone books. Growing up, I read a lot of series but as I started college and my career, this has drastically tapered off. I’m guessing it’s a combination of books I’m interested in being stand alone but I think it’s more that I’m terrible at finishing series.

I noticed this last week on WWW Wednesday when a commenter mentioned finishing Elena Ferrante’s The Neopolitans series. Even though I’d read the first book and enjoyed it, I didn’t feel any desire to pick up the second book. I noticed that I’ve done this with several books. Nancy E. Turner’s Sarah Angus Pine series, Brad Meltzer’s Culper Ring series, and Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series are just a few examples since I started this blog. I’ve read the first book of all three of these series and enjoyed it, but I have no idea when, if ever, I’ll finish the series.

I think part of this is due to how I structure what I’ll read next. I’m faithful to my TBR to a fault. I always try to read what I’ve been waiting for the longest time to start. That means that if I read a book and enjoy it enough to want to read the second in the series, I’ll add the second but it goes to the bottom of my list so it will be a while before I get to it. This really spaces out my time between books and makes it easy to be less excited about the second book in a series. There are times I’ve forgone my strict TBR like when I binge-read Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, but this isn’t the norm.

I think the other reason is that I reason with myself that even though I liked the book and I’d probably enjoy the sequel, I’d probably like to read another book more, so I might as well forgo the series and start on something completely different. This happens to me more than you’d think. I won’t even put the book on the bottom of my TBR and I’ll continue as if there’s not more to know about the awesome story I already started and really liked. I’ve found myself thinking of the book months later and only then adding the next in the series to my TBR. I found myself doing that with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and with Ruth Downie’s Medicus series earlier this year. I’m now in the middle of both series and do plan on reading more of them… eventually.

How about you, reader? Do you have an easy time finishing a series or do you struggle as much as I do? If you struggle, what makes you put it off?

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 X by Ilyasah Shabazz (4/5)

12 Mar

This book was selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as the Great Michigan Read this time around. That means that we’ll have multiple book club discussions on it and that the author will be visiting the area to talk in the coming months. So get ready to see a lot more about this book! I’m glad it was one I enjoyed.

Cover image via Goodreads

X: a Novel by Ilyasha Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

Summary from Goodreads:

Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.

But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and though her father was killed while he was a child, she’s done great work at retelling her father’s story. The book concentrates more on the time Malcolm spends in Boston with flashbacks to his childhood in Lansing and his relationship with his siblings. There is some about his time in New York and being sent to jail, but the focus is on Boston. Malcolm changed a lot in Boston so this is logical. It was interesting to see how quickly he could be lured away from what his father had always taught him and how quickly it seemed to be a good idea to move away from that. I liked how the story drew in major historical events from the time as well. Though Malcolm didn’t serve in the army, it was good to see how it affected his life and I’m glad it was mentioned.

Shabazz did a great job of including the details of her father’s life. The people he meets and interacts with seem very three dimensional except for Sophia. I felt she was too much of a stereotype and I couldn’t like her even from the beginning. She was so shady and sketchy that I couldn’t understand Malcolm’s attraction to her. With the way she played out in the end, it makes a bit more sense, but I never believed her as a character.

Ella was my favorite character. She’s more like a mother than a sister to Malcolm and I loved how much she cared for him and wanted good things for him. She was the guidance he needed but didn’t heed and I felt bad for her because she was so ignored when she was the voice of reason and good counsel. I liked how much she tried to help Malcolm. I felt that I would be like her and I would want her in my life if I weren’t her.

These weren’t characters I particularly related to and I think that’s what made me like the book. I know this is different from what I normally say, so hear me out. This book made me uncomfortable several times. This book focused on injustices and segregation that were at the hands of whites. There were many parts of this book that I know would not fly today but still made me angry to think that they’d happened at all. They made me embarrassed of the history of my country and particularly Michigan. I’m sure this could be said about a number of things and places and people but this book really drove home for me how different my life is from Malcolm’s.

Ilyasah Shabazz
Image via NJEA Convention

Malcolm’s time in New York was the most interesting and entertaining for me. I could feel the thrill of danger that he was feeding off of and the rush of excitement. I also felt when it was too much, like Malcolm did, and was glad to get out when it was time.

His time in jail was my least favorite only because it felt rushed and glossed over. His family was clearly a big influence on his conversion while there and he was very introspective. I felt that more time could have been spent here because these moments were critical in building him into the man he became. What came before, while interesting and entertaining, could have been shortened to spend more time on this major change.

People change. Malcolm is a great example of this. He went from a man making a living on the wrong side of the law to someone who preached religion. His roots were in political activism and his teenage years took him away from that. But he came back. Young people have to be forgiven their trespasses. It’s one of the ways people grow. Not everyone needs to rebel to become who they’re meant to be, but many do, and it’s making sure they have a path back to a good life and that they can follow it that will grow healthy adults in a productive society.

Writer’s Takeaway: The book did a great job of showing racial injustice. Malcolm’s relationship with Sophia demonstrated this best but there were instances of work injustice and judicial injustice that made me uncomfortable and helped me realize how far our country has come toward equality because of people like Malcolm X. There is still far to go, but great leaders like Malcolm X and his contemporaries pushed for radical jumps that were needed.

I liked this book and I enjoyed binge-reading it on an airplane. It was the distraction I needed from sleep deprivation and hunger. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period of 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:
Ilyasah Shabazz on Why She Doesn’t Feel Pressure As the Daughter of Malcolm X [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] | The Ed Lover Show
Drew hosts Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X | The Drew Acorn
Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X reflects on his life and legacy | WGN9

Book Review: A Widow for One Year by John Irving (4/5)

8 Mar

I love John Irving. It’s twisted in a way that makes him fun to read and even after reading so many of his books, he can still surprise me. I meant to read this book three years ago with my work book club but I transferred to a new building and it never happened. This book has been looming over my head ever since so I’m glad to finally have finished it.

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

Other books by Irving reviewed on this blog:

In One Person (and Book Club Reflection)
A Son of the Circus

Summary from Goodreads:

In A Widow for One Year, we follow Ruth Cole through three of the most pivotal times in her life: from her girlhood on Long Island (in the summer of 1958) through the fall of 1990 (when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career), and at last in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother (and she’s about to fall in love for the first time).

I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of Irving’s staples in this book. The main character was a writer, it took place in New England, sports were a major part of one or more character’s lives, their intimate relations were a bit screwy, and there was at least one tragic death. I liked Ruth’s character and, unlike many Irving inventions, I actually found her a bit relatable. She made some decisions I never would have made, but she was a genuinely good person in the end and I liked her. The plot wasn’t so unbelievable that it felt like fiction. This book felt like it could really happen.

Ruth wasn’t the only character who seemed real to life. Allan was very realistic and seemed like the kind of man Ruth would have been very happy with. Heck, he seems like the kind of man many women could be happy with. Eddie wasn’t too far from believable. He seemed both shy and forward, which was a bit hard to understand, but he was a good guy, someone I could be friends with. Ted was a little unbelievable to me, but there’s always someone in a John Irving novel whose life and choices are a bit unbelievable and around who the story takes on a fantastical element.

Ruth was my favorite character and having her as the protagonist was a joy. She was strong but loving and she was very sure of herself. I’d love to read some of her novels in full and see what makes her one of the most influential writers of her time. I’d guess it’s similar to what makes Irving so influential today.

Unfortunately, it’s Eddie’s self-doubt and bumbling personality that I related to most. I always feel like I’m making my way through life like a blind spelunker. Things seem to appear out of nowhere no matter how much I plan and there are always rocks to trip on. I liked Eddie a lot because he loved with his whole heart and he was always searching for something. He wanted a perfect ending to his life that he knew he’d have to search for over many years.

John Irving
Image via the author’s website

I enjoyed the part of the book set in Amsterdam. It was a bit of a deviation from what Irving normally writes and I enjoyed exploring another country and another culture from the norm of his books. Rooie was a fun character and I liked learning more about her and what drove her to be a prostitute and how she tried to help younger girls. I thought it was very appropriate that Ruth should go back there and I liked how Harry figured out who she was.

I don’t particularly like books about writers. Hearing about a book the writer wrote but not being able to read that book is frustrating for a bibliophile like me. I also don’t like hearing the premise and being told it was a best-seller or classic. I want to hear the popular opinion, not the author’s idea of popular opinion. Honestly, Eddie and Ruth’s books didn’t sound like they would be best sellers to me and that rubbed me the wrong way while I was trying to enjoy this book.

My edition of the audiobook was narrated by George Guidall. I thought he did a fair job bringing the story to life. I’m always put off by a book about a female protagonist that’s narrated by a man and that’s what seemed off to me about this one. Granted, the book was written by a man and a lot of the dialogue seemed a bit masculine to me. There’s nothing wrong with who Guidell did the narration, just that I would have preferred a female narrator for this story.

There was a major loss in Ted and Marion’s lives that, without being in the book, shaped the whole story. Ruth would not have been born, Eddie would not have fallen in love with Marion, and the characters we met would never have come together. That loss set this whole story into motion. You never know if there’s something positive that can come from loss. Many, like Marion, are too focused on what’s gone that they can’t see what’s coming next. It’s hard to look past grief but when Marion finally did, she met her grandson; a person who wouldn’t exist if her boys had lived.

Writer’s Takeaway: The raw sexuality of some of Irving’s scenes are off-putting to me. He doesn’t use euphemisms and things are always described in what could only be the most gritty details Irving could imagine. I wish he’d tone it down a bit. I wish some of these scenes didn’t make me uncomfortable listening in my car, wondering if my car is soundproof or if the guy in the turn around next to me can hear what’s being said. I think the stories would be the same and the endings would be as enjoyable. Sometimes, I’m a bit nervous to say Irving is one of my favorite writers because I don’t want people to assume I enjoy the gritty scenes he writes. They make me rather uncomfortable.

This is one of my favorite Irving books and by far one of the best I’ve read in a few years. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Post:
Book Review: A Widow for One Year by John Irving | My Seryniti

WWW Wednesday, 7-March-2018

7 Mar

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.


Currently reading: I’ve made great progress in Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte by J.K. Rowling. I’m through what was made into the first movie and I’m onto the second movie now, which is well over 1/2 way through. I’m starting to be more optimistic about ever finishing this one!
I got my hold back on The Circle by Dave Eggers! I’m reading it during lunch and waiting at the chiropractor again. It’s slow progress, but I’m making it through.
I had a fair number of drives into the city over the past few days so I made good progress on Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. I’m going a bit slower than I really want to but I’m still enjoying it. I listened to the entire Wicked soundtrack at work on Friday because this one is getting to my head!
I haven’t been running as much so I’ve also made slow progress on Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver. I hope the weather improves and I can run outside more which is where I do longer runs and can enjoy this one a lot more.
Since I got The Circle back, I’m going to hold on The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp for a bit. I’m sure I’ll trade back and forth as I lose and gain the holds on these two!

Recently finished: I didn’t finish anything this week. I’m so close to the beginning of many of these that I’ll probably go through a cycle like I did before and finish them all at the same time! This is making it hard to plan my reviews.

I posted a review of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante on Monday. Please check it out when you have time. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars.

Reading Next: I feel like I need to put something in here this week after leaving it blank two weeks in a row. My next book club selection (which won’t be discussed until April) is History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. I’ll see if I can get an audiobook of it and possibly jump-start and read it sooner rather than later. It’s always nice to be ahead.


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!

Writers’ Group: Engaging First Chapters

6 Mar

One of our members mentioned an article she’d read at our January meeting that we decided to focus on at the February meeting. The article came from Anne R. Allen’s blog (link here) and it focused on the LOOK INSIDE preview section of an Amazon eBook but we expanded the discussion a bit to talk about writing in general.

The second of Allen’s suggestions is immediate conflict. We talked about using the conflict as a hook to get the reader to read more. The conflict should leave something unresolved in the first chapter so that the reader will want to move forward. Even if this isn’t the main conflict of the book, it will keep the pacing moving forward. I mentioned an old mantra I’ve heard of “Conflict on every page” and one of our members didn’t like that. We talked about how conflict doesn’t have to always be high intensity but that there has to be something unresolved so that the characters are working toward something. If there’s nothing unresolved, then the story should be over. It can be interpersonal conflict, personal conflict, environmental conflict, etc., as long as something is being worked toward or worked on.

When an author starts writing, they’re often inventing characters in their head. While this process is exciting, it’s important to keep the number of characters introduced in the first few pages to about 5. This doesn’t have to be five named characters. It could include the garbage man a boy watches out his window. More characters than that can be confusing and end up being a turn-off for readers who think Billy is watching George empty the trash when George is Billy’s uncle who’s waiting for the trash truck to move so his girlfriend Anna and he can pull into his sister’s Felicia’s driveway. See?

Allen talks about ‘unburrying’ dialogue and helping it stand out on a page. Even simpler than that, it’s good to break paragraphs up even without dialogue. Long paragraphs give people flashbacks to textbooks and you don’t want your fiction associated with assigned academic reading, do you? A page should look a bit un-uniform. Paragraph length should vary somewhat and be more irregular when there is dialogue.

Another suggestion from Allen is breaking the story into short chapters with hooky endings. One caution we brought up was switching POV too often in schort chapters. This can be a real problem if there are multiple POVs. You run the risk of switching away from a character that a reader likes best and if you don’t get back to him or her soon, the reader might lose interest.

The final piece of advice from Allen is sketch in details instead of painting a detailed image. We felt that an exception to this would be SciFi, fantasy, or horror when the details describe something the reader isn’t familiar with or when the details are the essence of what is scary (the focus). Some things in fantasy and SciFi are fun to imagine, but completely new ideas probably need a bit more flushing out.

I had to run out before we decided what to discuss next month. I guess I’ll be surprised.

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: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (4/5)

5 Mar

A good friend gave me this book for Christmas too many years ago. It’s languished on my shelf even as I heard amazing things about Ferrante and enjoyed a shorter of her novels. I finally had time to grab the audiobook and listen to the story. While I didn’t think it was as mind-blowing as some seem to, I did enjoy this book. As a side note, I have no author image here because Ferrante is anonymous.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

Other books by Elena Ferrante reviewed on this blog:

The Lost Daughter (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.

This felt like a period piece to me and that kept me from connecting to it. It was so clearly set in the 1950s and the experiences Elena and Lila had were so specific to that time. It lost some of its universality to me because of this. Getting married at 16 to a man in his late 20s and having to apply to go to middle school were such central tenants of this book and so in contrast to my life. The friendship Elena and Lila shared, at its core, is universal, but I felt that was lost and it kept me from a perfect 5 rating. I’ve had many friendships similar to the girls. There’s always some level of competition and comparison between two people as close as these girls. It was very real to me and the balance of power in this relationship is well set up.

Some of the characters were hard for me to connect with because of cultural difference between modern America and 1950s Italy. The relationships between the male and female friends were complicated. The way Elena felt about her parents, especially her mother, was very strange to me. While each character felt real, I struggled to keep all of the friends and neighbors straight and many of them feel flat because I couldn’t remember their small details.

Elena was my favorite character. Not just because she was the narrator, but because I felt she was most like me. I loved school and I felt awkward and ugly in my body going through puberty. I think that’s somewhat universal. I felt out-of-place around the ‘popular’ kids, the rich kids in this story. I’ll admit there were times I felt superior when I did well on assignments and other times I felt like a failure for my lack of a relationship in social situations. The back and forth Elena felt reminded me of myself in middle school and high school.

What made the relationship between the girls so good was that you could understand why Lila acted the way she did. Elena had such a fundamental understanding of her friend that she was able to break down her reactions and actions and see how she’d affected Lila. The creation of the shoes was very emotional for Lila. Though we never hear her say it, her actions and the way Elena understands them, show her passion. It’s even how the book ends! (Not a spoiler, I promise.)

I enjoyed Elena’s time Barano. She came into her own during this time, physically and mentally. Having to be her own person outside of Lila’s shadow was hard for her, but she figured it out. She found a way to be happy that didn’t involve school or Lila. I think that independence is what gave her the confidence to have Antonio as a secret boyfriend and further gave her the social confidence she didn’t have before going to Barano.

There wasn’t a part of the book I would have cut. In the end, all the little stories and bits that seemed unimportant were needed. They developed the characters and the relationships that culminated in the wedding and without them, it would have been impossible to understand all the nuances of what happened to the friends that day.

My audiobook was narrated by Hillary Huber. I’m not sure if it could have been helped, but there were times her pronunciation of the Italian words confused me. I think this should be credited to me not speaking Italian more than Huber’s reading. She had a very airy tone to her reading that made the book feel like a memory. Because of how the book starts, it’s clear that it is but 12 hours of dreams can get old fast. This makes it sound like I didn’t like Huber’s narration which I really did, promise!

Female friendships can be some of the most complicated webs between two people. My husband is frequently amazed at how I interact with my female friends. Ferrante gives them all the detail, dirt, and tears they deserve in this book. Elena and Lila, while competitive, catty, and at times rude, love each other. Their families do not understand them at the level they understand one another and their husband and future husband will never share the same love the two women do. I’m honestly jealous of Elena and Lila. I’m still waiting for my lifelong female friend.

Writer’s Takeaway: A book does not need to focus on a dramatic incident or life-changing event to be impactful and memorable. This book is a great example. It can focus on two people or one relationship. Many other books with this focus concentrate on it’s coming together or falling apart but Ferrante did an amazing job of emphasizing the drama in daily interaction and I commend her on that.

I liked this book but didn’t fully connect with it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante | booksaremyfavouriteandbest
‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante (Review) | Tony’s Reading List
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante | From Isi
Meet My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante | Second Chances

Challenge Update, February 2018

1 Mar

I went through a long draught in February. For a long time, I wasn’t finishing anything and just starting more and more books! It wasn’t until the end of the month when things finally started coming together. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in February:

A Widow for One Year // John Irving (4/5)
My Brilliant Friend // Elena Ferrante (4/5)
X // Ilyasah Shabazz (4/5)

Yes, I know I owe you reviews for all of them. I’ll be working on it this weekend, I promise!

When Are You Reading? Challenge

5/12
Not too much more this month, but I was able to add one more. X by Ilyasah Shabazz took place in the 1930s and 1940s but a large chunk of it was set in the 1940s so I’m going to count it for that time period.

Goodreads Challenge

8/55
Well, I’m on track, but barely. I’m a bit nervous about keeping up with this when I think about how much school and travel is going to eat into my reading time in the coming months. I’ll have to pick some shorter books so I can stay on top of this!

Book of the Month

I’ll have to pick A Widow for One Year by John Irving for this month. I’ve given all my reads 4 out of 5 Stars but this would be my favorite if I had to pick. I adore Irving and I liked that no one died at the end! Is that a spoiler? Sorry if it is!

Added to my TBR

For the second month in a row, I’ve added nothing! This is absolutely crazy. What’s even crazier is that my TBR is down to 98 books. I’m under 100! I can’t remember the last time my list was that low. I’m feeling great about this.

Personal Challenge

I used these monthly posts to keep myself accountable to my personal goals for 2017 and I’m excited to do that again this year. You all were so supportive before.

  • Graduate and keep my 4.0- I haven’t gotten any grades back in my class yet so this is still TBD. I think I’m doing alright but I’ll know more next month.
  • Travel to Europe with my husband- It’s all booked! We’re going in July and will be gone for two and a half weeks. I’m so excited. Amsterdam, Belfast, Barcelona, Brussels, and Reykjavik.
  • Complete a race per month- I had my first swim meet in ten years in February. I’m really enjoying Masters Swimming and I think I’ll keep it up for a long time. It’s not hard on my knees or back, either! I swam three events and placed first in two and second in one. While that might seem good, there was only me in one event where I got first, two of us in another, and there were three people in the one where I placed second. So I did have to beat some people, but not many!
  • Complete a 2018 Weather Blanket- I finished January’s rows, but I’ve put it aside to work on a few baby blankets which have proved quite frustrating. I’ll see when I get back to it but I’m not worried yet.

How are your challenges going so far? I hope you’re off to a good start If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for 2018, 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!