Archive | January, 2019

Book Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (4/5)

17 Jan

I saved this book until the last minute to read for my book club, which isn’t like me. It made a good listen while my husband and I drove to Cincinnati for Christmas but I delayed finishing it until I realized how soon my club meeting was. Thankfully, I had some long runs and housework to do so I could listen to a large chunk of it in a week.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Summary from Goodreads:

On a foggy summer night, 11 people – 10 privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter – depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later the unthinkable happens: The plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs – the painter – and a four-year-old boy who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members – including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot – the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

As I like to do, I knew nothing about this book going into it. I didn’t even know it was about a plane crash. That made the whole thing even more exciting because I wasn’t ready for the aftermath of the fall or even who would live. I enjoyed Scott’s story and Hawley’s commentary on modern media. Scott was very much the ‘every man’ and I thought a painter was a good choice for that. Artists see the world through a different lens and Scott’s was very interesting. The commentary on modern media, especially larger-than-life media figures, was almost too heavy-handed for me. Bill Cunningham seemed like a very obvious Bill O’Riley character (I mean, the name, come on!) and as much as I agree that biased news is terrible, I didn’t think it was needed in this story. Though, that’s the only thing I’d take out. The rest of this book was well done and really enjoyable.

Scott was a very believable person and I liked him in this story. He had his demons, he messed up from time to time, but he was trying. He wanted to do the right thing and he spent a lot of time finding out what that was. One of the faults of the novel was pointed out to me by my husband. The rest of the characters were very polarizing. You liked Maggie,  you hated Ben. David was a bit in between, but he was mostly likable. I thought that was a bit unbelievable, that people aren’t so easily sorted into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ I wish there had been a few more people that were hard to put your finger on.

Scott was my favorite character and that’s probably because he was so dynamic. You liked him for one thing he did despite the flaws he had throughout his life. While one action doesn’t make a person good, it can make him a hero. I liked exploring what this meant with Scott and how his demons haunted him even when he’d done something so incredible.

My husband laughed at me because I was comically involved in the early descriptions of Scott and swimming. Maybe that’s why I liked him so much. I related to the laps and the peace he felt in the water. I understood how he could swim as far as he did. I understood why he had trained himself to do that. I loved how he dove under the wave and I knew how he’d surface again. It was a great way for a water-lover like me to be introduced to a character and be thrown into a plot.

Noah Hawley
Image via Twitter

I enjoyed Emma’s flashback the best. She’s closest in age to me out of any of the characters and I thought her story said a lot about her character. She liked to have fun and party, but she was practical and smart. She had a degree in Finance, she was just enjoying life while she was young. The way she reacted to Charlie played well with her character and I liked how she described her feelings. I could see something like that happening to a friend of mine.

I thought the Ben Kipling plotline was a bit too much. It fizzled out very fast. Now, that may have been a part of the message on the media, that the dead are old news and while Kipling likely would have had more of a reason to crash the plane or been the reason for it, the media was going to focus on Scott because he’s still alive. I felt it could have been left out. Kipling could have been a ‘bad guy’ for another reason, or maybe he could have been a fine person but with a really aggressive macho-man personality. I would have still disliked him.

The audiobook was narrated by Robert Petkoff. I liked his narration well enough. I didn’t like the voice he used for women very much, it sounded very condescending. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but it came off as flippant and a bit aloof. I would listen to another book narrated by Petkoff but I’d prefer it be a book with primarily male narrators.

The media commentary was hard to ignore. David and Bill purposefully spun the news to be in their favor time and time again. People who had the same ideas as they did were heroes and patriots. Those who didn’t were suspected terrorists or ‘in it for the money.’ The arrogance he projected was unnerving and it made me honestly uncomfortable. It’s the same discomfort I feel watching news segments so I felt that was well written. I’ve taken to reading my news because I feel I’m less enraged by the opinions involved. Again, I thought Hawley addressed this well but I wasn’t sure it had its place in this story.

Writer’s Takeaway: The back-and-forth timelines of the book was really enjoyable. I was only tripped up a bit at the end when I couldn’t figure out the series of events when Gus figured out what happened and Scott was being interviewed. The rest of the time, I felt it was well done and very clear. It helped build tension and made the ending very eventful and exciting.

This was a really enjoyable book and it did make me take a closer look at the media I consume and how it affects me. 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:
Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley | Taking the Short View
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley | Tonstant Weader Reviews
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley | FalmouthBookBaristas
Book Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley | Karissa Reads Books
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley | Book Addiction

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WWW Wednesday, 16-January-2019

16 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. 


Currently reading: It’s a little depressing to think about how long The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan will be on this list. I’m going through it very slowly in my car. I’m about 20% done at this point and it’s already been on my list the longest. Get settled in, folks!
I’m enjoying Origin by Dan Brown and I’ve made lunch reading time so I can keep working my way through it. I’m about 20% done, which is fast for me with an ebook! It helps that I’ve had a lot of time alone at home to work on it, too. I’m trying to keep the TV off when I’m home alone and I’ll read a few pages on my phone instead.
I feel like I’ve forgotten Spanish completely when I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. There are a lot of slang words I don’t know and I’m having to look them up. When I find how colloquial they are, I usually feel a bit better about not knowing them, but I still feel like I need a refresher course.
I’ve only just started Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I’m sure I’ll get some more of this under my belt soon but it’s too early to make a call on it.

Recently finished: I was able to wrap up Before the Fall by Noah Hawley on Saturday, just in time for my Monday book club! I liked this one a lot and my husband and I had some good discussion on it. I wrote my book review, which will be up tomorrow, before my book club met in order to keep my opinions separate from theirs. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

I managed to get two book reviews up already this week. The first was People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I liked this one a lot (ignoring the last few paragraphs) and I hope my review explains my rating. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars even though I enjoyed it so much. Read the review to see why!
I also reviewed Henry VIII by William Shakespeare. This was the last book I needed for the 2018 When Are You Reading? Challenge and I finished it just in time! Unfortunately, the review is quite delayed. I also gave this one Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: Book club on Monday means I got a new book to read. This time it’s Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. Trigiani will be coming to my area to speak early this year so our club is reading this in anticipation. Look for several more posts about it as the year goes on!


Leave a comment with your link and 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: Henry VIII by William Shakespeare (3/5)

15 Jan

I only picked this one because I needed a book for the time period. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan though I’ve enjoyed his plays when performed. Reading them is never as fun. However, I’ve got my time period now and completed the 2018 When Are You Reading? Challenge so this was an overall win.

Cover image via Goodreads

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

Other books by Shakespeare reviewed on this blog:

The Tempest

Summary from Goodreads:

Henry VIII is a history play generally believed to be a collaboration between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on the life of Henry VIII of England. An alternative title, All is True, is recorded in contemporary documents, the title Henry VIII not appearing until the play’s publication in the First Folio of 1623. Stylistic evidence indicates that individual scenes were written by either Shakespeare or his collaborator and successor, John Fletcher. It is also somewhat characteristic of the late romances in its structure. It is noted for having more stage directions than any of Shakespeare’s other plays.

I didn’t know what to expect from this play. I was fairly certain that Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare were contemporaries so I wondered how he’d portray the father of the monarch. Rather favorably, it would seem. And of course, words on Anne Boylen were very favorable, as she’s the mother of the queen. The play cut off before her beheading. I tried to think what Elizabeth I would think about this play and Shakespeare’s motivation for writing it while I was reading.

Based on what I’ve read, the representation of Henry VIII was surprisingly complementary. He seems to be one who was inclined to satisfy every whim and who was quick to anger. That wasn’t his character in the story who came across as benevolent and understanding. We don’t see much of Anne Boylen so it’s hard to say if I felt she was accurate. Queen Katherine seemed in line with what I remember of her in history, pious and punished for nothing more than being old. I was surprised she was so favorably portrayed because of the drama between her and Queen Anne as they competed for Henry VIII’s affections.

I didn’t have a favorite character, really. We didn’t get very deep into anyone. This is a history play, after all. Some of the duke’s had personalities more than the historical characters I focused on because of my interest, but even then, it was minimal.

The characters in this one weren’t very relatable to me.  There wasn’t much of a personality to connect with. Again, I blame the history format.

William Shakespeare
Image via Wikipedia

I like Katherine of Aragon as a historical figure so I was intrigued by her portrayal and specifically her final scene. I felt it was well done and written in a very respectful way. I knew it was coming so it was no surprise. It made me sad for her and that was what I expected so it felt right to me.

There wasn’t a part that I particularly disliked. The scenes with all the Dukes talking was hard to follow when written but that would be easily solved with a production. Nothing struck me as annoying or poorly done, it was just that overall, it wasn’t very dramatic and it wasn’t very engaging as such.

Loyalty was very important to Henry VIII and he would punish those he felt betrayed him or committed treason in any sense. I felt this was well showcased in the book and I was glad Shakespeare touched on that. Loyalty can mean different things and be rewarded or punished in different ways. Katherine felt she was loyal but her inability to produce a male heir was punished. The Duke of Buckingham criticizes Wolsey and is punished. I saw this as a bit of a cautionary tale for anyone in contact with the royal family. Even the high can fall.

Writer’s Takeaway: As I said at the beginning, you have to keep in mind why Shakespeare wrote this play. He was educating the people about things that had happened during the reign of Henry VIII. He’s also keeping in mind that the man’s daughter was recently queen. There was an agenda in this play. That doesn’t mean it has to be devoid of characters and plot, but it can mean it’s not as strong there as other works by Shakespeare. I appreciated this for what it was and I see why Shakespeare wrote it in the light he did.

I enjoyed this play, but it would have probably been better on stage. Three out of Five Stars

This book fulfilled the final time period of 2018 When Are You Reading? Challenge, 1600-1699. I’ve now started on the 2019 challenge and I hope you’ll all join me!

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:
“Henry VIII” by William Shakespeare (1613) | Fell From Fiction
Shakespeare (and Fletcher’s) Henry VIII | ConradBurnstrom
“My Drops of Tears I’ll Turn to Sparks of Fire” | What’s in a Play?

Book Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (3/5)

14 Jan

This book was good. I enjoyed it. Was I let down by the last paragraph? Yes. Did that affect my rating? Likely. Maybe I’ll adjust my rating up to Four Stars at some point, but I’m going to stick with Three Stars for now. I’d still recommend it, though!

Cover image via Goodreads

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Other books by Brooks reviewed on this blog:

Year of Wonder

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

I enjoyed how Brooks set up this novel. Hanna finds all of these remnants of previous times in the book, simple things, and then Brooks weaves the tale of the book and the people who have touched it and saved it. The book becomes the main character along with Hanna. It feels like the two are having a very one-sided conversation throughout. I felt Ozren was a side character and I was surprised when he came up again at the end. Honestly, his character frustrated me beyond reason and I hated him. I was mad Hanna didn’t share my sentiments. I felt like he was against the book and it’s best interests which, in my head, made him and Hanna rivals. I thought Hanna would see it the same way.

If we take out the last page, where Hanna trusts Ozren again, I thought the characters were well-built. Hanna is an independent woman, the product of her mother’s raising. She’s smart and her journey through the book struck me as sad but realistic. Ozren is a product of his time and place. He’s suffered at the hands of his homeland and he’s angry. I got it, really I did. But I didn’t see a reason for him to regret his actions and repent. Guilt doesn’t seem to be a strong enough reason for me.

Hanna was an easy favorite character (until the very end). I cheered her on during fights with her mother. I was excited by her professional accomplishments. I loved following her sleuthing as she found out the secrets of the people who had owned the book before her. This was a great mystery novel in that way. There were some owners I wanted to hear more about and I wished at times that I’d been able to connect the owners better (maybe I missed things) but I understood moving on from them as the book traveled. It was fun to think about an object being touched by so many people. It makes me angry to think about today’s throw-away culture. Few things we have would last that long.

Hanna was very different from me and her self-confidence was something I don’t see in myself that I liked in Hanna. She was so sure of her analysis on the book, so confident that it was false. Even her friend and mentor contradicting her couldn’t sway her. I admired that. I’m not sure I would have been that strong if told I’d made a mistake in my work. Granted, I’m a bit younger and I have no PhD to back up my opinion, but I still felt her confidence was admirable.

Image via the Jewish Women’s Archive

I liked the flashback stories that explained the damages to the book and how it got to where it was. There isn’t a particular one I liked most, but I thought they were all well-constructed. Brooks built characters that had distinct characteristics so it didn’t feel like re-use characters appeared story to story. I like how she gave a variety of people with different religions, life situations, and reasons for having the book. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the rabbi with the gambling problem. I loved how she described his addiction.

I’ll finally talk about the end of the book so skip this if you don’t want it spoiled. I never felt Ozren was a very admirable character and I never felt that Hanna had strong lasting feelings toward him. Yes, he saved the book. But we’re introduced to a number of characters who do the same. He suffered a great loss and I pitied him, but I didn’t like him. I felt the things Hanna did for him were out of friendship. When he wouldn’t support her opinion on the Haggadah and she left, I felt any affection between them was severed. It seemed odd to use their relationship to bring back the real Haggadah because I felt there was nothing there. I could understand the scheme to replace the book. But what really got me was them being intimate after they were done. I didn’t think Ozren had done anything to win Hanna’s affection back and he had not been admirable since his deception had caused this problem in the first place. I felt Hanna was built up to be a strong woman who wouldn’t fall into bed with a man who smiled at her and my opinion of Hanna sank with the ending of the book. I wish that small part had been left out because it undermined her character.

My audiobook was narrated by Edwina Wren. I adored her narration. She gave the base accent for Hanna, Australian, but supplied accents and dialects to the multitude of European characters in the book in a very engaging way. I enjoyed hearing Ozren and the British forensic scientist and the American relatives and all the other speakers who made up the world of the book. Wren was able to bring them all to life wonderfully.

The life a book can take, and the people it can impact, is incredible. I was really blown away by the path the book took to end up in Sarajevo. I was touched by the care people took to make and preserve the book. Our history is told through ‘things.’ In this case, the people who preserved the book were mostly forgotten by history, but the book itself told their story. People don’t live forever, but things can last quite a long time. Their value and what we gain from them, are incredible and worth preserving. In some of these cases, they were worth dying for.

Writer’s Takeaway: It can be hard to have so many vignettes in a book and give it an arc but Brooks found an amazing way to do that. The book bound all the characters across time and location and unified many distinct stories. I loved how they came together to tell the story of a book. It’s a very unique idea and I think Brooks did it well. It was a story about a character who never changed or spoke but who you still cared for greatly. I thought that was innovative and creative.

An enjoyable book, though the very end was disappointing. 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:
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks | Only a Novel
Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks | Tales from Crazy House
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks | City of Canterbury Library
Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book | Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book | Lady Fancifull

‘Bird Box’ Movie Review

10 Jan

Movie Poster via IMDb

It’s been a few years since I read Josh Malerman’s book Bird Box for my book club. Our amazing leader picked it as a spooky October read, a favorite tradition of ours. With the Netflix release of a movie version starring Sandra Bullock, I was pumped. A huge surge in views of those past posts shows a lot of people were curious about the book so I’m looking forward to this comparison and seeing what the rest of you thought as well.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Sandra Bullock. She was amazing. The stress she exuded was palpable and she made me uneasy and on the edge of my seat the whole time. I loved how she played Malorie.

Boy and Girl growing up. In the book, we skip from their birth to the river trip. The movie gave us a few glances of them growing up with Malorie and Tom, learning about being outside and life before the invasion. I liked these little touches.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

The quick invasion. The book had a slower invasion and Malorie and her sister losing contact with their parents and others before experiencing it themselves. The quick invasion was much more exciting and made for a great movie moment. It was a bit too similar to War of the Worlds for me, but that’s also a great sequence.

Book Cover via Goodreads

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

The creatures getting in. In the book, the characters are always worried about the creatures getting into their houses through doors. When they come inside, they created an ‘airlock’ of sorts to make sure the creatures weren’t there with them. They got rid of this completely in the movie. My husband, who hadn’t read the book, asked me about it and I told him the book solution. He thought that seemed more logical.

Things That Changed Too Much

Tom’s death. Maybe my memory is off, but I thought Tom died in the ‘Gary Incident.’  Him living longer gave us a great battle with the mentally deranged people but didn’t add much to the story. It also made it weird, to me at least, when Malorie gives Boy the name Tom.

Having to look. That was what was so scary about the river journey in the book! You had to look at a fork in the river and Malorie had to believe that she could do this. I wish that had been kept in. Again, the rapids made for a great visual sequence but having to look was downright terrifying!

I’m so glad this awesome book was turned into a movie. Maybe it would have been a better Halloween release, but Netflix has seen amazing success with it. Reader, have you seen the Bird Box movie? What did you think?

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, 9-January-2019

9 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. 


Currently reading: I’m moving steadily through The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan and I’m on the third disc now. That doesn’t feel that great when I look at how long this book is, though! I hope I can renew this one a few times.
My husband and I have split our listening to Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. He’s on his own now and I’m heading through by myself as well. I’m still enjoying it and I’m curious what kind of conclusions will come from this book.
I started a new ebook, Origin by Dan Brown. I’ve read and moderately enjoyed the other Langdon books in this series so I’m excited to see what else he can discover and defeat. I expect I’m in this for the long haul.
I’ve only just started Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, my Spanish read for the year. No word yet on how I feel about it, I’m less than a chapter in!

Recently finished: I’m sad to have finished Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson because I enjoyed it so much. This book made household chores and working out so much better. Lawson talks about mental illness in a very real way but also with humor and love. I love her books and I hope there are more to come.
I finished Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Sunday night. I would have finished it sooner if I hadn’t been sick and too tired to read. I wish I could have squeezed it into last year, but it’s still a solid book finished.

I wrote reviews, too! Well, one, which I’m considering a major win since I’m rather far behind. I posted a review of Sara Donati’s The Gilded Hour. I didn’t like it in the ending as much as I did at the beginning. I’m having mixed feelings about it now because I’ve heard this is the first in a series, not a stand-alone book. That changes how I felt about a lot of things being left unfinished. I’m going to stick with my original rating, though, of Three out of Five stars.

Reading Next: I know I’m a bit late on this one, but I’m going to listen to Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple next. This one had such hype a few years ago and I’d like to read it before it becomes the movie it’s likely to be. Unless that’s already announced. Then it’s very likely to happen.


Leave a comment with your link and 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 Gilded Hour by Sara Donati (3/5)

8 Jan

I was intimidated when I was handed this as my book club selection for January. Granted, we had two months to read it, taking December off for the holidays. I was relieved to find a copy available on Hoopla but dismayed yet again to see it was 31 hours long! Thankfully, I had some long runs as I built up to my half marathon in November and then all the recovery that came after that. Still, this took me over a month to listen to and as such, I have a lot of opinions on it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

Summary from Goodreads:

The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy.

Anna’s work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life.

For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him.

When this book started out, I was amazed. Donati built complicated characters and gave them rich backstories. I was vested in what happened to all of them. But as the book progressed, I was disenchanted. Some characters (literally) left and were ignored for the rest of the story, others were so perfect it became annoying, and some had arcs that were never finished. The book set up so much and did it well. But very little felt closed in my opinion and there was too much filler in the middle.

At first, the characters seemed real and very three-dimensional. My issue became when none of them were dynamic and stayed the same throughout the long novel. No drastic changes in thought or action took place. People who started in a good standing finished there as well. It was overall a dull journey, all things considered, and there was too much plot thrown in and not enough character development.

Jack and Anna were both very likable characters. Between them, I think I preferred Jack because he made Anna happy. Anna was admirable, but Jack was a great support character. He didn’t really have flaws, though, which is the only reason I hesitate to call him my favorite. He was good at his job, a good husband, son, and brother. He was almost too perfect, but he supported Anna and I have to support him for that.

Of the characters, Anna was the most relatable. She was a strong woman and I feel I match that role rather well. She got an education and was working in a field where she was outnumbered, much like I feel working at an engineering firm. She seemed ahead of her time, though, and I don’t feel I’m ahead of my time, just with it. All the other women seemed a bit meek, though, so I’d have to say Anna is most like me.

Sara Donati (aka Rosina Lippi)
Image via Wikipedia

I liked the first third of the book. It set up so many potential plot lines that I got really excited about. There were Comstock and the promotion of birth control, Cap and consumption, Anna and the plight of female doctors, the murders, Sophie and racism, and the Russo children. All of these were unique, involved unique characters, and had the potential to develop into a great story. I loved it. However, a lot of this fell flat and stopped. The arc decided to focus on the Russo children and a lot of things fell aside to meet that.

I had fifteen minutes left in the audiobook and realized there was no way that the book was going to wrap up the plot lines I wanted to know about. I wanted to see a man arrested for murder, Sophie returned from Europe and some advancement in racist ideas or sexism. I got none of it. So the end of the book was a huge disappointment. I thought about this book for a day after I finished it and lowered my rating from Four to Three Stars. I was so disappointed in the huge set up to get such a flat ending.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Cassandra Campbell. I felt she did an amazing job with such a long book. She gave each of the characters just enough of an accent to distinguish them while playing true to their background and character. Maybe she was part of why I was so invested at the beginning.

There were a lot of themes brought up in this book that were wonderful and I would have loved for Donati to follow through on them. Family and what was best for a child became the central theme. I kept thinking that Vittorio would somehow be reunited with the girls after he was found, but I understand how what happened was ultimately the best for him. I felt it didn’t end on the best of notes for the family, though. It would always feel like something was missing.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think Donati was too ambitious. She wanted to address so many social issues of the time, but couldn’t fit it all in one novel, even a long novel such as this one. There’s too much to tackle if you take a historical setting as a whole. You have to pick an element of the time, maybe two, and address that. Donati had too many and it ultimately made for a meandering novel whose point wasn’t clear for a long time.

This book was enjoyable but ultimately left me feeling disappointed. 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:
The Gilded Hour
THE GILDED HOUR by Sara Donati (2015) | Mama just wants to read
Book Review: The Gilded Hour | Novels and Noses

Challenge Update, December 2018

7 Jan

Well, I tried. This month was busier than I anticipated, especially around the holidays. So I tried my hardest. What else can I ask of myself? You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in December:

The Poe Shadow // Matthew Pearl (2)
Brainiac // Ken Jennings (4)
The Gilded Hour // Sara Donati (3)
People of the Book // Geraldine Brooks (3)
Henry VIII // William Shakespeare (3)

So it was a good month, but not the month I needed to finish my Goodreads challenge. Good news for When Are You Reading? but it feels bittersweet. I’ll have to reassess my goal for next year. It was a close one. I owe you all a few reviews before I close out the year.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

12/12
By the skin of my teeth! I finished off The Poe Shadow and Henry VIII this month, just sneaking Shakespeare in at the end. I was frantically reading this one the weekend before and was so relieved to take it off my ‘to do’ list. I’ll be back again with this one this year and maybe I’ll be a little more organized. Maybe.

Goodreads Challenge

51/55
Just shy. I’m still four books behind, the same as I was last month and couldn’t catch up. Five in a month is great for me and I’m really happy with that. Too bad I couldn’t do just a bit more. I think 50 for next year is sounding much more doable. But 55 is a good stretch goal. Any opinions?

Cover image via Goodreads

Book of the Month

I’m not surprised that I’m putting a memoir as my book of the month for December. I adored reading Ken Jennings’ Brainiac while I was on vacation and I know he has a few other books that I’m now interested in reading as well.

Added to my TBR

I’ve shocked myself by dropping to 89! I know I need to add some book club picks to this list, but I’m going to enjoy being below 90 for now.

  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling. This was my Christmas present to myself. Of course I’m going to read the screenplay. Of course I’ll love it even though it was only OK. Potterhead for life.
  • The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. My annual gift from my soon-to-be sister-in-law. We all get a book every year (except my dad) but I’m still over a year behind with reading them. Gotta catch up soon!

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- Done and done! My diploma is next to me, I’m a graduate and can annoyingly put MBA at the end of my name.
  • Travel to Europe with my husband- Already dreaming of going back…
  • Complete a 2018 Weather Blanket- I’m writing this a bit early and I’m only one day behind. I’m going to say I knocked this one out of the park!

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 2019, 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!

Off Topic Thursday: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

3 Jan

I know that these posts usually come at the end of the month, but the end of December was crazy and I figured I’d start off the new year talking about something that’s become very important to me over the past year: plastic and recycling

I should really say using less plastic has become important to me. My husband and I were contemplating when I’d become such a hippy, and we pinpointed it to the day I saw the video below. Many of you know I love turtles, so this hit me in a very sensitive place and made me cry for days. When I was done crying, I decided I needed to start reducing the amount of plastic I consumed.

Be warned, this video is rather graphic.

I knew I needed to do something to help me deal with a man-made threat to my favorite animal. So I started finding ways to reduce not only plastic but as much waste as possible from my life. None of these have been very extreme but together, I think they are making a difference.

  • Brushing up on my recycling to make sure I’m recycling everything I can
  • Bar soap, shampoo, and conditioner instead of plastic bottles
  • Cardboard tampons instead of plastic (Diva Cup would be better… not there yet)
  • Cloth napkins instead of paper
  • Reusable grocery bags and produce bags instead of plastic
  • Wearing clothes twice when possible/not dirty
  • Wool dryer balls instead of sheets
  • Buying products in recyclable packaging (ex. eggs in cardboard, laundry detergent in a box)
  • Turning lights off when I leave the room
  • Wrapping gifts in newsprint or using reusable bags
  • SAYING NO TO PLASTIC STRAWS!
  • Carrying a set of bamboo cutlery and metal straws in my purse
  • Telling as many people as possible about the harm plastics are doing to wildlife and easy ways they can reduce their impact

I know these are small steps, but that’s the beauty of them. None of these have made large impacts on my life. They are easy steps that you can take if you want to which will positively impact the planet and help save turtles and other wildlife. If you’re interested in more information on any of these, please leave a comment. I’m no expert, but I can share with you what I know.

What do you do to reduce your impact on the planet? Is there anything else I should start doing?

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, 2-January-2019

2 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. 


Currently reading: I’ve been moving slowly through Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott because of the holidays. With no work, my days are much less structured and I’m not getting anything done. Oh well. This has wonderfully short chapters that make it far too easy to put down and take a nap.
Without work, I’m not driving much so The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan has been slow to start. I’m still on the first disk and I know I’ll get into it soon but I’m enjoying the exposition and not rushing it for now.
Bad weather means more indoor workouts and that’s helping me move through Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson quickly. I’m also getting an added ab workout by listening to this while doing other things. It’s kind of wonderful.
My husband and I started Before the Fall by Noah Hawley on the 26th and we made some pretty good progress driving to and from Christmas. I don’t know how much more of it we’ll listen to together before we go our separate ways, but we’re enjoying it for now.

Recently finished: I pushed through and finished Henry VIII by William Shakespeare so I could wrap up my 2018 When Are You Reading? Challenge. I’m so glad I’m done! I’m also glad I rearranged the time periods so I don’t have to squeeze in a late Shakespeare in December to finish it again. It was interesting to get yet another take on the Henry VIII/Katherine of Aragon/Anne Boleyn time. I read a lot about that period already.

No reviews this week though I owe you a few. I’ll work on them and get them out to you next week, promise!

Reading Next: I’ll start my annual Spanish read as soon as I finish Lamott. It’s going to be Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I bought a Spanish copy last summer when I visited Powell’s and I’m so excited to finally read it!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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