Archive | January, 2019

Off Topic Thursday: 2019 Goals

31 Jan

I usually address my reading goals in my monthly recap posts but I wanted to dedicate this Off Topic Thursday so some non-blog related goals I’m working toward. I’ll revisit these briefly at the end of each monthly post as well.

  1. Finish a 70.3 Half Ironman. This has been a goal for a long time and I decided that 2019 will be the year. I’m signed up for a race at the end of July and I’m excited to finally do it! I start my training plan next week so I’ll be a bit tired for the next six months.
  2. Attend six weddings. That’s how many we’re invited to this year and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I go to all six of them! I’ve never missed a wedding before and I absolutely love them. We’ll see if I can keep it up.
  3. Finish a weather blanket. I’ve done these the last two years and I’ve loved the project. I’m going to do one in green/white this year. I’ve bought most of the yarn but I have yet to start knitting.
  4. Write. I had the initial idea of writing one day a week, but I’m not sure how feasible that will be. I think twice a month is good to start. I’ll set aside one weeknight each week but if it doesn’t happen, I won’t hold myself to it too strongly as long as I get to it a few times a month. I know this is a small change, but it’s a big difference from where I’ve been the past two years.
  5. See friends more. Now that I’m done with graduate school, I need to make an effort to see my friends more. I’ve started making plans more often, even if those plans are of the ‘Netflix and Chill’ variety. It seems ‘craft night’ is a big hit with most of us.

So here’s where I start and where I hope to go. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and we’ll hope to see this happen! I think it’s feasible, it’s just a matter of watching less TV and planning my days a bit more. I’ve got this.

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!

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WWW Wednesday, 30-January-2019

30 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 made it to the halfway point of The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. I think I got here quicker than expected so I’m happy with that! It’s still rather slow going because I’m not driving as much, but the book’s moved to a point in the main character’s life that I’m enjoying a lot more. I don’t mind the long drives so much right now!
I’m still making my way through Origin by Dan Brown. I haven’t had as many chances to read during lunch as I would like this past week so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for some more opportunities in the coming week. I’m still liking this one a lot!
My progress through Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan is still impressing me! This book is really enjoyable and the two plot lines have finally intertwined and it’s fun to see what the characters think of each other now that they’ve met.
I was finally able to start Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. I’m not too far into it yet, so I can’t say quite what I think of it. It’s not what I expected from the cover, at least not yet. I think it may be going somewhere I don’t expect.

Recently finished: I finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple in what feels like record time. I really enjoyed this one and I’m glad I finally read it! Worth the wait and I highly recommend the audio! I posted my review yesterday so please go take a look. I gave it Five out of Five Stars.

My review for Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird went up on Thursday. This one is a staple in writing circles. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I’ll have some time to pull a book off my TBR instead of worrying about book club selections for a while! I’m going to go ahead and read Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson. Thompson was one of the first bloggers I followed when I started blogging and I’m honored to have a signed copy of her book. I’m also embarrassed it took me so long to get to it! Better late than never?


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: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (5/5)

29 Jan

This book was everywhere a few years ago. Of course, I’m terrible at reading books when they’re popular so I’m only getting to it now. I remember at the time that it was billed as an early ‘New Adult’ book so that tinted what I thought it would be about. I’m happy to say it didn’t meet those ideas and ended up being more enjoyable than I thought.

Cover image via Goodreads

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Summary from Goodreads:

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades.

This book wasn’t what I was expecting, but in a good way. I heard it billed as ‘New Adult’ which I thought meant it would be about people in their 20s having moderate amounts of sex (more than is appropriate for YA) and swearing a lot. I guess I missed the boat on New Adult. Yet again, I struggle with my policy of not reading summaries from time to time. I was happy to see this book focusing on adults in their 40s but written with the same easy-reading style of a YA book. This is the perfect combination, in my opinion. I may have to seek out some more New Adult books. I loved the characters and it all seemed very real to me even though it was far-fetched beyond belief. I think I’m a convert.

Bee seemed a little unbelievable to me. She was fifteen but her actions seemed more like a nine or ten-year-old to me. I’m basing this off of my niece and maybe she’s mature for her age and Bee was spot on. Just my opinion. The other characters were wonderful and I loved them all. Bernadette was depressed, Elgin was oblivious, Audrey was a Stepford Wife, and Soo-Lin was waiting for her prince to come. They were all the people we know in some aspect of our lives and it was great to see them play out. At first, I thought Audrey was going to be a bit of a stereotype, but she grew on me as the book went on and in the end, I really liked her.

Bernadette was my favorite character. She would be a fun mom but it was also plain that she expected a lot of her daughter. Her balance of understanding and teaching was well done. The way the book was written showed that she was, on the inside, very different from how she projected herself on the outside. It was great to see how stark the difference is between what a person projects and what they mean to project. Those things can be very different.

Bernadette was easy to relate to. I think everyone feels they’re misrepresented at times or that their actions are misunderstood or misinterpreted. Her frustration was relatable. Bee gave her the benefit of the doubt, believing her and trusting in her, while others weren’t so gracious. It was interesting to see how she reacted to this.

Maria Semple
Photo via Goodreads

I loved hearing about the 20-Mile House. I thought that was fascinating and very cool to hear about the ways she used materials. I could see how infectious her work could be and why people were so interested in it. The story was wonderfully told, too, and I wanted that part to go on longer. But I understood it wasn’t a focus of the book, just some background.

Bee and boarding school was my least favorite plotline, especially with how it played out. I thought her going away was going to have something to do with Bernadette leaving, but it ended up being a dead-end and I don’t think it added anything to Bernadette nor Bee’s plot lines. I wish that part had been edited out.

My audiobook was narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite. She was amazing. I adored her. Her voices for everyone were great and her inflection made me want to turn this book on every chance I got. Maybe she made Bee sound a little younger than she is, but that’s minor. I would seek books narrated by her, it was that good. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the print version of this book as much as I enjoyed Wilhoite’s narration of it. I highly recommend the audio.

There was a lot of judging and presumptions in this book that led to bad decisions and a lot of drama. Audrey and Bernadette started out as enemies and ended up as allies. Soo-Lin was a sweet supporter at first and ended up being an annoying dreamer. Everyone had their own idea of Bernadette and what she needed and only one person was right. The book was about being who you needed and wanted to be, and not assuming things about other people, taking the time to ask them and talk about it instead.

Writer’s Takeaway: The letter format of this book was a great choice. I liked hearing the back-and-forth that went on and figuring out what happened in the time between letters. It also built tension because sometimes you didn’t know what happened and it would be a while before you found out more. I’m not sure it would work for my story, but it was great for this one and I think Semple applied it well.

This book was enjoyable. I originally gave it Four Stars, but I couldn’t think of anything I disliked about it as I wrote this review and changed my rating to Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple | Blogging for a Good Book
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple | Reviewing Shelf
Where’d You Go, Bernadette | EmilyBooks
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple | Book Snob
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple | Larael’s Blog

Writers Group: Symbolism, Copyrights, and Research

28 Jan

My lovely writers’ group met again a few weeks ago. We had a number of new faces and I hope they were intrigued by our unusual format. We all prepare 5-10 minutes of material to share with the group over an aspect of writing that we are interested in or are working through at the moment. This month, we were able to go through three different topics in our time.

First, Rachel talked about symbolism. A symbol represents something other than what it is. Symbols are usually universal or can carry meaning for a smaller group. They are a concise way to communicate an idea. She gave the example of a national flag and all that the symbols on a flag represent about people and what they find important. There are two types of symbolism, figurative and literal. Literal symbolism isn’t exactly symbolism as I’ve described it. It’s something that only has one other meaning. For example, if I type the word ‘tree,’ those characters are symbols that represent a wooden plant with leaves. Writers more often focus on figurative symbolism, where one thing represents the idea of something else. Good symbolism is usually less obvious and takes a deeper read to find it. It avoids clichés and obvious symbols (a rose for love). Instead, it has a lighter touch and can be open to interpretation. A figurative symbol usually takes some building so that it’s clear to readers that there is symbolism. It must be repeated, given a position of importance, and emphasized so that the reader can gather that the symbol has a meaning different from itself.

Another writer, Jason, is pursuing self-publication and shared with us what he’d learned about copyrights while trying to get ready to publish. Copyright attaches the author’s name to the work in the public record. This allows you to defend your created work should someone try to lay claim to it later. This can be done via a form online with a small fee. Some writers warned against copyrighting your work if you plan to pursue traditional publication as many will not accept work that has been copyrighted. For self-publication, it’s a good move. We cautioned that posting writing on a blog can count as ‘published’ for some literary magazines and publishers, so to be careful what you share of your work. Jason shared a sample permission form that he’d used to try to obtain some permissions for statistics in his book. You can avoid using permission forms if you use work that is fair use or public domain, such as government publications.

Finally, Gary shared some of his research on research. Doing research on a topic or setting adds accuracy and credibility to a writer’s work. Doing research from books or articles that were published through a university of college press usually means that an academic wrote the work and is likely an expert in his or her field (not always true, though!). Doing research is harder the farther back in time a person reaches. Visiting the location where something happens can be very helpful as many times atmosphere is hard to gather through reading alone. Research should include the genre you are writing in which will help with publication ultimately. Also, consider the perspective of the character and if it could be different from your own, research differing opinions or views on that topic.

We’ll be back at it again next month! I’m glad I don’t have a conflicting class anymore. 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: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (3/5)

24 Jan

I’ve had this book for way too long. It was recommended to me by a good friend who also writes and she often quoted Lamott about writing techniques and how to get started. I asked for a copy for Christmas many years ago and promptly put it on my shelf to forget about it. Well, I’m finally reading my own darn books and found time for it. I’ll get through the rest eventually.

Cover image via Goodreads

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Summary from Goodreads:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

I was reassured and terrified by Lamott’s advise. She breaks it down and makes it seem so simple. She writes like there is nothing more natural than writing if you put your mind to it and make it your work. But it’s not always that easy. Writing can be a struggle and Lamott recognizes that. She talks about bad first drafts, but what about bad fourth drafts? What if you just don’t get it and never will? What then? Is there only so much writing advise a person can get? I think she conveyed some practical things in this book, but I’m still terrified of not being adequate to implement them.

Lamott talks about herself and the struggles she went through to be a writer. I think it was actually a lot harder than she let on. She mentions briefly having another job while she was writing and being a single mother. Neither of those things is easy. Lamott focused on the lessons she learned that she can teach. I think there was a lot more to her story but it wouldn’t be as translatable to other writers. She played to her audience, budding writers, and not her cohort, working single mothers. It was a smart move but it left the book feeling a little incomplete to me.

Lamott would talk about her students and their struggles and it was those nameless characters that I related to most. I struggle with writing and finding a way to tell my story that someone else wants to read.  It’s a mix of being true to your vision and appealing to others that makes writing so hard. I’m glad she talked about those struggles because she’s at a point in her life where she’s found that voice so it probably never seems as far away as it does for a new writer.

Anne Lamott
Image via Penguin Random House

I liked the first section, about getting started and reigning in an idea. I thought that advice was very easy to apply and realize in my writing goals. It helped me feel okay about having a bad piece of writing but still believing in it. It helped me see how much I may have to tear characters down, but that they don’t have to be out for the count. It spoke most to where I am in my writing process.

As I said earlier, it felt like something wasn’t there. It was as if Lamott had almost taken herself out of the book and what you got was what you’d expect from a removed teacher. I missed some personal details that I felt were left out. She shared stories about her son, but not herself. I wanted just a bit more and found myself searching for it between lines but never finding it.

Lamott has a lot of time and experience in the industry and is uniquely qualified to write this book. I’m so glad she did because, as her title says, there’s no way to go about writing but to do it, one word at a time. I write these reviews one word at a time, my story needs to be the same way.

Writer’s Takeaway: Lamott had a uniquely conversational tone that I can’t compare to anything I’ve read before. She was very formal at the same time and it was lovely to read. A tone is something that’s hard to grasp and harder to perfect and it shows that Lamott follows her own advice and writes every day. That’s something I urge to emulate.

A good book on writing, though not much about the author. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1980-1999 time period of the When Are You Reading? 2019 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:
Recommended Reading: Bird by Bird | The Daily Post
Bird by Bird wiki 
bird by bird | Ripple Effects
Reflections: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott | Reflections in a Puddle

WWW Wednesday, 23-January-2019

23 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 at about 1/3 of the way done with The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. I’m starting to enjoy it a bit more, but this one overall isn’t on a topic I’m enjoying much. That’s what I get for not reading blurbs and blindly buying books by authors I’ve heard positive reviews of or have read one book by. Oh well.
I’m surprised how much of Origin by Dan Brown I’ve been able to read through. My lunch breaks are becoming very productive! Maybe this won’t take me the five months I originally predicted. I’m still less than a third through it, but that’s much faster than I would have predicted.
I’m going to have to stick with YA books for my Spanish annual read because it’s going really well with Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I’m following the plot and I’m already over 100 pages in and I can’t wait to read some more tonight! I might actually finish this one in a reasonable amount of time. Shock!
I’m trying to power through Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple so I can start a book club pick. It’s easy with a book that’s so enjoyable. I like the diary/email/letter format this one follows and it keeps me pressing forward to learn what happens next.

Recently finished: Nothing new finished but I got some book reviews written so I can catch up! Last week I reviewed Before the Fall by Noah Hawley in anticipating of my book club meeting. I really enjoyed this book and my book club loved it, too. Four out of Five Stars.
I also got the review written for my first book of the year, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. This was a great laugh and I really comforting read. Lawson’s humor and resilience are amazing. Four out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: Both of my book clubs are reading Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani in anticipation of her visiting the area. I found an eaudiobook copy so I’ll start this as soon as I finish Bernadette. It looks like it will help me knock out another time period to be sure.


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: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (4/5)

22 Jan

It seems right that my first book of the year was a comedic memoir. That’s a genre I really enjoy. It’s even better that it’s the work of Jenny Lawson whose first book I adored. It’s a joy to revisit an author I’ve enjoyed so much before and help light up a gloomy January.

Cover image via Goodreads

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Summary from Goodreads:

In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest:

“I’ve often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal people’ also might never understand. And that’s what Furiously Happy is all about.”

Jenny’s readings are standing room only, with fans lining up to have Jenny sign their bottles of Xanax or Prozac as often as they are to have her sign their books. Furiously Happy appeals to Jenny’s core fan base but also transcends it. There are so many people out there struggling with depression and mental illness, either themselves or someone in their family—and in Furiously Happy they will find a member of their tribe offering up an uplifting message (via a taxidermied roadkill raccoon). Let’s Pretend This Never Happened ostensibly was about embracing your own weirdness, but deep down it was about family. Furiously Happy is about depression and mental illness, but deep down it’s about joy—and who doesn’t want a bit more of that?

Lawson’s sense of humor is amazing. She has a way of poking fun at her illness while still recognizing how serious it is and how much care she needs to take to make sure she stays healthy. She has advice that you can follow with or without depression: live life to the fullest when you can. And when you can’t, enjoy cat rodeos or spending time with your family or whatever you do have the energy to enjoy. And if you can’t, it’s OK. You’re not alone.

My signed copy, a Christmas present from my brother in 2015. (Yes, it took me forever to get to this.)
“For Sam. Don’t sabotage yourself. Plenty of other ppl willing to do that for free. Don’t give up on your writing dreams. Merry Xmas, Jenny Lawson”

Sometimes I wonder how Victor lives with Jenny. The way she describes herself in her book can’t be her 24/7. I’m sure there are periods of downtime. He and Jenny are the only two described in detail and I think they’re both very real. Victor loves his wife but recognizes her bouts of unusual behavior or her comical way of dealing with her mental illness. Jenny has found ways to cope with difficult situations she’d rather not be in and make herself and others laugh. I think that if I met either in person, they would probably act a lot like their portrayals in the book.

I adore Victor. He’s so supportive and loves Jenny when she’s at her lows. He recognizes how she’s coping and when she’s doing it well and when he needs to help. I think my husband is very supportive when I have a rough spot and I saw a lot of him in Victor. So it was hard not to love him.

I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness but there are sometimes I wonder if we all suffer from one or more to some degree. I’ll have moments of anxiety that feel very similar to the way Lawson described her anxiety. The difference is that mine isn’t crippling and are fleeting, unlike Lawson’s. It was reassuring to hear that someone else gets the same feelings I do and that if it ever started affecting my life in any way, there are treatment options. Though it also sounds like my solution of ‘let yourself stay home and snuggle on the couch with your hubby and watch Nailed It’ would probably help Lawson, too.

I enjoyed hearing about Lawson’s trip to Australia. I thought that would be a trigger for some of her illnesses but she used it as a chance to be Furiously Happy and enjoyed herself to no end. It was a great example of what she meant by being furiously happy and it was great to see her live that. I flipped through my physical book so I could see the images and got to laugh at them a second time.

There wasn’t a particular part of this book I didn’t enjoy. I would have liked slightly more cohesiveness, but I don’t think you can really ask for that when someone’s book is made of their blog posts. Some of the previously unpublished material helped weave a single narrative, but this book still suffered from being a bit disjointed and with no discernible timeline. Oh well.

Jenny Lawson
Image via NPR

Lawson narrated the audiobook which I thoroughly enjoyed. Her sarcasm and wit were great. Sometimes, when the author narrates, there are a lot of times when the sound engineer just couldn’t do enough to make the whole story sound good. Often, there is uneven pacing or inconsistent sound levels. Lawson had no such problems and I would listen to her narrate other books in a heartbeat. She may have another job doing this going forward, it was quite remarkable.

Lawson is helping to shine a light on mental illness: to remove the taboo and get people talking. I think she does an amazing job at this. She mixes serious comments and reflections on mental illness with her sense of humor and makes people come back to hear more. She embraces those that may have been marginalized and helps them find a group of like-minded people. That community can help those who need it and encourage them to seek out the help they may need.

Writer’s Takeaway: Combining humor into writing is always wonderful. It may not always be appropriate, but it can help lighten a very dark topic at a time where it may be very necessary. I love how Lawson did this and how she broached a very serious topic with light-heartedness and grace. I’ll read her next book in a heartbeat.

I adored this book and Lawson’s wit. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 2000-Present Time Period for the When Are You Reading? 2019 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:
‘Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things’ by Jenny Lawson | Joanne’s Reading Blog
“Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson | Zezee with Books
Book Review – Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson | Engrossed in a Good Book
Furiously Happy | The Bloggess

Book Club Reflection: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

21 Jan

We had our biggest group ever for our discussion on Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. We had to be moved to a bigger room to accommodate all of us. I missed taking notes for the first part of our meeting because I was eating an amazing crab cake BLT (yummmmm) so I apologize if I missed anything and I hope any fellow readers from the meeting can add what I may have missed.

We noticed that Gil was the only character whose body wasn’t recovered or found from the crash. If he has ‘gills’ like a fish, did he maybe escape? He had the skill set to do it and be stealthily hidden away! He was very perceptive and seemed to be the only one who was suspicious of the fight between Charlie and Emma. He was a very thorough person. We had a debate if he’d been able to find out about Charlie if he’d known the personnel for the flight. He knew about the co-pilot that was booted. If he’d stopped or even delayed the flight, would he have dug up anything about Charlie? Personally, I doubt it. The FBI had weeks to look into Charlie after the crash and didn’t turn up anything suspicious. What would he have found in five minutes about Charlie?

Scott’s character is very central to the plot. His relationship or lack thereof, with Maggie becomes the first mini-mystery. Why would she invite him on the plane? We felt that Scott could tell that Maggie was more grounded than the people she was surrounded by. He knew that she understood him and his working-class life even though she lived in the big house. Some readers felt that the Jack LaLane plot line was a bit too much. If Scott was inspired by him to swim, then what motivation did he get from his sister’s death? Couldn’t the death of his sister be enough to encourage him to swim and join the team? I’ll give my personal opinion here again. I’m a swimmer. I can see being motivated to fitness by LaLane. I can’t see being motivated to swimming for fitness by the drowning of another. I can see that as an encouragement to learn to swim for survival. Survival swimming would not take you eight miles in open water. That requires a level of fitness that LaLane inspired in Scott. I think both were necessary.

The book itself was both a mystery and a thriller. We felt it was a bit more of a mystery, though. The ending was abrupt and came just after the mystery of who crashed the plane was solved. A lot of plot lines were left unfinished. Was Bill arrested? Did Eleanor and Scott have a romantic relationship? The abrupt ending was much like a tragic accident. It happens without warning and changes things. One reader felt that sudden, drastic life changes were the major recurring theme of this book. Ending the story like one was keeping in line with this theme. The ending also started rearranging events. Many readers (including me) were confused about the timeline of Scott hearing about the black box recordings. At first, I thought Scott remembered what had happened. The more I thought about it, I realized that Gus had told him, that the reader had gotten the story out-of-order.

The criticisms of the conservative news were very thinly veiled. I jokingly called Bill Cunningham Bill O’Reilly and for the rest of the meeting, people would mix them up and refer to the character as O’Reilly. We were all disgusted that Bill would parlay the death of his ‘friend’ into a way to keep himself on the air. He was supposed to be taken off the network but with David’s death, he became a personal touchstone and was able to prolong facing consequences for wiretapping. We were all surprised that Scott would agree to speak to such a man, especially on television. We reasoned that he did it for JJ. Scott felt that he needed to clear the air about himself and Maggie so that JJ wouldn’t grow up with the idea that his mother had ever been unfaithful or that Scott was in some way involved with the crash. He wanted JJ to grow up in a world where people didn’t whisper behind his back.

The sudden, dramatic change of circumstances of the characters developed as the plot went on. On top of the crash, we saw Kipling face pending charges that would make him lose his business, Maggie marrying a billionaire, and Scott’s sister’s death. Scott’s paintings continued this trend, covering sudden, irrevocable changes and loss. It was his way of processing the sudden death of his sister. The last painting in the series said ‘We are sorry for your loss.” This is what we say when we don’t know what to say. It’s what we say when we are not affected and can’t understand the sudden change someone else has gone through.

It was a great discussion this month. I apologize for anything I missed because my food was so delicious. It was worth it.

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: 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

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!