Archive | September, 2019

Book Club Reflection: Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

30 Sep

I don’t like to do it this way, but I went to my book club before I had the chance to write my review for Michael Zadoorian’s Beautiful Music. I hope these notes and opinions didn’t influence my opinions too much in my personal review. For the most part, the group liked the book even though it fell short to me.

Zadoorian is local to Detroit and grew up in the city. He now lives in Ferndale, a suburb north of the city. A few people in our group had heard him speak live and wish he had read the audiobook because the readings he did at his event were great. We liked all of the local references and his love for the city felt very authentic. The book is slightly autobiographical, including Zadoorian’s love for music and a character who is the same age he would have been at the time.

The book was listed as one of Oprah’s Summer Reads for 2018. Zadoorian’s first book, The Leisure Seeker, was turned into a movie starring Donald Sutherland. Zadoorian has another book coming out next year,

The radio station became a big part of Danny’s life quickly. Despite him being dismissed from reading the announcements, we hoped it would continue to be a big part of his life going forward. He realized it was immature of him not to take the opportunity to be a part of the station in another way. The realization started him down the path of exploring other music and growing his interests. We thought it would be easy for him to go back to it and become involved again, the teachers seemed like they’d still welcome him.

Race relations rightfully played a big part in Danny’s story. One of our members was about Danny’s age and lived in Indianapolis and remembered suburbs that were much more integrated than the one described by Danny. Members who lived in Detroit at the time say the description was pretty accurate. We’ve heard that Detroit was one of the most segregated cities at the time.

It was very clear to us that Danny suffered from some degree of anxiety. It was harder to detect at first when he was bothered by anxieties of starting high school, something that makes a lot of students nervous. When his father passed away, it was kicked into a higher level. The ‘fade’ that he talks about happens when his anxiety is creeping up. He doesn’t like quiet and needs the sound of music or the radio to keep him calmer. His mom has the same coping mechanism, though hers is TV.

The struggles Danny’s mother has with mental illness wouldn’t have been recognized at the time she was suffering from them. We liked how Zadoorian did the same thing with her, making her problems more obvious over time but more conspicuous at the beginning. When she told Danny she didn’t want children, we all felt this was incredibly narcissistic and probably a result of her mental illness. Danny’s mother as a stark contrast to Mrs. Tedesco, a much more stereotypical woman of the time. It was good to see another mother figure in this story.

The emotional attachment Danny had to the living room and its furniture we contributed to it being part of his ‘dad’s stuff’ and also leaving the room as it was when his family was together. Cleaning up the dining room would recognize that something had changed and was permanently altered, something Danny wasn’t ready for.

I didn’t have time to bring up my issues with the end so I’m not sure if I’m alone in my feelings or not. Oh well. It was good to talk about this book with some people who connected with it differently than I did. I always appreciate my book club’s perspective.

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!

Off Topic Thursday: 2019 Triathlon Season Recap

26 Sep

Yes, I’ve used most of my Off Topic Thursdays to talk about triathlon and this one is no exception. The 2019 season is now over in my climate zone and I had a stand-out season and I wanted to take a minute to reflect on it because I’m not sure if I’ll see another one like it.

My friend Andrew and I at the Triceratops Triathlon

I started training early this season, in February. I had the Half Ironman in July and knew I needed to start training early to be ready for it with all of the travel we were looking at through the summer. It paid off well! I had my first race of the season in June, a sprint triathlon (0.5 mi swim, 20k bike, 5k run). This tri was part of a series of three held throughout the summer. I’ve done the full series twice and the past two years I’ve done just the June event. I had a friend from swimming who had the goal of completing a triathlon do this one with me so it was doubly special for me.

My goal for the race was to go under 1:30. My best time on the course was a minute off and I felt like I could do it. The swim felt good, as did the bike, and I flew through the run. I ended up going a 1:23.18, my best on the course by more than seven minutes! It was wonderful and extra memorable for my friend Andrew joining me and my husband and mom being there. I took second in my age group and got a cool mug.

My next race was the Half Ironman. I’ve talked about that enough. You can read more here. In summary, it was amazing and I’m still blown away that it went so well!

My last race was earlier this month, an Olympic Triathlon (1 mi swim, 40k bike, 10k run). This is a race I’ve done twice before successfully and last year I didn’t finish it. The swim was canceled last year due to a strong current and my knees were not excited about a duathlon (run, bike, run). I ended up getting two flat tires on the bike course and had to get a ride in a truck back to transition and my family. So my goal for this year was to finish. My secondary goal was to go under 3 hours. I was at 3:12 two years before and I was feeling good and thought I could do it.

The race was a time trial start, which means one athlete starts every three minutes. They ask you to line up by expected swim finish time. I got fourth in line, the man in front of me saying he thought he was going to do a 25-minute swim. I passed one person by 50 meters into the swim and by the halfway point, I passed another and I was in second. I never ended up catching the guy in first but the announcer was shocked to see a woman get out of the water five seconds behind the leader! My family laughed at how poorly he contained his surprise.

I’m not a strong cyclist and the whole time I was riding, I kept waiting for a woman to pass me. None did! I was passed by several men, but no women. I got to the turn around point and realized they were a ways behind me and I had a chance of getting to the transition area still leading the race! I’m an okay runner so I had the same thoughts on the run course, thinking one of them would finally catch me. At the turnaround, I realized I might do it, I might win! That spurred me forward and I ended up crossing the finish line in 2:48.11, dropping 24 minutes and being the first woman across the finish line! Because we didn’t all start at the same time, there were a tense few minutes while I waited to see if I’d finished far enough in front of the second woman to win and I ended up beating her by only 40 seconds. She was a great runner.

Me as the Overall Womans’ Olympic Winner at Sunrise Side Tri

I’d never been on an overall winners podium before, let alone on top of it! It was such a cool feeling and I felt so great. My family was a little shocked, I’d never been dominant in a race like that before and they weren’t completely sure what was happening! It was a great way to end my tri season. I’m not sure yet, but it may have qualified me for Nationals in 2020. I’ll have to do some serious training if I make it but I think that would be a really fun opportunity.

I’m not sure I’ll ever train as hard as I did this season. It was a great feeling to do well and see my hard work pay off. I had a lot of personal bests this year and I’m trying to figure out where to set my sights next.

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, 25-September-2019

25 Sep

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 think I need about another week with The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory. The longer commute is nice to get through these long books faster and sit through traffic. Though I think the construction on my drive is almost done so this shouldn’t be an issue much longer.
One more week of half marathon training to go but I don’t think it will be enough to finish A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. I’ll wrap this up soon, I hope. I have another book club selection to get through soon.
When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan has been a good lunch read for me. I’m really going to try to stick to shorter books so I can remember the beginning better when I finish them!
I’ve started on The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli and I’m enjoying it so far. She’s using a lot of stories and anecdotes to tell the story which makes it a lot more enjoyable! I don’t think I’ll fly through this one, but I’ll enjoy the ride.

Recently finishedI wrapped up Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I’m looking forward to my book club discussion on this one, I think a lot of people will have a lot to say. My review for this one won’t be up for a while because I have so much planned out on the blog. I’m running about two weeks ahead!

I’ve had two book reviews go up already this week. The first was The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie. This was a super cute short book and I enjoyed it though I’m not sure I would have guessed it would get the response it has. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min. This one really wasn’t for me and I’m glad I’ve read it but I think a paragraph in a history book could have summarized it better for me. I gave the book Two out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: My next book club pick is We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix. It’s our Halloween pick but our leader thinks it will also be a funny read so I’m excited to see how that combination works.


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: Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min (2/5)

24 Sep

This is one of the last book calendar recommendations I have left to go through. I decided to read it as an ebook even though I own it because I thought it would help me get through the book faster. It took me six months to read this book. I’m not happy with that at all, but at least I got through it. The time it took might have to do with how I felt about it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

Summary from Goodreads:

This is an evocation of the woman who married Chairman Mao and fought to succeed him. The unwanted daughter of a concubine, she refused to have her feet bound, ran away to join an opera troupe and eventually met Mao Zedong in the mountains of Yenan.

The storytelling in this book wasn’t my favorite. It bounced back and forth between first-person and third-person and the formatting in the ebook didn’t make it obvious when the change was taking place. It’s a little more formatted in the book, but still not very easy to understand. I didn’t like the switch back and forth and it would take me out of the story a lot. It was interesting to hear how Jiang Ching maneuvered herself to be where she was and how many lies she told about herself. I did like the details of how art played into Mao’s reign which is a side I hadn’t heard detailed as much before. I also hadn’t known the first lady was involved with it as Jiang Ching was.

Min pained very realistic images of Mao and Jiang Ching. Mao was a good leader but his paranoia and focus outside of leadership lead him astray. Jiang Ching tried very hard to use her talents and passions to guide the country which I felt was something someone in her position could do and do well. They were strong and weak people at the same time. Their rise from a cave to the highest position in the country was long and hard and they fought well for it. It made the reward sweeter and harder to adapt to. Part of me wished they were still in a cave at the end because they were so much happier there.

I didn’t like any of the characters. Jiang Ching, Mao, and Nah were the only three who appeared often enough and for long enough that I kept track of them. Nah was ungrateful and flippant. Jiang Ching and Mao were both too flawed and single-mindedly obsessed with power for me to like them. Maybe I could have respected them, but not liked them. All of the other people seemed to appear just as they were about to fail so I never got too attached to any of them.

I feel like Jiang Ching’s nervousness and paranoia could be described today as a little like imposter syndrome. She always felt like someone was going to come to her and say her time was over, she wasn’t supposed to be there and she needed to go back to the cave she came from. I’ve felt that at times, as I’m sure a lot of other people have. Maybe with friends who are more successful than you or at a job where you’re getting paid a lot. I know I’ve felt that way before and that was a part of Jiang Ching’s story I could relate to.

Anchee Min
Image via the author’s website

I found the story of Jiang Ching’s early romantic life to be the most interesting, but I didn’t like it a lot. The politics at the end dragged for me and I didn’t enjoy them, but the marriages and running away and acting of her early life was really interesting. It was crazy to me that someone with that much uncertainty and change in her life could settle into life as the first lady of China.

All of the conspiracy theories at the end were boring and repetitive to me. They all seemed the same and they all ended the same way. I lost interest and it made the end of the book drag for me and probably contributed to my long read time and why I disliked it.

China’s political system under Mao wasn’t sustainable and the book highlights the deep cracks that existed under his regime. I thought it was an interesting angle to take on the story, highlighting Mao’s wife, but her strong role in the country makes her a great choice to share this story. I don’t know much about that period of history in China and Jiang Ching’s perspective was a good one to take to see multiple sides of it.

Writer’s Takeaway: The perspective switches in this book really hurt my enjoyment of it. I wondered if the parts in first-person were from a diary at first, but I don’t think that was the case. I wish Min had picked one perspective and stuck with it, I may have enjoyed the story more. That is one of the main reasons I’m giving the book such a low rating

Overall, a bit cumbersome and too long-winded at the end. Two 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:
Beyond the White Boned Deamon | Steep Stairs Review
Prepare for the Future by Studying the Past | HL Gibson, Author

Book Review: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie (3/5)

23 Sep

I added this to my TBR ages ago, when a girl at my writers’ group threw out a quick comment that she’d read it and liked it. I was still in my Goodreads phase where I added any book I heard of. That didn’t last long and is now much more under control. Nonetheless, this book remained on the list for six years and I’ve finally read it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie (aka R.A. Dick)

Summary from Goodreads:

Burdened by debt after her husband’s death, Lucy Muir insists on moving into the very cheap Gull Cottage in the quaint seaside village of Whitecliff, despite multiple warnings that the house is haunted. Upon discovering the rumors to be true, the young widow ends up forming a special companionship with the ghost of handsome former sea captain Daniel Gregg. Through the struggles of supporting her children, seeking out romance from the wrong places, and working to publish the captain’s story as a book, Blood and Swash, Lucy finds in her secret relationship with Captain Gregg a comfort and blossoming love she never could have predicted.

The summary seems odd to me because I never would have classified the relationship between Lucy and Captain Gregg as romantic. If anything, it was a love more similar to a father and daughter than lovers. I thought the feelings between them were really well developed, though of course any time you’re dealing with a ghost or the supernatural, things are bound to see a bit odd. I thought Leslie set up the premise of their relationship well and it was clear from the beginning why they agreed to enter into the relationship that they did. I liked how the children and Eva were never let in on the secret but how they almost interfered several times. I liked the restrictions Lucy put on Captain Gregg and the times he broke their agreement. Overall, it was a cute ghost story and I enjoyed it.

The one thing I didn’t like was the lack of character development in Lucy. While Cyril and Anna developed into adults and were shaped by their world, I didn’t feel that Lucy did anything of the sort. She seemed oddly stubborn with Captain Gregg at first and that never changed. She was very insistent at times but very malleable at others. Her character was just a bit too contrived for me and never felt true, more idealistic.

I liked Anna. She was a fun child and Lucy never encouraged her to be like her brother and be studious. She encouraged her to do what made her happy even when it was at odds with what Cyril was doing with his life. I thought it was fitting that Cyril would never rise too high and Anna would be married to a politician. It was a reversal of fortunes but they were both the happier for it.

Nothing in this book was very relatable for me. There was a lot of supernatural plot elements that I couldn’t relate to and the time period made it a little further removed from my experiences. I think most women can think of a time a man might have charmed them who shouldn’t have, but her brief tryst with Miles wasn’t very critical to the plot and didn’t make me feel much sympathy for her.

I thought the adventure of publishing the captain’s book was fun. I know publishing is different today, but her path seemed so easy it was almost frustrating! I laughed at her hearing feedback from her family without them knowing she’d published it and I thought it was funny how the publisher would never believe that she’d written the book. The whole thing was really funny and I liked how it played into her story with Captain Gregg.

The strained relationship with Eva seemed a bit unnecessary to me. Eva only came in to annoy Lucy and she never gave in to her demands after she moved into Gull Cottage. Eva was good for a few quick laughs, but she could have been left out. It feels odd to say something could have been left out of this short book!

Lucy learned that she was enough. She could raise children by herself and she could make money by herself. Yes, it took the help of a ghost, but she learned to trust herself until she didn’t need his help and guidance as much later in life. There weren’t a lot of independent women at the time this book was written so I’m sure Lucy was a welcome anomaly. I wonder if that’s why Leslie published under a pseudonym. I almost didn’t find the book because of that.

Writer’s Takeaway: For such a short book, it does seem to have had a lot of success. Both a movie and a TV show are a lot to get out of the slim volume. Keeping it short isn’t bad. And supernatural elements are never bad. I really wonder what made this book so successful because it doesn’t seem to have a lot of substance. I liked it, though, so it has a sort of charm that’s kind of hard to describe.

Overall fun but not too much to it. 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 Post:
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – R.A. Dick (Josephine Leslie) | Christina Wehner

Happy 6th Birthday to Taking on a World of Words!

19 Sep

This is actually a bit delayed because I’ve been reading so much and had so many book posts lined up, but I’ve hit six years of blogging! This has almost outlasted my longest tenure at a job. It’s just younger than my marriage. This blog has been a consistent part of my life for years and I love it so much.

One of my rituals on my blogoversary is to think what my blog would be able to do if it were a child. My mother might prefer it another way, but this is what I’ve got.

  • Realize the effects of decisions
  • Recognize the feelings of others
  • LEARNING TO READ!
  • Learning to share
  • Start to understand puns
  • Focus for fifteen minutes

It’s off to first grade for my little blog! I hope she makes good friends.

Yet again, here are some numbers to show my blog’s growth over the past year. Numbers are taken from 14-Sep, nine days after my blogoversary. It came on so fast I didn’t have time to celebrate right away.

It’s crazy to me how much my most popular pages are affected by movies and tv shows. I’m honored that my feelings on Bird Box became more read after the Netflix movie, but I hope those people read the books! I think WWW Wednesday is having a stronger pull over my blog and I’m really excited by that. The idea that the community has taken over and is making itself heard and connecting with each other makes me really happy. I still think I’m being plagiarized for high school essays…

Thank you all so much for reading along with my reading adventures. I love sharing a love of books with you all. You make finishing a book even more exciting!

Until next time, write on.

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

WWW Wednesday, 18-September-2019

18 Sep

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 got through so much last week that I’m not surprised there’s little movement this week. I’m making great progress with The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory due to the longer commute. I don’t mind it at all, really. It’s just under a half-hour and without too much traffic. Perfect for listening!
I’m still listening to A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab while I run in preparation for a half marathon at the end of the month. I’m liking it a lot and it’s very high energy! Great mood for running.
I’m trying to wrap up Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance quickly due to a library hold. I’m liking it, but parts seem to drag a little more than others. I think this will be a good discussion book for our group.
I’m glad I picked When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan for my ebook. It’s moving quickly and the shorter chapters are good for the start-and-stop nature of how I read ebooks.

Recently finished: Nothing finished this week but I’m not at all surprised after the landfall of books listed last week! It has to fall short after such a great week.

I did get two book reviews written! The first is for Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going. I liked this book, but it wasn’t the best one I’d read on craft this year. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian. This was a book club pick so I’ll be posting about our discussion soon but it’s safe to say I liked this one but was disappointed in the ending. I also gave it Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: My hold on The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli came in at the library and I’m hoping I can finish Vance quickly so I can dive in to it before the reading period ends! I might be rushing a bit.


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: Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian (3/5)

17 Sep

I was excited to read a book set in Detroit. It seems every Detroit-based book takes place in the 60s or 70s when the city was going through a lot of change. I wonder when it will be considered a good setting again? I did appreciate all of the location references, though. It was very grounding.

Cover image via Goodreads

Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

Summary from Goodreads:

Set in early 1970s Detroit, a racially divided city still reeling from its violent riot of 1967, Beautiful Music is the story of one young man’s transformation through music. Danny Yzemski is a husky, pop radio–loving loner balancing a dysfunctional home life with the sudden harsh realities of freshman year at a high school marked by racial turbulence.

But after tragedy strikes the family, Danny’s mother becomes increasingly erratic and angry about the seismic cultural shifts unfolding in her city and the world. As she tries to hold it together with the help of Librium, highballs, and breakfast cereal, Danny finds his own reason to carry on: rock ‘n’ roll. In particular, the drum and guitar–heavy songs of local legends like the MC5 and Iggy Pop.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t love it either. I think it’s mostly due to being too young to appreciate the cultural references Zadoorian made. I don’t know classic rock well so it didn’t spike my nostalgia like it might for some. I’m also not a big music fan in general so that passion Danny had for music isn’t something I shared. I was more familiar with music in high school so I tried to channel that, but it was on no level like Danny. I think I just wasn’t the right audience for this book, despite being based in Detroit. I’ve read a lot of books focused on the racial tensions of the late 60s and 70s. This one didn’t teach me anything new.

Zadoorian built great characters in Danny and his mother. We learn about his mom’s mental health issues slowly through the book. It’s very clear she needs help but exactly what she’s suffering from becomes more and more obvious. While Danny’s dad is around, he’s shielded from it. But once he’s alone with her, there’s no sugar-coating the situation. Danny’s anxiety is a little less obvious though I suspect there was a hint of depression in there as well, the feeling he described as ‘the fade.’ I felt both of their emotions were really well-drawn and relatable.

Danny was a great main character. I rooted for him because in some ways he reminded me of myself as a kid. I liked that he was a little bit of an outsider and that he was really passionate. His love of music was very well drawn and I liked how resourceful he was. You wanted him to succeed and have clothes that weren’t stained pink and you wanted him to go to the concert because he’d worked so hard and he deserved to have a night of fun! I think there was something in his high school experience that everyone could relate to.

By the time I got to high school, I liked gym but I had the same dread of it in middle school that Danny displays. His dread of certain activities was very relatable for me. I dread certain things at work or around the house but I’ll push myself to do them just to get the experience and get past the fear. I understood what he meant by ‘the fade’ because I had a similar feeling in high school, I called it fog and it would settle in some times for a few days.

Michael Zadoorian
Image via Amazon

Danny’s friendship with John was my favorite part of the plot. I thought it was really well developed and John helped push Danny in ways he needed to be pushed. Without his father there to egg him forward, John kept him moving forward when he might otherwise have stopped. They needed each other and found each other at a good time.

I did not like the ending of this book. It didn’t feel like a lot of the plot lines were given a conclusive ending. I wanted a little bit more out of Danny and his mom’s relationship, Danny’s job, his friendship with John, and his job at the radio station. It all seemed to just stop abruptly. The letter at the end seemed a poor excuse for an ending and I just felt like Zadoorian stopped writing without finishing what he needed to.

The audiobook was narrated by Alexander Thompson. I liked his narration and I was glad that he pronounced Detroit locations correctly! (Pet peeve) His narration didn’t stand out to me as wonderful, but it didn’t distract me from the story at all which was very important to me. The voices he used for women weren’t demeaning in any way and none of the inflections he chose got on my nerves.

This book dealt with a lot of heavy issues. I think mental illness is the one that stuck with me the most. Danny and his mother are dealing with different types and degrees of mental illness but they can’t talk about it because they don’t have the words to deal with it. Danny’s mom needs a lot of help. She wants to be a good mother and I honestly believe she tried as hard as she could for as long as she could. There seem to be days when she’s great and a good parent. But it’s also clear that she struggles to be happy and that her husband has had to cover for her for years. Once her support system is gone, she has no one to lean on and falls over. Danny has to learn to prop her up and she has to learn to help herself stand up.

Writer’s Takeaway: Zadoorian was clearly writing about some passions he shared with his main character. The love of music and his passion for Detroit were really plain. It’s great when a passion clearly comes across in a book. As someone from Detroit, nothing about it felt false to me. I’m not sure if a reader from another area would appreciate the detail, but it rang true for me.

An enjoyable book, but without much closure that would have made it more enjoyable. 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!

Book Review: Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going (3/5)

16 Sep

I believe I got this when an old friend was cleaning off her bookshelves. It was one that I’d found on Goodreads and had shelved but thought I’d have to borrow from the library. It’s nice to own a book on craft, seeing as I don’t have many. I just wish it was one I believed in a little bit more.

Cover image via Goodreads

Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going

Summary from the back flap:

Writing & Selling the YA Novel offers a complete lesson plan for writing and publishing fiction for teens. Structured like a day of high school, awared-winning  young adult novel K.L. Going takes you through every stage of YA writing.

Learn how the YA genre has developed in History class. Toss around ideas during Gym. Create authentic teen characters in English class. Craft convincing plots during Lunch. Addit all up in Math as you learn about agents and contracts. Along the way you’ll find plenty of “homework” exercises to help you hone your skills- as well as input from actual teen readers.

At the end of your school day, you’ll have all the knowledge a  young adult author needs to write a book that speaks to teen readers- and get it published.

Going does have a lot of good advice in this book. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it if I hadn’t recently read Writing Fiction for Dummies because that book took the time to break down methods and strategies a lot better than Going did. She seemed to go over a lot of the writing process at a very high level, likely not wanting to give too much structure to a process every writer explores differently. I did enjoy the history of YA section toward the beginning and her exploration of how YA marketing and content is different at the end. I would recommend those sections to anyone who wants some specific YA knowledge and already knows a lot about writing. The rest of the book is still helpful, but other sources are better for the art of writing.

I thought Going struck a good balance between talking about her strategies and talking in general. She speaks about how she had to use swearing in one of her novels but how it makes sense for other authors to leave that element out. She speaks about creating her own characters and how other authors have done similar things. She spoke so much about Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War that I added it to my TBR.

Going did give a fair picture of the struggles of editing and as I’m going through that right now, I related to the struggle. It’s a long and tedious process. I didn’t feel she gave a lot of solid advice on how to approach that, but her portrayal of the long process was relatable.

K.L. Going
Image via the author’s website

I liked the chapter where she talked about what is and isn’t included in YA fiction and why. She focused on being realistic instead of surprising and including what is really there. In my novel, it’s 1920s Chicago. There will be smoking, drinking, and swearing. I felt weird about including some of that at first, but I realize not having it would be even more at odds with my setting so I need to embrace it.

I’ve already detailed that I felt the editing section could have used some more detail. She talked about professional editors which was new to me but didn’t go into a lot of detail on how to self-edit. Granted, there are full books on this and what Going could have covered in one chapter would have been a very brief overview, but it would have been something.

Going’s overall message was that teen fiction isn’t too different from adult fiction except for the age of the characters. Teens can handle the same topics and complexity as adult novels so there’s no reason to hold back on the content and themes. Granted, some topics might lend themselves better to adult characters and then might not make good teen novels, but I’m generalizing here.

Writer’s Takeaway: Going made two good points: write for an intelligent teen audience and don’t preach. Some writers want to write for teens because they think they have something to teach teenagers. No one wants to read a sermon so while books have a message, it’s probably best not to write with one in mind.

Overall, a helpful read, but not as much detail as I was hoping for. 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!

Book Club Reflection: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

12 Sep

I don’t normally cut it close between finishing a book and the book club meeting, but I was really close on this one, finishing the book the morning of the meeting! It was great because the story was fresh in my head. Not sure if I’d do it again, though.

Many of our readers hadn’t read Jones before though I think some will go back to her backlist now. Jones holds a degree from Spellman, which was featured prominently in the book. She’s won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with An American Marriage. This book was also picked for Oprah’s Book Club and President Obama shared it on Facebook as one of his favorite summer reads in 2018. The book is currently being adapted to film but no word yet on the casting.

There was a lot to talk about with this book, a lot of ‘what ifs.’ We did find it strange that Celestial and Andre seemed to think Roy was never going to get out even though Uncle Banks was working on a defense. Did they have no confidence in him? We wondered if the story would have been significantly different had Celestial been the one in jail. Would Roy have been faithful to her? We suspect he may have been emotionally faithful, but he didn’t seem to put much stock in physical faithfulness. He’s mentioned buying lingerie for other women and is very quick to jump to Divina.

We wondered about the woman who accused him of rape. She’s not well described except that she reminds Roy of his mother. Many of us initially thought she was white but looking back at it wondered if she was black. I read that Jones deliberately kept this vague because it shouldn’t matter, but it does make you wonder. Would Roy have opened up as much to a white woman? Would she have reminded him of his mother?

Andre made a point of not apologizing to Roy at the end. We felt that he should have. A lot of other characters called him out for what he was doing to a man who he had at one time considered his best friend. Mr. Davenport and Big Roy were two that come to mind. He was being a bad friend and Big Roy told him he was going to get beaten up and to just take it. I felt he should have said he was sorry.

Celestial is not blameless in the story. She wasn’t a very strong character, often seeming to go with the path of least resistance. She’s talked about as being a strong woman and having learned to be independent at Spellman, but we disagreed. Maybe Andre took advantage of her emotional state at Olive’s funeral, but she wasn’t easily played.

The big question in the novel is if Roy and Celestial could have made it work. We don’t think so. They might have peacefully co-existed, but their relationship was too damaged to have recovered to what it had once been.

We wondered about Celestial and abortion. Did she want to have the abortion, or did she want the baby? We wondered how much she did it because she wanted to or because Roy wanted her to. And if she didn’t want to have it how much did that increase her anger at Roy? It seemed she didn’t want to have the abortion at first, but she also seemed relieved not to have a child with a father in jail.

Another reader pointed out something I missed. Ol’ Hickory was a great representation of a promise. Marital promises break down in the book and Ol’ Hickory is damaged, but both pull through, though not in the way you think they will. I bet that’s why the tree is featured on the paperback cover image.

We talked a lot about the title and what it could mean. One reader thought it referred to the state of marriage in American and how marriages are short and entered into under questionable circumstances. There are a few examples of infidelity as well (Roy, the Davenports). But there were also examples of a long-term marriage in the book, most notably Big Roy and Olive. I felt that it referred to the black experience in America and how mass incarceration of black men makes this story a uniquely American experience. Our group leader pointed out how there are a lot of examples of justice in the book and the ways that people experience social, racial, and personal justice. Many things seem unfair to Andre, Celestial, and Roy and they must find a way to seek their own justice within the American system.

This was a great book for discussion and I’m glad we read it. My mom’s book club is reading it soon, so I’ll have another discussion with her about it shortly.

Until next time, write on.

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