Archive | January, 2020

Interview with Author Annette Valentine

23 Jan

I recently did a review for Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine. This was my first review request in a while and one of the conditions I had for doing the review was that I could ask Valentine questions when I finished. I adore being able to interact with an author after I read their book and ask some questions to get more from the book. It makes for more of a dialogue.

Major thanks to Annette for answering my questions and sharing her thoughts and motivations!

1. The book summary says that Simon’s story was inspired by your father. Can you share how much of this story came from his experiences? Are there certain things, in particular, you can point to?

My father was the oldest child of a twenty-one year-old rural Kentucky farmer and his fifteen-year-old wife. His mother died at 36 years old, having had 8 children. His mother’s death was a significant  turning point for my father who left home at the age of 18 in 1920 and went to Detroit. So his leaving home at a young age to go to a big city was a catalyst in my writing about him.

He was a policeman in Detroit and involved in escapes with the Mafia. Often times, I heard stories of his adventures. I tried to depict them with the bits and pieces I’d listened to from my youth.

He developed TB and was forced to go to Albuquerque to a sanatorium. He did become an actor and was enrolled in the University of NM in hopes of becoming a doctor. The Great Depression changed his plans.

These facts about him gave me a heart for his sufferings, his ambitions, and his determination. He did have a brother who is very truly characterized as a pitiful soul who lost his way and came to an unfortunate end as a result. His brother’s demise was always something that seemed to haunt my father. His compassion for others, I believe, came out of his grieving for his brother.

My father returned to Elkton after his circuitous 10-year journey and there met my mother. My father is accurately portrayed as a serious, good-looking, good-humored son-of-gun. In real life, he was strong and influential in the lives of many people —both his family and in his community.

2. As a life-long Detroiter, I loved seeing my city in this book. What about 1920s Detroit spoke most to you?

Detroit spoke to me as a beckoning city at the height of opportunity and the 1920s era enticement. My father was a dreamer and a visionary. Detroit seemed to present the perfect adventure to fit his young-man ambitions.

3. What happens to Celest and the baby is absolutely heartbreaking. How long did you have their fate in mind? Why did you pick this incident to draw your title from?

Ah! Celeste was there in the back of my mind all along as the innocent and feisty “untouchable” girl that Simon was afraid to love. She was doomed to be the very hope beyond hope—after all the tribulations that Simon encountered—as the bright spot that would allow him to dare to love again (after God had supposedly let his first love—his mother— be so ruthless taken.)

It was in her death that Simon had to come to terms with the fact that he was not in control of anything. With that realization, he turned toward home, and in turning he was set on an Eastbound course back to his roots and his faith.

4. There were a lot of loose ends when the book ended. Which ones can we most look forward to in the sequel?

His relationship with Gracie Maxwell and the strong patriarchal influence that passes down from one generation to the next forms its goodness or its destruction.

5. What advice would you give to others who are trying to write?

Write from your heart. Temporarily, at least, forget the rules and put down on the page (for no less than an hour a day, every day) the thoughts that bring you to life.

 

Thanks again, Annette! I appreciate your expanded insight.

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, 22-January-2020

22 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: Not much with Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley. This will be here for a while and I’m OK with that, I’ve just got to keep moving forward with it.
I wrapped up the next segment of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett for my Buddy Read. It’s really hard not to put through to the end but I’m determined to make it!
I finally started Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner as an audiobook. I had a long drive for a swim meet this weekend and was glad to have a long book to keep me company for the two-hour drive (each way!).
I also started The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison. I’m still early on but I think that it will be a quick read so far. I hope so because I’ve got a lot of other books I want to read!

Recently finished: It feels like forever, but I’ve finally finished Colombiano by Rusty Young. This one was exhausting. Young wanted to give his readers an idea of the lives of child soldiers in Colombia and I’d say he did that and then some. Pedro’s story is tragic and engrossing at the same time. It was quite a haul to get through it, but this book was worth it. Four out of Five Stars.

I posted two reviews this week! I think I’m finally caught up from November when I didn’t review anything. I hated being that far behind. I posted a review of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee on Monday. I absolutely loved this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough to everyone. A full Five out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed American by Day by Derek B. Miller. This was really powerful in the wake of recent American racial violence and I’m glad Miller offered a foreigner’s perspective because I felt it was powerful. Four out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: The Running Man by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) came in at the library so I hope to start that as soon as I finish Frank Derrick. It will be quite a different pace but I look forward to it.


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: American by Day by Derek B. Miller (4/5)

21 Jan

I wanted to read a book off my list and after running through the stacks for ten minutes, I finally picked up this book. I’d read the first in the series with my book club a few years ago and while I knew there was a sequel, I hadn’t made it a priority though I’m glad I’ve finally gotten to it.

Cover image via Goodreads

American by Day (Sigrid Ødegård #2) by Derek B. Miller

Other books by Miller reviewed on this blog:

Norwegian by Night (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

SHE KNEW IT WAS A WEIRD PLACE. She’d heard the stories, seen the movies, read the books. But now police Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård has to leave her native Norway and actually go there; to that land across the Atlantic where her missing brother is implicated in the mysterious death of a prominent African-American academic. AMERICA.

Sigrid is plunged into a United States where race and identity, politics and promise, reverberate in every aspect of daily life. Working with—or, if necessary, against—the police, she must negotiate the local political minefields and navigate the backwoods of the Adirondacks to uncover the truth before events escalate further.

I love not reading summaries so that books have a better chance of surprising me as this one did. I figured it would take place in the States but that’s all I had to go on. Marcus was a surprise. Irv was a surprise. The racial tensions were a huge surprise. I wasn’t expecting it but it made a lot of sense. For Sigrid, Norwegian by Night had a lot of xenophobic consequences. Did she shoot someone because he was different from her where she might have made allowances or excuses for someone more like herself? This book took that theme and ran with it into a beautiful story that I really loved.

The characters and their emotions drove the story wonderfully. Sigrid’s confusion and determination amazed me throughout the book and I loved reading from her point of view. Marcus’s sadness permeated his entire character and I thought his ending was wonderful and I can’t imagine it wrapping up any other way. Irv blew me away and I went from hating him to loving him throughout the book. Miller’s ability to create characters with a full range of emotions was really enjoyable.

Sigrid was an amazing character and easy to love. She was smart and determined. It was clear she had some internal struggles with where she was in her life but she was also very proud of her career and what she’d been able to accomplish in her life. I liked that she didn’t flash her knowledge around even though she was the smartest person in the room a lot of the time.

Melinda was easy to relate to. Having grown up in the US, she’s almost immune to the racial violence in our country and she’s not involved in politics and hasn’t been on the force long enough for her to think about it. I feel a lot of Americans are in the same boat and are almost blind to the violence in our country until it hits them over the head.

Derek B. Miller
Image via Facebook

Sigrid and Melinda’s time together was my favorite part of the book. Sigrid had so much to teach Melinda and Melinda was such a willing pupil that it felt like a great mentorship was taking place. I loved Sigirid’s patience and how she was able to show Melinda that she could be successful and lead in a position she never considered before. Female mentorships like that are so powerful.

The jumps to Sigrid’s father seemed unnecessary to me. He didn’t add anything to the book unless Sigrid was with him. Seeing him around his house, looking at old mementos seemed like a filler until we were back to Sigrid and Irv.

The book talked a lot about institutionalized racism and Sigrid created a great sounding board for talking about the issue in America. She had similar misgivings about what she’d done in Norway but when she saw the way the issue was addressed in the US, she realized her issues were small in comparison. I’m not saying they’re insignificant but smaller. With an outsider’s view, she was able to express stark opinions about the state of police violence against minority communities. This book addressed the issue as it affected a small town; it would be amplified in a large city but the small setting let Miller dig into the issue more. I liked how he was able to address this.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book is funny without telling you it’s funny. Sigrid’s comments are hilarious but they’re never emphasized so if you’re looking for a crime novel, this isn’t bogged down with humor. But if you’re like me and looking for a book that’s a great mix of crime, literary character development, and humor, you can bust a gut with it and really enjoy it. Humor is great in almost any genre and I think this showed that well.

A really enjoyable read from an author I hope to read more from. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 2000-Present time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Post:
Derek B. Miller- American by Day | Raven Crime Reads

Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (5/5)

20 Jan

I wish I’d read this book before I heard Lee speak at the Midwest Literary Walk. Now that I’ve finished it, I want to ask her so many questions. And I think I would have understood her talk about the book better. I’ll have to try harder to read the books in advance for 2020.

Cover image via Goodreads

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Summary from Goodreads:

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

I didn’t expect a 600-page book to read so quickly. I adored every page of this book and the amazing story of Sunja. I loved jumping from generation to generation, person to person, and story to story as we saw how the Koreans in Japan were treated and how they were able to overcome their circumstances as best as possible to make a life. It’s incredible to think about how they made it through with the deck stacked against them. The drama was just enough to keep me going when the page count was keeping me down.

The characters were amazing. I was always impressed when the new characters were so different from the ones whose stories faded. I loved hearing about Soloman as much as I liked hearing about Kyunghee. The lives these people lived were incredibly deep and their personalities were well illustrated. I believed they were all real.

Noa was my favorite character. His life was so complex and he had a lot to think about and gave the reader a lot to ponder. He is so smart and I think that drove him to overthink everything that happened to him and around him. Like a true literature major, he had to analyze things and search for meaning in his life so he could figure out a purpose. When he tried to run away, it broke my heart. I adored him so much. It was great that we saw him grow up through the novel as well. We really see his whole life through.

I related to the women in this book. It often feels like a woman has to bear her sadness with a stoic face and I think that’s a truth universally and for much of history. Women have to make due very often and sometimes under incredible circumstances. I’ve seen that in my life and I saw it in this book.

Me and Min Jin Lee

Sunja and Kyunghee’s industrious business work was my favorite part of the book. They were forced to work so hard to care for their families and they were so resilient to anything that threatened to keep them down. They were so brave and admirable and I loved reading about how determined they were to make good lives for Noa and Muzasu.

The plotline with Yoseb was hard for me to read. He changed so much after his accident that I almost didn’t believe it. Seeing him so angry and Kyunghee kowtowed was hard. When he would come up, I kept hoping the narrating character would get away from him as fast as possible.

Familial love and devotion are huge themes in this book. Sunja goes to amazing lengths to protect Noa from the truth and raise him as a Korean son. She’s thwarted many times along the way but tries her hardest to do what is right. Mozasu’s love for Soloman is a good parallel. He gives his son everything possible in his childhood but can’t protect him for everything which comes back to bite him.

Writer’s Takeaway: Lee does a great job of keeping a story burning. Her big revelations and plot points are far enough apart to keep you on the edge of your seat without being overwhelmed and balancing a slow plot with deep emotional connection. And nothing was predictable; bad things kept happening to characters I loved. That made it feel very real.

An amazing book and I’d recommend it to anyone. Five out of Five Stars.

This book counts for the 1940-1959 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Review of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee | The Book Stop
Review: Pachinko | The Literary Elephant
A deeply moving story of family and love: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee | Ayunda Bhuwana
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee | The Next Book on the Shelf

2020 Reading Goals

16 Jan

With the new year here, it’s time to start thinking about bookish goals for 2020. I’ve kept it simple over the past few years and that’s worked best for me. It allows me to have fun with my book clubs and pick a few books that I’m interested in and want to read at the same time. Simple is usually better, right?

Goal: Complete the 2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge

I’d be a terrible challenge host if I didn’t participate in my own challenge, wouldn’t I? I host this challenge annually and I love it. It’s a 12-book challenge to read one book in each of 12 time periods. You can read more about it here. I adore this challenge because it involves one of my favorite genres: historical fiction. It pushes me to find fiction from less popular time periods and exposes me to times I don’t know as much about.

Goal: Read 55 books.

The ever-present Goodreads goal. I like this one for its simplicity. It’s just a number, so read that many books. Easy enough. But when I get bogged down in long books or I’m five off with two weeks to go, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. You can check my progress here. It’s always a good time.

I don’t have a ton of personal goals this year. My biggest one is completing Triational Age Group National Championships in August, but I don’t have a specific time goal in mind. I’m just excited to go and participate and maybe see some big names that I look up to. That will be my focus race this year and I’m looking forward to it!

Do you have any reading or personal goals for 2020? If you’re looking for something to push yourself, consider giving my challenge  a try.

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, 15-January-2020

15 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: This was a slow week for Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley. I kept having people join me at lunch even though I eat really early. It’s not a bad sign, right? But maybe I need to find someone else to eat and read if I want to get through an ebook in a reasonable amount of time.
I’m onto the next segment of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. My buddy reader and I had a great discussion last week and I’m excited to go even further with these characters. The hard part is going to be stopping when I’m so close to the end!
I’ve reached the halfway mark in Colombiano by Rusty Young. This book is quite the epic and while I know a normal-length book would be over by now, I feel like this one is still ramping up. I’m not sure how this can end because there is so much that needs to be tied up before I feel I can leave Pedro and not be worried about him.

Recently finished: I sped through American by Day by Derek B. Miller. We had some bad weather here in the Midwest so I was happy to stay indoors with some tea and finish this. I had a few hard swims over the weekend that made me ready to fall asleep in my favorite nap chair while reading and this book was just perfect for that. I really enjoy Miller and what he can do with a story. I hope to read more from him soon.

I did finish a review of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. I enjoyed the story enough, but it didn’t really work for me as a novel. I ended up giving it Three out of Five Stars. I’ll have to try another Sepetys book because I adored the first one of hers that I read and I do love historical fiction.

Reading Next: I’ll keep planning on Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner as an audiobook. Eventually.
I haven’t received my copy of The Running Man by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) through ILL yet. I’m a bit nervous about it coming in now because I’m not sure I’ll have to get to it.
My book club met on Monday and our next book is The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison. I know absolutely nothing about this book and I’ve never heard of the author so who knows how this one will turn out. I think I’ll have to do this one in print, too.


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!

Top 5 Books of 2019

14 Jan

This is difficult every year but I love doing a Top 5 for the year. I realize this rarely aligns with books I gave a 5 Star rating to. More so, these are books that have stayed with me since I read them and which I want to recommend to random strangers because they’re that good. So, with full bias, here are my Top 5 Books of 2019.

#5: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

It should be no surprise that I have a memoir on this list. I adore memoirs and I adore Trevor Noah so this was bound to be a winning combination for me. I listened to the audio for this book and it was one of the best audio experiences I’ve had. Noah narrates it himself and he’s able to demonstrate his mastery of many languages by reading in each of them. His ability to blend into new cultures is part of what made him successful. I remember listening to this audiobook during a long run I did leading up to my Half Ironman. I was in North Carolina for my brother’s MBA graduation and it was the morning we flew out. I did a ten-mile run and enjoyed every step of it because of this delightful audiobook.

#4: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

My first Sepetys read and not my last! I was blown away by this book. The amazing narration helped for sure, but the book itself was well written with an amazing cast of characters and an intricate plot that kept me reading as much as possible until the very end. Josie was an amazing main character and the setting was so well drawn that I want to go back to New Orleans to explore it more. This book inspired me to read another Sepetys book and while I didn’t enjoy it as much, I’ll keep pushing on to find some more of her books that I enjoy as much as this one.

#3: Simon vs. The Homo Sapien’s Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I’d heard a lot of good things about this book so I was nervous that when I started it, it would fall flat of the high expectations I’d built up. I was thrilled when it lived up to the hype for me! I loved the voice Albertalli gave Simon, it felt very true to me and reminded me of high school. She captured the misfit feeling and the horribleness that is puberty wonderfully and gave us Simon’s amazing voice to tell us about it. I listened to this book on audio as well and the narration was great. I remember listening to it as I drove to and from swimming State Meet and sitting in the parking lot waiting for the last chapter to wrap up before I went to swim my events.

#2: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Another book that took me completely by surprise. I decided to listen to this one just to get a new time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge and finish out 2019. I fell in love with Monty and his internal turmoil and his star-crossed love and I was hooked. I can’t wait to continue on with this adorable series and see what happens next with Felicity. I listened to this one recently so this may be a case of recency bias. It made my new (longer) commute to work seem like a breeze.

And finally…

#1: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

A book club pick success! I loved the mystery of this book and the way it dealt with a tragedy. The characters were forced into situations they never thought they’d be in and there was a big struggle between love and money that I thought was wonderfully done. I loved figuring out who was responsible and liked the pacing of this one a lot. My husband and I listened to this on audio driving to and from Christmas last year. We didn’t finish it until early January. It’s stuck with me ever since.

A few trends this year I didn’t anticipate. I loved YA and I was able to get through some good YA. I don’t read as much YA as I probably should, seeing as I write in the genre. But when I have, I’ve really liked it. I’m not surprised to see a memoir here and I’m glad to see a book club pick, something I wouldn’t have enjoyed if it wasn’t for the club. I also noticed that I have a ton of audiobooks this year! In fact, they were all audiobooks. With my active lifestyle, audio is sometimes the only way I can get through the books I want to read so I’m not surprised it’s taken over my list in a major way this year.

I look forward to more amazing books in 2020! Have you read any of these? Any of them also make your top list for 2019?

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: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (3/5)

13 Jan

I think this was the first Sepetys book I added to my TBR. I ended up reading Out of the Easy first and I’m still trying to figure out if I would have liked this more or less if I’d read it first. They were very different and I think I’m going to say Sepetys has gotten better. This was a fine first novel, but I think she had more to develop.

Cover image via Goodreads

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Other books by Sepetys reviewed on this blog:

Out of the Easy

Summary from Goodreads:

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

I kept waiting for something more in this book. It was a horrible story of suffering and oppression, a lot like reading Survival in Auschwitz or visiting the Anne Frank museum. I had no idea that these things happened under Russian rule to the Baltic states. For that reason alone, I’m glad I read this book and learned more about human history and human cruelty that cannot be repeated. However, I read this story as a piece of fiction and on that front, it failed me. Lina and Jonas were very flat characters to me. There wasn’t much to their personalities. As such, I would have expected this to be a more plot-driven novel, but there wasn’t a lot of plot to it because the main theme was survival. The ending was a disappointment to me. After building so long, the last chapter/epilogue summed up everything very quickly. I didn’t feel it was an adequate ending for such a long build-up. It didn’t work for me as a story. Had it been a non-fiction memoir, I wouldn’t have had this problem, but I’m looking at it as fiction.

Their mother, Elena, was the most fleshed-out character to me. She did a lot of things that weren’t logical or in her best interest because she was a good person and wanted to set a good example for her children. It bothered me a little that she was always giving away food to others when I wanted her to keep herself and her children safe more than anything. But I realize she saw the humanity in everyone and saw survival as a group effort. She was a good character and went against the grain of the others which made her stand out.

Andrius was my favorite character. He had to go through a lot more emotionally than Lina and I was glad to know he somehow had a happy ending of some kind. Knowing that something had happened to his mother, I think he felt a sense of needing to be a man at a young age. At the same time, being a man would have meant he was separated from his mother and he had to submit to his mother’s care of him by pretending that he was mentally handicapped. When he thought he was out of the woods, his mother has to defile herself to save him. He was emasculated from a young age and I think his relationship with Lina was a saving grace for him when he needed it. There was a lot more depth to him than I felt in many other characters.

These characters were not easy to relate to. Their life situation was very extreme and the book focused on survival. I’m fortunate not to have ever lived in a survive-or-die situation. The things that tied them back to their earlier life like their father and Lina’s art were relatable, but they were such a small portion of the story that I found it harder to connect with the characters.

Ruta Sepetys
Image via the Between Shades of Gray website

The time in the Russian work camp was the most interesting to me. Getting to it was a bit repetitive and the Arctic camp was dreary and you knew it was going to go on forever. But the Russian camp was interesting. There was a power dynamic between the prisoners and the guards that had to be developed and overcome and I appreciated how it was played out. I liked Kretzsky’s development as well. He was clearly torn between pity and hate and fluctuated believably. I could see that he was trying to help and it bothered me at times that Lina couldn’t see it.

The last part, the Arctic camp, was a bit too much for me. It was so dreary and depressing that I disengaged from the story. When it didn’t have a definitive ending, leaving it up to the reader to imply years of suffering, I was even more frustrated. I felt like the book needed a different epilogue, a chance for Lina, Jonas, and Andrius to have a respite, a moment to appreciate what they finally got away from. The open ending didn’t sit well with me.

The audiobook was narrated by Emily Klein. I have mixed feelings about her narration. I thought she gave good voices to the mix of characters and expressed their concern, desperation, and compassion well. However, I think her portrayal of Lina was a bit mixed. Many times, she seemed younger than she was because of the innocence Klein put into her voice. I felt Jonas existed to show a loss of innocence but Lina was old enough that her transformation from child to a woman should have been less of an extreme but Klein made it seem very drastic.

I will always be impressed with human endurance. But when it happens at the hands of other humans, it’s a tragedy. This book shows us that the atrocities of World War II were more pervasive than we sometimes realize and it opened my eyes to a tragedy I didn’t know about. People will endure horrible things and their stories come to light to share these amazing and horrible stories but we have to be ready to listen and react to make sure they never happen again.

Writer’s Takeaway: The ending was my biggest issue with this book. I have a book that jumps twenty years in the end and I’m very careful to have an arc for the characters that’s mostly complete before the time jump. I didn’t feel that the characters in this book had an ending before the epilogue. Their story never ended and it didn’t feel like a complete book to me. I wish we’d gotten a scene of Jonas and Lina returning home or Lina and Andrius being reunited to give those characters closure because the book felt too open-ended to me.

Enjoyable but with an unsatisfying ending. 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:
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys | ReadersCornerBlog
Between Shades of Gray | Sarah’s Soviet History Blog
Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys | Lorannkay
Week 3: Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys | Once Upon a Bookshelf
Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys | A Page of Heaven

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (3/5)

9 Jan

This book rounded out my unintentional jail series. While none of the speakers in the book went to jail, Michael being released from prison was a major focus of the book so I think it should qualify. I think this is the last in my mini-series but we’ll see. My book club has a knack for prison books lately.

Cover image via Goodreads

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Summary from Goodreads:

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. There was something in it that just didn’t click with me. I’m not sure if it was the audio or the text. I liked the characters and I thought Leonie was especially well described. I think it was the elements of magical realism that were just a bit too much for me (similar to my complaints with The Mortifications). I liked the plot and the way Kayla, Jojo, and Leonie interacted, but when Jojo and Leonie started seeing people, I was a little too skeptical to be swept away. I did like the family unit that was picked apart in this book. Leonie was not the ideal daughter but in her mind, she was still a good mother like her mother had been to her. Having Jojo’s perspective and getting to see what he thought about his mother created good contrast.

Ward created very real characters. The ways she described the characters addicted to drugs was especially powerful. You felt bad for them, they couldn’t help their addictions. The faults in child-rearing and absenteeism were explained away and weren’t their fault. It helped you see how an addict can be out of control and how they don’t view themselves as at fault. Leonie is both sympathetic and culpable which makes the reader struggle with how to feel about her.

Jojo was my favorite character. He came off as much older than he was because of the rough environment he was brought up in and how he had to deal with having a mother who was absent so often. The way he spoke to Kayla was learned from his grandparents who taught him to be a man and a father much too young. Pop was put in a hard place when it came to Jojo and I think he did a great job raising him to be a smart and sensitive boy.

I didn’t relate well to any of the characters and I think that’s what kept me from enjoying the book more. I’m fortunate not to have any addicts in my life that I could compare with Leonie. I’ve never had someone close to me go to jail, either. I’m lucky not to have any severe racists in my family like Big Joseph. I’ve never seen ghosts. The only part that felt somewhat relatable was the long-distance feeling between Leonie and Michael. Their time apart reminded me a bit of when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were living in different states. The way you feel when you see someone you love after so long can’t be compared to many other emotions.

Jesmyn Ward
Image via The Guardian

Leonie’s story was my favorite which surprised me. I didn’t think I’d have a lot of sympathy for the drug-addicted mother but I did. I felt bad for her when she’d see her brother and felt guilty for loving Michael because of his relation to her brother’s killers. I liked how she tried to use her mother’s teachings to help Kayla when she was sick. I felt bad for her that she thought she needed to move drugs to pay for the gas to get her boyfriend from jail. She struck a sympathetic chord with me I didn’t expect and I really liked her in the end.

A lot of Leonie and Jojo’s stories involved the people they saw. The ghosts, you may say. I didn’t like it. I could deal with Leonie seeing her dead brother when she was high, but Jojo seeing his grandpa’s old friend was a bit too much for me. I didn’t like that getting his grandpa’s hard past to light was such a big moment for the book, I thought it took the focus too much away from Jojo and I wanted to focus on him more because he was such an interesting character.

The audiobook was narrated by three people: Rutina Wesley, Chris Chalk, Jr., and Kelvin Harrison. If I’m being honest, I couldn’t tell a difference between the two male narrators, so I can’t say much about their narrations. Wesley was very good. I wonder how much her reading affected my sympathy for Leonie. She gave great weight to Leonie’s voice and made her more sympathetic. She didn’t sound like the stereotypical drug addict. She was profound and philosophical, not things I would normally associate with someone in Leonie’s place. I wanted to hug her so badly!

The role of family in the character’s life was complicated. Pop was more of a father to Jojo than his biological father and his paternal grandfather wanted nothing to do with him. Michael and Leonie weren’t married but they were more important to each other than either of their blood relatives. Leonie’s inability to be a mother tore a rift in her family and Michael wasn’t sure how to fix it. By the end, I wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s no denying that the writing in this book was incredible. I might not have liked all the elements Ward used in it, but the lyricism of her writing and the similies she wrote were amazing. I want my writing to feel as rich as this. You understood how the characters felt and the well of emotions they were struggling to keep bottled for the whole book. The anger and frustration in them were really well done.

I liked the writing, but not the story as much. 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:
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward | Savidge Reads
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward | Intellectus Speculativus
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing – TLS | Nothing is Lost

WWW Wednesday, 8-January-2020

8 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 forward steadily with Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley but no major jumps. I like having one book on the craft of writing going so I’ll keep pushing forward with this one to keep me motivated to write and submit.
My buddy-reader and I are having dinner tonight to talk about the next chunk of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I’m excited to move forward with this one again, I’m really enjoying it and it’s killing me to keep stopping before I find out what’s happened.
I’ve made better progress with Colombiano by Rusty Young than I thought I would. This is a long one to be sure and it will stay on this list for a long time. It’s given me goosebumps a few times already but I like where it’s going and I think Young has created a great character with Pedro.
I ran around the library on Saturday looking for my next book and finally decided on American by Day by Derek B. Miller. I adored Norwegian by Night and I’m excited to revisit Sigrid for a new adventure. I’m hoping to speed through this one as I’m excited for some book club selections and interlibrary loans!

Recently finished: I just adored Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I kept staying up late and ignoring responsibilities and social obligations to read this wonderful novel. I’m so glad I got to hear Lee speak last year because having her conversation in my head when I was reading this was incredible and I wish I could hear her speak again because I would get more out of the conversation. Five out of Five Stars, a great way to start 2020!

Reading Next: I’m still planning on Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner for an audiobook but it might be a while until I get there.
I put in an interlibrary loan request for The Running Man by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King). This was recommended to me years ago and I’ve put it off because it needed an ILL but I’m still working to catch up on my reading list and this will be a great next step.


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!