Archive | June, 2020

Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (4/5)

30 Jun

Of course, I couldn’t wait to go back to Panem. I adored the original trilogy and remember staying in bed until 2PM one day to read as much as I could from this series before returning to the real world. This one had me staying up well past when I needed to be asleep. It was a rough swim the next morning but I think it was worth it.

Cover image via Amazon

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Hunger Games #0) by Suzanne Collins

Summary from Amazon:

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

With the length of this book, I was really unsure what to expect. At over 500 pages, it’s much longer than the other Hunger Games novels. Early in the Hunger Games, the memories of the war would be much rawer and the capital hadn’t recovered yet. I wasn’t ready for the image of President Snow that we get. He’s poor and floundering, taking every chance he can. I didn’t like him, but I didn’t want to. A few times, I felt bad for him. This did add a dimension to Snow’s character, but I’m not sure what it added to the original stories.

The characters seemed pretty grounded in reality to me. It’s hard to know how people would act in such a dystopian world, but their actions seemed warranted and logical. I’ll talk about this more later, but Snow’s change at the end seemed off to me. Other than that, I loved the Grandma’am and Tigris and Sejanus and Ma. They were a wonderful cast of characters, each unique and loveable in different ways.

Sejanus was my favorite and looking at other reviews, I might be alone here. He had a very complicated past and alliances and I thought he was fascinating. No one feels bad for the rich boy normally, but this is an extreme case. Sejanus is told to deny his identity and is forced into a new world where no one accepts him. He’s desperate to fit in and but is too true to himself to succumb to peer pressure. It makes him crack and it’s almost heartbreaking to watch. He puts Snow in a difficult place in the end and I’m not sure what I would have done if I were Snow, to be honest.

I related most to Lucy Gray and I’m trying to figure out why. I think I see her relationship with Snow as him taking advantage of her and I think most women have felt taken advantage of by a man at some point. Not to the same degree, of course. She was in a dangerous situation and counted on him to ger her out and when he did, she felt grateful to a point where she stopped looking out for herself again. She put her trust in him completely and was taken advantage of. I liked not having a solid idea of what happened to her in the end. It’s almost better that way. I’m usually one for concrete endings, but this one was perfect for me.

Suzanne Collins
Image via IMDb

Part I was my favorite, seeing Coriolanus mentor Lucy Gray and become more involved in the games was interesting. I was rewatching the movies as I read and had fun making parallels between how tributes were treated in the 74th games and the 10th. The things that were new had been developed and improved for the 74th games. I think the change from Capitol students to past winners makes sense for the mentors. Those who have been in the area understand how different it is and can give advice better. The Capitol students aren’t invested in the same way.

Spoiler alert so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it. The ending really bothered me. The book rushed through the end in my opinion and after 500 pages, I didn’t think there was a need to rush. Coriolanus was driven by greed and power for a lot of the book, but he was still compassionate. It wasn’t until the very end where he lost his compassion. He turned Sejanus in to save himself. Even that was to save himself from execution. But it devolved quickly into killing Lucy Gray for a chance of a comfortable life. I thought that was a big step to take. It was page 498 when he started contemplating this. I felt a little cheated that the first 498 pages were building to a moment that went so quickly.

The first line of the description on the back says it all: “Ambition will fuel him.” Snow’s ambition outshines everything else he does. He can’t love because his ambition is too high. He can’t have friends. He can’t be human. This is the reason I felt a little bit bad for him. But I remembered who he became and that he tossed his own cousin aside (Tigris!) for image’s sake later in life. After his fear inside the area, he continued to send children to their deaths there. Ambition killed his humanity.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this fell into the dangerous trap many prequels stumble upon: the need to explain everything. We didn’t need to know the origin of mentors or gifts or interviews or the Flickerman family. A lot of the book was spent explaining Mutts when it should have been focused on Snow and his origin. Instead of cramming so much character development into the last twenty pages, it could have been spread out. The game’s development wasn’t what was interesting about this book but it became the focus. I’ve heard this criticism of many of the Star Wars spin-offs and it stuck out to me a lot here.

Enjoyable and engaging but not a great ending. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the ‘Future’ time period for 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts:
Book Review: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES by Suzanne Collins | Katherine Valdez
Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes By: Suzanne Collins | Bookcave
Book Review- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins | Reading Between the Pages
Book Review- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins | Nightmares, Day Dreams, and Imagined Conversations
some thoughts on ‘the ballad of songbirds and snakes’ | coffee, classics, and craziness

Book Club Reflection: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

29 Jun

I think it’s safe to assume my book clubs will continue to meet online until the fall. I can’t say I mind. I like being in my athletic shorts and having a beer. And finishing dinner five minutes before it starts. We were able to attract a lot of new members this month, too. I’m not sure if it’s because the book was available easily online, people are bored, or this was an interesting book to more people, but I didn’t mind. As with my last group, we also had to find some COVID connection. This time, it was how Charlie’s brother’s PTSD seemed to jump to her as if it were a virus that could be transmitted. But we had a lot more to say about Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network than that.

There were a lot of great characters for us to discuss in this one. Eve was a group favorite and we spent a lot of time on how she changed from 1915 to 1947. We talked about two things that seemed to change her. The first was her relationship with Rene and the intimacy she engaged in with him. She seemed to start feeling strongly about herself and what she was doing when she enjoyed their intimate forays. She wanted to hate it because of who Rene was, but she found pleasure at times. What he did to her hands brought out her bitterness toward him. The second event was when she thought she’d betrayed Lily. She saw herself as a failure and couldn’t realize that she might be guiltless. Her job really changed who she was at heart. One member brought up how glossed over her abortion decision was, but felt that it changed how she saw her job and her commitment to it.

Rose’s story was hard for a lot of us to process. We thought it wouldn’t end well but were still wishing for a happy fairy tale ending. We hadn’t heard of the massacre. Besides Finn’s story of the gypsy girl, the survivor’s story was the most haunting moment of the book. One member had done more research and found that there was an elderly survivor in the town who stayed and she had the same name as the character in the book. History shows that there was a woman in the church with a baby who was killed in a similar fashion to Rose. It’s even more horrible when you know it’s true.

Lily was also a historical figure. She was often overlooked during the war because she was a short woman and wasn’t suspected of doing any spying. We were split on if we thought woman would be as effective as spies in modern times. On one side, women are more involved in military activities and are seen as more likely to engage in risky activities. Still, they are a bit more conspicuous than men, but the difference is much smaller than it was 100 years ago.

Rene was hard to read about. He was evil and cruel, seeming to have no respect for human life. One reader felt he was so moralless as to be almost unrealistic. Others felt that there were, unfortunately, people like him in the world. Even worse, we still have people like this in our world. We saw a parallel between his moral hardening between WWI and WWII parallelled with the German its change. We debated if Rene should have faced legal justice, or if the vigilante justice Eve inflicted was right. We weren’t sure that the public would have had the stomach for it at the time after the Nurenberg Trials had been carried out. He was a man of violence and a violent end seems appropriate for him. It was even more appropriate that the statue of Boudelaire was used.

Finn was a welcome character in this book. He was also damaged by war and was very non-judgemental of Eve and Charlie for how the war had affected them. He was parallelled well with Captain Cameron. Eve’s affection for Cameron and Charlie’s affection for Finn were both rooted in mutual trauma but blossomed into something beautiful.

The women in this book had some strong friendships. Eve and Charlie started as enemies but grew to become very trusting and reliant on one another. Lily and Even started as friends and their friendship carried them through some hard times. These friendships were strong like family ties and the women passed no judgments for what had to be done. Charlie’s pregnancy and Eve’s abortion were never questioned on a moral level. These women were thrown together in very intense situations which can help strong relationships form. You understand someone and how they think quickly. They were also fighting the same enemies which gave them something to bond over quickly. Eve, Charlie, and Rose all had overbearing mothers as well. That may be generational, but it’s something that would have helped them bond, too.

This was a great discussion and I’m only sad that I read the book so long ago that I didn’t remember the details well. I’m looking forward to connecting with the group again soon. Maybe we can see each other again in the fall. 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Off Topic Thursday: When Your Big Race is Cancelled

25 Jun

I’ve had a Langston Hughes poem stuck in my head since last Thursday. It’s called Harlem and it’s short and sweet:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I got the email that USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships was canceled for 2020. My race was scheduled for August 8th and the city wouldn’t guarantee the event could go on as planned so USAT canceled. I’m still reeling a bit from what that means. In short, the event I’ve been training for 12 times a week since April 20th is no longer happening. I felt crushed and hopeless for a few days and I’m only now starting to gather my feet back under me and figure out where I go from here.

I still have four triathlons scheduled for this summer: one in mid-July, one in early August, one in mid-August, and one in early September. The first three are sprint distance (about an hour and twenty minutes) and the final one is an Olympic (just under 3 hours). They’re all smaller, local races. Nothing big like Nationals. So I’m honestly not as driven to train for them as hard. I was using this Essential Week-by-Week Training Guide which offers plans levels one (easy) to ten (intense) and had been at a level 8. In light of the smaller events, I’ve decided to drop back to a level 5. I should be able to make a strong showing at this lower level and it will give me more time for things I enjoy during this unusual lockdown period. I picked my plan up where I need to be for the later date and I’ll keep pressing forward. This plan is 9 workouts a week so I’ll be getting a lot of my time back!

I’m also considering a race I had written off before. I’ve done two 5K swims in the past and I adore them. There’s something about open water swimming that is so peaceful to me and I’m looking forward to the training involved for a distance event. With so many pools closed, lakes are almost the only option. Right now, there is supposed to be a 5K race on August 16th. If I start now, I should be able to be trained up for it by then. It might not be my best showing, but I’ll enjoy the journey.

At this point, they’re not offering refunds. I paid about $300 for the event. The only options are to defer to either 2021 or 2022. At this point, I’m thinking 2022. I wanted to back off of triathlon a bit after this year. My husband and I are looking to buy a house and I want to get more involved with swimming which means backing off the running and biking.

So what happens to a dream deferred? Right now, it’s sagging like a heavy load. The registration feels like a burden at this point and I’m almost dreading the training I’ll have to do to get back into this shape again. It hasn’t quite dried up, since it would still be fun to finish the race and compete in such a large competition. Maybe I’ll revisit this question later. I have until September to decide what to do. For now, I’m trying to retrain my focus and keep moving forward.

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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

WWW Wednesday, 24-June-2020

24 Jun

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 keep trying to read one chapter of Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides every day but I’m often failing. I’m still reading some, though, so I’ll continue moving through this one. I’m over halfway so far but this will probably be here another few weeks.
My buddy and I are meeting to talk about the first section of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel tomorrow. I sped through Part I and I’m looking forward to moving deeper into it. There’s a lot to unpack with these characters and I think we’ll have a lot to talk about with the book, too.
I started The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins! Finally. I want to rewatch the movies for the original trilogy now. I’m not sure I have the time to re-read them. And Jennifer Lawrence does such a great job that the movies are a joy. This might move off of here quickly, I’m picking it up at every opportunity.
I started a new audiobook for my book club. We’re reading These Women by Ivy Pochoda. I’m not sure what to expect from this one. All I know is that it’s a mystery and I’m in the mood for one right now, so bring it on!

Recently finished: I sped through Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie and wrapped it up Saturday morning. I posted my review yesterday so you can see my full thoughts there. This one wasn’t my favorite of the series, but I liked it and will continue reading the series. It looks like there are currently eight so I still have some time before I catch up. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

I posted my review of Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich last Thursday. This book was very mediocre for me. There were a few helpful nuggets, but for the most part it fell a bit flat in my eyes. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I think it will be time for a little non-fiction soon. I have a signed copy of How to Speak Midwestern by Edward McClelland on my shelf and I’m probably running out of quarantine time to get through my signed books. I heard McClelland speak at the library a few years ago. My language degree got me really interested in dialect and this seems like a fascinating look at my own accent and dialect. I’m excited to dig in.


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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Review: Semper Fidelis (Medicus Investigation #5) by Ruth Downie (4/5)

23 Jun

I’ve always enjoyed this series. I came up on the first one very randomly while browsing at Boarders (yes, that’s how long ago I picked it up) and I’ve been happy to keep reading them on and off since. I’m happy to always find one when I need a pick-me-up.

Cover image via Amazon

Semper Fidelis (Medicus Investigation #5) by Ruth Downie

Other books by Downie reviewed on this blog:

Terra Incognita (Medicus Investigation #2)
Persona Non Grata (Medicus Investigation #3)
Caveat Emptor (Medicus Investigation #4)

Summary from Goodreads;

Back at his post as a doctor in the Twentieth legion in Roman-occupied Britain, Ruso uncovers a new danger even closer to home than the neighboring barbarians. As mysterious injuries, and even deaths, begin to appear in the medical ledgers, it’s clear that all is not well amongst the native recruits to Britannia’s imperial army. Is the much- decorated Centurion Geminus preying on his weaker soldiers? And could this be related to the appearance of Emperor Hadrian? Bound by his sense of duty and ill-advised curiosity, Ruso begins to ask questions nobody wants to hear. Meanwhile his barbarian wife, Tilla, is finding out some of the answers-and marked as a security risk by the very officers Ruso is interrogating. With Hadrian’s visit looming large, the fates of the legion, Tilla, and Ruso himself hang in the balance.

Ruso’s wit has always been enjoyable. It’s one of the things I like most about these books. And Tilla is getting more and more time to narrate. That being said, this one didn’t stand out as much as the past ones had in my mind. Ruso being accused early on took away a lot of the joy that his character often gave. And Tilla’s investigation took away from a lot of the character development she had commanded in recent books. It was just enough out of step for me to enjoy the book a bit less. Also, the reveal of the killers was just subtle enough that I didn’t get it right away and I had to re-listen to the final ten minutes before I understood what had happened.

The characters in these books are always credible to me. The characters do the best they can with the world they’re living in; the dangers of the Roman period, the medicines known to them, and the average intelligence and education of the people. Ruso is a privileged person and he knows this and has always done as much as he can for the others. It’s what makes him admirable and flawed. He’s a wonderful narrator for this series.

Ruso was the standout character in this book to me. Normally, I lean toward Tilla, but her story fell flat to me this time around. Her concerns about fertility didn’t come through and she was more of a helper than anything this time and didn’t give me much to like. Ruso was himself though in a much more perilous situation than normal. He and Tilla, usually a wonderful pair, were separated for a lot of the story and it was hard to see them without their support system. I’m hoping they’ll be more of a pair again in the next book.

I could identify with Ruso at the end, though at a much smaller scale. This is a bit of a spoiler, so skip ahead to avoid it. The next paragraph will be safe again. I understood why Ruso would confess to a crime he hadn’t done to keep the peace of the empire. I’d be willing to lie about something I hadn’t done to keep peace in my family. I’ll take the fall for something my husband did to save face in front of his family. I’m not sure I’d take it so far as the face death, though.

Ruth Downie
Image via Audible

Sabina was a great side character in this book and Tilla’s interactions with her were fun. Her opinion of the empire and her time in Britain was fun and it was fun to see her feel powerful for once. I can’t imagine the marriage she was in and how that would feel for her, but seeing her play her part was fun. I can see how she garnered such loyalty.

The ending was a bit quick and vague for me. Like I said, I had to re-listen to the final 15 minutes to understand what had happened because I missed it the first time around. It’s not a huge criticism, but it was frustrating, especially listening to the audiobook which makes it much harder to go back and revisit the text.

Simon Vance is an amazing narrator for this series. I hope he’s able to do the whole thing because I’ve come to define his voice and Ruso’s as one. His voices for women aren’t amazing, but I get over it because of the amazing accents he has for Romans and Britons. His inflections for Ruso’s vapid family members always have me giggling.

There is usually something larger than oneself that you would give up everything for. Semper Fidelis is well known in the US as the moto for the US Marines (usually shortened to SemperFi). It carries a lot of weight in US culture. It meant a lot to Ruso, too. He is a cog in the machine, a medicus in an empirical army, but he recognizes the importance of his role and the larger empire he’s representing and holding together. Sometimes, things are bigger than us.

Writer’s Takeaway: Downie’s humor has always been my favorite. Even in a murder mystery, she’s making me smile and laugh. I enjoy the banter between her characters and her balance of serious and humorous characters that keep the book moving with a lighter tone between somber bits. It’s a balance that’s well-executed and I’m not sure it would work in less practiced hands. It could easily be farcical but here it’s wonderful.

A wonderful mystery and a great story in this series. I’ll plan to continue onward. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the Pre-1300 time period in 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts:
“Semper Fidelis” by Ruth Downie – Always Faithful | Tony’s Book World
Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie | For winter nights- A bookish blog

Interview with Author Veronica Kirin

22 Jun

I posted my review of Veronica Kirin’s Stories of Elders last week. As I mentioned, I know Kirin personally and am good friends with her brother. I asked her if she’d mind doing a brief virtual interview with me and she agreed. So I’m happy to present you with the following interview diving more into Kirin’s book and her experiences along with it. Enjoy!

S: What was the most surprising thing you heard during your interviews?
VK: I had just watched Interstellar before conducting the national interviews.  I was surprised to hear several elders describe scenes from the movie, except they were describing the dust bowl.  I didn’t know the power lines would interact with the dust and spark into the sky.  I didn’t know that the dust was so thick that it came into the house through any crack possible.  It was amazing to talk to Hal Royer and hear him say he still wipes out a glass before he fills it with water, 70 years later.  These conversions made clear my own ignorance about our history, despite being an anthropologist.  I want to note that each interview was approximately one hour long.  I couldn’t include the entire interview of each person in the book, and so I created a podcast for those who want to go deeper and hear more from the elders.  They can find it here:  https://storiesofelders.com/podcast-2/

S: How did you choose the topics to cover in the book?
VK: The chapter topics were those that came up the most often across interviews.  The goal of the book is to highlight the major areas of our culture and society altered by technology.  As an anthropologist I acknowledge my own ignorance on the topic, and looked to the experts I interviewed to highlight what was most changed.  That ultimately led to the areas of focus for the book.

S: You share some of your personal stories along with the Elders stories. Why did you choose to do this?
VK: Some have criticized me for this, but I had two major reasons to include myself in the journey.  The first was to create a relatable narrative to those who were undoubtedly curious about how I executed the project.  Even those that have read the book ask what it was like, how did I meet people, and how have I changed.  The publisher thought that including some of the journey in the book would help carry the reader from one narrative to the next and humanize the work that went into the creation of the book.  The second purpose of my narrative is to connect younger readers to the stories.  I wrote this book because I think understanding history is critical, especially as we live through a major paradigm shift, but I worried that Millennials and Gen Zeds wouldn’t be interested unless they heard themselves in the story as well.  My personal evolution throughout the journey bridges that gap.

S: Why do you think you were uniquely positioned to write this book?
VK: My degree is in anthropology, but I live my life as an entrepreneur.  It took every skill of an entrepreneur to build and execute on this project.  I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the travel and publishing.  I had to network to find supporters as well as interviewees.  I also leveraged my network to find a publisher who could see the vision of the book and would help make it a reality.  My skills as a former website developer helped me create an online presence for the book and promote it years after its initial publish date.  The anthropologist is the visionary, the one who can see societal change and how critical this narrative will be to future generations, but the entrepreneur is the one who made it a reality.

S: What gave you the idea for using Kickstarter to raise funds to finish this project? What did those funds cover? How did you reward your donors?
VK: I didn’t personally have the cash to take time from my business (as a solo-preneur, time off doesn’t just cost money, it also costs income) to travel for the research for this book.  But I knew I had to go in person to meet the elders, as that is what was expected of an interview in their generation. Kickstarter would not only create the funds needed for the project, but also create a following.  It took an enormous amount of work, but it was a success and I’d do it again.  Donors received a range of rewards, from signed artwork quoting those interviews I’d already completed, to a signed copy of the hardcover book when it was published.

S: Can you please describe the publishing process you went through? Did you have a proposal or a completed book when you started looking to publish?
VK: I met my publisher on a podcast I co-host shortly after I had a completed manuscript draft.  They specialize in unique non-fiction, which is perfect for my work.  Shortly after the interview, the publisher flew to meet me at my home and discuss the project.  We signed a contract a week later.  This is not a conventional story, but it makes clear how critical my network as an entrepreneur was to the success of the book.

S: How did you decide to do an audiobook? Can you describe the recording process?
VK: My publisher demanded I create an audiobook.  They had the stats to back it up.  Audiobooks are very popular, and being able to offer that format has certainly boosted my sales.  I didn’t love the process of recording, but I had a great team.  I can’t recommend enough having both an audio engineer AND a reader to follow along as you record to ensure you don’t misread or mispronounce words.  What we hear in our minds is often different than what is on the page.  Having a reader made all the difference in the process.

S: Can you talk about your next project, Stories of COVID?
VK: Stories of COVID™ falls right in line with Stories of Elders, but instead of documenting a 50-year paradigm shift, I’m documenting a 5-month shift.  Furthermore, the interviews are worldwide, rather than focused on the United States.  I’ve interviewed 73 people since the end of March and, as you know, there’s no end in sight.  I look forward to writing this book.  It will be a challenge, but I already can see it forming.  Those that are curious about the stories I’m gathering can hear them on the podcast:  https://anchor.fm/stories-of-covid

 

Thanks again to Veronica for granting me this interview! It’s always interesting to learn more about writers, what inspires them, and their process. You can pick up a copy of her book on Amazon.

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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Review: The Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich (3/5)

18 Jun

I’m embarrassed to say how long I’ve had this book. It was a gift from a writing friend years and years ago for Christmas. I’ve been terrible about reading my own books before COVID so I’m glad I’m finally getting to the books I’ve been putting off for so long. My TBR is tumbling during quarantine!

Cover image via Amazon

Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

Summary from Amazon:

The great paradox of the writing life is that to be a good writer, you must be both interested in the world around you and comfortable working in solitude for hours on end. Fiction Writer’s Workshop is designed to help you foster a strong sense of independence–of being and thinking on your own, of becoming self-evaluative without being self-critical–in order to accomplish what others seek in classroom groups.

In this comprehensive guide, award-winning writer and teacher Josip Novakovich explores every aspect of the art of fiction and provides all the tools and techniques you’ll need to develop day-to-day discipline as well as a personal writing style, such as:

• More than 100 writing exercises, including dozens that are new to this edition, that challenge you to experiment with diverse writing styles
• Specific statements of purpose for each exercise, to help guide you and instruct you at every step of the creative process
• Self-critique questions to help you assess your work and identify strengths and weaknesses before moving on to the next lesson
• The full text of eight acclaimed short stories, with analysis and exercises, to provide models for your own writing and help reinforce the lessons you’ve learned

The practical, insightful methods offered in this workshop will clarify your voice, broaden your perspective, and strengthen your fiction

I feel like I’m getting diminishing returns on the writing books I read recently. Writing Fiction for Dummies was great but it covered so much that subsequent books have repeated a lot and not given me much more to work with. The YA specific books have been good and helped me think about YA themes and characters. This book, however, seemed really focused on the short story format and it didn’t give me as much to work with and kind of let me know. It also seemed to be geared toward adult literature and literary fiction, both of which aren’t exactly my focus. Some of the advice was good for writing fiction in general, but I’d already read a lot of it before. The exercises might be helpful but they’d take a lot of time and energy that I just don’t feel like devoting to writing right now.

Josip Novakovich
Image via Concordia University

The section on revision had some good advice in it. I don’ think it would be great for a novel but it would be great for revising a short story. I liked the idea of outlining the first draft and then completely rewriting it. I think it would be interesting to see what was kept and what changed. I think I’d surprise myself with what I decided to keep.

I thought the section on beginnings and endings was a bit bland. There are so many ways to start a book that it felt weird to try to list them. Ending a book is really a matter of choice as long as the story arc is complete. So I think this could have been covered better under the section on plot structure. It all felt a little repetitive.

Novakovich gave a lot of examples. I think this speaks to a very basic and true lesson: learn by reading. You can’t learn to cook by watching TV the same way you can’t learn to swim online (sorry Big Bang Theory friends). If you want to learn to write, you have to read and you have to write. Reading and recognizing plot devices and distinct voices is a great way to experience it and see what others have done. Then, there’s nothing to it but the writing.

Writer’s Takeaway: This is a difficult subject to tackle. There are so many different stories to tell and so many ways to tell them that it seems odd to try to define them in a book. And each time a rule is developed, it’s already been broken and will be broken hundreds of times more. There are guidelines but anything too formulaic will be boring. There’s good advice but you have to be vague because there’s only so much direction you can give someone in a creative art.

Overall, helpful but not the motivation I wanted or much advice that I hadn’t heard. 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Post:
Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich: a Review | TAwrites

WWW Wednesday, 17-June-2020

17 Jun

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 in love with Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides. The style jumps between Ervin’s memories and sports journalist Constantine Markides’ narration of his swimming career. Now that I’m swimming again, this is pumping me up and I’m ready to get back to racing.
A lot of new books for the list this week! I began a new audiobook, Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie. This is the fifth book in the Medicus Investigation series. I lent the first three to my mother at the beginning of COVID and she’s loving them as well. I recommend this series a lot, it’s well deserved.
I began my Buddy Read of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. We split the book into four sections and this first one is the longest. I should wrap it up very soon and be able to move on to another book until my buddy is ready to meet and we can move forward.

Recently finished: I was able to push through and finish Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich over the weekend. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. I’d hoped it would inspire me to write but I found it geared toward short stories more than toward novels and that didn’t help me. I’ll have a full review up tomorrow.
I finished the audiobook of Stories of Elders by Veronica Kirin and was able to post a review yesterday. It was really fun hearing Kirin read her own story, especially knowing her and having heard her speak about this project. I’ve done an email interview with her and will be posting that next week so stay tuned for even more!

I posted my review of The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue last Thursday. Our book club met and I posted my book club reflection on Monday. It seems this collection has been taking over the blog this week!

Reading Next: I’m so close to starting The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins! It’s been here longer than I’d like but it will be what I escape to between sections of my Buddy Read so it’s coming soon!


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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Review: Stories of Elders by Veronica Kirin (4/5)

16 Jun

I came across Kirin in a very unusual way. I’m friends with her younger brother. He sent a message to a group of us that his sister was having a book signing and I was all in. I had no idea that his sister was a writer and I was excited to dive in. We drove out to Ann Arbor to visit Nicola’s Books and hear Veronica speak about her book. I’m only embarrassed that it took me so long to finally read the book.

Cover image via Amazon

Stories of Elders: What the Greatest Generation Knows about Technology that You Don’t by Veronica Kirin

Summary from Amazon:

America’s Greatest Generation (born before 1945) witnessed incredible changes in technology and social progress. From simple improvements in entertainment to life-changing medical advances, technology changed the way they live, work, and identify. Sadly, with each passing year, fewer members of the Greatest Generation remain alive to share their wisdom as the last Americans to grow up before the digital revolution.

In 2015, Millennial author and cultural anthropologist Veronica Kirin drove 12,000 miles across more than 40 states to interview the last living members of the Greatest Generation. Stories of Elders is the result of her years of work to capture and share their perspective for generations to come.

Stories of Elders preserves the wisdom, thoughts, humor, knowledge, and advice of the people who make up one of America’s finest generations, including the Silent Generation. Their stories include the devastation that came from major events in U.S. history like World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II.

This book raised a lot of conflicting feelings in me. It made me think about my grandmothers a lot and how much the world has changed for them. My grandmothers are 100 and 87 and both fall into the Greatest Generation so I was able to think about some of the topics and how they would have affected them. It made me think about how I interact with my grandmothers and how life changed with the advent of technology. My one grandmother just got an iPad to video chat with her family. At 87, she’s having to learn something completely new. But during her life, she learned to use a washing machine, television, and dishwasher. I think she can handle it.

The interviews seemed very faithfully transcribed. There were times that it was clear Kirin had cleaned a few things up so it was easier to read but for the most part, I felt it was truthful. The quotes read differently, clearly as if it was a conversation and not formal writing. I think Kirin asked great questions to get these answers from the elders. It’s such a wide variety of topics that were covered by so few questions. It made me wonder how much time she spent with each one to get to so many topics.

A lot of the comments made resonated with me more than I thought they would. I think everyone is drawn back by new advances in technology, even someone my age who has less of a marked difference from conscious memory to present. I think the speed of technological change is going to only accelerate so that Generation X will have even more of an issue with emerging technology than the Greatest Generation has. I can’t imagine how things will have changed by the time I’m an octogenarian.

Me, Veronica Kirin, and featured elder Gerrie Powell

There were some areas of the book that surprised me because I didn’t think of them as very technological. Food and poverty are two examples. I work for a greenhouse and I hadn’t thought about how much technology had changed our access to food. The changing definition of poverty was a new concept to me, too. In my job, I hire a lot of people who live below the poverty line. Yet each of them has a smartphone because access to the internet is so crucial today. Making one’s own clothes is such an odd concept that we see it as a hobby and not a necessity for the poor. Amenities and war are other topics that surprised me.

There were times when Kirin would interject some of her own stories and it threw me off. Some of them connected the elders’ stories to my generation, but others seemed to distract from their stories. It took me out of the story a bit and didn’t seem to gel with the rest of the book.

Kirin narrated her own audiobook which I really enjoyed. Since she’d done the interviews with the elders, she was able to replicate their tone, pacing, and intonation during quoted sections. I think that would have been lost by someone who didn’t have the original experience. The only downside to the audiobook is that a few times, I would be confused if what I was hearing was a quote or commentary. The print makes this obvious but it wasn’t as clear when hearing it read aloud.

There’s always a perception that elders don’t adopt technology well. They struggle to use smartphones and can’t troubleshoot a simple computer error. But when we think about technology as a broader thing, more than computer technology, our elders have adopted a huge range of technologies in their lives. It made me feel bad for joking about my grandma’s struggles to use her iPad or how often my other grandmother plays Solitare on her Kindle. They figured so many other things out and changed their lives with them along the way.

Writer’s Takeaway: I did a similar project (on a much smaller scale) in high school where we were asked to interview our grandparents or elder relatives about their lives during WWII. My maternal grandfather had passed but I was able to interview my paternal grandparents and maternal grandmother while collecting photos that were assembled into a scrapbook. I transcribed the three interviews and included quotes about different aspects of everyday life that my grandparents remembered. It was a lot of work for a 15-year-old to handle. I can’t imagine the time and effort that went into Kirin’s work and I have so much respect for her and the project she completed. She’s back at it again, currently doing interviews for Stories of COIVID.

An enjoyable read and one that made me think. Four out of Five Stars.

I’ll be sharing an interview with Veronica next week so stay tuned for more! 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Post:
Veronica Kirin: Entrepreneur, advocate, mentor and more | neu

Book Club Reflection: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue

15 Jun

My book club met via Zoom to talk about our last book, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue. If you read my review, you’ll know I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, but I find those books make for the best book discussions.

Donoghue was born in Dublin and moved to England before settling in Ontario, Canada. Her stories settings reflect her Irish and English periods. Many of her other work has a strong subtext of LGBT characters in history, discussing how they lived and how their sexuality was repressed by society. We see this in the short story, How a Lady Dies, in this collection. We also wondered if the sisters in Salvage may have been lesbians.

Most of us liked the story Dido. I don’t think it’s by chance that it was one of the longer stories! There’s a 2013 movie based on the same historical figure called Belle. We all felt like Dido’s story could have been a full novel and it looks like a screenwriter agreed in their own way. We felt it spoke to us a bit more in light of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA. It was one of Donoghue’s stories that spoke to us a lot about current events despite the historical setting. Her uncle knew the discrimination and racism she would face outside their home but Dido was unaware.

Another story that seemed to speak to our times was Ballad, about the Black Plague. The way the people acted to prevent them from getting the plague reminded us of the current COVID crisis. The woman who boiled coins before she’d touch them spoke to us specifically. We may have thought that was overkill before, but it seems very logical now.

We had surprising little to say about the title story, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. We felt sorry for her. It was no wonder she got so sick with how the scheme was conducted. Having a rabbit shoved inside you is not the least bit sanitary! We found it odd as well that she’d give birth on command and for shows. That made it even more unbelievable.

The story Account was a fun one to read. It used a very unusual story format that we hadn’t seen before. Nonetheless, it built tension and had a complete arc to it. It was one of few we recommended to a reader who hadn’t finished the book.

Overall, these stories felt rather staccato. They would build tension and drama but didn’t always feel like a complete story. It wasn’t until you read the note that explained the broader context that the story made any sense. The librarian who sponsors our group said she could see the desire to write like this. In doing research as part of her job, she’d often come upon snippets of information and want to expand on it and learn more but didn’t have an outlet for it.

The collection did show a wide range of Donoghue. There was a large variety of stories she was able to tell and capture many different narrators’ voices well in the process. Many of her stories spoke about historical women and how they had no voice in history. Many had no power to change their stations but did what they could with the lot in life they’d been handed.

It looks like we’ll have one more Zoom meeting at least before we return to in-person meetings. I miss seeing these readers in person so I’ll look forward to the day we can all be together again.

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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.