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Book Review: Old School by Tobias Wolff (4/5)

15 Nov

Here’s yet another example of a book club book I never would have picked up but because someone else picked it, I read it and enjoyed it. If you don’t have a group that pushes your reading, I really recommend it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Old School by Tobias Wolff

Summary from Goodreads:

The protagonist of Tobias Wolff’s shrewdly—and at times devastatingly—observed first novel is a boy at an elite prep school in 1960. He is an outsider who has learned to mimic the negligent manner of his more privileged classmates. Like many of them, he wants more than anything on earth to become a writer. But to do that he must first learn to tell the truth about himself.

The agency of revelation is the school literary contest, whose winner will be awarded an audience with the most legendary writer of his time. As the fever of competition infects the boy and his classmates, fraying alliances, exposing weaknesses, Old School explores the ensuing deceptions and betrayals with an unblinking eye and a bottomless store of empathy. The result is further evidence that Wolff is an authentic American master.

I was instantly reminded of a favorite of mine, A Separate Peace so I started off inclined to like this book. I liked the setting and the premise. I enjoyed how being a good writer made a boy popular the same way being a star athlete can. The idea that intellect was celebrated made me happy. I’m contemplating sending potential future children to a New England boarding school. I’ll bet this doesn’t last long.

I felt the protagonist was credible. I could understand how he wanted to prove himself and show that he could do well and didn’t need to be pitied as a scholarship recipient. I almost understood his decision to be untruthful. Almost. I wouldn’t have gone to such extremes, but I understood it. His procrastination bothered me, but I know people who would have done the same thing.

I liked the narrator. Most of the other boys seemed to run together but the narrator, because we were in his head, I understood and liked. He was smart and he had his priorities in the right places. Well, most of the time. With one major exception, he was a good student and stayed out of trouble. He admired the great writing and aspired to get through learning and school. That’s pretty admirable. He also learned some hard lessons along the way about people he idolized and I think that must have been very humbling.

I had flashbacks to the high school literary magazine when I was reading the scenes where the boys talked about their own. I remember certain people appearing more than others, letting someone’s piece in because they were a Senior and the sense of entitlement that came with being an editor. I felt these were hit spot on.

Tobias Wolff
Image via the Paris Review

I thought the scenes with Ayn Rand were pretty great. The way she was characterized and the take-aways the narrator had from the encounter were very realistic of meeting one’s heroes. I loved how Wolff characterized her (and really shared an opinion!). I’ve never read her books but I’m familiar with the movement she was a part of and how polarizing they could be.

Spoilers here so skip this if you don’t want the ending ruined. I didn’t like that the narrator plagiarized, but I disliked it more when he ran away to New York. It seemed like he was so afraid of returning home to a father we know little about. I didn’t understand why he didn’t feel he could face his father except that he didn’t want to disappoint him. It didn’t feel like strong enough motivation to run away. This character had been so level-headed leading up to this point and the change seemed too much and too sudden.

The narrator is always searching for greatness. At first, in others. He wants to see Ayn Rand as great and Hemingway. Then he wants to be great himself. He’s desperate for achievement and recognition. And it bites him hard. In the end, he humbles himself but is able to achieve something great (or so it’s implied). Greatness is never easy. It was good that the narrator had to struggle to see that.

Writer’s Takeaway: I struggled in my historical fiction book with bringing in real-life figures. I ultimately decided not to but I respect how Wolff did it in this book. Giving life to Frost, Rand, and Hemingway must have been a challenge. You want to be true to who they were but also treat them as a character. That balance is what led me away for it but I found this to be a good example of how to do it well.

A fun, quick read and a work showing a love of literature. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Old School, by Tobias Wolff | KevinfromCanada
Old School, by Tobias Wolff | Philo on Books
Old School –  Tobias Wolff | Lizzie’s Literary Life
Tobias Wolff’s Old School: Truth, Tangent, and Return | Take Away the Takeaway
Tobias Wolf | Don’t Need a Diagram

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WWW Wednesday, 14-November-2018

14 Nov

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 started The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl again! I’m excited to get back to it and finish this one so I can start on some new books.
I’ve made decent progress on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m going to have to watch the Muppet version of this when I’m done. I wonder how much they kept the same.
I was proud of how much of The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati I’ve listened to but then I was reminded that it’s 31 hours long and I’ll be listening to this for the better part of a month. I’m in for the long haul.
I’ve enjoyed some of The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway more than others. Some are so short I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get out of them. I’m not sure how much Hemingway meant for them to be put together in a collection. They seem to be in chronological order which I don’t think is how they were written. Maybe they’d make more sense in another order.

Recently finished: I finished Old School by Tobias Wolff on Sunday as I recovered from a half marathon. I needed to sit, haha. It was a nice, short book. I was reminded of A Separate Peace which is a favorite of mine so it was almost nostalgic.

I was able to post two reviews, though. Monday I posted about Not Me by Michael Lavigne. The book wasn’t a favorite and the ending upset me so I rated it Three out of Five stars.
I also reviewed That Night by Chevy Stevens. This one was the complete opposite. It grabbed me from the beginning and kept me listening as often as I could. I gave it Five out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I’ve got to get through one more book to finish my When Are You Reading? Challenge. I picked People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I read another Brooks book for this time period last year as well (1600s) and it’s getting hard to find some. I may have to re-define my time periods going forward to make it a bit easier! I’ll be starting this when I finish Hemingway.


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

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens (5/5)

13 Nov

I saw this book at a mystery bookstore years ago. Then I saw it on clearance at a B&N going out of business sale. Stevens is pen name so I felt like this book was haunting me. I’m glad I finally got to it on audio. It had been too long since my last thriller.

Cover image via Goodreads

That Night by Chevy Stevens

Summary from Goodreads:

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

I had trouble stopping the audio for this book. It grabbed me and had me on the edge of my seat (or leaning forward in my run) from the beginning. I knew something was up with Shauna from the beginning but it was hard to puzzle out exactly what it was. I loved the twists and turns of this book and how it came together in the end. This is the kind of book that gets you to read an author’s entire backlist.

Steven’s portrayal of girls in high school was spot on. I loved how much I could picture Toni and Nicole and Amy and Shauna. The backstabbing and secrets were right on and I kept thinking “Yes! I remember that,” as I was reading. There were always bullies and burn-outs and good girls and Stevens captured all of it. I can’t speak as much to the characters when they were older. I have no idea what spending so long in jail could do to a person. That was harder for me to wrap my head around.

Toni was a great narrator. You almost doubted her innocence when you were in her head and knew how much she lied and how strong her anger was. You almost believed she was capable of killing her sister. But at the same time, you couldn’t believe it and knew something had to be up. I was completely sucked in the last third of the book and went on a two-hour trail run where this story kept me moving forward so I could see if Toni got justice or if she deserved to rot in jail.

The girls in high school were very reminiscent of my school days. I had more drama in middle school so that’s what I had flashbacks. There wasn’t the drinking and intimacy that Toni experienced in my middle school, but the emotions were there. The raw hatred two girls can have for each other in adolescence is terrifying. While my life never escalated like Toni’s, I could relate to friendships turned bad!

Chevy Stevens
Image via the author’s website

The anticipation of Nicole’s death had me dying for more (hah!). I knew it was coming so every time we flashed to 1996, I was on edge. I felt it was coming each time and I loved the thrill I got from the author dangling something so monumental in front of me. It was well written and paced wonderfully.

I felt the first chapter put me off a bit. It was a little out of the timeline with the rest of the story. We start with Toni getting out of jail but then jump back to 1996 and to her time in jail, bouncing between the two. The first chapter made it confusing how the narrative would progress for a while and I wish it had been placed where it belonged chronologically.

The audiobook was narrated by Jorjeana Marie. I thought she did an amazing job. I felt Toni’s anger for a lot of the story and it built as the story progressed. She portrayed the flippant attitude of teenagers well and kept me engaged.

Everyone assumes Toni is a murderer because she’s a bad kid. When we find out what really happened, Toni isn’t surprised, but everyone else is. There is a lot more to the people involved than anyone expected. There was a lot of anger that was pent-up over the years and the way it all came out, in the end, was the worst thing possible. I want to stay more, but I’ve kept this review spoiler-free so far and I’m trying to keep it that way.

Writer’s Takeaway: Dual timelines are a great way to build suspense, especially in a thriller novel. I think Stevens did a great job of pacing and keeping me listening every second I could. Except for the one exception I mentioned above, I think it was masterfully done.

This book was outside my usual genre but captivated me from beginning to end. I loved it. Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Review- That Night by Chevy Stevens | Love, Literature, Art, and Reason: A Book Review Blog
That Night by Chevy Stevens: My Spoiler-Safe Review! | Multilingual Mama
Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens | Brooke’s Books and Brews

Book Review: Not Me by Michael Lavigne (3/5)

12 Nov

I was skeptical of this one. It was a book club pick but I saw a low number of ratings on Goodreads. We usually pick rather popular novels so I was a bit surprised but tried to go in with an open mind.

Cover image via Goodreads

Not Me by Michael Lavigne

Summary from Goodreads:

When Heshel Rosenheim, apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, hands his son, Michael, a box of moldy old journals, an amazing adventure begins–one that takes the reader from the concentration camps of Poland to an improbable love story during the battle for Palestine, from a cancer ward in New Jersey to a hopeless marriage in San Francisco. The journals, which seem to tell the story of Heshel’s life, are so harrowing, so riveting, so passionate, and so perplexing that Michael becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about his father.

As Michael struggles to come to grips with his father’s elusive past, a world of complex and disturbing possibilities opens up to him–a world in which an accomplice to genocide may have turned into a virtuous Jew and a young man cannot recall murdering the person he loves most; a world in which truth is fiction and fiction is truth and one man’s terrible–or triumphant–transformation calls history itself into question. Michael must then solve the biggest riddle of all: Who am I?

I liked the premise of this book and it shared elements with a manuscript I’m working on. I liked the mystery of it and the parallel plots between Heshel and Michael. But I felt this book started to fall apart toward the end. I was skeptical when I was 20 pages out because I suspected I was not going to get a clean ending to what was going on and I was right. I felt Michael had to make some wild assumptions to get to the conclusion he drew about his father and his secret life. It ruined the end of the book for me, though I wonder if the book club discussion will completely reverse my hostility.

Michael felt very real to me. He was distracted and angry which felt like very real emotions given his relationship with his father and where he was in life. He was confused and he did some odd things in his confusion that didn’t make sense to me but seemed to help him cope. I didn’t understand his clues or what he thought he’d find or how his wife and child connected to his father’s past. It was frustrating to read, but it felt real, like what someone would do when dealing with loss.

I didn’t particularly like any character in this book. I wanted to like April, but I didn’t understand what he role in the book was and I wasn’t sure why she was a part of the story. Michael was hard to understand and Heshel wasn’t really himself in either plotline. Perhaps that’s why I had trouble connecting to the book. I kind of wanted it to be over by the end.

Losing a family member is hard. I haven’t lost a parent but I’ve lost my grandfather. He went quickly, but my other grandparents are holding on tight and letting go slowly. I’m far away like Michael was from his father, and it’s hard to stay as close as you were when there’s distance. When I talk to my grandfather now, I know I’m talking to a shell of the man he used to be and it’s frustrating because I can tell he knows that. I could feel some of Michael’s pain but I pray I don’t have to experience it.

Michael Lavigne
Image via the author’s website

I liked the story in the journals best. I was much more invested in that story because I knew how the modern story was going to end. I wanted to see what changed in Heshel’s heart and what inspired it. I didn’t see the ending coming the way it did. Maybe that’s my ignorance of Isreal’s history. Either way, it kept me reading more than Michael.

Spoilers here so skip this paragraph if you want to avoid them. The ending frustrated me beyond reason. April came to nothing, which felt like poor writing. Even worse, I’m still confused about how Michael came to the conclusion he did. There was far too much left up in the air and they were things he could have investigated after his father passed. If there is an Israel Rosenheim, he can be looked up and found. Michael seemed set on his existence but had no motivation to follow-up. It felt rushed and lazy to me and it brought down my impression of the book.

We don’t get to choose our parents. We may not even like our parents. Sometimes their lives are mysteries to us. Is it what we don’t see that could make us like them? Heshel hid a lot from Michael. If he’d been more open, their relationship may have improved. But maybe not, maybe it would have been worse like when Heshel came clean to his wife. Learning something about a parent can change how you see them. Michael has to decide what to remember about his father.

Writer’s Takeaway: A rushed ending can be very tempting for a writer and this is a good example of how it can make a book fall apart. Even if he doesn’t want to believe it, the story in the journals was true and Michael has to face it. The way he decided to compartmentalize and justify his father’s actions bothered me. It felt unfinished and left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It was too convenient and left a lot of things still dangling.

A good story with a disappointing 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:
Not Me by Michael Lavigne | Court Reads
Gina’s Reading: Not Me by Michael Lavigne | Gina Lynette

When You Don’t Finish the Book

8 Nov

If you’re a book club person, I’m sure you’ve done this. Or know someone who has. Sometimes, life gets in the way or the book just doesn’t grab you and you don’t finish it. Is it the end of the world? No, not at all. I’ve gone to meetings when I haven’t finished the book and I know many people in my groups have as well. Normally, it’s not a problem.

However, I think it can be an issue sometimes. It depends on what you expect out of the meeting when you haven’t finished the book. You should assume the ending will be spoiled for you. If you plan to finish it eventually, this may be a big deterrent but for many, it’s just part of going to the meeting.

Second, you can’t expect the rest of the group to explain the ending of the book to you. It might come out over the course of discussion and you can clarify bits so you understand and can follow the discussion, but sitting down and asking “How did the love story wrap up?” or “What happened to her father?” is going to annoy your fellow readers more than anything. If you want to know, you can still finish the book. The others are there to discuss what happened, not rehash the plot for you.

Personally, I find it best to sit and listen to meetings where I didn’t finish the book. I’m able to remember things earlier in the plot better sometimes because my memory isn’t clouded by the ending like others. I can still add to the discussion but I don’t take up too much time that others want to spend discussing and it helps me to not ask questions that will spoil the ending even more.

How have you handled it when you don’t finish the book? Any further tips? Anything else to avoid? Let’s see if we can come up with a ‘Best Practice’ for when this happens.

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, 7-November-2018

7 Nov

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 readingThe Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl should get attention again soon. Really, I swear! I want to get back to it soon and I’m feeling like I will. Eventually…
I’m past halfway in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a bit more violent than I was expecting for a children’s story, but I should know that censorship has changed since it was written.
I started reading Old School by Tobias Wolff, the next selection for one of my book clubs. It’s a slim book so I’m hoping I can finish it up quickly and get back to Poe! So far, so good. I’m hoping this is done by next week.
I also got to start a new eaudiobook, The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. This is another book club pick and I was beyond relieved to see it was offered as an eaudiobook because of its length! Over 700 pages and over 31 hours on audio. How perfect toward the end of the running season!
My hold on The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway came in and I started it on Sunday. It’s a nice change of pace to listen to short stories after having gone through some really long books. I hope I can continue to enjoy these.

Recently finished: I wrapped up Not Me by Michael Lavigne and will have a review up next week. I’m a little unsure what to think of it still. There were some big leaps in logic in my opinion and some very unnecessary plot elements that confused the message I got from it. Maybe it’s just not for me, maybe I missed something, and I for sure need my book club to help me figure it out.
I sped through That Night by Chevy Stevens and wrapped it up already. I haven’t read a thriller/mystery novel in a while and I need to remind myself to read one every once in a while. I really enjoyed the tension in Toni’s story and it kept me listening at every opportunity. Review for this one will be up next week, too.

My review of Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire went up on Monday. I really liked this book, but it just didn’t live up to my astronomically high expectations. No wonder. I gave it Four out of Five stars.

Reading Next: No plans right now. It’s a great feeling, really. I’ll see how long I can keep it up.


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

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

6 Nov

I’ve been looking forward to our group discussion of Dark Matter since I read it. Apparently, not everyone was as thrilled with this title as I was. Some really disliked it and there were others who loved it as much as I did. Some said it read more like a screenplay than a book as if Crouch knew it would be adapted for television. A few complained that the middle dragged while he was going through door after door.

The premise required a solid suspension of belief. It reminded me of The Flash a bit because of the other ‘Earths’ that Jason visited. There was a lot jammed into this book and it left some of us wondering more about dark matter. A few people recommended two books, We Have No Idea by Jorge Cham and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. The different worlds showed infinite possibilities and how profound the Butterfly Effect can be.

We started to wonder about our own lives and the different versions we might find. Something beyond our control, like a decision a parent made, could produce a drastically different world. It might not be any relation to you, but that decision could mean you were never born. While there are big decisions in a person’s life that make you wonder, it’s probably the small ones that make large differences. Jason went looking for happiness because he missed it. But the happiest Jason pined after the success he could have had. Everyone lives with regret. For Jason, family was the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.

We had a lot of questions about the box. Jason sees himself at some point. Does that mean there are infinite numbers of every person who’s entered the box somewhere in the box? Is there a doppelganger of Jason 2 wandering around in there? What about the other people who went into the box and never came out? Are they in there, too? In a way, all of the Jasons that return are deserving of Daniela and Charlie. Jason2 is the only one who’s not.

When the plot first switched to Daniela and we see her welcome ‘Jason’ home, it’s not obvious that it’s Jason2. Some of us thought life was continuing like there was a reality split somewhere else and in one version, Jason had come home with no run-in. We wondered if the Daniela in Jason2’s world was happier. Maybe her career and being an artist was her best path. It seemed odd that she completely stopped being an artist to be a mother of one son. We thought she could have kept it up a bit at least.

We wondered about the world Charlie would create for them to live in. Would it be unpopulated? Similar to their own? They were leaving with nothing and taking only memories with them. It reminded us of immigrant stories around the turn of the century. It must have been terrifying.

We’ll be meeting again just after Thanksgiving so I better get reading quickly! 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: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett (4/5)

5 Nov

I was so excited when I heard that there was going to be a third Kingsbridge book. I was a huge fan of the first two and I was excited to see what Follett would do to bring the town into the 1500s. This wasn’t my favorite book in the trilogy but I can’t say I disliked the book.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Other books by Follett reviewed on this blog:

Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge #1)
World Without End (Kingsbridge #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half-century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.

I came into this book with unreasonably high expectations. I adored the first two books in this series and they blew me away. The character development was great, the arc was amazing, and the setting took on a life of its own. I adored everything about them. So I think it was inevitable that this book would fall a bit flat. Follett moved away from Kingsbridge too much in this book. The familiar setting of the town and the cathedral there was abandoned, only playing guest appearances. Politics, which had always had a small part, became central in this book. The relationships between Kingsbridge citizens were secondary to the lives of the nobility and powerful in England, France, and Spain. This book was far too overreaching in its scope and there’s no wonder it stretched as long as it did.

Yet again, Follett created amazing characters. Ned Willard is an honorable and wonderful man and it’s no wonder Margery loves him. The villains in this book are equally believable and driven by their own sense of duty and devotion. I found them all true to their time as well. Education wasn’t common and many of these characters knew only what they learned from their parents and church. Few people made radical decisions.

Ned was easy to like and a great lead character. I enjoyed following him as the followed Queen Elizabeth and learned about international politics. He was fair and smart, though not so ahead of his time as to be unbelievable. He also wasn’t radicalized to either side of international politics or religion like so many of the characters were. He was patient and in a 900-page novel, that kept him interesting.

I found Margery very relatable. She holds her religious convictions close but she doubts what she’s taught about others who are different from her. She’s a very modern woman for someone of her time. She is able to think independently and even though men rule over her, she has a strong spirit. I liked how fiercely she loved her family, it made me admire her, even if I didn’t agree with her.

Ken Follett
Image via the author’s website

Sylvie’s story was my favorite. I knew, from what I know about Follett books, that she would die eventually, but I still loved her (Follett’s lovers always end up together). Her bravery was admirable and I thought the way Pierre tricked her was one of the worst things I’d ever heard of. She and her mother had a great relationship which reminded me of my mother.

The end of the book really frustrated me. I felt like Follett kept it going just long enough to weave in another important historical event that had nothing to do with the characters’ development and I wish it had been cut. I won’t give away too much more here, but it was obvious to anyone who knows that part of history what was going to happen and I could have dealt with one fewer chapter.

My audiobook was narrated by John Lee. I loved the narration he did and I think he served Follett well. His female voices weren’t offensively high or weak, which is often a fault of narrators in my opinion. He used accents well which would have been quite the challenge with the wide origins of these characters. They were never distracting but helped me know who was talking and remember a character’s origin.

Ned’s love is tested in this book. He loves Margery, his mother Alice, Sylvie, and Queen Elizabeth. At different times, these women pull his attention in different directions and away from the others and tries him. The book talks about conflicting loyalties in many senses. Religion and love, country and ruler. I think Ned made the right choices at the times he needed to, but it was never easy and far from simple. That’s the best we can hope for.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing historical fiction can be overwhelming. You lose control over some of the pacing of a book when history dictates how things happened. I think Follett let history guide this book too much. There were elements of it, such as Queen Mary, that had nothing to do with the main plot. It added length, but no depth. The story has completely moved away from Kingsbridge and I honestly miss it. History made the cathedral less important which I find quite sad.

This book is amazingly written and I think I would have enjoyed it more as a stand-alone novel instead of anticipating stories from Kingsbridge Cathedral. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1500s 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:
A Column of Fire- Ken Follett | thebookfeed
Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett | Diary of a Bookfiend

Challenge Update, October 2018

1 Nov

I finally got the rebuilding month I was waiting for! It was a long time coming, to be sure, but it came and I’m feeling slightly more optimistic about meeting my reading goals for the year. It’s a rebuilding month. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in October:

Bel Canto//Ann Patchett (4)
Artemis//Andy Weir (4)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web//David Langercrantz (4)
Dark Matter//Blake Crouch (5)
A Night to Remember//Walter Lord (4)
A Column of Fire//Ken Follett (4)

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to report six books read! It feels great, really. I had so many books partially finished and now I feel this is a fair representation of how much reading I did in October. On to November!

When Are You Reading? Challenge

8/12
One more down! A Column of Fire was my 1500s book for the challenge. I’m in the middle of two more (1700s and 1800s) and I’ll start on my 1600s read soon. I’m feeling good about this one, I think I’ll knock it out of the park this year!

Goodreads Challenge

41/55
Only four books behind now! I’ll take it this time. I’ll have to really start reading soon but until school’s over (November 13th) I can’t think like that. So soon…

Book of the Month

Yet again, a book club selection won me over this month. I think that’s the third month in a row. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch had me laying in bed more than is probably healthy for my back. I wanted to know what happened so badly! Glad this one was introduced to me.

Added to my TBR

The numbers are creeping up as my book clubs make their selections for the next season. I’m up 4 this month to 92. I’m sure I’ll bring it down again.

  • Old School by Tobias Wolff. No idea what I’m getting into here. Wolff sounds familiar, should I be scared or excited?
  • The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Langercrantz. How could I stop after that last one? I can’t wait to see what Lizbeth does next!
  • Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. Again, no idea here. I like going into books blind.
  • Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. This looks very different from a lot of the books we read for the club so I’m curious to see how our group reacts to it.
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. I’ve heard so much about Gay and I’m excited to see what I think of her writing! Woop!
  • Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m thinking either draft dodgers or baseball here. I’m hoping both.
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman. No idea, again. However, the cover looks familiar. Maybe I’ve seen it in stores. Or maybe another book has a similar cover? I’m unsure but still excited.

Personal Challenge

I used these monthly posts to keep myself accountable to my personal goals for 2017 and I’m excited to do that again this year. You all were so supportive before.

  • Graduate and keep my 4.0- Final is coming up and it’s looking good so far!
  • Travel to Europe with my husband- I shouldn’t be dreaming of our next trip, but I am already…
  • Complete a 2018 Weather Blanket- Yep, I’m really behind. I think a re-watch of GoT is in order. That will give me plenty of knitting time!

How are your challenges going so far? I hope you’re off to a good start If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for 2018, it’s fun!

Until next time, write on.

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

WWW Wednesday, 31-October-2018 [Halloween Edition]

31 Oct

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 readingThe Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl looks so good on my bedside table. That’s a reason not to be reading it, right? I’ll get back to it soon…
I’m doing most of my reading of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson during lunch and it’s slow going, but it’s been fun. I’ll likely string this one out until the end of the year. Not by choice, just by slow reading habits.
I hope I can finish Not Me by Michael Lavigne this week. I’m not enjoying it as much as I did at first and I honestly want to finish it and get back to Pearl. I feel like there are too many questions and not enough answers. The main character is languishing, not moving and I’m a bit tired of it.
I was able to start That Night by Chevy Stevens on my phone and I’m using it as my car audiobook until another comes in. So far, It’s been a well-balanced mystery. I know what happened but I don’t. And I know what the future looks like, a bit. It’s muddled and fun so far!

Recently finished: I was able to finish A Column of Fire by Ken Follett on my way home from my swim meet on Saturday. It felt SO GOOD to call it done. I still have to return the huge audiobook to the library but I’m already imagining my car so much more empty. I’ll be writing a review for this next week.
I wrapped up A Night to Remember by Walker Lord, too. It was fun to revisit the Titanic after my trip to the Belfast museum this summer. I feel like a real nerd now. But I loved it. My review went up Monday so please check it out! I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I have my next audiobook on hold at the library and it will be The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. I’m not usually a fan of short stories, but I am a fan of Hemingway. I think this one will work out well between the two.


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

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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