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Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (4/5)

27 Apr

At my former job, a coworker of mine was floored that I’d never read this book. I found a copy at a used book sale and it sat on my shelf for a few years. Then I heard that Lisa See was coming to town for a signing! I read her other book, Shanghai Girls, and got a copy of this one signed. I grabbed the audiobook before I had time to pick up the physical one and I wish I’d grabbed it sooner. This was a great story.

Cover image via Goodreads

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Other books by Lisa See reviewed on this blog:

Shanghai Girls (with two book club reflections and meeting the author)

Summary from Goodreads:

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear.

However See did her research for this book, she did it right. It was very easy to picture life in early 1800s China. Their culture, so different from mine, seemed natural after listening to the book for a little while. The foot binding scene caused me to gag in the middle of a run. My husband had to stop and ask me if I was okay. It was so vivid that it was terrifying. The time in the mountains was frighteningly vivid, too. There were a lot of good moments in this book that go back to how talented a writer See is.

I think the mark of good writing is seeing a story through one character’s point of view and not realizing how slanted or biased that view is until it’s pointed out. See did a great job of this. Lily’s views seemed natural to me as the reader and I never questioned her interpretation or views until Snow Flower or the Sworn Sisters pointed out how she was wrong. Lily was more complicated than she at first appeared and Snow Flower’s many layers are evident in the story. Both are wonderful characters.

I liked Snow Flower best because she was easier to analyze and feel sympathy for in the book. When Lily’s flaws were pointed out, I almost took it personally because I felt I knew was her. Snow Flower’s bad fate and hardships were sympathetic and I could see her struggles and feel for her.

I’m very much like Lily. When things are going badly, I persist. I tend to think that something that’s gone wrong must be because I didn’t follow a rule or instruction and I try to get others to conform to this as well. I’m not a great listener much of the time and Snow Flower and Lily’s adult relationship reminded me of many of my own.

Lisa See and me

The months in the mountains were very emotional in my mind. I felt bad for Snow Flower and Lily and got a sense of the desperate situation they were in from See’s writing. Snow Flower’s mother-in-law was quite wicked and the preference given to her second son was really shocking. Snow Flower’s husband confused me because he seemed angry and soft moments apart but that could easily stem from the difficult situation he was in up in the mountains.

Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph to avoid it. Lily’s realization that Snow Flower had not abandoned her after Snow Flower’s death was almost impossible to listen to. It was so heartbreaking to hear the Sworn Sisters be so cruel to Lily and to hear about Snow Flower’s suffering for the many years they were apart. Lily’s realization that she’d never apologized to Snow Flower was crushing! It was a really sad end to a story that was very sad and while it was fitting, it didn’t make it easy to get through!

Janet Song narrated the audiobook I listened to and I thought she did a great job. She used voices for the characters that were just different enough to tell them apart without any sounding like a mockery. I thought her pacing and intonation were good and it was to a point where I didn’t notice her, which to me means she’s doing a great job.

Lily wanted forgiveness and had trouble giving it herself. The message I got from this book was that friends can be closer than blood but we have to work on those relationships as much as we work on marriages and family relationships. There was a communication breakdown between Snow Flower and Lily that neither was able to correct and it created a rift between them that was never healed. They both needed forgiveness and neither was forthcoming with it. In the end, it poisoned their beautiful friendship.

Writer’s Takeaway: I believe the best historical fiction is when you don’t even realize that it’s historical. The setting felt so natural that I would forget this was 1850s China. It can be really hard to work historical context into a story in a way that will not shock the reader and See did an amazing job with this.

A great book that I’m glad I finally read. 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:
Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Audiobook) | Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog
Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See | lisasliterarylife

WWW Wednesday, 26-April-2017

26 Apr

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 getting so close to the end of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler! I had to wait 40 minutes to see the eye doctor last Thursday and I got completely sucked in. Without studying to do during my lunch breaks, I think I’ll finish this one very soon!
A Son of the Circus by John Irving is not really picking up. I really hoped it would, but I’m plodding along still. With a week I’ll be without my husband, maybe I’ll find some time?
I started Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie on Saturday. Time will tell how well I remember the plot of the first one I really think it’s been maybe ten years since I read it because I’m thinking it was in high school!

Recently finished: I finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on Friday while driving around for work. I thought the ending was really well done. I got to listen to the end of the story in pretty rapid succession over the last few days which was a really great experience. I adore getting to binge on books, especially ones that are this moving. The story was beautiful and I understand there’s a movie I can watch soon! It will be fun to compare them. When I heard See speak, she said it was very different from the book! I was sad to realize this book wouldn’t count for a new time period in the When Are You Reading? Challenge, but it’s a very new time and culture for me! My review will be up tomorrow so please check that out!

Reading Next: My plan is still The Circle by Dave Eggers. I may have to find an ebook before I get to that, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m getting more and more excited for this book each week when you all tell me how excited you are as well, haha.


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!

‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ TV Show- Half Way Review

24 Apr

Image via Flickering Myth

So, I was initially VERY against the Thirteen Reasons Why show. I still am, I’ve just weakened my position. I read the book and was really disturbed because I felt the author was trying to justify suicide. If your life is as bad as Hannah Baker’s, then killing yourself makes sense. What a terrible message to send to teenagers! The book made me really mad and I told everyone who would listen that I felt that way. I still will. I decided to watch the TV show out of a sick sense of ‘having to’ do it. I read the book, I wanted to see how it was changed to a show. I’m still very against the message and understand it’s almost worse (from a psychologist point of view) in a visual form. I wanted to give my thoughts at the halfway point, having just watched episode 6. I’ll come back with another review after the entire show.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Unlike the book, the characters stay involved after their tape is over. In a few of the tapes, I felt like the character wasn’t really that important in the end because their impact was there and gone. In the show, we’re really shown how this person is changed from Hannah’s death and the tapes. They continue to be important and even grow in importance. I thought this was well done.

How Hannah reacts to being groped or slut-shamed felt very real to me. It can be shocking that someone would do that and I felt her frozen reaction was justified and realistic. It wasn’t a weakness on her behalf, it was real.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

I imagined the town the action took place in to be very tiny! It seems that way at times because the characters all run into each other and they’re only now getting a Wal-Mart equivalent. However, the town’s so much bigger than I imagined! It’s big enough for Clay to ride through suburbs in every shot he’s on his bike and be ‘on the other side of town’ after a long ride. I guess I was thinking small town surrounded by farms, my midwest idea of a small town. Did anyone else struggle with this? Oh well, it works better as a bigger town with the difference in socioeconomic class of the characters.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

Hannah’s narration. After Tyler’s tape, we don’t really hear Hannah talking anymore. We get a bit, but her telling us a story has disappeared. I think the way the show is doing it is fine, but I wish it would stick with one method or the other: all voiceover or very minimal. The switch back and forth is weird.

Things That Changed Too Much

The ‘let’s get Clay’ mentality! I’m really hating it. Some of the characters, you got the idea from their tapes that they were sorry or would have tried to make things right, but having them now trying to ‘take Clay out’ or ‘get him’ in any way is infuriating. Alex is the most frustrating for me. He’s obviously going through a depression that’s likely worse than Hannah’s, and no one is noticing.

The parent’s point of view. This is heartbreaking and I really struggle with any scene the Bakers are in. Adding Clay’s mom as the prosecuting attorney is even worse. It’s sending me a mixed signal about the attended audience for this show. It seems more geared toward adults than teens and I think that’s rightfully so.

Please, no spoilers for the end! I’ll get to it soon with my semester ending today (!!!) and my husband taking a trip out-of-town soon. Reader, have you see the Thirteen Reasons Why show? What did you think?

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, 19-April-2017

19 Apr

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 didn’t have a chapter to read for school this week so I got through some of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler during my lunch breaks. The plot is really picking up and I’m considering devoting myself to this one when In finish Circus.
A Son of the Circus by John Irving is still a slow go. I’m not completely surprised, but I wish there as a bit more keeping me engaged by now. I’m about 100 pages in and it’s still dragging a bit.
I’m in love with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I really hope to put this on my ‘finished’ list next week because I’m listening to it at every opportunity and loving the story. I heard See say that there’s a movie based on the plot that doesn’t follow much at all but I’m curious to see it still.

Recently finished: After such a great showing last week, I’m empty this week! I hope to have Snow Flower here next week. Boo.

Reading Next:  Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie is still next for audiobooks. I’ll pick it up as soon as Snow Flower is over.
For physical books, I’m going to pick up The Circle by Dave Eggers. I’ve been seeing all of the trailers for the movie and my love for Emma Watson is running over now that it’s combined with Eggers. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love.


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!

My Very Potter Birthday

17 Apr

My birthday was a few weeks ago and I’m very fortunate to have a family who embraces my Potterheadedness. I got pottered from all sides.

The first was my husband. He picked up the mail on his way home one night and when I went to go through it later, I found an envelope addressed to me, living in ‘The Bedroom Next to the Stairs.’ It was perfect and sealed with a green wax seal. Inside was a Hogwarts acceptance letter and a flier for the local Pottercon. We’re going! It was the coolest way to let me know and I am looking forward to it a lot.

The second Harry themed gift was also from my husband. He made me a Harry Potter game. I kid you not! It’s a mix between Clue and a tile-based haunting game we played with some friends which I cannot remember the name of for the life of me. (This also means I can’t find it on Google so it must not exist.) We’ve playtested it a few times and I think we’ve worked out the kinks. It might be time to get some other friends involved.

The third present was from my parents. They got me a Hogwarts Alumni shirt which I’m in love with. I need a good place/reason to wear it soon because I’m dying to. I wore it to the library but it was for a board meeting and I don’t think my fellow board members appreciated it properly.

The final gift was unintentionally Potter-related. I asked my parents for a small bookshelf that I’m using for all my Potter books as well as the other YA series my husband and I own. I’ve been told it ended up quite shrine-like.

I got a bookshelf for my birthday! Guess what I filled it with. #harrypotter

A post shared by Sam Ann Elizabeth (@samannelizabeth) on

I’m excited to keep filling this one up with illustrated editions and future Fantastic Beasts screenplays. It’s going to be awesome.

Happy Potter Birthday to me!

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!

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ Movie

13 Apr

Movie Poster via To Hollywood and Beyond Wiki

After FINALLY finishing Library of Souls, my husband and I figured it was time to pick up the movie based on this series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I actually watched it a few days before finishing the book and I was afraid I’d ruined the book for myself. They were so different it didn’t make a lick of difference.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Hollows. Really, this is about it. I was excited to hear Burton was doing this film, but I think this was his only add to it visually. The book was already so visual that there wasn’t much more to do. The Hollows were a little reminiscent of Jack Skellington so it even gave the impression he was copying his previous work. Regardless, they worked well. Except for the CG error when their pinstripes showed up while covered with cotton candy. That was dumb.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Fiona talking. I didn’t understand why her character was silent in the books. Having her talking and walking around was fine with me. She was completely different from what I imagined and much younger, but oh well. And she didn’t have an adorable love with Hugh but again, I could live without it.

Shortening the series to one movie. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I thought the series was meandering and far too long. This shortening was awesome. The ending was also much more satisfying than the end of the book series.

Switching Emma and Olive’s powers. Because honestly, Olive’s power was pretty useless and Emma is pretty useless so it didn’t really matter.

Olive being older. With her having the fire power, I can see why it’s easier to portray her as older. A 6-year-old with fire hands would be a bit terrifying.

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

Number of Hollows and Wights. In the books, there were hundreds and that’s why they were scary, they were all over the world. The movie portrayed it as just a small number, about 10 or so, and a few of them were wights already. That’s a lot less scary and I felt like I wouldn’t be as terrified of something where there are so few and some of them aren’t invisible anymore. Especially watching this after reading the third one, the numbers seemed way off.

Emma and Jacob’s creepy relationship. I mean, it was still there, but it wasn’t clear that Emma and Jacob’s grandfather had been together. Which gave it an ‘ick’ factor that wasn’t brought through in the film. Their relationship was really flat, anyway. She wasn’t appealing enough (in my opinion) to give up life for and there was no time for them to develop a relationship that would attract him at all.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Things That Changed Too Much

Miss Peregrine being young. Ugh. This was too much for me. Miss Peregrine was an older woman in my head and would have been a better role for Judy Dench where she didn’t get killed off right away. Young Miss Peregrine was wrong.

Hollow v. Skeleton Battle. The most epic battle of the whole movie is completely CG and takes place in front of a bunch of Normals? Really? This is so off from the series that it was annoying. And it kept all of the characters out of the climactic battle. That’s poor pacing.

Emma’s air power. Where did this come from? And how did it work? She could make the room of an underwater ship air-tight? And if she can blow enough air to raise a cruise ship from the ocean floor, why can’t she produce enough air to hold off a wight for a decent amount of time? I just don’t get it.

Changing the past. So Jacob and his friends are able to change the past enough that Abe doesn’t die? That was odd to me. Plus, the movie left Jacob abandoned in January 2016 London and he would somehow have to make his way back to Florida and it would see there would be two of him once he got there. So how did that all play out?

I heard this movie didn’t do well in theaters and I can see why. It’s riddled with plot holes and doesn’t seem to have attempted to capture the book fans. Reader, have you see the Miss Peregrine movie? What did you think?

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, 12-April-2017

12 Apr

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 was an hour early for a conference on Friday so I spent the time reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler at Starbucks. I got through a few chapters and I’m about halfway through the book now. Slow and steady but really enjoying this one.
A Son of the Circus has been a slow start. I’m hoping it picks up because this brick is over 600 pages long! I love Irving but this is very different from his earlier books. I hope I can still enjoy it.
I started listening to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on Saturday for a two-hour workout so I made great progress in it already. It’s not too long so I’m hoping I can get through this one quickly.

Recently finished: I finally finished Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs! Hubby and I split up to finish it and I came through on Friday, him on Saturday. My review of it went up yesterday and I warn you, it is not glowing. I gave it 2 out of 5 Stars. We watched the movie as well and I’ll post about that tomorrow.
I also got through Once In a Great City by David Maraniss. This was really fun to listen to and for anyone based in Detroit, I think it’s worth reading. It gives a great image of what our city was and what it could be again. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars. I’ll be posting about this book again as Maraniss visits Detroit to talk about the book.

Reading Next: I think I’ll need another audiobook next, which seems crazy after finishing two this week! Next on my list is Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie. It’s been years since I read the first in this series so I may have to read some summaries to refresh myself. The subsequent books are also available on audio so I hope to move through some of them soon.


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: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (2/5)

11 Apr

I know many of my readers follow my WWW posts and if you do, you’ll know how long I’ve been reading this book. I started it in December as a car-trip read with my husband. We took only a few long car trips since then and pecked away at the 15 hour recording. Our last one was 8 hours in on day two weeks ago and at the end of that, we had 1.5 hours left and decided to finish it up on our own. I’ll summarize my feelings by saying I’m so glad it’s over.

Cover image via Goodreads

Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs

Other books by Ransom Riggs reviewed on this blog:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) 3/5
Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) 2/5

Summary from Goodreads:

As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all.

All of the things I disliked about the second book just continued into this one. Besides the ymbrynes, none of the adults in this book are even respectable, especially Jacob’s parents. The love story between Jacob and Emma is completely superficial and forced. There are inconsistencies in the book just to work in the pictures Riggs loves so much. Things happen so conveniently that it’s very obvious these books were not well planned and Riggs is making up ways for things to work out. Jacob and Emma are constantly yelling before they even think about what they’re saying. My two stars are for Riggs’s creativity but this book really failed me.

Jacobs and Emma reacted like hormonal teenagers so in that respect, I’d say they were believable. In the sense that they didn’t really sleep for two weeks, it was completely unbelievable. Jacob recognizes in himself that he’s changed and fights between his need to be his past and present self, which is a very realistic outcome of his journey, but very introspective for a teenage boy. He acted like he was much older than a teenager and it really bothered me.

Sharon was one of my favorite characters and really redeemed the book for me. I’m still not sure why he helped Jacob, Emily, and Addison (another inconsistency and character flaw) but he was a redeemable character with flaws and advantages to him. I found it believable that he had been an Ambro addict and was in debt to Bentham for helping him recover. I found it believable that his family was gallows builders and I understood why he helped in the end. He was a great image in my head and I’m really glad he was involved.

The characters situation was unrelatable to me. Jacob kept discovering things about himself like a person going through puberty, but other than that, his experiences were extreme and I didn’t find his reactions to anything relatable. Many times, my husband and I would pause the audio and say, “Why don’t they just …?” and point out a much easier way to solve the current problem. I couldn’t sympathize with someone I thought made dumb decisions.

Image via Wikipedia

Exploring Devil’s Acre was one of the few parts I really enjoyed. Riggs’s imagination was in full force and he set up a great dark Victorian London that was reminiscent of Sweeney Todd and just great. Too much time was spent in some aspects, like the Peculiars for sale, but other parts, like Smoking Street, were great.

The ending felt so contrived. I was so upset with it. I wanted Jacob to suffer more, I really did. He had so many close calls that ended up working out for him that seeing him really suffer and fail would have felt good as a reader. I won’t say it now, but the way it played out was too happy for the set-up we’d had. I was very put out.

Kirby Heyborne narrated this final installment like he did the first two. There were a few times I was upset with his choices to have the characters scream or whine when the dialogue tags didn’t call for it. I find his British accent grating and for a book set in London, this can be a real issue. He does build tension well, which is important in a book like this, but I think his slow narrating style is part of what stretched this out to 15 hours.

I felt luck played too much of a role in Jacob’s success for there to be a strong lesson in this book. Just at the moment when something bad would happen to him, another character showed up or someone was distracted or he was protected from anything bad happening. I guess the lesson would have to be to have friends who can see into the future and who make loud entrances and have impeccable timing.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think the visual aspect of a book is very important. However, it feels like Riggs sacrificed plot and character development to give us a visual book. We don’t have dynamic characters besides Jacob, who doesn’t change much anyway. But we do have multiple characters who have great images and styles. We have a meandering plot with a lot of asides that add nothing to the main plot. But the setting for each can be shown in an antique picture. The visual elements of a book should enhance it, not be the only driving force behind it.

I’m honestly glad this series is over. I won’t feel obligated to listen to another one. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 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!

Related Posts:
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs | Just Simplydelete It
Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs | Reading with Jenna
Book Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (Final Book in Miss Peregrine’s Trilogy) | Alice in Wonderbookland

Book Review: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss (4/5)

10 Apr

My library brings in an author each year and every few years, it’s a non-fiction writer and when that happens, the discussion usually focuses on Detroit and Michigan. David Maraniss’s ballad to the once-great (and now recovering) Detroit was this year’s selection. My book club discussion on it isn’t for a while, but I figured I’d get a head start on the audiobook so I didn’t have to rush it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1963 and Detroit is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America: Grandson of the first Ford; Henry Ford II; influential labor leader Walter Reuther; Motown’s founder Berry Gordy; the Reverend C.L. Franklin and his daughter, the amazing Aretha; Governor George Romney, Mormon and Civil Rights advocate; super car salesman Lee Iacocca; Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, a Kennedy acolyte; Police Commissioner George Edwards; Martin Luther King. It was the American auto makers’ best year; the revolution in music and politics was underway. Reuther’s UAW had helped lift the middle class.

The time was full of promise. The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before and inventing the Mustang. Motown was capturing the world with its amazing artists. The progressive labor movement was rooted in Detroit with the UAW. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech there two months before he made it famous in the Washington march.

Once in a Great City shows that the shadows of collapse were evident even then. Before the devastating riot. Before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight. Before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities—from harsh weather to high labor costs—and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse.

I’ve lived in Metro Detroit my whole life. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, we didn’t go into the city. It was dangerous and there was nothing worth doing there unless you were going to a Tigers game and even then, you went straight to the game and straight home. Now that I’m in my 20s and the city is rebounding, I go a lot more. It’s great to see the city rebounding and I can see how it strives to be the city it was in the 60s (less some obvious racial problems). Maraniss has an obvious love for the city and it’s portrayed in this book and touches on all aspects of city life ranging from Motown to politics to automotive. I listened to this book while driving and hearing about the Mustang concept car kept at World HQ while driving on the Southfield past the Glass Castle (local name for that building) gave me shivers. Going to Wayne State for an event while hearing about students from campus was awesome. I felt like I was walking through this book while I read it. I felt like Woodward Ave would be closed as I approached it for the Walk to Freedom despite it happening over 50 years ago. Maraniss brought the city to a life I hope it can see again soon.

I loved how Maraniss portrayed the figures in this book. Reuther was probably my favorite. My parents were GM engineers and I grew up thinking of the UAW as devils so seeing their infamous leader portrayed so positively made me think a lot. Hearing about George Romney, whose son Mitt would run for President in 2012, seemed like a strange precursor to that election. It was really cool to hear about these people via interviews Maraniss conducted and get a feel for how they lived and what they saw.

 

I could feel Maraniss’s pride for his city in this book. Wherever I travel, I say I’m from Detroit and I get looks like I’m going to whip a pistol out of my back pocket and shoot the person in the face. It’s not like that! Detroit has a rough reputation and it’s fought that for years. Maraniss notes how it was fighting that during the time period he selected, a great time period for the city. It got worse after that and is only now starting to get better.

David Maraniss
Image via Simon and Schuster

I’d never heard about the Walk to Freedom and I really enjoyed that part of the story. Hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Cobo Hall was really moving and hearing the positive things he said about the city gave me chills. I wish the city had been able to make more progress for racial equality without the violence that broke out a few years after the book ended. It seems the city was open to it, but also resisted the change that was really needed.

I wasn’t as interested in some of the plot lines, the Motown one for example. The Motown plotline didn’t seem to connect to the others the same way the rest of them intertwined and it made me lose interest in it very quickly. The civil rights one connected slightly, but it wasn’t strong enough to feel like it was all part of a cohesive story.

Having Maraniss narrated the story was great. He pronounced everything right! I’ve found that non-native narrators don’t always say local names correctly and as a Detroiter, this could have been very distracting. It was great to have a man who knew all the right names say them.

Detroit was a great city. It makes me sad to say that, but Maraniss is right. It was a great city that fell off the tracks and is trying to get back on. The years in this book were boom years for the Motor City and show what Detroit could be again. On a personal note, I heard a speech from the current mayor, Mike Duggan, on Friday and his hopes and dreams for Detroit reminded me of this book. I hope we will be there again soon.

Writer’s Takeaway: When choosing several plot lines, it’s important that they alight. The political landscape of Detroit and far-reaching connections of the auto executives helped most plot lines interact with similar characters and events but the Motown plot seemed forced. It’s a defining sound of Detroit and that era, but the Gordy’s weren’t political and the Jim Crow laws that touched the performers wasn’t touching them in Detroit. I think the book could have been stronger without it but it’s a good note for a writer.

I enjoyed this book and it made me optimistic about what my city can become again. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1960-1979 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!

Related Post:
Review: Once in a Great City- A Detroit Story | Da Tech Guy Blog

WWW Wednesday, 5-April-2017

5 Apr

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!

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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: My husband and I made some major progress on Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs this weekend! We have about 2:30 left on it and we might just finish it separately because we don’t have another road trip coming up soon. Yay for progress!
I read a few pages of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler when I forgot my textbook for lunch reading. I’m still really enjoying this book, but it’s slow going for sure.
I think I’ll finish Once In a Great City by David Maraniss  this week. It’s a good one to listen to during my long runs and it’s fun listening to it while I drive because more than once, I’ve been on the freeways or in sight of the buildings he mentions and it’s really exhilarating.
I started a new physical book, A Son of the Circus by John Irving. Many of you know how much I love Irving and I’m also a big fan of circus books so this is one I’m really looking forward to! It’s a long one so I expect it to be here a while.

Recently finished: I finished Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano Saturday night. It was a lot faster of a read than I thought and I was glad to get through it. The images in it were beautiful and the story was a big puzzle to solve which was a cool structure. My review is already up so please go check it out. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars.

Reading Next: The plan is still to listen to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on audio, though I may power through Library of Souls before I pick it up, just depending on what the hubby and I decide to do with that one. I’m looking forward to See’s book, though!


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!