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Book Review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro (3/5)

18 Jan

I can’t remember when I grabbed this book exactly. It must have been after I heard Ishiguro speak since it’s not a signed copy. I’m guessing I found it on a used book sale shelf at the library at some point. I knew it was one of his earlier books and much different than his popular books. Since I’ve been a fan of some books and not others, I figured it was worth a shot.

Cover image via Amazon

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other books by Ishiguro reviewed on this blog:

The Burried Giant
The Remains of the Day
Never Let Me Go Book Club Reflection And Movie Review
Meeting Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary from Amazon:

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day, here is the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. In a novel where past and present confuse, she relives scenes of Japan’s devastation in the wake of World War II.

This novel had a wonderfully slow pace. It was perfect for reading before bed and helping me relax. There was more dialogue than description and Ishiguro did well to keep me aware of what character was speaking when. I liked the sparse description because the conversations people were having were the most important. The ending made me think a lot, which I wasn’t ready for. It was a bit of a twist, but I should have expected that from Ishiguro.

I felt the characters were very believable. Etsuko didn’t have much of a personality but everyone around her did, especially Sachiko who I’m still not sure how I feel about. The relationship between the two women seems to be the center of the book, but Etsuko’s relationship with her husband comes under scrutiny as well. It didn’t bother me that Etsuko was rather flat. Even though she’s more-or-less the main character, the story seems to be what she sees and not who she is.

Ogata was the most interesting character to me. He was so polite to Etsuko but you could tell he was very angry and upset with what was happening in his country and feeling like it was out of his control. The way he brings up the article criticizing him, it’s obvious that he’s very upset about it, more than he’s letting on. He’s also frustrated with his son and what he perceives as disrespect through his son’s long work hours and refusal to play chess with him in the evening. I thought it was really eye-opening to see a father-in-law act this way toward his son and daughter-in-law and also telling about shifts in ideology in Japan after WWII with how he spoke about the article and his colleague.

There weren’t characters I related to well in this story. I wanted to relate to Etsuko but her personality was so flat that I wasn’t able to. Niki was probably the closest to me in age and life, but she was cold to her mother and tht’s so opposite of me that I couldn’t relate to her. 

Me, Ishiguro, and my friend Nicole

Hearing about Sachinko’s relationship with Frank and her uncle was the most interesting to me because it was so unclear what was going on. I started to unravel her relationship with her husband and why she was living in her cottage, but I’m not sure I ever really figured it out. And I’m not sure I completely understood the ending, either. Though I enjoyed how much it made me scratch my head and think of a few different ways it could have played out.

I thought Ogata’s plotline fell flat and that left me disappointed. I wanted him to confront his son or his former student more. I wanted him to defend himself. But in the end, he left. I know I was probably supposed to get more out of what he said and how his relationship with his son was indicative of changing political beliefs in Japan, but it was too sublt for me.

I was a little confused by the ending of this book which obscured the theme for me. I’m going to spoil it a bit here so skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers. When the modern narrator says she remembers taking her daughter to the harbor, I was so confused. I figured there were a few different ways to interpret it. One was that Etsuko was talking about her daughter, still enutero, going with her. The second is that Sachiko is our modern narrator and Mariko and Keiko are the same person. Third was that Etsuko somehow adopted or stoke Mariko and changed her name to keep Sachiko from finding them. Any way you shake it down, it’s a bit of an odd ending and could mean many things. In the first case, it’s about memory and how our memories of things are always rosier than the actual event. In the two later cases, it’s about how we can change our futures and try our best to do the best we can for the next generation but it might not work out. So I’m left a little confused by this book.

Writer’s Takeaway: Having a bland narrator so you can focus on a secondary character is a legitimate way to tell a story about someone without using their eyes. I’m thinking of Nick in The Great Gatsby. Ishiguro does something similar here with Etsuko, telling the story of the much more interesting Sachiko without Sachiko narrating or having to explain herself all the time. It keep her mysterious and more intriguing.

I enjoyed this book, especially it’s direct writing and light tone. Three out of Five Stars.

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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: 
A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro | Sushu Blog 
Review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro | Thoughts on Papyrus 
Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of the Hills – Thoughts on a Roundabout Narrative | Constructed Heroisms 
A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro | Savidge Reads 

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Book Review: Hum If You Don’t Now the Words by Bianca Marais (4/5)

7 Jan

This was a book club pick I wasn’t happy about because there was no audiobook available. With how slow I’ve been on audiobooks, I should have been more excited. When I found out my library didn’t have a copy and I’d have to do an ILL, I wasn’t pleased, but I made due. I’m glad I stuck with this title despite the difficulty of getting my hands on it. It was a gem.

Cover image via Amazon

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Summary from Amazon:

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred…until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

I was a little thrown off at first by Robin’s narration. She was at the same time well-spoken and also naive which I wasn’t ready for. I realize it was Marais’s way of writing a young girl’s voice for an adult audience and once I adjusted to it, I found the humor and enjoyed it. This was a complicated and wonderful story. I know a little about apartheid in South Africa so I had a basic understanding of the setting. Marais did a wonderful job of bringing 1970s Johannesburg to life for someone who’s never been and didn’t live through the time. I wasn’t aware how much the media controlled information to and from the country which struck me the most.

Marais’s characters are exceptions to their time and I think that’s what makes them interesting. I don’t, however, believe they’re giving me a good representation of the time period. We know that Maggie and Wilhemina are exceptional. We know that Edith has seen more of the world and has a broader view of right and wrong than most South Africans. We know that Beauty is more educated than most Black women of the time. Victor’s sexuality makes him a target and makes him want to rise against the oppressive system that keeps him down. They are joined in a fight against the overwhelming majority keeping them underground. While I believe people like them existed and I’m glad they did, I think the book could have been stronger if there were bigoted major characters, not just neighbors and nameless passers-by.

I hope there were people like Beauty in the world at that time. I hope smart, intelligent women were fighting for their families like Beauty did. I hope more women were able to show the whites that they were wrong and that their ideas could be challenged. Her patience was incredible and the way she helped change Robin’s way of thinking with action and truth was incredible. I’d like to hope she wasn’t fiction because she amazed me.

I think Robin’s ways of thinking were challenged much like ideas in America are being challenged today. The BLM movement and the political division in our country are making me wonder why some people think the way they do and questioning the way I think as well. Do I think I’m right because of the media I consume? Have I considered other sides? Robin faced these hard questions at a young age with remarkable grace. I hope we as a nation can do the same.

Bianca Marais
Image via Amazon

Robin’s relationship with Cat was my favorite part of the story. This is a bit of a spoiler so skip this paragraph to avoid that. I had imaginary friends growing up, so I related to Robin here. Mine weren’t as corporal as Cat, but they existed to me all the same. I thought it was interesting how much she insisted on Cat and how aware she was that Cat was imaginary. Her letting go of Cat was very significant. My mom says I sent my imaginary friends home with my Grandparents one day and never mentioned them again. I feel like Robin was more aware of what Cat meant to her and how she had to give her up to grow.

I felt that the ending was a little too perfect. Robin’s ability to show she was ‘woke’ (as we’d say now) seemed to draw just a little bit too perfectly on what Beauty had taught her. Beauty’s illness was timed so perfectly that she and Robin could have a conversation before she became unresponsive. And King George was willing to take an enormous risk for a young girl because she talked to him. All of it was a bit too much for me when it all came together. 

Family has a lot of different meanings. Robin’s family changes in a second and then continues to evolve. The people who come to make up her family care about her and she learns to care about people she never would have considered before. It sounds like a bad joke when you list them by the characteristics that make them unusual in 1970s South Africa (a Jew, a gay man, a Black woman, a young girl). But what makes them different becomes what binds them together. Alone they are scared, but together they are powerful. The title is what Edith says to Robin when she doesn’t know the words to a hymn. It’s about blending in when you’re alone and becoming part of something bigger.

Writer’s Takeaway: The alternating viewpoints worked wonderfully in this book. Robin may see something through a child’s eye but Beauty could ground it in something more serious and vice versa. Their two ways of seeing things didn’t often clash but they would round out the other to really lift the story.

An enjoyable story that I sped through. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1960-1979 time period for the 2021 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: 
Author Interview: Bianca Marais, author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words | Life Between Pages 
Hum if you don’t know the words by Bianca Marais | A Haven for Book Lovers 
Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais | Reading Ladies Book Club 
Wednesdays With Writers: A Smashing Debut from Bianca Marais Explores the Apartheid, Racism, the Soweto Uprising, Motherhood, and So Much More in Hum If You Don’t Know the Words | Leslie A. Lindsay 

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Book Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (3/5)

5 Jan

I needed a final book to wrap up my historical fiction reading challenge. I thought I left myself enough time to read this by starting just after Thanksgiving. Little did I know stomach issues were going to keep me from running or driving to the gym for a few weeks and my progress would slow to a crawl. I just managed to finish this book on New Year’s Eve. And it was mostly thanks to my loving husband not taking failure for an option and forcing me on an hour-long walk where we both listened to books. Thanks, hubs.

Cover image via Amazon

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

Summary from Amazon:

London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers—including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s artful mistress, Katherine Swynford—England’s young, still untested king, Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning. Songs are heard across London—catchy verses said to originate from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings—and among the book’s predictions is Richard’s assassination.

Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a “burnable book,” a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a labyrinthine conspiracy that reaches from the king’s court to London’s slums and stews—and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to save a king from a terrible fate.

The book seemed to be a bit too long for me. It dragged near the beginning, which is a bad place to drag. I didn’t get invested in the action until it picked up and by then, my time was diminishing and I just had to race through the book. I feel like as much of the plot development I remember from the last two days reading this book was in the rest of the book. That’s not very well-weighted. With a thriller, you expect a fast-paced ending, but I wasn’t expecting the slow beginning.

Holsinger had characters from a variety of social classes in Medieval England. His knowledge of the era shone well. I liked the maudlin a lot, they had a lot of character and I thought it was funny how integrated they were with the other levels of society. It was a good way to bring together such a wide variety of people in the mystery.

Milicent was my favorite for her ability to move between groups of people and how she was able to blend in. She was refined from her time as a mistress but when she was distressed and her low-born accent and way of speaking came out, I laughed because it showed how much she’d learned to put on airs. She was very smart and she loved her sister very much. She really had a heart of gold.

No single character was particularly relatable to me, but I liked a lot of them because I could see admirable traits in them. Maybe that was why I thought this book read slowly. It’s hard for me to pinpoint why.

Bruce Holsinger
Image via Goodreads

The ending of the book, from St. Dunston’s Day to the end, was the most exciting. Most of the book built to St. Dunston’s Day and I thought the scene was handled well and the way it wrapped up was exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. I just wish there could have been some similar moments in the middle.

The middle, from Agnes and Milicent going on the run until St. Dunston’s Day, was a big drag for me. I felt like I was floundering with the characters, jerking the book around but learning nothing new. It felt like it was dragging just to reach the celebration when I think it would have been better if the story started closer to the climax date. It just dragged and dragged for me and couldn’t pick up.

Simon Vance read the audiobook and he’s a narrator I’ve liked a lot in the past. I thought he did well with this story, keeping me involved and using a lot of subtle voice work to bring the characters to life. I hope to be listening to another work of his in the near future since I do enjoy his readings.

In the end, the book seemed to boil down to twisting someone’s words and how powerful words could be. The book was altered several times in several copies that eventually made it so John could solve the mystery and trace back to the culprit. It’s not surprising to read a book about the power of words. Writers, myself included, have a powerful love for words and like to explore what that power can do and how it can affect others. 

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing a mystery is incredibly complicated, something I haven’t been brave enough to take on. The mystery part of this book was well done and enjoyable. During the large reveals, I was saying aloud “Oh, that makes so much sense!” and smacking my forehead for not connecting dots earlier. While I didn’t like the pacing of the mystery in this case, the web itself was well woven.

Overall enjoyable though some parts could have been edited down significantly. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the (final) 1300-1499 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge 2020.

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: 
A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger | Read the World 
Entry 5: A Burnable Book (John Gower #1) | Sweaters and Raindrops 

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Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (3/5)

29 Dec

I never read this book in high school. I had a cousin say I should read it a few years ago but kept putting it off. I was shocked there wasn’t an audiobook easy to pick up for it so it didn’t come up sooner. I mentioned to my reading buddy that I hadn’t read it and she remembered liking it in high school and was game for a re-read. And so we started.

Cover image via Amazon

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Summary from Goodreads:

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

I’m not sure what I expected from this book. I knew that Holden would be an unreliable narrator, but that was about all I came into it with. I wasn’t a big fan of Holden and that held me back from liking the book. I felt bad for him at times, but not enough that he was endearing or sympathetic.

Holden seemed to be struggling with something and it was hard to put my finger on what it was. His issues seemed to be larger than adolescence. I wondered at times if he was bipolar, ADHD, or Autistic. It made me wonder about how he would be treated in 2020 when diagnostics and treatments for such conditions are more accessible. Maybe he wouldn’t have been kicked out of so many schools or living on his own in New York for three days. If nothing else, he would have a cell phone to call his sister. 

Phoebe was by far my favorite character. She was so kind and loving. She knew her brother was having problems at school and she still loved him because that didn’t matter to her. What mattered was that he loved her and she loved him. She was very kind and giving and it was easy to see why she was so special to Holden.

I related best to Mr. Spencer at the beginning of the book and I think that shows how little I related to most of the novel. I wanted to encourage Holden and it was hard to want to help him when he kept pushing away anyone who showed interest in him. He was rude to Sally and Mr. Antolini and everyone except Phoebe. I thought Mr. Spencer had wonderful intentions and wanted to help Holden more than most, but he was pushed aside and dismissed because of his age. I was so frustrated.

J.D. Salinger
Image via Amazon

I thought Holden’s time in the hotel was the most interesting. I realized how long he’d gone without sleep and was loving the crazy shenanigans he got into while he was doing everything he could to stay awake. Between the bars, the hooker, and setting up dates with Sally, he kept me entertained and I was wondering when he would finally crash.

The ending of the book was a big disappointment to me and I’m going to spoil it so please skip ahead if you want to avoid that. I felt the ending was far too abrupt. The nice afternoon with Phoebe was lovely. It’s clear something traumatic happened when Holden’s parents found out he’d been kicked out again. I’m wondering if the facility he’s in is a psychiatric treatment facility and he’s telling the story to a therapist. He seems to be in some sort of in-patient treatment but I couldn’t get a good sense of what from the short final chapter. It left me feeling frustrated. Maybe I needed an English teacher to explain it to me.

Our perceptions of ourselves and the way others perceive us is so different. Holden constantly complains about people being phony and then does the same things he complains about in others. He perceives his own actions as justified but can’t seem to justify the same actions in others. Several times, we see others say that he’s not aware of how he speaks or how his questions are received and doesn’t recognize that others are uncomfortable. We are all the heroes of our own stories.

Writer’s Takeaway: Salinger does a great job of creating a strong voice in Holden. We can get a better understanding of him and how he thinks from the internal dialogue (or storytelling) we get from him. It reminded me of Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now. It is a great way to tell about a character with a strong personality and sense of self. I think it gave the story an edge it could never have had. Holden’s story couldn’t have been told another way.

The characters annoyed me and the ending fell flat. 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 Posts: 
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger | Eva Lucia 
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger | Bookishloom 
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Review | Books and Readers 
TGRRL: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger | Timewalkerauthor 
The Cather in the Rye | From the Parapet 

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Book Review: Golden Glow by Dan D’Addona and Kaitlin Sandeno

21 Dec

I’m very lucky that my local Indie bookstore is co-owned by a former swimming reporter. It makes the store a hot spot for swimmers on book tour. I took advantage of such an event to meet Kaitlin Sandeno last summer. 

Cover image via Amazon

Golden Glow by Dan D’Addona and Kaitlin Sandeno

Summary from Amazon:

Kaitlin Sandeno was one of the world’s greatest and most versatile swimmers. Competing at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, she was a part of the world record breaking 4×200-meter relay team and is one of an elite few to medal in three different strokes.

Golden Glow: How Kaitlin Sandeno Achieved Gold in the Pool and in Life recounts Sandeno’s amazing swimming career—including her spectacular Olympic performances—and details the impact she has made in the world outside the pool. Breaking into the Olympics at seventeen years old, she became the face of the team with her enthusiasm and bubbly personality. She returned to the Olympics four years later to have one of the most dominating meets by an American woman in history. But Sandeno’s legacy in the pool is nothing compared to how she has used her platform to help those around her. She is the national spokesperson for the Jessie Rees Foundation and spreads joy around the country to children fighting cancer. She has emceed Olympic trials, hosted multiple shows for USA Swimming, and has given back to her sport, as a coach of youth teams and now as general manager of the International Swimming League’s DC Trident.

Golden Glow is not only the story of how hard work and perseverance led Sandeno to Olympic gold but also how she has used her success in the pool to inspire those around her.

I was excited to get into this book and learn more about Sandeno’s career. She came up right when I started to follow swimming closely so I didn’t know a ton about her and was excited to read more. Sandeno was great to hear speak and I think part of what I enjoyed so much about this book was remembering the excitement she had when she spoke at her event and knowing that the bubbly personality portrayed in the book was 100% genuine.

The characters were all so positively drawn that if I hadn’t met Kaitlin, I might not have believed how energetic she can be. Since meeting her, I believe this was a very accurate depiction of her, her friends, and her family. The way Sandeno was involved in the story, I knew things would be in a positive light but I didn’t find it rang false and I was glad to hear about her family.

Sandeno’s friends played a big part in this book and I was touched by how close she stayed with friends from high school and college swimming. She seemed to be very loyal to them and they cared for each other in a very meaningful way. I envied those friendships.

My friend Sarah, D’Addona, Sandeno, and me, August 2019

I could understand the ups-and-downs of a swimming career as Sandeno described them. While my stages were not as big as hers, I’ve had that rival that you just can’t seem to beat and those time barriers you just can’t seem to break. It was very relatable to me and made me feel better that even Olympians have the same struggles.

The end of Kaitlin’s career wasn’t what she wanted, but she had so much grace to approach it the way she did. I really enjoyed reading that section and seeing how she could leave the sport on her terms and with such dignity. It earned her even more respect in my mind.

I was frustrated with this book at the beginning. Instead of chronologically progressing through Sandeno’s life, it started with her involvement with the Jessie Rees Foundation, a post-career involvement. I thought this was a weird way to begin the book and upon reaching the end, didn’t understand why it didn’t come there. It started the book on a weird foot for me.

Sandeno didn’t win the individual gold that everyone else wanted for her. But the time she achieved was enough for her to feel like she’d won gold. The relay she did win gold on was legendary. Her Golden Glow is how she approaches life in and out of the water. She really does radiate positivity.

Writer’s Takeaway: I wasn’t a huge fan of the structure of this book. There were a lot of long quotes from Sandeno, her friends, family, and coaches. These were linked together with D’Addona’s narrative. Sometimes, this worked well. Other times, it seemed a bit jolting and seemed to stray on- and off-topic. It was good at giving first-hand accounts, but not the easiest to read for a book-length piece.

Overall I enjoyed this but it wasn’t my favorite. 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.

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Book Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (5/5)

3 Dec

I was excited when my book club picked this one. I’ve heard a lot about it over the years and it sounded like one I’d like a lot. When it came down to the wire and if I’d finish it or not in time for my book club, I wished it was a little shorter. But I loved every minute of it.

Cover image via Amazon

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Summary from Amazon:

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

As an atelete, I love stories about athletic achievement, even if it’s in a sport I don’t practice. I enjoyed reading about rowing, a sport I don’t know much about. I was able to find parallels to swimming and triathlon that helped me understand what the men were going through. I loved the details about setbacks and races, things that many sports have in common. I think a lot of the themes in this book were universal for sports and I enjoyed it a lot.

Joe was a great focus character for this book. Not only did he have to overcome the physical challenges of being an elite athlete, he had to overcome socioeconomic barriers to get to where he was. I was fascinated by the descriptions of how he reacted to the teasing his teammates gave him and how he overcame the poverty he was faced with. Every time I was shocked at the way his father and step-mother left him alone, I had to remind myself that this was a different time and a boy of his age had different ways to fend for himself that a boy today wouldn’t have. I was amazed at the resourcefulness of Joe and also jealous that he could raise enough money for a year of college in the summer!

Joyce was a favorite character of mine. I always enjoyed when she’d come up. She was such a genuine and caring person. She was brave to stick with Joe while he was going through so much and her support helped him stay motivated. I was impressed by how she moved to Seattle and worked to be near Joe. I was glad to hear she graduated herself. The way she interacted with Joe’s siblings was very sweet and made me realize she was going to be a good partner for someone with a heart as big as Joe.

I related a lot to the training side of this story. I was a competitive swimmer for 8 years and I’ve been doing triathlon for the past six years. Early mornings and sore muscles are part of my life as well so I could understand the grueling training regimines the boys were going through.

Daniel James Brown
Image via Amazon

The descriptions of the races were incredible in this book. I loved that a race could be an entire chapter. There are so many little moments that make up a race and it was great to hear it all given it’s due.

There wasn’t a part of this book I disliked. I thought it was all relevant and all came together to tell the story of the team and how hard they had to fight and how much they labored to get to where they were. I found it inspiring.

The audiobook was narrated by Edward Herrmann and I thought he did a wonderful job. He gave weight to the heavy moments and was lighthearted during happy times. He didn’t try to do voices which I thought was best for a nonfiction book like this. I see he’s done some Stegner novels as well so I might have to check him out again.

The boys from Washington were underdogs and everyone loves an underdog story. Their win was the result of a shift in Washington that prioritized rowing and made them believe they could do what many thought was impossible. They proved that Western rowers could be dominant and that the small state of Washington should be on the map. It’s crazy  now to think of Seattle as a small town with a small school.

Writer’s Takeaway: I enjoyed the back-and-forth that Brown had with the boys in Washington and developments in Berlin. It would have been difficult to read the story of the Olympics and not think about Berlin on the brink of WWII. Hearing about the propaganda and playacting that the Nazis did to prepare for a stage made it fascinating to hear about these boys going to Germany and seeing what they did. It helps you understand why people didn’t believe the stories coming out of Germany and why the world was slow to react to Hitler. It was a great balance for the book.

A really enjoyable read for those who like history or athletics. 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!

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: 
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown | Bob’s Books 
The Boys on the Boat, by Daniel James Brown | Reading on the Run 
Daniel James Brown, “The Boys on the Boat” | Book Group of One 
Daniel James Brown – The Boys on the Boat | Don’t Need a Diagram 

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Book Review: Knitting Yarns by Ann Hood

30 Nov

I was given this book as a Christmas gift years ago. I’m embarrassed about how long it’s taken to read it. Nothing like a global pandemic to get you through the stack on your shelf, am I right?

Cover image via Amazon

Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting edited by Ann Hood

Summary from Amazon:

Why does knitting occupy a place in the hearts of so many writers? What’s so magical and transformative about yarn and needles? How does knitting help us get through life-changing events and inspire joy? In Knitting Yarns, twenty-seven writers tell stories about how knitting healed, challenged, or helped them to grow. Barbara Kingsolver describes sheering a sheep for yarn. Elizabeth Berg writes about her frustration at failing to knit. Ann Patchett traces her life through her knitting, writing about the scarf that knits together the women she’s loved and lost. Knitting a Christmas gift for his blind aunt helped Andre Dubus III knit an understanding with his girlfriend. Kaylie Jones finds the woman who used knitting to help raise her in France and heals old wounds. Sue Grafton writes about her passion for knitting. Also included are five original knitting patterns created by Helen Bingham.

Poignant, funny, and moving, Knitting Yarns is sure to delight knitting enthusiasts and lovers of literature alike.

I’ve posted before about knitting so most of you likely aren’t surprised that I’d be given a book about knitters writing. This was a fun gift and I’m really touched by the friend who gave it to me. There were several authors in here that I’ve read before including Barbara Kingsolver and Ann Patchett. Most of the writers were new to me. I enjoyed the story by Taylor Polites so much that I added his novel to my TBR! I’m not usually a fan of collected short stories or essays but the short nature helped me while I was having trouble concentrating. 

I felt the writers portrayed their relationship with knitting in a very accurate way. Knitting is a very solitary act but it’s part of a community that grows as you want. The people you knit with are in it with you, but the people you knit for are the ones who really know you love them. I give knitted gifts a lot and it’s amazing to see how much that care and love affects people.

My favorite story in the collection was Knitting in Kathmandu by Jessi Hempel. It was such an emotional story about self-discovery and chance. I looked up Hempel’s biography in the back of the book and was sad to see she hadn’t published any novels. I really enjoyed her writing.

Ann Hood
Image via Amazon

Like many of the people in the story, I’m a ‘bad knitter.’ I make mostly blankets and other flat objects that don’t have to worry about double-pointed needles or measuring for fit. I want to make socks and a sweater eventually, but that seems far down the road now.

I was overwhelmed by the patterns in the book. I’m a bad knitter, these patterns seem overly complicated! I’ve only read a graph pattern once and it took me four tries to get it right. As nice as it is to have those patterns, I’m not sure I’ll ever use them. Even the one for the dog sweater.

A lot of these stories confirmed what I already know; knitting is something you do because you love. I make blankets for friends that I love, I’ve made coffee cozies for people I love, and I make scarves for people I want to stay warm through the winter. It seems I’m not alone.

Writer’s Takeaway: Some of the stories didn’t seem as put together as others and focused on unconnected bits of story rather than a single tale that involved knitting or did not. I found these harder to follow. It seemed that the writer was being included not because they had something meaningful to say, but because their name on the byline would help sell the book. I found that a bit disappointing. Many of the lesser-known authors had amazing tales to share.

I enjoyed this book and I’m thankful to the friend who bought it for me years ago. 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 Posts: 
Knitting Yarns | Flextiles 
Words on Knitting | Knit’n Needle 

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Book Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (4/5)

10 Nov

I needed a book for my When Are You Reading? Challenge and this worked out perfectly. 1500-1699 can be really challenging so I was happy to find one that worked out so perfectly. On top of that, it seems this is a classic middle-grade book that I missed out on somehow. It’s nice to have read it now and feel like I’m not missing out.

Cover image via Amazon

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Summary from Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit’s friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty.

Because I’m such a big fan of historical fiction, one thing that struck me was that this book seemed a bit out of time. I’m thinking specifically of Kit’s upbringing in Barbados which seemed very modern from what I know of the late 1600s. It colored the book for me moving forward from there. I did feel that the Puritan colony in Connecticut was rather well portrayed from my knowledge of history and I found that fascinating.

From what I know, the characters were very true to life for the time. Judith and Aunt Sarah were very lifelike and felt like people you could know in any time period. Kit was very rebellious and ahead of her time which makes it easier for a modern reader to connect with her. I think they were good characters for a MG novel and I liked them a lot.

Mercy was my favorite character and I wanted everything to go well for her. She was so kind and had accepted her station in life tough Kit wanted more for her. She was glad to teach the children how to read and be a help around the house. But the reader wanted her to find love and her arc completed beautifully.

Kit was easy to relate to because she wanted life to be fun and carefree, more like a childhood of modern time. Because she was easy to relate to, the Puritan culture she was in stuck out even more than it would have otherwise and served as a great backdrop to show her struggle to fit in and the strict culture she was living in.

Elizabeth George Speare
Image via Amazon

I thought the ending was very sweet. I liked how William’s allegiance changed and how Kit came to realize that she wanted her freedom and how she could go about that. Mercy’s ending was very fitting for her character. While I figured out how Kit’s story would end about halfway through, these side character arcs were happy surprises.

Kit seemed so oblivious at the beginning of the book that her character was a bit annoying. It was hard for me to like her at first because she seemed to be so flippant and didn’t listen to those around her. She grew on me later, but it didn’t start off well.

My audiobook was read by Mary Beth Hurt and I thought she was wonderful. Her voice for Hannah was wonderful and she gave good weight to the emotions the characters would feel.

Fitting in was hard for Kit. She wanted to blend in with her family, but she was a bit lost on how to do that. The change from her upbringing on a tropical island to Puritan New England was stark and I understand why she struggled. It took her time and she made mistakes. In that time, making a mistake almost cost her her life and freedom. Now, we have more leeway to make mistakes and not have to count on Nat to deliver us from the trial.

Writer’s Takeaway: One thing YA authors struggle with is giving a young adult the agency to make changes in their life due to their age. Setting her story in the late 1600s gave Speare this ability and I think she tackled it well. Historical YA is important because it helps growing minds see what their life could have been like and I think Speare did this very well.

Enjoyable and fun. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1500-1699 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!

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: 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare | Fill Your Bookshelf 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare | Book Reviews by Kristie 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond- Historical Fiction for Young and Old | Pine Needles and Paper Trails 

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Book Review: The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer (4/5)

9 Nov

I had the chance to meet Meltzer a few years back when he came to town and got a copy of this book signed. I tried listening to the audiobook a few years ago but when I got to the end, I found out it was abridged! I was furious and put this book back on my TBR, hoping that I could wait a few years and forget most of the plot before I tried again. Thankfully, all I remembered was that it involved Disneyworld. That was a little bit of a spoiler, but not enough to ruin the story so I was able to enjoy it all over again.

Cover image via Amazon

The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer

Other books by Meltzer reviewed on this blog:

The Book of Fate
The Book of Lies
The Inner Circle (Culper Ring #1) (and Book Club Reflection)
The Fifth Assassin (Culper Ring #2)
Bonus: Meeting Author Brad Meltzer

Summary from Amazon:

Two brothers. Three secret service agents. And millions for the taking. Charlie and Oliver Caruso are brothers who work at Greene and Greene, a private bank so exclusive there’s a $2 million minimum to be a client. But when the door of success slams in their faces, the brothers are presented with an offer they can’t refuse: $3 million in an abandoned account that can’t be traced. It’s the perfect victimless crime. Charlie and Oliver opt to take the money, but get much more than they bargained for. Now, with a lot of extra zeroes in their pockets and a friend found dead, the Secret Service and a female private investigator are closing in. Whose money did they take? How will they stay alive? And why is the Secret Service trying to kill them? Both Charlie and Oliver quickly realize it’s not easy being The Millionaires.

I needed this book. I’d just made my way out of a reading slump and I needed something fun and fast-paced to get me to read fast again. This book was the perfect cure and I’m glad I got to it when I did. It wasn’t amazing, but it was good and fun and well-paced. Sometimes, you just need a thriller.

I’m not sure how much I believed any of the characters. Oliver was so straight-laced that it was nearly impossible to see him committing any crime, even with the motivations he had. Charlie was so whimsical that it was a bit hard to believe he existed at all. As brothers, they made sense and I liked the energy between them. Shep was hard to understand as well. And when you throw Gillian in the mix, it became almost impossible to understand what was driving all these people. I enjoyed it for the plot, not the people.

Oliver was my favorite character. He cared a lot about his family and he listened to his mom and his brother, even when it was hard. I respected those decisions and I liked seeing how that influenced the decisions he made. I thought he was an odd balance of planned and impulsive which I didn’t like, but he was more likable than not.

Joey was the easiest character for me to relate to. As a woman, you’re often overlooked and Joey ran up against that a lot. I liked how resourceful and cunning she was and how she would figure things out much faster than the secret service. I was rooting for her but also realized that was against Oliver and Charlie so I was a bit torn.

Brad Meltzer and me

The final scenes inside Disneyworld were really fun to read. I’ve been to Magic Kingdom and could imagine the spaces they described. I liked hearing about the underground tunnels and the mix of people milling about there to make the magic aboveground happen. It was a really unique setting and I enjoyed it.

The ending was too clean for me. The fact that they were more or less set free and losing their jobs seemed to be the biggest impact was a bit too convenient. I think they needed to consider they’d fail background checks for future jobs and Oliver had no chance of going to B-School without a recommendation he was never going to get. I thought life seemed pretty bleak but they were dancing in the kitchen.

I didn’t find a lot of strong themes in this book and that doesn’t bother me in a thriller. I could argue for a theme about trusting family, but listening to Charlie almost got Oliver and Charlie killed so I’m not going to go with that one.

Writer’s Takeaway: Meltzer’s pacing is great. He makes you think you know what’s going on and when he turns it on its head, you think back and you can realize where your assumptions were wrong. The reveal at the end had me spinning and it was great. I had believed what he wanted me to all along and in the end, he got me. Very well done.

A fun ride of a book. 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!

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: 
The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer | Book Recommendations 
Renee interviews author Brad Meltzer | Renee Writes Now!

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Book Review: Running With a Police Escort by Jill Grunenwald (4/5)

5 Nov

A friend of mine recommended this book in passing and it may have taken me three years to start it and then another three months to finish it, but I got there.

Cover image via Amazon

Running with a Police Escort: Tales from the Back of the Pack by Jill Grunenwald

Summary from Amazon:

In the fall of 2012, quirky and cat-loving Cleveland librarian Jill Grunenwald got an alarming email from her younger sister: her sister was very concerned with Jill’s weight and her overall mental and physical health. Having always struggled with her weight, Jill was currently hitting the scales at more than three hundred pounds. Right then, Jill looked in the mirror and decided that she needed to make a life-style change, pronto. She enrolled in Weight Watchers and did something else that she—the girl who avoided gym class like the plague in high school—never thought she’d do; Jill started running. And believe it or not, it wasn’t that bad. Actually, it was kind of fun.

Three months later, Jill did the previously unthinkable and ran her very first 5k at the Cleveland Metropolitan Zoo. Battling the infamous hills of the course, Jill conquered her fears and finished—but in dead last. Yep, the police were reopening the streets behind her. But Jill didn’t let that get her down—because when you run for your health and happiness, your only real competition is yourself.

Six years and more than one hundred pounds lost later, Jill is still running and racing regularly, and she is a proud member of the back of the pack in every race that she has entered. In this newly updated edition Running with a Police Escort, Jill chronicles her racing adventures, proving that being a slow runner takes just as much guts and heart as being an Olympic champion. At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Running with a Police Escort is for every runner who has never won a race but still loves the sport.

This book was so needed during the lockdown. I frequently had feelings that it wasn’t worth swimming or running because I was never going to get any better and there was no point. I had to remember that I do these things for myself and for enjoyment. I swim because I love the feeling of diving into the water and feeling like, just for a second, I’m flying.

I thought Grunenweld was very honest. I’m the slow swimmer in my group and I’ve had a lot of similar feelings about being inadequate and like I don’t belong. But like running, the swimming community is so supportive that I’ve never felt discouraged from running. A PR is a huge accomplishment and deserves to be celebrated. Not everyone’s PR is a world record and that’s OK.

Grunenwald didn’t incorporate a lot of other people into her story. There were times her parents or sister or boyfriend would nudge their way into the story, but it wasn’t lasting and they didn’t often reappear. With a focus on Grunenwald’s story, that was fine with me.

Grunenwald was ready for a PR when she was sidelined. I had something similar happen with COVID. Events started being canceled a few weeks before my state meet, the biggest swim meet on my calendar for 2020. I’d swam my fastest 500 time as the first half of my 1000 where I hit my first national qualifying time. I was ready to qualify in the 500 and maybe make a run for state champion (only because my faster friend had aged up). And it was gone. The weekend that should have been my meet, I drank a bottle of wine by myself. When you work as hard as Grunenwald does for something and it disappears, it’s emotionally crippling more than anything else. It’s hard to find hope.

Jill Grunenwald
Image via Lady Bon Vivant

I loved when Grunenwald would talk about Midwestern racing in bad weather. It’s probably the worst part of living in the Midwest. I’ve ran in sub-0 temperatures and 90+ heat. I’ve worn three shirts and just a sports bra. Des Lindon won the Boston Marathon during historically bad weather. Guess where she trains: Michigan. You get used to it and it makes you stronger. But you don’t have to like it.

I wished there was something more at the end. It’s hard to think that Grunenwald’s story is over but the book ended and it’s hard to look past a last page sometimes. I want to know what more happens. It feels like the book got rushed to the publisher when it might have fared better waiting a year.

Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’re going to win, and that’s OK. Grunenwald puts in a lot of effort but she’s not going to win a 5K. But she might get a PR, and that’s what she can control. I liked the push to be proud of how you do, no matter where you fall in the pack. That can be hard to remember at times.

Writer’s Takeaway: Reading this book, I felt like I was conversing with Grunenwald more than reading. She was very conversational and used expressive punctuation and colorful language. I liked it because she was being herself rather than a detached teller. It was her story and I liked hearng it from her, the way she’d tell it to you at a party.

A fun read and a timely lesson for me. 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!

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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.

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