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Book Review: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (4/5)

11 Oct

This was a book that came up in another book and has been lingering on my TBR for a while. It’s been a while since I read a YA and I was looking forward to it! Early on, I realized I’d read it before but it must have been almost 20 years and I couldn’t remember how it ended so I pressed on to see what would happen.

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Cover image via Amazon

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Summary from Goodreads:

Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive?

I liked 95% of this book. It was a good YA story, talking about bullying and conformity and real issues facing teens while not holding back punches. Characters were dishonest, crude, vulgar, and vulnerable. The topic was a little dated, but still holds true. Schools are often doing fundraising sales so the main focus of the book is still something children can relate to. Bullying will, unfortunately, probably never go away. I can see why this book has stood the test of time but wonder if a more modern take will soon replace it.

There were a lot of characters in this book and I had trouble keeping them straight many times (I had to look up a character list to refresh my memory before writing this section). All of them were very different, though, and I felt they represented a good spectrum of high school students. I liked that we got to hear from students not directly involved in the conflict so we’d see their opinions on Jerry and the sale, the Vigils, and the Brothers running the school. Most of the characters were pretty multidimensional as well, though very few were dynamic throughout the book.

At first, I had trouble remembering that Goober and Jerry were different people. It mostly stemmed from not realizing there were going to be so many narrators. Once I wrapped my mind around that, I liked Goober a lot as a character. He’s very quiet but he’s an independent thinker and he tries to live up to principles he holds. He as too scared to speak up about them, but he made some decisions that went along with what he believed. He was a good friend for Jerry, even if Jerry didn’t want to talk to him about what he was going through.

There was a little bit in each boy that was relatable. Parts of this book reminded me of my middle and high school experiences, in good ways and bad. We didn’t have a secret bullying group, but there were in-groups that you wanted to be a part of and other groups you wanted to avoid. There was peer pressure and teachers you didn’t think gave you a fair chance. It was more so the setting and tone that I related to than an individual character.

Cormier

Robert Cormier Image via Penguin Random House

Jerry’s narrations about his home life really stood out to me. The obvious depression in his home and how much Jerry wanted to help his father was heartbreaking. The way the two of them interacted and how walled off Jerry let himself become to ‘protect’ his father was really moving. I think teens do this a lot more than is talked about and I’m glad this book addressed it.

The ending of the book really upset me. I didn’t feel like there was any resolution. After the big showdown, nothing seemed to be changing at all. No one seemed to change and it felt like the entire cycle was about to repeat itself. I’m not saying that it needed to wrap up with a neat little bow, but I would have liked to see something more dynamic, something changed as a result. It seemed the characters were back at Square One and there could be a sequel about the next fundraising sale that would play out in the same way.

The audiobook was narrated by Frank Muller. I liked his inflections and tones, but I thought it was hard to tell his character’s voices apart and that contributed to my confusion early in the book. He did a good job of building tension with the characters and the big scenes and I liked his pacing, especially with Brother Leon’s scenes.

Bullying is a big problem for youth. It was something I experienced and witnessed in school and it’s likely my children will face it as well. This book addresses the different ways it can manifest and some of the things that can be done to combat it and to speak up. Goober and Obie have a lot of chances to do something and don’t take them. Brother Leon turns a blind eye when he has the power to stop things. No one did anything, so nothing was resolved. We have to empower people to speak up when there’s a problem and react to address it when it happens.

Writer’s Takeaway: Cormier’s depiction of high school seemed very real to me. The boys’ interest in girls was a nice touch. It wasn’t the focus of the book in any way, but a part of their lives that made it seem more realistic. The distrust of the teachers is another thing I remember from my school days that felt very real. The author read a note before the book talking about how he drew inspiration from his son when writing. I hope that his son was open and honest with him about school, which provided this rich detail. I believe it’s those touches that helped this book stand the test of time.

An enjoyable book with a slightly disappointing end. 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 Chocolate War, Robert Cormier | Censorship and Young Adult Literature
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier | The Consolation of Reading
The Chocolate Wary by Robert Cormier | Pages Unbound Reviews

Book Review: The King of Crows (Diviners #4) by Libba Bray (4/5)

27 Sep

When I started this series in 2015, I wasn’t aware that it was unfinished. I picked up the books as I found time and really enjoyed each one. I didn’t give myself very long between book 3 and this one since I was so excited to see how it would end! I haven’t enjoyed a book series in a long time so this was a really welcome option.

CrowsThe King of Crows (Diviners #4) by Libba Bray

Other books by Bray reviewed on this blog:

The Diviners
Lair of Dreams (Diviners #2)
Before the Devil Breaks You (Diviners #3)

Summary from Amazon:

After the horrifying explosion that claimed one of their own, the Diviners find themselves wanted by the US government, and on the brink of war with the King of Crows.

While Memphis and Isaiah run for their lives from the mysterious Shadow Men, Isaiah receives a startling vision of a girl, Sarah Beth Olson, who could shift the balance in their struggle for peace. Sarah Beth says she knows how to stop the King of Crows-but, she will need the Diviners’ help to do it.

Elsewhere, Jericho has returned after his escape from Jake Marlowe’s estate, where he has learned the shocking truth behind the King of Crow’s plans. Now, the Diviners must travel to Bountiful, Nebraska, in hopes of joining forces with Sarah Beth and to stop the King of Crows and his army of the dead forever.

But as rumors of towns becoming ghost towns and the dead developing unprecedented powers begin to surface, all hope seems to be lost.

In this sweeping finale, The Diviners will be forced to confront their greatest fears and learn to rely on one another if they hope to save the nation, and world from catastrophe…

This was a very satisfying conclusion to the series. There was a lot of loose ends to tie up and I think Bray did it well. The book did seem to languish in the middle for a bit as the group made their way to Nebraska. Some of it provided good character development, such as Jericho’s time with Lupe and the development of Sam and Evie’s relationship. However, other characters didn’t grow much, like Henry and Isiah. The end brought everyone together, though, and I adored it. I kept making time to listen to the story so I could see how Bray would wrap it up.

Bray’s characters shine in this series. She does an amazing job of giving them unique motivations and showing a wide variety of people who are going to have different experiences because of who they are. The characters all had unique depth to them. These depths weren’t ignored, either. Sam’s Jewish heritage and Henry’s homosexuality became rather major parts of the story. She’s a great example of using diversity to enrich a story.

I liked so many of the characters that it’s hard to say which were my favorites. I think I’d have to say Ling if pushed. She’s very strong and independent while also being a loyal friend and daughter. She cares a lot about her parents and thinks of them often. She fights for her relationship with Alma when it gets difficult and doesn’t compromise what makes her comfortable and what she wants. Her thirst for knowledge is also really admirable.

There was something in each character that I could relate to, though Evie was the easiest. Her aversion to her hometown and wanting to feel like she’d changed or improved in some way resonated with me. I didn’t enjoy school and where I grew up. I always felt like I was different from my classmates in some way that I couldn’t describe. Once I graduated, I didn’t want to go back and didn’t keep in contact with many of those I knew. Her anxieties about going to Zenith with the circus resonated with me.

Bray

Libba Bray Author image via BookPage

The time the Diviners spent in Bountiful was my favorite part. They came together and grew very quickly. There was a lot of character development in that part of the book without seeming rushed. I thought the truth about Sarah Beth was a little obvious, but I can give Isiah for not figuring it out because of his age. I was a bit sad it came to an end so quickly, but it was a really enjoyable stretch of the book.

The amount of time the Diviners spent split up was a bit of a drag for me. It didn’t feel like a lot was developing and changing. It took a lot longer than I would have liked to see because it very much felt like a stop-gap until anything more exciting happened.

January LaVoy did the audio and she was absolutely amazing. She had different voices for each character that were unique and appropriate for them. She didn’t make anyone sound like a joke or that I shouldn’t take them seriously. I’d listen to other books by her in a heartbeat. She did a great job with this long series and really impressed me.

Bray talks in the afterward about how she had to come to terms with America’s troubled past in this book series. She started the series ten years before it was finished and didn’t realize she’d be writing the ending during such a different time. It’s published 2020, so I have to assume she was writing it during Trump’s election and presidency. A common response to his campaign slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’ was asking who it had been great for. She address in her afterward how the 1920s, known as a golden age, had a lot of dark sides that repressed minorities and how the golden age image is a memory of the majority. Even when history lets us think America was great, there’s a lot that needed to be fixed and that we don’t want to repeat. (I’ll get off my soap box now.)

Writer’s Takeaway: When I write, I’m often nervous to write a character who’s different from me in any way. I get nervous writing someone from a different part of the country, let alone a different gender, race, family background, sexuality, etc. Bray’s shown me that I should embrace it. The diversity of her characters made the series richer and more exciting and I loved every minute of it. If I want my readers to enjoy my story, I should do the same.

A great ending to an amazing series. Looking forward to more by this author. 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: 
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Book review: The King of Crows by Libba Bray | One Thousand and One Books 
The King of Crows Review | Journey Into Books 
Mini Audio Book Review: The King of Crows (Diviners #4) | MetalPhantasmReads 
The King of Crows by Libba Bray: It broke me but not in a good way | Delicate Eternity

Book Review: The Hangman’s Replacement by Taona D. Chivenko (1/5)

30 Aug

I was hesitant to read this one. I got it as part of a giveaway, but the reviews on it were really hit or miss and I know I tend to be critical. I put it off for years but finally gave in. Right when your child is born is probably the wrong time to be reading a slow book.

HangmanThe Hangman’s Replacement by Taona D. Chivenko

Summary from Goodreads:

Zimbabwe’s last hangman retired in 2004. As the nation drifted towards abolition, no determined effort was launched to find a replacement. However, the discovery of carnivorous flame lilies at the Great Zimbabwe monument triggered a spirited search for a new executioner. Those who know why this discovery energized the recruitment effort refused to talk.

The frantic attempts to find a new hangman were impeded by the lack of suitable candidates. Well-placed sources confirmed that the fear of ‘ngozi’ was a deterrent. According to this traditional belief, the spirit of a murdered person torments the killer and his family for generations. However, this is only half the story. Several promising applicants did come forward. None met the minimum requirements for the job. The selection criteria were designed to exclude the mentally ill, the vindictive, and the sadistic. However, they did not rule out the desperate.

This book did not work for me. It had a strong sense of magical realism, which I greatly dislike, so it really didn’t stand a chance. There were also a few stretches of characters talking that felt unrealistic which was a struggle to read. There were a set of chapters that took me two weeks to get through because it was such a struggle for me to read. And the info dumps! There were so many. This book was setting up for something, though I can’t imagine what with the intricacies it involved. There was an allergy to air, a carnivorous plant, blackmail, lawyers, assassins, prostitutes, and a British gallows builder. I’m not sure how it will all come together but the volume of it was a bit overwhelming.

None of the characters struck me as credible. There was a man who could have multiple strings of thought at once, a reclusive genius lawyer, many beautiful women, many strong men, and the most believable character fought off a lion with his bare hands. The lack of believable characters was part of what repelled me in this book. It felt like the author was trying to trick me into believing these people could really exist in a spiteful way.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters but Able was the most sympathetic. I liked that he loved his wife and family very much and his motivation seemed more plausible than anyone else in the story. But there were moments that I didn’t like him. He was unfaithful to his wife for an unknown reason and seemingly not under his own control. This confused me. Though it’s strange, I feel my frustration is more with the author than the character. Probably because it seemed to out of character for Able to do this that it felt like a trick by the author.

I couldn’t relate to any of the characters in this story. The women in particular felt really unbelievable to me and it was a big part of my frustration with the story. The conversation between Anala and Vaida was the most cringeworthy part of the book to me. It felt forced and it was a lot of back story. I can’t imagine a conversation between two women going like this.

The first part of the book was the most enjoyable to me as it focused on Able. I was excited for the story and unsure of how it would play out. But all the other characters that were brought in and the other plot lines that were woven into the story took me out of it and made it difficult to enjoy.

There are a lot of dubious motivations in this book. The motivation to breed a carnivorous plant, the motivation to seduce a married man, and the motivation to devote your life to work are just a few. Abel’s motivation, to secure medical insurance for his family, is the only one I really understood. Protecting your family can drive you to do crazy things, even voluntarily become a hangman.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think Chivenko could have dealt with a beta reader or editor. There were few spelling or grammar mistakes in this book, but the plot was confusing and the dialogue needed work. At 466 pages, it was just too long. Sharing your work with someone for criticism can be unnerving or time consuming, but I see how it can be valuable.

Not a book I enjoyed or would recommend. I will not continue with the series. One 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.

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (4/5)

26 Jul

This book had been on my radar but I wasn’t really seriously considering it. I read Towles first novel and enjoyed it a lot but wasn’t clamoring to read his next release. However, when my reading buddy and I were in the middle of Recursion by Blake Crouch, one of the throwaway characters was named Amor Towles and Crouch acknowledged in his notes that this was in recognition of how much he loved this book, I decided it was time. We grabbed this for our next book and after a bit of a miss-step getting it from my bookstore, we had our copies and dived in. It was easy to divide the book into its five sections and meet to talk after each one.

Moscow

Cover Image via Amazon

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Other books by Towles reviewed on this blog:

Rules of Civility (and Book Club Discussion)

Summary from Amazon:

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book that takes place almost entirely within a hotel and goes on for over 400 pages. Some books with sweeping settings struggle to fill that many pages. But my doubts were quickly pushed aside as I enjoyed this book more and more. Towles keeps us engaged in Rostov’s world, as simple as it may seem at first. I loved having to pay attention to details that would come back into play later.

Rostov, Nina, Sophia, Anna, and the rest of the characters were beautifully drawn and I loved reading about them. Nina was probably the most dynamic and I adored how she grew up in front of our eyes, always curious and very smart. I wanted a little something more from her character, but I’m still satisfied with what I got. The employees at the hotel were amazing. I can’t imagine working the jobs they did for as long as they did but in a communist society, having a job at a luxury hotel like they did was probably a huge blessing and gave them access to things they otherwise never would have been able to touch.

Rostov himself was my favorite character by far. He was so smart and resourceful. I loved how we learned small things about him as the story went on that made you come to love him in different ways. Learning about his sister, his relationship with Mishka, and his love of Sophia were wonderful. He had moments, like finding out his affair with Anna was public knowledge, where you wanted to laugh at him, but it was hard not to love everything he did. This book would have been frustrating with a less loveable character.

No single character was relatable but I think everyone could sympathize with the staff dealing with their horrible boss in the Bishop. We’ve all had horrible bosses at one time or another and I thought it was funny how much they all came together to out maneuver him as much as possible. Some if it was little things like having a dinner they wanted, some larger things like the loose turkeys. Seeing someone rise while the rest of them stayed where they were must have been frustrating but they all seemed to find a way to band together and support each other as much as they could.

Towles

Amor Towles Image via Goodreads

I enjoyed the later half of the book the most, after Sophia arrived. We see a very different side of The Count once he’s more of a father figure and the steps he goes through to make sure Sophia is well cared for are wonderful. A moment that sticks out is when he threatened the conductor for coming on to Sophia before finding out that he was teaching her. It was such a wonderful fatherly moment and set the tone for how he was with her for the rest of the book.

The book did seem to start a little slow. I understood by the end that it was setting a scene and establishing a lot of people that would come to be important later, but it did seem a bit of a bore to begin with. About half way through Part II and all of Part III had me invested, though.

Our lives might not always be in our hands, but it’s what we do with them that matters. The Count’s life changed as much as one can with the Russian Revolution. It was amazing to me what he faced and how difficult it must have been for him to lose his family and life the way he did. When he’s allowed to live but belittled by being stuck in the hotel, I’m sure it was hard for him to see a reason to move forward and it becomes obvious that this is a struggle for him. Routines come to define us if we can’t find meaning in them. The life he eventually creates and the friends he discovers, are a rich tapestry for his life. He moves beyond being a guest and becomes a part of the hotel in a way only the staff can understand. I thought it was really beautiful how he interacted with the hotel by the end.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s nothing wrong with a simple story. A man under house arrest in a hotel for decades doesn’t seem like an engaging tale. But with the right supporting characters and a star with something to prove, the story was exquisite. It’s all in the details and Towles did an amazing job with them.

A great read, even if it did start a little slow. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1920-1939 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:
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Book Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (2/5)

20 Jul

Finishing two books in a week is such a novel thing for me, I’m not sure what to do with myself. This one felt like a long time coming just because the audiobook was so long. This is a book I got for free from my library during a summer audiobook giveaway a few years ago. I’ve been holding on to it for when I needed a book and it’s time came up.

2140

Cover image via Amazon

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Summary from Amazon:

As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.

There is the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble. There is the detective, whose work will never disappear — along with the lawyers, of course.

There is the internet star, beloved by millions for her airship adventures, and the building’s manager, quietly respected for his attention to detail. Then there are two boys who don’t live there, but have no other home — and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine.

Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all — and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests.

This book frustrated me. I’ve tried to think of a better word for it, but that seems to capture how I feel best. There were way too many characters and they didn’t interact in ways I felt were meaningful and added to the story. I was lost about the main plot of the book the entire time I was reading it and having finished, I’m still not sure I understand. It became clear that the city was the main character, but we spent so much time with the actors that that was murky until I was nearly finished with the book. Despite an easy sell, there was very little warning about climate change outright (besides Amelia). I would have slashed more than half of this book if I was editing it. There’s no reason it was a 22 hour audiobook.

It’s hard to really comment on these characters. They seemed a bit too contrived a lot of the time. Charlotte was too perfect for words and Amelia was purposefully aloof in a way that was annoying. I didn’t like the tone of the ‘narrator’ that appeared from time to time and I found Franklin frustrating. Really, they were pretty realistic, but not likeable.

Vlade might have been my favorite character. He felt like a real person and someone that I could meet today or in 100 years and understand why he did what he did. He had a clear goal of doing his job well and he cared for people more than others seemed to. He was a reliable person and, uniquely, likeable.

None of the characters really drew me in. They were pretty flat characters, not changing much during the course of the book and not showing a lot of depth. Charlotte was probably the most dynamic person but her change was more about coming to terms with doing something she didn’t want to than it was about changing her mindset or actions. The flatness of the characters was a big part of what kept me from engaging with them.

Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson Image via Wikipedia

There wasn’t a plot point of the story that I enjoyed more than others. The story developed more on an event-by-event basis, with each new crisis engaging the characters in a different way and not connecting well to things that came before. It almost felt like disconnected stories in an episodic fashion, like you might have for a TV series season instead of a book. The style really didn’t work for me.

The first 60% or so of the book was more or less set up for the last 40% and I found it really unsatisfying. The character development didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the later half of the book anyway. It was a lot of explaining how Robinson saw the world changing due to climate change. The characters didn’t add much to the story in my opinion.

The audiobook had a lot of different narrators for the different characters which was fun. The narrators included Suzanne Toren, Robin Miles, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Caitlin Kelly, Michael Crouch, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Christopher Ryan Grant, and Robert Blumenfeld though I have no idea who did which parts. I enjoyed the narration for Amelia most and I have to say I enjoyed the narration for the ‘narrator’ (aka history info dump) the least, though that was due to the writing and not the actor’s portrayal. I didn’t like how we were getting periodic info dumps in a stereotypical New York jargon from someone outside of the story.

There was a strong sense of community amongst the residents that pushed the plot forward. Having a community like that was key for what they were eventually able to accomplish politically. However I feel about the plot of the book, that communal support was really critical and central to the characters and spoke to how we need to band together to accomplish anything. Americans are not the best at doing this so it was great to see it happen in the novel.

Writer’s Takeaway: There were a lot of things I felt were lacking in this novel. The overall plot was a bit confusing and I think it could have benefited from a more defined three-act structure. There were also a lot of characters that could have been cut and combined. I’m not sure what the author was trying to say with this book, but I think it got lost in the future he was creating.

Overall, much longer than it needed to be and murky. Two 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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Review of New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson | My Opinion on Various Books

Book Review: Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono (3/5)

19 Jul

OK, I have to start off by saying that I’m so excited to have a book review to write! But I’m so out of habit that I forgot to write it ahead of time like I normally do so I’m squeezing this in the night before. It’s kind of nice to be back. This was a book that came up in another book and made me think, “That sounds like an interesting thing to read.” I knew it would be a while and I knew it would be a slow read and I’m thankful to have finally finished this one.

Lateral

Cover image via Amazon

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Summary from Amazon:

The first practical explanation of how creativity works, this results-oriented bestseller trains listeners to move beyond a “vertical” mode of thought to tap the potential of lateral thinking.

I found parts of this book to be more useful than others. Some of it is written for teachers, who can teach lateral thinking to their students. That wasn’t as helpful but there were parts for practical application that were still useful. I did feel like the book was stretched a little thin in places. There were some concepts that I didn’t feel merited their own chapter or as long of an explanation as they got. There are useful techniques to the lateral thinking method, but some of them don’t need six examples. I think I could have dealt with ‘Lateral Thinking Light’ and got the same amount of information from it.

De Bono stresses not judging peoples ideas for ‘not working’ before talking about them. You have to trust that there’s a reason the person suggested the idea and while what they suggested might not be workable, the reasoning they have behind it might lead you to a new answer. I like this concept and I think it’s something I can use in work. He also stresses not stopping the search for an answer when something that works comes up; you have to keep digging. His suggestion was setting a number of ideas you’ll come up with before moving to the next phase so that you keep looking beyond the first good idea. I really liked this concept.

The chapter on po was way too long for me and I felt like it could have been cut. Po is a new word de Bono uses to replace ‘no’ but to have a similar impact of saying ‘that probably won’t work but I’ll withhold judgement and we’ll talk about this later.’ I don’t feel a new word was needed for this and I don’t feel it merited the longest chapter in the book and all the examples and slightly different uses it got.

de Bono

Edward de Bono Image via Wikipedia

De Bono believes anyone can be creative and come up with new an innovative ideas. His process is similar to a design thinking approach, looking at the problem and breaking it down into solvable chunks, focusing on what needs to be delivered. I thought this was a useful book for me to read since I was recently hired to a team that’s new and developing a lot of processes. We’re going to have to be creative in how we approach our work and what we do now will need to be re-evaluated again in a year to see if changes are needed.

Writer’s Takeaway: De Bono does well to give concrete examples in a book about creativity. I think that as a teacher, I would have found this book helpful if I wanted to teach students about lateral thinking techniques and how they can be more creative and find new solutions to problems. He has some more dated references that could be updated with technology (there was clearly no internet when de Bono penned this), but the suggestions and techniques are pretty universal. I think this is a text that will stand the test of time.

While I found this useful and helpful, it was still a bit dry and didn’t grab my attention. 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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Creativity Tip – Lateral Thinking | The Writaholic’s Blog

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (4/5)

7 Jun

This title was on the book club docket before COVID hit but hasn’t reappeared. I thought it was about time I tried to get through it and was excited to see that it’s been released as a mini-series on Amazon Prime. I’ll have to convince my husband to watch that with me soon

Cover image via Amazon

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Summary from Amazon:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.

In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman’s will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.

This is one example of why I don’t read summaries. I had no idea the railroad was going to be physical until it appeared. I thought the tracks were part of a metaphor up until the engine pulled in. I loved the idea of a twisting, winding railroad literally delivering people to freedom and better lives. Cora’s story of escape was well done and I liked how she was rightfully never fully safe in her time on the rails. I think a lot of this book was meant to shock and that the treatment of the slaves should have taken me aback more than it did. Having read Kindred by Octavia Butler a few months ago, the effect wasn’t as strong here because I’d been exposed to it recently in that work.

The characters all seemed very real to me. I could believe that Cora and Ceaser were brave enough to run. I could believe that Randall and Ridgeway could be so cruel. I believed in the kindness of the station masters and the fear that simmered under them. Whitehead gave them nervous energy that simmered in this book in a very exciting way.

Cora was easy to like in this story. She was brave and determined and she was fighting for something that you knew was right and just. She was a strong woman and it was hard not to like her. I appreciated that Whitehead made his hero a woman. While Ceasar’s story was strong and he could have been an appealing main character, I think the trauma of raped slave women is unique and wouldn’t have been captured in the same way with a male protagonist.

It’s hard to deny that there is racism in America today. While the treatment of Blacks and other minorities isn’t as deadly today as it was in Cora’s time, it still needs to be combated. It can seem daunting to support movements that seem to be against the government’s stance, such as defunding the police departments and getting rid of restrictive voting laws. While it’s not as deadly today as it was for supporters of free Blacks in the 1800s there can still be backlash. I saw friends and political figures from today when I looked at the allies in this book. I think a lot of the stories then are paralleled now, unfortunately. We may be past slavery, but we’re not past racism and its evils.

Colson Whitehead
Image via the author’s website

Cora and Ceasar’s stop in South Carolina was my favorite. I thought it was such an idyllic place at first until we started to see the evil intentions and traps that were lurking just under the surface. I thought these were revealed well and gave a sense of foreboding that was well done. Cora’s eventual escape was a point of great intensity in the book that I enjoyed.

I felt the ending of the book seemed a bit rushed. From the end of the Valentine Farm to the end of the book, things wrapped up quickly. I didn’t expect this book to have a neat bow on it, but I was hoping for a little more about Cora’s eventual peace which is teased. After so much suffering, I would have liked a moment of comfort. But I understand that Cora’s life was about pain and that’s why her story focused there.

The audiobook was narrated by Bahni Turpin and I’m still loving Turpin’s narration. This is my third time listening to a book with her and I’m looking forward to more in the future. She had great voices for all of the characters and tapped into Cora’s emotions well. She was serious when needed and lighthearted when appropriate. I’d listen to her other work in the future without hesitation.

America needs to remember how it brought Blacks to America. We have to remember that there has been slavery, repression, Jim Crow, and other evils that we still see today. I’ve heard about how we’ve ‘fixed’ the problems that are at the root of our issues and how racism is over and I can see that it’s not true. My job allows me to talk about Diversity and Inclusion at length and how it affects minorities and I’m surprised at how few people have this topic come up often in their lives. I think it’s important to read books like this and have your ideas challenged. Slavery is history but not ancient history. 

Writer’s Takeaway: The twist that Whitehead saved for the end was my favorite part. I won’t say too much here about it so no spoilers! I will say that he created a legend that lived for most of the story before it was resolved quickly at the end and had me rethink a lot of the book and opinions and comments that came out because of it. I’m interested to see how the screen adaptation has taken this.

A well done and thorough novel. 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: 
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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead | The Book Stop 
Review: ‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead | Ephmereality 
The Underground Railroad | Afterlives of Slavery

Book Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (4/5)

11 May

I absolutely adored the first book in this series so to say I put it on a pedestal is perhaps an understatement. I was so excited to start it that I didn’t think about book club picks that might get in the way and had to stop three hours in for more than a month to squeeze in some other books before coming back to it. But when I did return, I powered through.

PetticoatsThe Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2) by Mackenzi Lee

Other books by Lee reviewed on this blog:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky

Summary from Amazon:

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

This book was fun and a great adventure, but I was looking for something more and unfortunately didn’t get it. Don’t get me wrong Felicity’s voice is great and Johanna and Sim were amazing companions. However, I didn’t fee like Felicity grew much during the book and Monty’s growth was part of what I loved so much in the first book. Felicity grew more in the first book than she seemed to in this one. It felt a bit more like a forced sequel than a true second plot and I was disappointed. By my rating, you can see I still enjoyed it, but I couldn’t give it the full Five Stars.

I didn’t believe Felicity and Johanna as much as I would have liked. Felicity was so single minded for much of the book that I found it hard to believe she welcomed Johanna back into her life so quickly and abandoned her worship of Platt as fast as she did. The rest of the book, her focus was much more external and it seemed like a sudden shift. Johanna was more likeable the second half of the book but I didn’t understand why she was so subservient before she ran away. She seemed so happy and content and many of the comments she and her uncle made made it seem like she wanted to get married. She never seemed to contradict this later so her decision to abscond baffled me for much of the book.

Sim was my favorite character. I thought her motivation was the strongest out of the female leads. Her relationship with her father was appropriately complicated. I also liked how Lee brought in a Muslim character and the cultural opportunities that opened the book to because of that diverse pick. Sim was a strong a powerful character and I think I’d rather a sequel about her than another Montague sibling at this point.

There wasn’t much relatable about Felicity which is part of why I didn’t engage with her. Her adventure was larger than life and very fun, but it’s not something most of us will even get a chance to experience. Her friendship with Johanna ended poorly and that could have been something I understood and related to, but their resuming of their friendship was almost too quick and they never seemed to sort out what had driven them apart. Her desire to do something society pushed back against has become (thankfully) less relatable for most people. I think this was supposed to be one thing that made her relatable to women but in this case, I think time has made her struggles less common and her drive less relatable.

Lee

Mackenzi Lee Author image via HarperCollins

I enjoyed the time the girls spent in Zurich best. After that, the book started moving so fast that I had some trouble keeping up with it. Zurich gave them time to develop as individuals and to bond as a group which was fun to watch. Felicity was able to show her knowledge and apply it well with Sim’s injury and we got to see how the three could work together for the rest of the book.

Platt’s character was the most disappointing part of the entire book to me. Felicity looked up to him so much and we know that he’s a very intelligent person from the books that he wrote and the work that he did. The way he carved a way for himself in the medical field was admirable. However, he was a wreck once he appeared. His addiction was to blame for a lot of this, but it seemed too much of an oversimplification based on how he’d been built up. I was really hoping for a bit more, for his genius to shine through in some way or for him to at least show his medical knowledge.

The audiobook was narrated by Moira Quirk. I didn’t hate her reading, but it wasn’t my favorite. She made a lot of things sounds flippant that I don’t think should have been read in such flippant tones. It was hard for me to tell if that was the writing or the narration, though. I will say that I liked her dramatic pauses when large turns happened. She had good voices for the characters, though Johanna and Felicity were a bit similar.

Felicity takes her fate into her own hands, not letting her society dictate what she can or should do. She refuses romantic relationships and pursues professional growth. She’s a very modern woman living in the 1700s. The book shows how far women have come since Felicity is very limited by her sex and the time she lives in. Many of the things she is barred from doing are much more easily obtainable by women today. Her fight it what makes this so. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the women who came before us, women like Felicity who pushed back and found their own way.

Writer’s Takeaway: Lee kept a first-person narration story moving forward at a good pace which can be hard to do! Her time jumps were well managed and she kept Felicity at the center of the excitement without it seeming forced out out of character. I’ve tried to write first person and struggled so I was so excited to see a story move so smoothly.

Overall, a fun read but nothing like the first in the series. Four out of Five Stars

This book fulfills the 1700-1799 time period of the When Are You Reading? 2021 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.

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Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch (4/5)

10 May

This was for sure my pick for a buddy read. I loved Courch’s first book, Dark Matter. I was curious to see what else he had up his sleeve. My reading buddy was up for a bit of a thriller so this seemed like a good pick for us both. Man, did we speed through this one. I think we met twice in a week at one point because we were both so eager to keep reading.

Recursion

Cover image via Amazon

Recrusion by Blake Crouch

Other books by Crouch reviewed on this blog:

Dark Matter (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Amazon:

Reality is broken.
 
At first, it looks like a disease. An epidemic that spreads through no known means, driving its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. But the force that’s sweeping the world is no pathogen. It’s just the first shock wave, unleashed by a stunning discovery—and what’s in jeopardy is not our minds but the very fabric of time itself.
 
In New York City, Detective Barry Sutton is closing in on the truth—and in a remote laboratory, neuroscientist Helena Smith is unaware that she alone holds the key to this mystery . . . and the tools for fighting back.
 
Together, Barry and Helena will have to confront their enemy—before they, and the world, are trapped in a loop of ever-growing chaos.

Having not read the summary, I thought this was going to be about a contagious disease early on and I wondered what I’d stumbled into. Maybe the later half of a global pandemic wasn’t the best time for this? But the more we got into it and realized what FMS was and what was really going on, the more we were sucked in. The first half of the book is told from two view points, Helena and Barry. They’re not in the same place or in the same year but we quickly discovered how interlinked their stories would be. Crouch’s exploration of reality and what would realistically happen with new technology is really well done. I thought the reactions of many people were completely justified and Crouch’s ideas about the impact of a broken reality on the human psyche was great.

I adored Helena. She was so strong and brave and I respected her so much throughout this book. She was a great hero to be cheering for throughout. Her intelligence was forefront but usually understand which let her personality shine through. Barry seemed a little flat, but in a thriller I’m not usually looking for strong personalities in characters.

Helena was my favorite character. Her motivations, at least early on, were very noble and were always to help her mother. Her motivations changed to be for a greater good and she really expressed that when working for DARPA. She recognized ramifications and how what she was dealing with was so much larger than herself. She was a voice of reason and good when everything was going badly.

Barry was the most relatable character in the book. I’m sure most of us have something in our pasts that we wish we could fix or redo. Barry’s desires to have a different life were very understandable and I thought back to decisions in my own life that I might like a ‘do-over’ for.

Crouch

Blake Crouch Image via Goodreads

These next two paragraphs are going to be some major spoilers so please skip down to avoid them. I adored the time Helena spent working with DARPA. I thought it was really great how she fought to use the chair for good. She was backed against a wall but found the best way to make use of her position. Fighting to let major atrocities happen, pushing not to let large passages of time occur, these things made a difference. I was so sad when the project got hijacked by the military. It really seemed to ruin everything.

The ending was a bit anti-climactic for me. Slade telling Barry that Helena had found a way to travel to dead memories once and then Barry instantly figuring it out was a little too convenient. It was hard to believe that in 200 years, Helena had never tried visiting a dead memory again. Especially since she could jump back an hour and ‘fix’ the problem the same way Slide did with Reed on the oil rig. Such a simple solution to a very complex problem made the ending seem cheap.

Humans are starting to experience reality in different ways because of technology. We’ve developed virtual reality, online worlds that can fulfill social needs and desires. The idea that we may someday master time enough to change that aspect of our reality is jarring but not entirely out of the question. If we did get to this technology, what would we do with it? Would it be weaponized like Helena and Barry experienced? Would it be used for good the way Helena tried to do with her mother’s memories? It’s a hard question to answer. Humans do seem to be inclined to selfishly using every advancement our world has made so as much as we’d love to say it would be the latter, the former seems likely.

Writer’s Takeaway: Crouch put his foot on the throttle and never let it go. The pace in this book was astounding and kept me guessing and turning pages well past my bed time. Thriller writers have an amazing capacity to pace a book and I feel like I’m getting schooled each time I read one.

A great, fast, read that made me think. 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.

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Review of HARDBACK edition of Recrusion by Blake Crouch | Brainfluff 

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (4/5)

6 May

My husband saw the title for this book on my book club calendar and had to laugh at me. I can’t blame him. Out of context, the title seems odd. But when I started reading this book, I realize that the stories are a small part while they’re also the focus of the novel. It’s not about the stories, but the writers and how they change. This book took me happily by surprise.

PunjabiErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Summary from Amazon:

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

I did not expect there to be a mystery to this book and I loved it! That added a layer that was a complete surprise to me an allowed me to enjoy the book even more. What the book had to say about culture was really important, too. Nikki straddled her Punjabi roots and her London location better than some, but never seemed to completely fit in either location. Many times, it was comments from non-Punjabi’s who made her feel like she didn’t fit in and these microaggressions are so quick and might be forgettable to the errant speaker but are so painful to the victim. I thought Jaswal gave the reader a lot to think about with this book and I think I’ll seek her out for more in the future.

The characters rang true to me. I can’t comment too much about their authenticity since a lot of their identities circled around being part of a minority group that I’m not part of. However, I felt their humanity in their conversation and interactions. The community they had was wonderful and it made me hope that I can find such a community if I ever find myself a window.

Kulwinder ended up being my favorite character in the end. I think she may have been the most dynamic person in the book. The way her relationship with her husband heals was really great to see. I liked how she admitted that she misjudged Nikki and worked to right that mistake. She was brave in the way she stood up to her male coworkers and fought for woman’s classes. She didn’t seem to realize how much she’d influenced Maya with her ideas.

Nikki was really relatable as a daughter. There are times I’m afraid I’m disappointing my parents or have disappointed them in the past and I felt the same guilt that Nikki shared. I think most children feel this. Mine has never been to the same degree as what Nikki shouldered with her father’s death, but I think Jaswal gave a lot of different examples of ways that Nikki felt she could or should have done something different for her parents.

Jaswal

Balli Kaur Jaswal Image via the author’s Facebook page

I liked how Jaswal revealed Maya’s death. In some communities, there are things people just don’t talk about and it felt real that this community wouldn’t talk about Maya’s death. I liked how it kept coming up and we slowly learned more about her and her life with Jaggy and what she was like. It gave her a lot of layers and the more we got, the more obvious it was that something was wrong in what we’d learned early on. I won’t give any more away here, but it was very well paced.

I thought Nikki’s romance with Jason seemed forced. I don’t think she needed a romance to feel completed in this story so I was a little upset that it was added in. I think Nikki’s growth would have been as meaningful and stark without Jason in the mix.

The audiobook was narrated by Meera Syal and I think she did a wonderful job of telling the story. She did a great variety of voices for the widows and Nikki (I wasn’t a huge fan of her Jason American voice, but I can get over that). With so many woman talking over each other at times, it was a big task and I think she carried it out well.

Nikki is very stuck between two cultures and this story is a great exploration of that. She begins by rejecting a lot of the elements of her parents culture and trying to completely embrace her location’s culture. By the end, she seems to have found a happy middle ground where her understanding of her parents culture has increased and she feels more comfortable and accepted. She gains a level of understanding with her mother and sister that she wasn’t going to find without this acceptance and it’s helped her repair a stressed relationship with her late father in the process.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book reminds me why stories by minority writers are so needed and should be celebrated. I don’t live in the UK and I knew nothing about the Southall minority population! My city has similar enclaves and I now want to see if there are books celebrating their cultures and amplify those amazing voices. I’m so glad Jaswal wrote about this group so their vibrance can be shared.

An enjoyable read that taught me a lot. 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.

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