Archive | Reviews RSS feed for this section

Book Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (4/5)

10 Aug

My only other exposure to Ann Patchett had been nonfiction so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I liked the nonfiction, don’t get me wrong, but writers are very different when telling stories versus recounting them. It was a book club pick so I knew I was going to read it anyway!

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Other books by Ann Patchett reviewed on this blog:

Truth and Beauty (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

This book was a fast read for me. I was in the middle of it when it came time to leave for my Pacific Northwest vacation so I quickly got the book on CD, burned it to my phone, and let myself enjoy it while running in Seattle. The switch from reading a paper copy to listening to someone else read to me was a bit jarring at first, but I grew to really enjoy the story and how it was read to me. I liked the story, it didn’t bother me that it was a character-driven novel, and I thought the time jumps were well done. It’s a book where it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why you enjoyed it, but it’s easy to say that you loved it.

The characters were well-developed and I liked them. Well, not all of them, but a lot of them. These were people I could have a drink with, people who could explain their lives to me and I would be touched and believe them. These were real people and I applaud Patchett for creating them when they felt real enough to touch.

I liked Franny. She made mistakes like the rest of her siblings, but she also owned up to them. She was very much a mother figure, even to her older sister at times, and for sure to all the Cousins kids. I’m glad so much of the book focused on her and I think her relationship with her father was one of the best in the book. She was the bookends of this book: her christening started it and her visit to Bert ended it.

I think Albie’s experiences are very relatable. As kids, there’s a lot that intentionally goes over our heads. There are things parents don’t tell us and things we don’t know to ask about. I think Albie felt like this through much of his life. He knew that he was somehow involved in Cal’s death but didn’t understand what had happened and was too confused to ask.

Ann Patchett
Image via Alchetron

I loved the opening scene of the book. The first chapter set up the rest of the story and it made for a great read. Figuring out the adult characters before moving to the children was a great introduction to this book and a great way of feeling out how the adults were going to act the rest of the book. You got a great sense of Fix and an immediate dislike for Bert. Theresa was purposefully left out of the scene which is telling for later in life.

The ending bothered me. It was the first time I really thought about a relationship between Bert and Franny. He is her ex-step-father so visiting him as a way of getting away from your mother and husband seemed odd to me at first. But, I had to realize, that man raised her. Or rather, was a ‘Bert’ version of a father, meaning he was probably absent a lot of the time. It didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the book to me.

I only listened to the last 1/3 of this book on audio, having read the first part. The audiobook was narrated by Hope Davis and it took some adjusting for me only because I wasn’t ready for another voice to read me that story. It had been the voice in my head so it was a jarring change. After about a half hour, I adjusted fine and enjoyed the reading. Davis reads like she’s telling her best friend the story and this book did well in that style.

The Keatings and Cousins had to redefine family. Beverly and Bert were absent parents. Theresa was fighting to survive while Fix was desperate to be a father. The children had to raise each other and in the case of Albie, they failed for a long time. Later in life, the families are further complicated by distance, marriage, separation, and children so that some people seem to fall away and some fall into the fold. Franny experiences this with her latest stepfather’s family at the end, but she’s been through it as well.

Writer’s Takeaway: The only thing this book was lacking for me was some direction. It’s the story of a family, to be sure, but what happens to that family is unclear. They drift apart, but not all of them. Some of them come together. But others leave. And some are pushed out. It’s really unclear what the ending of this book wraps up. It’s beautifully written and I enjoyed the ride, I just wish I knew where I got off.

This book is a high precedent for Patchett’s fiction. I’m looking forward to others. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett | Fictionophile
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett | the book stop
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett | Book Addiction

Book Review: A Son of the Circus by John Irving (2/5)

7 Aug

This book should have been perfect for me. It’s by John Irving and it’s about circuses, two things I love. Unfortunately, in Irving fashion, the book’s separate story lines didn’t start intersecting until halfway through (300 pages in for this book) and the Circus in the title was not a big focus of the book. Combine those with me taking a hiatus from reading it half way through, and this book was kind of disappointing to me.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Son of the Circus by John Irving

Other books by John Irving reviewed on this blog:

In One Person (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Born a Parsi in Bombay, sent to university and medical school in Vienna, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla is a 59-year-old orthopedic surgeon and a Canadian citizen who lives in Toronto. Periodically, the doctor returns to Bombay, where most of his patients are crippled children.

Once, 20 years ago, Dr. Daruwalla was the examining physician of two murder victims in Goa. Now, 20 years later, he will be reacquainted with the murderer.

I think there were some basic problems with this book that kept me from enjoying it. The first is how long it is. At 600+ pages, this wasn’t a quick read. The entire first half of the book is told in flash backs that Farrokh goes through during one day. The timeline will progress thirty minutes before we’re thrust back 30 years to John D’s childhood or the history of the Duckworth Club or something else that seems inconsequential to the plot, which is dragging along. In the second half of the book, some of these things start to come full circle, but many of them are never brought back up. Farrokh’s relationship with the Catholic Church is mentioned several times, but there’s no definitive conclusion. The central plot, which really begins in the last quarter of the book, is compelling and I thought Rahul was a great character. I wish side plots, even the circus involved one, had been left out. Irving tried to do far too much with this book and I think it failed as a result.

John Irving characters are hard to believe and there were several in this novel I didn’t believe. Nancy was a contradiction, both too nervous to do anything and very bold in how she attracted her husband. John D lacked a personality completely as the man never seemed to stop acting. I struggled to connect with any characters; perhaps Police Inspector Patel and Julia were the most understandable to me. Veronica Rose was hard to like (I doubt anyone reading this does) to the point where I didn’t believe her. This is usually my chief complaint about Irving novels, but I still read them anyway.

Farrokh was a good narrator for this story. He had a strong connection with all the main players: Rahul, John D, Martin Mills, and Vinod. Without switching narrators, we were given the story from several angles. I stand by my earlier complaint that there were too many plot lines, though. There could have easily been less about Nancy, Martin Mills, and even Inspector Dhar. Farrokh seemed to be a reasonable person, though, and recognized when there was something ridiculous going on in his life and react to it the way I would. I appreciated this with all of the radical events.

Police Inspector Patel seemed one of the most relatable characters in the story. He realized how ridiculous the people around him were and how his life was made more complicated by people’s insistence on following traditions and inability to do basic things. His constant frustration with his clerical staff was something I could appreciate. His love for Nancy was really admirable, too. Overall, I think he was the most likable character in the story.

John Irving
Image via the author’s website

My favorite plotline was Rahul. They mystery, murder, and the slow reveal of Rahul’s personality was fun to read and follow. The twists were good and it had a solid ending to it. I still wish this had been the only major plotline.

My least favorite plot line was John D and Martin Mills. I didn’t see how it contributed to the story at all. Martin was a caricature of a Jesuit and as a Catholic, I found most of the priests in this book a bit insulting. The story of the twins, them meeting, and all Martin’s shenanigans were completely pointless in the book and even the end of the twins’ stories didn’t contribute much to the book. I really wish this had been left completely out.

I struggled to find a continuous theme in this book. At first, I thought it would be Farrokh reflecting on his past mistakes but, half way through, the flashbacks stopped. Then I thought it would be about catching Rahul, but the two orphans were a big part of the plot. I was really confused what all of this had to do with each other besides Farrokh being involved in it all. His screenplays seemed to have something to do with it. He wanted to mature as a writer, to write about something that ‘mattered’ and wasn’t meant to upset people. Farrokh was growing into someone who was considerate and wanted to say something ‘real.’ To be honest, that’s all I got out of this one.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this could easily have been split into multiple books. Each would have been more impactful (and easier to fit in my carry-on luggage) than all of these plotlines combined into one. It’s important to have a book focus. While subplots can be fun and make the story more interesting, too many are distracting and need to be cut. This could have done with a lot of cutting.

Too much going on to really enjoy this one. Two out of Five Stars. As an Irving fan, this makes me sad. I ended up selling this book at a used book store for credit. I’ll post more about that tomorrow.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
A Son of the Circus by John Irving | Diddy’s Diary

Book Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (5/5)

31 Jul

I waited a long time to read this. I’ll continue to tell myself it’s so I wouldn’t have to wait too long for the fourth book to come out, but in reality, it’s because I didn’t want to bother with an audiobook on CD. It bugs me to have one just in the car. I have a short commute to work and I do most of my listening while running which means CD audiobooks take me a very long time to get through. I was finally ready to enjoy this one, though. And I’m so glad I did.

Cover image via Goodreads

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Other books by Galbraith reviewed on this blog:

The Cuckoo’s Calling
The Silkworm
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Harry Potter y el orden del fenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter y el misterio del principe by J.K. Rowling
Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Summary from Goodreads:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

I felt the last book was really building to some relationship drama between Strike and Robin and this book did not disappoint! The killer involved was a great mystery as well. I was guessing the whole time who the guy could be and I was even questioning men like Wardle because I knew it would be someone we’d already met and I wanted to be ahead of Strike for once. I’d written the real killer off a long time before for similar reasons to Robin, but I really enjoyed figuring out what was going on.

The one thing that confuses me in the whole book is Robin and Matthew’s relationship. I don’t get why she keeps going back to him. Honestly, I don’t know if I could if my husband was as terrible as Matthew. Other than that, I loved the characters even more than in the last book and I can’t wait to see what Galbraith does with them from here. It’s going to be a very different dynamic in their relationship now.

I adore Robin. I love her even more now that she’s talked about his history a little more. She’s a very strong character and I feel like she’s finally learning how to be strong on her own because of her job with Strike. Again, if she hadn’t stuck with Matthew, I think I’d like her more, but I can see how she’d want to continue with the relationship. In all honesty, it was the easier decision. I hope that’s not why she did it, though.

I related to Robin more than I’d like to admit, but in a way that I think most married people can. I got cold feet for a bit during my engagement. There, I said it! I was 23 and getting married to someone I’d known since I was 14. I don’t think it’s unusual to second guess a life-changing decision for a minute before you make it and I know my husband and I had a few conversations that helped me feel reassured we were making the right decision. Though we had nothing as big as Robin and Matthew’s trust issues to deal with, yikes!

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

The investigation of the three men was great, but I really enjoyed the chapters from the killer’s point of view. It helped me guess along which was fun. One of the complaints I’ve had with this series is that you can’t try to figure out the murderer along with Strike because some things are kept from the reader. Having the chapters from his view helped me feel closer to the answer and once it was revealed, I felt like I should have figured it out! Not from Strike’s evidence but from something in one of those chapters. I thought this was a good addition to the book structure.

I’m repeating this a lot, but Robin staying with Matthew kind of bothered me. She’s strong and gutsy in work, but it doesn’t carry over into her personal life and it frustrates me. I wonder if this will start to develop going forward in the series. She seems a bit committed at this point, though!

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Robert Glenister, the same man who narrated the first two books in the series. I think he does a great job with the books. He easily slips into an American accent when needed and I think (though I’m no expert) he does different accents for the British characters depending on where they’re from. None of it seems oddly forced and I really enjoyed listening to him read this book!

Robin’s revelation about her past was a big part of her character development in this book. I liked what Galbraith was saying about Robin being seen as more than the victim of her circumstances. Knowing that Rowling is a feminist and rather outspoken, this was a consistent message with what I know of her. Robin didn’t talk about what happened to her because she was seen as a victim and some saw her as inviting what happened to her. I think that happens a lot with rape victims and I think Rowling addressed what Robin went through well.

Writer’s Takeaway: I can’t get over how much I liked the chapters from the killer’s point of view! It added just enough dramatic irony that I stayed more engaged than I otherwise would have. For these hard-to-solve mysteries, it was great. Especially because the clue that gave it all away was something I, as an American, would never have picked up on.

I enjoyed this story a lot and I’m now eagerly anticipating the fourth installment. Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Career of Evil by Rober Galbraith | A Captivating Thriller or a Huge Disappointment | Whimsy Pages
“Career of Evil – Cormoran Strike #3” by Robert Galbraith | Mike Finn’s Fiction

Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

17 Jul

I’d seen the play, but never read the screen play of this work. A few years ago, someone recommended this to me as an 1800s read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge. I’d already found something for the time period, but I added it to my TBR anyway. I needed a nice short audiobook recently and chose this one. At two hours, it was a great length. And the full cast narration was a delight.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Summary from Goodreads:

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest’s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

Strangely, my strongest recollection of this story was the cucumber sandwiches in the first act. I just remember the actor eating all of them and thinking it was hilarious. This whole play was really funny and it made me forget how terrible running can be for a little while. Listening also made me want to see the show again.

The characters are such awful exaggerations of society that it’s very easy to laugh at them. Only Jack seems to be somewhat collected and even he has times of being a bit ridiculous. I don’t think Wilde could have made fun of society with relatable or down-to-earth characters so it was a wonderful choice.

Algernon was my favorite character in the play. He was absolutely ridiculous and made me laugh in every scene he was in. At first, I thought he was terribly clever and out maneuvering Jack but I soon realized how vain he was, along with everyone else of course, and that his remarks were not witty but oblivious and narsacistic. I still loved him.

I didn’t relate to any of the characters, but I think you should all question me if I had. Not being able to relate to a character isn’t an issue for me in a comedy like this one. It’s hard to laugh at someone who reminds you of yourself.

I loved all the backhanded comments about things being in fashion. Thinks that ‘one must’ or ‘one must never’ do were great and made for many of the best lines in the play. Wilde had a great way of pointing out how ridiculous some of the customs of his society were and I loved hearing about it in this format.

As terrible as it sounds, I was disappointed that things worked out for everyone in the end. It wouldn’t have been very funny if things had gone poorly, but I think it would have been appropriate for them to flub a few things up in the end. These weren’t the smartest people, after all. But things working out the way they did was funny and I guess that’s what you’re going for as a comedy writer.

The full cast production was wonderful. This is a play with few enough characters that each voice was distinct enough I could tell them apart without having to be told who was speaking. It was fun to listen to it like a conversation. The narrator for stage direction barely spoke expect to announce arrivals and departures. I think this is the best way to listen to a play. I prefer it to the single-narrator version of The Tempest I listened to last year.

I liked Wilde’s way of talking about how ridiculous he found some of the practices of his society. He especially seemed harsh on marriage and family ties. It makes me want to read more into his life and see why he might have felt this way. I do remember reading he was arrested for homosexuality though he was married and maybe felt trapped in a marriage he had a poor opinion of. I’m just speculating but I can see how that might lead someone to have slighted feelings against societal pressures.

Writer’s Takeaway: What I really loved about this book was the witty one-liners. There’s a great list on Goodreads and a favorite was from Aunt Augusta: Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that. I enjoyed the quick chuckle and I think lines like this, frequency dependant on the genre, are always welcomed and can help lighten a heavy mood, even in a dark book.

I really enjoyed this read and recommend the full cast audiobook highly. Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’: Bright, but Shallow | Washcult

‘A Hologram for the King’ Movie Review

13 Jul

Movie Poster via Wikipedia

When I read A Hologram for the King, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d read an Eggers book before but the topic was so vastly different that I didn’t see how the same man could have written both books. I adored Hologram but couldn’t articulate well why. It reminded me a bit of Waiting for Godot but set in Saudi Arabia. That doesn’t instill much confidence, does it? I was excited when the movie came out but it didn’t get much hype. I took it up north to my parents’ cottage to watch with them and hubby and everyone seemed to like it though it had a meandering plot similar to the book.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

The King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade. Description of the city is one thing, but seeing it on-screen was incredible. I kept having questions about how there was water and electricity in that remote part of the desert, but that’s beside the point. It was crazy to see the city rising out of the desert and even crazier to know it’s based on an actual city! The novel used the real name, King Abdullah Economic City.

Yousef. The quirky and mischievous driver was more fun in real life. He was really funny and I can’t remember how much of that humor was present in the book. My favorite line was when he found out Alan was late and said, “If you’re in a hurry, we should be going this way,” and did a complete 180 in the taxi.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Seeing Mecca. I don’t remember that part from the book at all. It was fun to have it thrown in, adding a little more adventure to Alan’s trip to Yousef’s home. It was clear the images were stock, which was the only thing that bothered me. I think they could have been worked in a little better but it was a fun scene to add.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

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

Communication with Kit. Alan was writing to Kit all the time in the book. His inability to provide for her as a father was a major motivator for him to stick around in Jeddah and wait for the King to show up. It was clear she was part of his reason and motivation, but I think it was more stressed in the book.

Things That Changed Too Much

The ending. This was the only thing that really bothered me. I remember the ending of the book is annoyingly vague. Alan was going to stay but wasn’t sure what he would do or where he would live. Nothing was going well with Dr. Zahra and he was very alone. All of that was different in the book. He was selling housing units at KMET, he was living with Zahra, and he seemed really happy. One of the things I loved about the book is that it didn’t wrap up in a nice little bow but the movie did. It was 20 seconds at the end, but it was too much for me.

I was sad to hear this was a box office flop. I guess other people don’t enjoy movies about waiting as much as I do. Reader, have you seen the A Hologram for the King movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: Abraham by Bruce Feiler (2/5)

11 Jul

This book has been on my shelf for some time. I read Feiler’s book Walking the Bible about four years ago and subsequently had a book club discussion of it and met Feiler himself. I decided to buy this book because I enjoyed Walking the Bible so much and unfortunately it has languished on my shelf ever since. I realized there was an audiobook copy of it narrated by Feiler and was able to enjoy that recently.

Cover image via Goodreads

Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler

Other books by Bruce Feiler reviewed on this blog:

Walking the Bible

Summary via Goodreads:

Both immediate and timeless, Abraham tells the powerful story of one man’s search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traveling through war zones, braving violence at religious sites, and seeking out faith leaders, Bruce Feiler uncovers the defining yet divisive role that Abraham plays for half the world’s believers. Provocative and uplifting, Abraham offers a thoughtful and inspiring vision of unity that redefines what we think about our neighbors, our future, and ourselves.

I was a little disappointed by this book only because I think Walking the Bible is far superior. While WtB had a journey and that plot dominated the Biblical exploration and enhanced it, I felt Abraham was more of a textbook with references to academics and readings that I hadn’t studied. Even though Feiler was in Jerusalem and other important landmarks, he didn’t write about the experience of being there. The audiobook copy I had contained 40 minutes of WtB at the end, which only reminded me how much more I enjoyed that book.

The many faces of Abraham was a big focus of Feiler’s writing. It made it hard to believe any single interpretation of him because each religion and faction believed their interpretation so vehemently. As a Christian, I’m inclined to believe the Christian interpretation, but that conflicts very strongly with the Jewish interpretations which are hard to reconcile. For a single man, he has a lot of lore and facts that contradict each other.

 

Feiler did a good job working his own disbelief and a bit of his bias into the story. He admits at the beginning to his Jewish upbringing and bias toward the Jewish Abraham. He begins with this man and sets him up as a basis for the Christian and Muslim man to be compared against. I liked that he was open about his own bias due to his upbringing and I appreciated that.

I enjoyed the parts that, like Walking the Bible, were told like Feiler’s journey through the Holy Land. I enjoyed hearing about his visit to the holy sites associated with Abraham. The description of soldiers and travel to these places was fascinating and almost hard to believe by someone who’s never visited the region.

Some of the historical reflection on interpretation textbooks and historical texts bogged the story down in my mind a bit. I felt there was more of this than his travels and it made the book a little slow for me. I was listening to it while cooking and my husband asked me if it was the Bible! I thought that was a good reflection of how little it sounded like a non-fiction book.

Feiler himself narrated the audiobook. I like when authors do this because I think it makes the book sound more ‘real,’ having inflection where it’s intended. I did notice Feiler’s New England accent on a few words which likely wouldn’t have been there with a professional narrator, but it made it more real to me. I think he has a good voice for narration.

Feiler’s purpose in this book was to bring the three monotheistic religions together with their single founding father, Abraham. I’m not sure he accomplished this goal. He found that Abraham was very different depending on who he was speaking with. Some things, such as the son he intended to sacrifice, conflict with each other. There are some things similar between each Abraham, but I don’t think Feiler was successful in identifying a man to unite three faiths, rather pointing out the discrepancies between them.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve read a fair amount of non-fiction and this format was one that didn’t work for me. I wanted to read more of a story of Abraham and how he changed but what I got instead was too much of a textbook, quoting scholars and old texts. I was really hoping this book would be more like Walking the Bible and I think that’s part of the reason I was disappointed in this book. It wasn’t what I expected based on my experience with the author.

This book was informative, but maybe overly so. 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!

Related Posts:
Abraham Study- week 3 “Birth” | Rev. Sharon’s Blog
Book Review: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths | Edge Induced Cohesion
‘Abraham’ by Bruce Feiler (Book Review) | Perfect Chaos

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (3/5)

10 Jul

This is a book I wasn’t overly excited to read but at the same time, I was really looking forward to. It’s a book I had the feeling I needed to read and couldn’t say explicitly why. It was just one I needed to read. I’m glad my book club picked it so I finally had a reason to.

Cover image via Goodreads

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Summary from Goodreads:

One of the most important & influential books written in the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerfully moving & penetrating examination of how we live, a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation, an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father & his young son. A story of love & fear–of growth, discovery & acceptance–that becomes a profound personal & philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching & transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence & the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.

There were many times I felt what I was reading was going over my head. I’m sure a reread would help me understand it better, but I’m not one for rereading books. I followed the trip and I followed Phaedrus’ history, it was the philosophy that I didn’t always follow. I found the history and story fascinating. I don’t think I could travel as far as Chris and Robert did. I’d get too bored and restless. I also found it fascinating how different Robert and Phaedrus were from one another. It was hard to believe they were the same physical person.

I think Robert was very fair in how he portrayed his family and friends. I’m going to assume Robert is the narrator we follow, though it’s never expressly stated. Some of the things he wrote about Chris, I would find embarrassing if my father published in a book. I wondered how Chris felt about it and if he ever ended up suffering from mental illness like Robert did. I wondered how John and Sylvia felt about how they were described. Their dislike for technology comes off as negative n Robert’s eyes but I don’t think it was really a bad thing. I hope they were able to see it that way because it would be terrible if it affected their friendship. I also think it would be interesting to know how Phaedrus’ friends reacted to the book. The man has the same name but remembers nothing about his past. How strange it would be to read something by him and have it sound completely different.

It was hard to sympathize with a single character in this book. We don’t get a lot about any of the major players. Robert doesn’t reveal much about himself except that he’s introspective. Phaedrus and Chris are described very detachedly so that creates a barrier for the reader. It’s hard to say I had a favorite amongst them.

Related to that, I found it hard to sympathize or empathize with any of them either. As much as this book wasn’t about motorcycle maintenance, that was one of the major things about Robert a reader could connect with. Since I’m not a gearhead, I didn’t form that connection and I felt a bit distanced from the characters.

Robert Pirsig and Chris
Image via Levity

I liked reading about Phaedrus best. His story was fascinating and I was very curious how it would end. I think it was paced well through the novel. When I’d get a little bored with the trip or with philosophy, it would pop up again and it kept me reading. I’m glad there was a good bit of it at the end that made the last part of the book fly by.

I’m not really one for philosophy so those parts of the book were slow for me. I followed the discussion about quality well enough, but the beginning part about classical and romantic thought was a bit over my head. I understood it on the surface but the more Pirsig got into it, the more confused I was and the slower I read. It was hard for me to get into a book that distracted me so much at the beginning and I think that’s why it took me so long to read a book that, on the whole, I enjoyed.

I’ve heard several people say this book has changed their outlook on life or the way they think about things. I did not have a major revelation like this. I think this book gave me a new definition of quality but other than that, I don’t think it will have a lasting impact on how I view the world. One of my biggest takeaways was how mental illness can change a person. Phaedrus is so different from Robert that they’re no longer the same person and I couldn’t view them in such a way. I thought that was really insightful and it made it hard for Robert because he still looked like Phaedrus but needed to be viewed as a different person.

Writer’s Takeaway: I don’t think I’ll ever be a non-fiction writer, but I think weaving the three plots together the way Pirsig did made the book move along well without dragging on any one plot. A book that focused fully one only one of those plots would have been hard to get through, but all three together was a delight.

I’m not sure I was the best audience for this book. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig | Cellar Door
Robert Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Richard’s Notes

‘Room’ Movie Review

29 Jun

Movie Poster via IMP Awards

I read Room before I started this blog. It completely blew me away and I still think about how much I enjoyed it. It was a very tough subject to talk about and Donoghue did the whole thing in the voice of a small boy without demeaning anything about the situation. It was incredible. When I heard there was a movie being made, I was ecstatic. I was even more excited when my class ended and I finally had time to watch it. I cried alone in my apartment for a while.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Seeing how small Room was. Reading the dimensions and how many things were squeezed into that space was one thing, but seeing Ma and Jack in the small room and seeing how they made so much happen in that small space was incredible. That set was packed with all the things the book alluded to and it was crazy to see how efficiently Ma used all the space.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

No breastfeeding. This was a pretty big part of the book that was almost completely taking out of the movie. I remember Jack talking about ‘the left one’ and ‘the right one’ and it took me a while to realize he was still being breastfed. When I thought about it, it was really logical that Ma would keep breastfeeding him. Taking it out of the movie helped focus on the relationship without having to factor nudity into the rating. It was still an R rating in the US, though.

Cover image via Goodreads

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

Jack’s adjustment period to space. I found it fascinating in the book that Jack struggled with spatial relations. Because he’d only lived in Room, he knew where things were there but couldn’t translate distance outside of Room. He was running into things and falling down because he couldn’t judge distances. I thought this was a crazy concept and I wish it had made the movie.

The mall trip. This scene was a great add in the book and talked about the celebrity that victims of terrible tragedy can garner. Little Jack only cared that he was a hero to Ma but saw how famous he’d become. I wish it had made the movie.

Things That Changed Too Much

Honestly, it’s been too long since I read the book and I can’t think of anything major that sticks out. From my memory, it was a really good adaptation and I’m so glad I finally watched it.

I only wish I’d seen this sooner. It was a really good watch. Reader, have you seen the Room movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

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

‘The Light Between Oceans’ Movie Review

22 Jun

Movie Poster via The Movie DB

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a long time since I read The Light Between Oceans. It was about two and a half years ago that my book club read it and I fell in love with the title. I’ve already written a book review and a book club reflection on the title which have become top pages on this blog. Now that my class is winding down, I wanted to start watching come movies I’ve missed and this was at the top of the list. I don’t remember too much of the book, but here’s my best shot at remembering it!

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Janus. I imagined the island as very small when reading the book. It could have been in reality but seeing it as a larger island really helped me. The house and infrastructure on the island were a lot more developed than I’d thought of, too. It’s crazy to believe that the house and stairs were built by, probably, one man a few lightkeepers before Tom. Today, it would take a whole team to do that!

Isabel. Alicia Vikander did an amazing job with this character. It was easy to see how she was able to manipulate Tom into keeping baby Lucy. Part of it wasn’t manipulation, just her pure joy at having a baby around when she’d lost one. Tom loved his wife dearly and was able to make her happy. Happier than tuning a piano could ever make her.

 

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Simplifying Tom’s past. I didn’t remember how complicated his home life had been until I read through my earlier posts on the book. This was completely glossed over in the book, removing any mention of siblings and saying only that his father was abusive and unloving. I think this was more than enough. Tom’s quiet and desire to be alone was explained by his time in the war and for me, that was more than enough.

 

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

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

 

Forgiving Bluey. I forgot about this until I reread my review, too. There’s a lot of stress on forgiveness. Frank is big on forgiveness and Hannah tries to be forgiving to act how she knows her late husband would want her to. She forgives the Sherbournes for not telling her sooner. There were a lot of parallels between Frank and Tom, one of which was Tom’s ability to forgive Bluey for turning him in. I would have liked to see this and I wonder if it was a deleted scene.

Things That Changed Too Much

Less time spent with Hannah. Maybe I remember this wrong but I recall a large part of the book taking place back on the mainland with the legal battle going on and Lucy-Grace shunning Hannah. I thought this time was compressed too much in the movie because there was a lot of change going on in the characters during this part.

 

I only wish I’d seen this sooner. It was a really good watch. Reader, have you see The Light Between Oceans movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (4/5)

20 Jun

This is one of those books I feel like every book club read before I joined book clubs. I’d heard good things about it and wanted to read it so when I saw it at a library book sale, I grabbed it. Of course, I never had time to get around to it so I ended up listening to the audiobook. This feels like a common theme lately, huh?

Cover image via Goodreads

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from Goodreads:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I think I’m a sucker for dual timeline historical fiction books. I really enjoy the format and find it helps make the history seem closer to me. I enjoyed both Sarah and Julia’s timelines though I wish Sarah’s had continued on a bit longer. I think it could have been done to an extent without giving away Sarah’s future too much. Anyway. Julia was a good character, though not very relatable for me. I liked her extended family, too. Sarah’s story was so sad that it was hard to hear at times. She grew up well before she should have due to her losses.

Even though I didn’t relate well to Julia, she was a well-developed character. She never felt like she fit in Paris as hard as she tried. I thought the relationship she had with her daughter Zoë was a little unbelievable for Zoë’s age, but that was minor and didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. Julia’s desire to find the truth was a great asset and I liked how she followed things through to the end, even when they were difficult.

Even though I didn’t like him as a person, Bertand was my favorite character. He was very opinionated and strong-willed which was fun to read. Yes, he was a terrible husband, but we knew that from the first scene when he was making fun of Julia for being an American even though it upset her. He doesn’t redeem himself when we find out he’s been unfaithful but gains some sympathy when he points out to Julia she’s been neglectful of him. I thought he was very realistic and I liked his character a lot, even if he was a total jerk.

There weren’t many characters in this book that felt relatable to me. Probably the most relatable thing was Julia’s feeling of not fitting in. It’s not the same, but I lived in Southern Indiana for college and I never felt like I fit in there. It was a small city with a strong farming community, very different from Metro Detroit! Even when I knew my way around and held jobs in town, I wasn’t from there and it seemed it was always obvious to everyone.

Tatiana de Rosnay
Image via the French Embassy in the United States

I liked Sarah’s timeline. Those were my favorite parts because they made me feel like I knew more than Julia and I liked watching her figure out what I already knew. Her story had more pressing dangers to it and I could feel the fast pace and immediacy to her story. Even though it was sad, I liked the pacing.

I disliked the storyline about Julia’s pregnancy only because I thought it was superfluous to the story. She could have had a fight with Bertand without that being the cause and she could have connected with William without it, too. It felt almost like an afterthought and was almost too convenient to push the plot forward.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Polly Stone. It must be a challenge to narrate a book with so many foreign words and I thought Stone handled that well. The one thing that bothered me, and I’ve witnessed this before, is that she gave the French characters French accents when they were speaking French. Maybe this is just my brain but the accents gave me a feeling of the characters not having mastery over the language even though they were speaking their native tongue. It’s a small thing, but it got to me. Besides this, Stone did a great job building tension and tackling all the French names and places.

Family was a hard thing for Sarah to deal with. After her loss, she never felt happy with the Defaures. I felt she was always wondering what she’d be doing if her parents and brother were still alive. Julia’s family is breaking up and she seems to be redefining what her family means to her. Can it be a family without Bertand? Can her family include one more? I thought these questions played on one another well. Sarah’s struggle was much more difficult and I’m glad it got so much attention in the later half of the book.

Writer’s Takeaway:  I’m really enjoying the dual timeline in historical fiction! I think it makes the story more relatable for a modern reader and it takes some of the pressures away of researching every small detail so finely. I might have to give this a try myself in my next book.

This was a really enjoyable title with a great history lesson and some really cool twists to it. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay | Literary Treats
Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | The Book Stop
Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay | What Counts!
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | Denton Public Library