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

15 Nov

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Old School by Tobias Wolff

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tobias Wolff
Image via the Paris Review

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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

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

13 Nov

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

Cover image via Goodreads

That Night by Chevy Stevens

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chevy Stevens
Image via the author’s website

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
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Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens | Brooke’s Books and Brews

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

12 Nov

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Not Me by Michael Lavigne

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Lavigne
Image via the author’s website

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

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

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

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

A good story with a disappointing ending. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Not Me by Michael Lavigne | Court Reads
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Book Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett (4/5)

5 Nov

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

Cover image via Goodreads

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Other books by Follett reviewed on this blog:

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

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Follett
Image via the author’s website

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book fulfills the 1500s time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
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Book Review: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (4/5)

29 Oct

I’m obsessed with the Titanic. It’s been a source of amazement and curiosity for at least the last ten years. We went to Belfast just to see the museum. I’ve seen the traveling exhibit at least four times. When I found a copy of Lord’s book at a closing Barnes and Nobel a few years ago, I knew I had to grab it. It took me a while to start diving in, but I’m really glad I was able to eventually.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

Summary from Goodreads:

First published in 1955, A Night to Remember remains a completely riveting account of the Titanic’s fatal collision and the behavior of the passengers and crew, both noble and ignominious. Some sacrificed their lives, while others fought like animals for their own survival. Wives beseeched husbands to join them in lifeboats; gentlemen went taut-lipped to their deaths in full evening dress; and hundreds of steerage passengers, trapped below decks, sought help in vain.

I wasn’t sure if this would feel dated to me. I know that sounds silly when it’s about such a historic event. However, finding the wreckage changed a lot of ‘known’ facts about the sinking. Thankfully, Lord stuck to facts and this book was a wonderfully detailed account. I enjoyed that he stuck to a set time frame, the night of the sinking. He didn’t weigh down in the loading, construction, or investigations. It helped make this slim volume very engaging. I’m glad he focused on people of all classes instead of on the first class ‘glamorous’ experience. The crew is an often-forgotten group as well but Lord did them tribute.

There wasn’t a lot of characterization in this book which was fine with the ‘hard facts’ mood that Lord picked. The one thing I learned about a passenger that I hadn’t heard before was about Bruce Ismay. He never recovered from the Titanic and lived out the rest of his life solitarily in Ireland. I can’t imagine the responsibility he felt and how hard that was to live with.

It’s hard to imagine oneself in a position like those on the boat. Coming to terms with death and loss aren’t easy to do and I’m getting chills thinking about it. I hope I never find myself in such a horrible position.

Walter Lord
Image via Wikipedia

I loved all the detail Lord had about who was in what lifeboat and what happened while they were waiting for the Carpathia. I’ve not read a lot about that part of the sinking and it was interesting to learn something new. I wasn’t aware such good notes were taken about this time. I hadn’t considered how spread out the lifeboats would be after being adrift at sea on a dark night. All of these details made it easier to imagine how the night felt to the survivors.

The book seemed to come to its conclusion a bit abruptly. I almost hoped for a bit more about the inquiry because it was referenced several times toward the end but never talked about in detail. However, that would have extended the book beyond the scope Lord set and I understand why he didn’t do it.

My audiobook was narrated by Martin Jarvis. I felt he did a good job with the book. As a history, there weren’t a lot of voices or characters that he needed to do. He delivered a very factual account of the night with no thrills and the respect due to the lost.

It’s incredible that the Titanic has remained such a fascination for the world more than 100 years after her sinking. Any time I see an exhibit or talk about the ship, people are always interested and engaged in learning about her. The museum in Belfast is a rather recent structure and was packed on the Monday we visited. We’re fascinated with beauty and tragedy. How something so rich and magnificent could flounder and sink. How death equalized John Jacob Astor and the poorest steerage passengers on that boat. How so many small mistakes could cost so many lives.

Writer’s Takeaway: Lord didn’t take a lot of hearsay for granted. Many people had ideas about how the Titanic sank and what happened in the hours she was sinking. I expected to hear things that I knew were false but was really surprised with Lord’s story. He was true to the facts and the people who were there that night. As a huge fan, that makes a huge difference.

An enjoyable read for a big fan looking to learn more. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (5/5)

18 Oct

I somehow missed the hype of this book when it came out. I knew it got some good reviews but it was never on my radar. Man, do I regret that. This book blew me away. I’m so glad my book club picked it. I must have missed it due to a class in one book club because they were all shocked I was just getting to it. I’m so glad I’m in two!

Cover image via Goodreads

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Summary from Goodreads:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

At first, I didn’t like this book. I was having flashbacks to The Maze Runner and the frustration I felt when the main character had no idea what was going on and he was getting no answers. But as soon as Jason figured out what was going on, I was in. I finished this book in three days and that’s no easy feat for me now with how busy my life is. I stayed in bed a lot on my days off, napping and reading this book. It blew me away. It was very original and yet it used something familiar enough that I could understand it. I wish I was still reading it. Fair warning, it’s hard to not have spoilers in this review so continue reading at your own risk.

I loved Jason. He was very realistic and yet he was so smart that it was unimaginable. I loved the relationship with him and Daniela. I thought he was really resourceful. Overall, it was really great. The ‘other Jasons’ were fun, too. I wish that had some more screen time.

Daniela was my favorite character. I loved her as a wife and mother and I loved the other versions of her we met. She was creative and fun and still very much the same person. I thought the way she acted at the end was believable and it showed how strong her relationship with Jason was.

While none of the things in this book have happened to me, I understand Jason’s’ dedication to his wife. I love my husband with an odd ferocity and I can understand why he was willing to go to such extreme circumstances to make sure she was safe. I’m not sure I understood the lottery he was willing to set up. I’ll never be in that circumstance so I guess I never have to.

Blake Crouch
Image via Twitter

I liked Amanda and Jason trying to navigate the box best. It was fun to see the strange worlds they ended up in and how the navigated them and got out. It was a fun adventure and it led well to the final adventures of the book. I understand why it was necessary, too, but the fun was the best part.

I didn’t like being kept in the dark for the first 100 pages. I was frustrated and might have put the book down. Crouch’s writing was quick and easy to read, which kept me going forward, but I hate not knowing something critical when the narrator also doesn’t know. It seems like the writer isn’t sure what he’s doing yet but in this case, Crouch had a very good idea!

Jason’s love for Daniela obviously drove the book. If he hadn’t been so driven and dedicated to getting back to Daniela and Charlie, he might have stayed in the other world. Success, riches, and intelligence didn’t mean anything if he didn’t have Daniela and Charlie to share it with. Even successful Jason wanted the happy family.

Writer’s Takeaway: Crouch’s short sentences kept me reading fast. The long chapters and short chapter interchanged kept me guessing. I loved the way he paced this novel, though I wish it had been a little faster earlier on. It was a really fun and quick read, something I haven’t enjoyed in a while.

Really run and enjoyable, 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!

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Book Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (4/5)

16 Oct

I put this book off for a very long time. I knew that the Salander books were being continued by another writer, but I was nervous that I’d be disappointed by them and didn’t want to read them at first. But my mom read it and reassured me it was fine. I got a copy from a library sale and let it languish on my desk. Eventually, I caved and here we are.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Summary from Goodreads:

She is the girl with the dragon tattoo—a genius hacker and uncompromising misfit. He is a crusading journalist whose championing of the truth often brings him to the brink of prosecution.

Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it…

I’m genuinely OK with Lagercrantz taking over this series. I was afraid it would feel too different and maybe for some hard-core fans, it is. As a fan who read the trilogy over five years ago and has seen the Sweedish films and wants to see the new English one, this was just fine. It had the same techy vocabulary and lists of street names that I remembered. I like how Lagercrantz created a new villain for Lisbeth to defeat in this one and I hope he’ll stretch it out for a few more novels.

I liked that Blomkvist is getting older. In the first three, it seemed like Larsson was writing an idealized version of himself in Blomkvist and his ability to be sexy, smart, and perpetually young stuck out (much like Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s novels). But Lagercrantz doesn’t have the same dedication to the character and he’s much more believable. Lisbeth is as crazy and out there as ever and hasn’t changed much, which I appreciated.

August was my favorite character. I loved how this boy with a minimal ability to communicate found a way to express himself and help the people he loved. He needed to feel protected and didn’t feel that with his mother but when he could be around his father and Lisbeth, he was safe enough to let show what he could do. I adored seeing him as a strong boy and not someone who needed to be perpetually pitied.

There wasn’t much in this book I related to well. It was very distant from my life and I think that’s why I could enjoy it. It was an escapist piece for me. Really fun to read and nothing like my life. Even the ways the characters reacted weren’t things I could relate to because the situations they were in were so far from me.

David Lagercrantz
Image via Facebook

I liked Lisbeth and August’s escape from the summer home best. It was the best of Lisbeth’s quick thinking and fighting ability. Her being able to perform at that level with a child just showed how clever she was. I liked getting the story in bits from different perspectives as well.

I thought the build-up in this one was a bit slow. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but it just seemed to take a long time to grab my attention. It seems silly to say that with how action-packed the early chapters were, but I wasn’t invested until Lisbeth was more involved.

My audiobook was narrated by Simon Vance. He’s the same man who narrated the first three in this series and I believe I listened to two of them. He doesn’t use much change in vocal tone but it’s enough that you know who’s talking in a phone conversation and he changes his accent enough that you recognized the Russian characters in this one. As is my mark with male narrators, I didn’t feel his female voices were ‘weak’ or ‘too girly.’

There’s not too much of a moral theme in this one. Stop the bad guys from killing people for money. It’s not a very noteworthy theme. Underneath it, though, Lisbeth always has more to say. She can’t stand those who don’t protect women and children. She does everything she can to help August even when his mother has given up. In today’s world, standing up for women is seeming harder and harder. We can’t give up, the same as Lisbeth.

Writer’s Takeaway: I have great respect for Lagercrantz for what he was able to accomplish in writing this book. He was able to take another man’s characters and style and still write an original book. It’s like the ultimate version of FanFiction I can think of. Mimicking another author’s style is a fun writing exercise, but keeping it up for an entire plot is really impressive.

Overall, really enjoyable and a fun read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ by David Lagercrantz | The Life of a Thinker
Book Review: “The girl in the spider’s web” –  Millennium part 4 | Katevents
The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz | aclairerium
Guest Post: David Lagercrantz’s Girl in the Spider’s Web “was a soy milk latte to my preferred triple espresso” | The Tattooed Girl

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir (4/5)

11 Oct

I’d put this one off for ages because I felt it couldn’t live up to Weir’s first novel, The Martian. I’ll say right away, it didn’t. But that doesn’t mean this was a bad one. I was finally pushed to read it because a book club at my library had picked it for their third quarter meeting. I’m friends with the librarian in charge of the group and she asked if I’d read it and I had to admit I hadn’t but wanted to. That put me between a rock and a hard place! I took a lazy Saturday and powered through this one. It made for good reading between my naps.

Cover image via Goodreads

Artemis by Andy Weir.

Other books by Weir reviewed on this blog:

The Martian (and movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

The plot in this was great. It was gripping and it moved well and there was no down time between events. That was a major reason I read it so quickly and let it eat up an entire Saturday. My issue with this book was Jazz. She didn’t feel genuine to me. I understand that she grew up in a frontier town that’s so different from the Midwestern life I know that it could be hard to relate to her, but she was so different that she didn’t seem like a woman to me. Maybe because of the male writer, it wasn’t going to feel right, but still. I also felt like I was being babied a bit by Weir. He’d say something about lunar gravity or laws and follow it up with a sentence that actually started with, “Remember,…” in case I’d forgotten we were on the moon. That bugged me a bit. Ok, a lot.

In addition to Jazz, all of the characters seemed a bit off to me. Her father was the most realistic and it’s because he reminded me of an overbearing father whose daughter will never live up to his expectations. That happens on Earth, too! The other people were off and I think that could be explained away as people who fit in on Earth aren’t going to emigrate to the moon. It seems like a weak excuse, though. I wish some of them had been a bit more believable, I really do. I’ll just focus on the plot and continue to enjoy this one.

Because other characters were so minor, Jazz was still my favorite character. She was so smart and so resourceful that I had to love her at least a bit. She often had her heart in the right place, but she didn’t always do the right or logical thing. She was like Gru from Despicable Me.

I couldn’t relate to these characters and that’s part of why I struggled to enjoy the book. It was like reading a western but set in space. With a lot of science. And a female lead. It just wasn’t what I was expecting and I guess I was a little let down by it. It was a fun heist-like plot, but it didn’t move me in any way.

Image via The Daily Californian

I liked seeing Jazz’s plans play out. She was smart and always had to think things through because of her surroundings. Welding is basic but welding in a vacuum with an EVA suit on is not. She was very resourceful and smart and I liked seeing her ridiculous schemes come to life. I wonder how many of them would have really worked. I guess we’re still a few decades from finding out.

The beginning of the book frustrated me. It was a long lead-in to be introduced to the characters. The rest of the book moved so fast that this really stood out to me. A lot of things were explained slowly and it developed Jazz’s voice, but it didn’t develop her character or the plot much for me. I think it could have been cut.

Justice is different in Artemis. There’s not a lot of consequence for right and wrong and Jazz takes advantage of this. Is this better? Is living somewhere where destroying property is OK if you defeat a mob? Or almost killing everyone is OK as long as they don’t actually die? There’s a lot of grey area in law in the first place and Artemis thrives on that. Jazz takes advantage of it. Is that really OK?

Writer’s Takeaway: Weir clearly does a lot of research. He has a section in the back of the book explaining how you can travel to space for about $70,000 in his economy and why that can rationalize the existence of a colony on the moon. When you read his books, it’s clear he knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t let the science dominate the book, though. It’s still a work of fiction and this book was much more about Jazz and Artemis than it was at all about how to create a sustainable moon colony.

I enjoyed this book but it had its flaws. 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:
Artemis by Andy Weir | 10thandnoble
{Audio Book} Review: Artemis by Andy Weir || Questionable jokes and a better second half | Flying Paperbacks
“Artemis” by Andy Weir | NardiViews
Review- Artemis by Andy Weir (2017) | Total Inability to Connect
Artemis by Andy Weir (Book Review) @andyweirauthor @DelReyBooks #Artemis #CityOnTheMoon | Always Trust in Books

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (4/5)

9 Oct

I enjoyed the first Patchett book I read so much that it took little convincing to get me to read this one. I had it downloaded to my phone as a ‘back up’ book if I needed one while I was traveling Europe. Of course, I read more than I thought I would and needed to dive into this one. Sadly, the hold expired before I could finish it and after waiting a month in limbo, I devoured the ending.

Cover image via Goodreads

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Other books by Patchett reviewed on this blog:
Commonwealth (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Swiss Red Cross negotiator oachim Messner comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands. Days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months. Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I knew nothing about it going in and the title didn’t mesh with a hostage situation to me, but I rolled with it. The other Patchett novel I read had been a slow burn of emotional turmoil because Patchett is an amazing writer who makes you care about her characters more than you ever thought possible. As the story went on, I felt it dragged a little bit in the middle, but Patchett kept me interested in the happenings of a single house for five months. That’s pretty awesome.

I liked the variety of reactions we get from the hostages and terrorists. Not all of the terrorists are angry all the time and not all of the hostages are mad about the situation they’re in. Most of the young terrorists joined the group because they didn’t know another way. Many of the hostages have realized they’re not going to be killed and that the terrorists don’t want to kill them and they seem quite comfortable in their situation. I liked the variety Patchett gave us.

Gen was easily my favorite. He was involved in everything because of his translation skills and he had a great ability to only insert himself where he was really needed. I thought his relationship with Carmen was adorable and I liked the continued working relationship between him and Hosokawa. The obligation he felt to his employer even in the terrible situation was understandable and kind of adorable. I think I could have been friends with Gen.

Carmen’s desire for nothing to change was relatable. I think many people find solace in a moment or a situation and hope that nothing changes and they can live in that moment forever. Their moment lasted almost five months, but it was fleeting and the idealized time had to come to pass.

Ann Patchett
Image via Star Tribune

I liked the beginning of Roxane singing. It was such a change to the book and it sparked a lot of change in the house and the characters. It was the beginning of the hostages being treated as humans. It was a time of beauty and cooperation and it showed the power of music in the book. That’s not something many books can achieve.

The ending was my least favorite part so skip ahead if you don’t want it ruined. I felt it was really abrupt though I guess the ending to the situation had to be abrupt. There was no other way out of it. I thought it was appropriate but the epilogue rubbed me the wrong way and I felt disappointed and let down by what had happened. I wanted there to be something more, a wrap up of some kind with the other characters. Though I guess there wasn’t much left to say, was there?

You hear about Stockholm Syndrome and it’s hard to understand how something like that could happen. I can see it now. This book makes it so clear. When you’re world is shrunk to the size of a hostage group, it’s easy to attach to one of the few people there. Sometimes it’s another hostage but many times, it’s a terrorist. Many of the characters though, “When we get out of this, I want to…” without considering the way they’d get out and who would get out. They wanted the world to continue the way they were living it then, expanding the borders of their world but not who was in it. I can’t say I’ve ever read another book about this and it was really fascinating.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had a slow burn, which is hard to write. Every time you thought things were getting repetitive or slow, Patchett threw something else in to kick it up a notch and make it exciting again. She paced this book well. For such a small setting and such a limited number of characters, I cared a lot about what happened.

I enjoyed this book, though I could have gone for a little more action or a slightly shorter book. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett | The California Journal of Women Writers
bel canto by ann patchett | Ardent Reader
Ann Patchett: Bel Canto | A year of reading women
Ann Patchett – Bel Canto | Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Book Review: The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert (2/5)

8 Oct

My book club always tries to pick a spooky read for October to fit into the Halloween theme. I don’t read much horror so this is always a treat for me and a time to explore something new. Unfortunately, the pick this year didn’t do it for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind when my book club meets tonight, but it’s not looking good. I wanted to write this before my mind is swayed as my opinion often changes when we have a big discussion.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

Summary from Goodreads:

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.

I was on board with this book for the first half. Then it started getting derailed too much for me. I wasn’t OK with the factory or the wax figures and I was for sure not on board with the greenhouse. I’m guessing there’s some kind of symbolism in this book that went way over my head. The questions in the back didn’t allude to it and I’m sure I’m going to be disappointed when I figure out what it was. I think something this wacky should have been more grounded in reality or had a more obvious reference to the subject that was being described through the plot. Right now, I think it has something to do with an old orphanage and how we view our worth based on physical appearances. That’s all I got. I’m frankly sick of trying to figure this one out.

Morgan was the only credible character in the book. Engel was never given enough of a personality to feel like a real character. Dr. Crane was always kept at arms’ distance and also didn’t feel very real. He seemed like he was an apparition like the children. It was too odd that he could so easily leave his home and his job and live in the mansion. The children were really creepy to me and I didn’t think they were really children for a minute.

Along with being the only credible character, Morgan was also my favorite character. He was vulnerable when no one else seemed to be. He cared about how he appeared to others and was always afraid he would scare people or that his speech was too hard to understand. That vulnerability was relatable to me. The rest of his story was a bit too fantastical for me to appreciate, but that part of it I could buy into.

Charles Lambert
Image via Simon and Schuster

I liked the first half of the book, up until they leave in the car. From there on, I just wanted it to end. The children were perfectly creepy in the home when they were playing and doing minorly creepy things. They were still believable. The factory and the greenhouse were too much for me.

I stopped caring about what was going on and just wanted the book to end at that point. I kept looking for symbolism or a deeper meaning but I was so shocked by what was happening that I couldn’t. It made no logical sense to me and it was too hard to ‘like’ something that was so far removed from reality. After all the chaos that surrounded the greenhouse, I was hoping for more closure than we got. Overall, the ending was a huge disappointment.

It’s hard to identify a theme for this book. There wasn’t anything I could really latch onto. The closest I can get is Morgan becoming more comfortable with his appearance. Though I’m not sure what the lesson was from that. To me, this book was a bit of a mess and I didn’t get much out of it.

Writer’s Takeaway: Subtelty can be great. It can make for a wonderful reveal at the end of a book that knocks the socks off of your readers. But this was too subtle. Whatever happened, it was too subtle for me to understand. I was left confused and looking at reviews of this book, I’m not the only one. As a writer, you shouldn’t have to explain to people what’s happening. They should be able to understand it from the book without commentary. I doubt any of Lambert’s beta readers understood the first time around. And by the second, they already knew what he was going for.

This book started off with huge potential but fell really flat for me. We’ll see what the book club thinks. 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!