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Book Review: The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson (2/5)

6 Jun

This was a book my sister in law got for me for Christmas one year. These books aren’t ones I’ve asked for so it’s always a surprise what the title will be. I decided to tackle this one as an ebook because of it’s availability and that might have been to it’s detriment. I read ebooks very slowly, that’s always been the case with me. But this one was particularly slow. It took me about 10 months.

GhostThe Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson

Summary from Amazon:

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

At times, I felt this book assumed a lot of knowledge of Daoism and also info-dumped about Daoism. I can’t put my finger on exactly what the right balance would have been, but it felt inauthentic. It was also no surprise to me that the writer wasn’t female because Li-lin’s voice sounded inauthentic as well. Some people can write other genders without issue but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. Overall, it didn’t feel like this was the right story for the author to tell and it left me feeling detached.

The voice for Li-lin felt hollow. She didn’t seem to go deep enough into feelings that should have been triggering, even for someone trying to repress some of her feelings. She also seemed to be very observant and then miss obvious things which was inconsistent. She didn’t give off a very believable vibe. Since she was really the only character and voice we got, it was hard to believe in her.

I didn’t like any of the characters, which made this book hard. Besides Li-lin, we don’t get a lot of characters to latch onto. Her father, the spirit of his eye, and a handful of gang members are the only other characters we meet. None of them are fleshed out very well so it seems silly to say I liked any of them most.

I struggled to relate to Li-lin. The most relatable part about her was her love for her husband but he dies before the book starts which is harder for me to relate to. The magical elements of this book were too far removed from anything I’m familiar with for me to feel like it was the same world I live in.

4unvl994ct5r1d3kto10r3f1fp._SX450_I thought the book was paced well. It kept moving and didn’t seem to have any slow spots. Li-lin was a person of action and she kept pushing forward, even when things were hard. I didn’t put this book down because I was bored at any point.

The ending was rough for me. The big fight scene had a significant death in it which Li-lin seems to brush under the rug. Honestly, I forgot it happened at one point because of a pause in my reading and how little she reacts. That tinged how I felt about the book and I was frustrated as I finished it the rest of the way.

There didn’t seem to be much of a theme or message in this book. Li-lin pushed forward when things were hard but that’s about all I got from it. Maybe my lack of knowledge of late 1800s life in the US Chinatowns is to blame for not picking up on nuances of Li-lin’s struggle, but I’d also hope the author could have highlighted those more if they were relevant.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book focused so much on action that the characters suffered. I was hoping for some insights about the time period and culture and instead I got a kung fu book. For the same reasons that ‘shoot ’em up’ movies aren’t for everyone, this writing isn’t for everyone. I think it could have benefited from some more character development and emotions.

Overall, this fell really flat for me. Two out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1800-1899 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: Tabula Rasa by Ruth Downie (3/5)

4 Apr

This series has been so fun to read and enjoy. I’ve been reading it for probably about a decade now in total, but it’s easy to come back to and enjoy. This book took me longer to read than I would have liked. Life hasn’t given me a lot of audiobook time between Baby and the weather. Spring might actually arrive soon which would make it a lot easier.

41JYZlm4QsLTabula Rasa (Medicus Investigation #6) by Ruth Downie

Other books by Downie reviewed on this blog:

Terra Incognita (Medicus Investigation #2)
Persona Non Grata (Medicus Investigation #3)
Caveat Emptor (Medicus Investigation #4)
Semper Fidelis (Medicus Investigation #5)

Summary from Amazon:

The medicus Ruso and his wife, Tilla, are back in the borderlands of Britannia, where he is tending the builders of Hadrian’s Great Wall. Having been forced to move off their land, the Britons are distinctly on edge and are still smarting from the failure of a recent rebellion that claimed many lives.

The tension grows when Ruso’s recently arrived clerk goes missing and things go from bad to worse when the young son of a local family also vanishes. While struggling to keep the peace between the Britons and the Romans, Ruso and Tilla uncover an intricate deception involving slavery and fur trappers, and it becomes imperative that they solve the mystery of the two disappearances before it’s too late.

This book didn’t grab me in the same way some of the previous books in the series did. However, I think it’s because of how long it took me to get into and finish this book, which I blame more on life circumstances than anything else. Branan’s disappearance was the main focus of the book to me and Candidus seemed like an afterthought for a lot of the book, which I thought was unfair to Albanus. I’m sure there were some clues dropped into the story that I missed because of how infrequently I would pick this one up. Instead, it seemed like there were long stretches that were unimportant to the plot which is why this has been my lowest rating of the series.

I love Downie’s characters. Ruso and Tilla are a bit ahead of their time, but it comes off as comedic and the other characters are more representative of ancient Britain. The commentary about hierarchies and bureaucracy are always funny. I like the range of characters Downie has included because modern readers are able to connect with Ruso and Tilla while still experiencing those typical of the era.

Ruso is my favorite character in this series. He’s easy to relate to and empathize with. I understand his motivation and share his frustrations. I can understand why he reacts the way he does and his motivations. I think he’s a great character to connect the modern reader to the ancient world.

Tilla is very relatable as well. She gives a good non-military perspective to the story and she’s very logical and intelligent. I like seeing her work as a midwife and the ways she’s able to help Ruso and connect the Romans and Britons together. I think she exists well between cultures and it reminds me of times I studied abroad and felt not quite at home.

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Ruth Downie Image via the author’s website

I thought Tilla’s relationship with the locals was the most interesting part of the book. She is very much an outsider with both groups, not being accepted because she’s ‘one of the others’ on both sides. I liked how she was able to develop a relationship with them and how it grew into something much more.

I felt the middle of the book dragged. All of the searching for Branan seemed a bit much with the way the book resolved. I thought the search for Candidus was pushed aside a bit too much. The book seemed to lack some focus even though it was full of fun characters.

Simon Vance does an amazing job narrating these books. I hope the next two are also in his voice because it’s such a joy to listen to him. His voices for women are not too distracting and he has a good range of inflections and tones for the men in the story. He’s really a joy to listen to.

The title refers to a Blank Slate. I think it’s referring to how Tilla and Ruso have a very new page now that they’re headed to Rome for the next book. I’m not sure how much the events of this book contributed to that, but I am excited to see what happens to them next.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not sure how necessary a lot of the character development in this book will be in the overall series. Since the characters are now leaving Britannia, the side characters we’ve come to know and love might be distant memories. As I’ve said, I didn’t really like the plot on this one but did enjoy the character development. I just wonder how necessary it all was.

An entertaining and enjoyable book, but not the strongest in the series. Three out of Five Stars

This book fulfilled the ‘Pre 1300’ time period for my 2022 When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Post:
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Book Review: The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott (3/5)

24 Jan

I heard of this book when a friend from college, Becca, mentioned it on her Instagram page. I have a lot of family in Cincinnati and I love my 1920s bootlegger stories so it seemed custom made for me. I enjoyed the book a bit more than I think my rating lets on, but not enough to raise the rating to a 4. I’m a stickler like that.

0451498631.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_SX500_The Ghosts of Eden Park: The bootleg king, the woman who pursued him and the murder that shocked Jazz Age America by Karen Abbott

Summary from Amazon:

In the early days of Prohibition, long before Al Capone became a household name, a German immigrant named George Remus quits practicing law and starts trafficking whiskey. Within two years he’s a multi-millionaire. The press calls him “King of the Bootleggers,” writing breathless stories about the Gatsby-esque events he and his glamorous second wife, Imogene, host at their Cincinnati mansion, with party favors ranging from diamond jewelry for the men to brand-new cars for the women. By the summer of 1921, Remus owns 35 percent of all the liquor in the United States.

Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt is determined to bring him down. Willebrandt’s bosses at the Justice Department hired her right out of law school, assuming she’d pose no real threat to the cozy relationship they maintain with Remus. Eager to prove them wrong, she dispatches her best investigator, Franklin Dodge, to look into his empire. It’s a decision with deadly consequences. With the fledgling FBI on the case, Remus is quickly imprisoned for violating the Volstead Act. Her husband behind bars, Imogene begins an affair with Dodge. Together, they plot to ruin Remus, sparking a bitter feud that soon reaches the highest levels of government–and that can only end in murder.

Remus’s story reminded me of Gatsby in many ways and I think the parallels are justified. He had a persona, a larger-than-life life that everyone had to know wouldn’t last. I enjoyed hearing about his heyday as a bootlegging king more than I liked the trials that followed. I felt the story got bogged down in legal details toward the end. I recognize that part of the story is probably the easiest to write about since so much of it was reported, but it wasn’t as interesting from a reader’s point of view. I did like that Abbott left it a bit up to her reader to decide if Remus really was mad or not.

Imogen and Remus both seemed a bit too much like caricatures. I’m not sure if that’s the way they acted for the press or if they really were like that, but it came off as a show. Late in the book, it’s obvious Remus is acting in a way to present himself as unhinged, but earlier in the book it seems like a persona he wanted to affect. Maybe this was part of what made the book a little ‘off’ to me. They just seemed so much larger than life that I couldn’t buy it.

It was hard to dislike Remus as a character with the way he was presented. He was scrappy and resourceful in a way you want an anti-hero to be. I couldn’t celebrate the things he did, but he was good at them. He understood what people wanted and used those motivations to his advantage. It seems unfortunate he put so much trust in Imogen, but you also want a man to trust his wife the way Remus trusted Imogen. I disliked him more at the end when he gamed the system to get out of such a horrible crime. That’s another thing that soured the book for me toward the end.

It was hard to relate to these characters. Prohibition is such a unique time in American history that it can be difficult to think of what it was like to live during the period. I think future generations will feel the same way about the COVID pandemic. Imogen and Remus’s social standing also made them seem a bit more untouchable than others I’ve read about. The mansion they owned was straight out of a movie! They were American Royalty in their day, something I don’t aspire to be.

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Karen Abbott Image via the author’s website

The lavish lifestyle Remus and Imogen led for a time was the most interesting part of the book to me. The ultra wealthy have had a variety of ways of showing off their wealth throughout history and the home they had and the parties they threw were quintessential of their day. While it seemed too good to be true, it was fun to read about.

The ending of the book seemed too different from the beginning. It was a good example of life being stranger than fiction for sure. We hadn’t questioned Remus’s sanity the entire book and then at the end, we’re made to reexamine if what we’ve heard was the story of a madman. It seemed a little too odd to me and wasn’t as enjoyable as the early parts of the book.

While there are two narrators credited, Rob Shapiro narrated a lot more of the story than Cassandra Campbell did. Shapiro narrated Remus’s story while Campbell took Willebrandt’s. Willebrandt’s story fell off to me about half way through the book and Shapiro took over the large bulk of the narration. I liked both narrators. Non fiction doesn’t lend itself to as much range in voice performance but both were able to keep tensions running and bring out the characters. Shapiro’s voices for Remus helped portray the larger-than-life persona he affected.

Remus is a shining example of how money can’t buy happiness. He was probably one of the richest men in America but his marriage was rocky and he had few friends. His story highlights how money causes more problems than it solves. The comparison to Gatsby is very apt and I might even call this the real life Gatsby story. It would be better in a more fictionalized adaptation to see how Imogen and Remus’s relationship might have played out.

Writer’s Takeaway: Toward the end, Abbott seemed to rely so heavily on first-person sources that the story started to suffer. There was so much source material for her to work from and it seemed a little bit too crammed in. I would have appreciated a little more speculation or some more straight forward linking between stories to make it feel a bit like fiction.

I enjoyed the book, but it won’t be a favorite. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1920-1939 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts:
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Book Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda (4/5)

29 Nov

This was a book I felt like I’d never get to. My sister in law gave it to me for Christmas years ago and I’d never found time to open it. I realized my library had an eaudiobook and I decided to give it a try. I started right before Halloween which seemed like a perfect time. It may have taken me a while to finish it, but the autumn weather was still a great backdrop for a spooky mystery.

Stranger

Cover image via Amazon

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Summary from Amazon:

When Leah Stevens’ career implodes, a chance meeting with her old friend Emmy Grey offers her the perfect opportunity to start over. Emmy, just out of a bad relationship, convinces Leah to come live with her in rural Pennsylvania, where there are teaching positions available and no one knows Leah’s past.

Or Emmy’s.

When the town sees a spate of vicious crimes and Emmy Grey disappears, Leah begins to realize how very little she knows about her friend and roommate. Unable to find friends, family, a paper trail or a digital footprint, the police question whether Emmy Grey existed at all. And mark Leah as a prime suspect.

Fighting the doubts of the police and her own sanity, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

I was so pleasantly surprised by the twists in this book. I’ve read a few thrillers and I find I’m often underwhelmed by the way the plot is twisted and the shocking moments that seem to fall flat. This one took a big turn about two thirds in and went in a direction completely different from what I expected. It had me speeding through the end of the book and enjoying the ride I was on. 

Leah and Emmy seemed believable to me. They’re about my age and I felt I could understand their struggles and where they were in their lives for the most part. Of course, they had some struggles very different from anything I had ever gone through, but that’s what makes for some good fiction! I liked the small town setting Miranda chose for this book and how it was woven together with Boston to give the story a large scope and also ground it in our reality.

Kyle was a great character. I was very skeptical of him when he was first introduced and was convinced he’d been part of one of the crimes. The way his story unraveled and his motivation started to make him sympathetic and I grew to like him more and more. By the end, I trusted him more than Leah most of the time.

I think there are a lot of people in their early 30s who feel like their careers didn’t start off the way they wanted. That part of Leah’s identity, the way she was starting something new and trying to remake herself, was very relatable. I changed careers once early on and I’m glad I did, but it was a little bit of an identity struggle for me. I sympathized with Leah’s feelings of hiding from something though mine was a lot less literal.

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Megan Miranda Image via Amazon

The twist in the story was my favorite part. I won’t go into too much detail of that here to keep this spoiler free, but as we learn more about Emmy, it seemed like the story was going nowhere fast until a big revelation hit Leah and she realized exactly what was going on. There were still more twists after that, but the reveal hit me like a ton of bricks and I loved it.

I felt the book started off a little slow. Leah’s backstory takes a lot of attention at the beginning of the book and I felt like it ended up not being too big of a deal. It didn’t affect the ending too much, at least. I would have liked to see Miranda jump into the action and spend less time with Leah dwelling on her past.

The audiobook was narrated by Rebekkah Ross. I thought she was a good choice to give a voice to Leah. She expressed surprise, concern, suspicion, and many other emotions well without seeming overdramatic. Her voices for other characters were different enough to be distinguishable without being distracting.

Leah’s story makes you think about who you can trust and how well you know the people in your life. As well as she knew Paige, she couldn’t talk to her about some of the most important things in her life. As little as she knew Emmy, she spilled her guts. I tend to be trusting but I’m not sure I would have trusted Emmy the way Leah did. She was manipulated in a way we all hope never to be and figured out what was happening in a way we all wish we could.

Writer’s Takeaway: Miranda was masterful in how she revealed this story. We start off by learning something central to the plot but while have no idea how important it is. I won’t say more than that as to not give away the ending, but I found myself slapping my forehead when I realized how things had shaken out. This is something you can only do in revisions and I think it’s great how well she hid something in plain sight.

I enjoyed this book and the twists it took. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: The Running Many by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) (4/5)

25 Oct

A friend recommended this to me on a whim years ago and I dutifully put it on my TBR. I’d gotten it via ILL at the library once but never cracked it open. Recently, I realized I had Google Play credit that was going to expire so I needed to use it and buying an audiobook seemed like a good plan. I was happy to find this one and finally get into this novel!

Running

Cover image via Amazon

The Running Man by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Summary from Amazon:

It was the ultimate death game in a nightmare future America. The year is 2025 and reality TV has grown to the point where people are willing to wager their lives for a chance at a billion-dollar jackpot. Ben Richards is desperate—he needs money to treat his daughter’s illness. His last chance is entering a game show called The Running Man where the goal is to avoid capture by Hunters who are employed to kill him. Surviving this month-long chase is another issue when everyone else on the planet is watching—and willing to turn him in for the reward.

Each night all Americans tune in to watch. So far, the record for survival is only eight days. Can Ben Richards beat the brutal odds, beat the rigged game, beat the entire savage system? He’s betting his life that he can…

Before anyone looks it up, this was first published in 1982 so the 2025 setting wasn’t as imminent as it seems reading it today. I liked hearing the fake ‘history’ that Richards had lived through to get to the 2025 this novel presents. Some of this didn’t seem too dystopian, sadly. The racism and police brutality struck home particularly strongly. The comments about pollution and health care costs weren’t out of line at all. The disregard for human life was the only part that seemed to have been a bad prediction and taken Ben Richards and his world in a divergent path from ours. Though, in all honesty, reality TV shows like Survivor aren’t too different from this idea. Of course, I found myself sympathizing with Richards. He’s trying to help his family and makes the ultimate sacrifice by putting his life in someone else’s hands. The fear he lives with the rest of the novel felt very real and I thought King did a great job of giving us a version of The Most Dangerous Game in a commercial setting. I’m lucky that I read through reviews of this audiobook before I started it. One mentioned that the book’s ending was in the forward (which it 100% was) so I listed to that after finishing the novel.

The brainwashing of many of the characters was scarily realistic. I think we’ve all known someone who believed something they heard on television and didn’t question the sources or motivation. The people of Ben’s world had take this to an extreme where a Network was more powerful than the government. I was impressed with how King extrapolated the world he lived in around 1980 and made some solid predictions of what 2025 would look like.

Amelia was my favorite character. She was the only person besides Richards who had her perspective changed. When she realized the real motivation of the Network and the lengths they would go to, she started to question what she ‘knew.’ Most of the other characters were already aware of what was happening or refused to bend, but she was the most dynamic and for that reason, the most interesting character to me.

I think there’s a little bit of Ben that everyone can relate to. He wanted to help his family and felt powerless to do what he wanted to. I think we’ve all felt those feelings at one time or another. He couldn’t find a job because of a way he’d been branded and perceived but did what he could do provide and survive. In many way’s he’s the ‘every man’ of his world.

King

Stephen King Image via the author’s website

The final scenes on the airplane were my favorite. (Trying to be spoiler free here!) I thought he kept his wits about him well and was smart about what he revealed and how he took action. He was very logical, thinking through the motivation of the Network and leveraging what he could to be in control. The very ending was a little hard to read due to some historical events that took place between this book being published and today that made them hit in a different way. (Was that vague enough? I hope so.)

There wasn’t a part of this book I particularly disliked. It had good pacing and kept me wanting to hear more. I think the only part that confused me was the chapter titles counting down. I wondered if it was hours, minutes, days, or something else. In the end, I never figured it out.

The audiobook was narrated by Kevin Kenerly. I thought he was a good pick for this book. He gave good weight to Richards’ plight and the voices he did for all the characters didn’t seem overdone. Sometimes I have an issue with the voices male narrators use for female characters but I didn’t have that issue with Kenerly.

The future Bachman describes is one where pain and suffering are flipped to entertain others. Richards knows that the only way for him to get money for his sick daughter’s treatment is by putting his own health on the line for the entertainment of the faceless masses. This world has so much divide between the rich and poor that the lives of the poor have come to be meaningless to society and their demise has become a set of games. We’re scarily close to this in many respects and it can be seen as a futuristic warning about where our society could go.

Writer’s Takeaway: Bachman’s pacing in this book was great. Richards was always running, as the name implies. When he was still, Bachman still kept the tension high and I think that felt very realistic. Keeping tension can be a difficult thing to do in a novel and the premise Bachman uses here makes it absolutely critical that he nail it and he did.

An enjoyable read, though a little out of my comfort zone. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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

11 Oct

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

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Cover image via Amazon

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

Cormier

Robert Cormier Image via Penguin Random House

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

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

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

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

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

An enjoyable book with a slightly disappointing end. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier | The Consolation of Reading
The Chocolate Wary by Robert Cormier | Pages Unbound Reviews

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

27 Sep

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

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

Other books by Bray reviewed on this blog:

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

Summary from Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bray

Libba Bray Author image via BookPage

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

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

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

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

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

A great ending to an amazing series. Looking forward to more by this author. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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The King of Crows Review | Journey Into Books 
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The King of Crows by Libba Bray: It broke me but not in a good way | Delicate Eternity

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

30 Aug

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

HangmanThe Hangman’s Replacement by Taona D. Chivenko

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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

26 Jul

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

Moscow

Cover Image via Amazon

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Other books by Towles reviewed on this blog:

Rules of Civility (and Book Club Discussion)

Summary from Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

Towles

Amor Towles Image via Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

This book fulfills the 1920-1939 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (2/5)

20 Jul

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

2140

Cover image via Amazon

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Summary from Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, much longer than it needed to be and murky. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Review of New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson | My Opinion on Various Books