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Book Review: Joy, Inc. by Richard Sheridan (4/5)

29 Sep

I went to an HR conference last winter where Sheridan was the keynote speaker. His company, Menlo Industries, is located about 30 minutes from me in Ann Arbor, MI. I really liked what he had to say about making work joyful and as much as his speech was geared toward the HR community, his book was geared toward any leader and talked about how to implement his success in other organizations. I listened to this one as an audiobook even though I bought a copy at the conference. I didn’t get the chance to have him sign it, though.

Cover image via Amazon

Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan

Summary from Amazon:

Every year, thousands of visitors come from around the world to visit Menlo Innovations, a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They make the trek not to learn about technology but to witness a radically different approach to company culture.

CEO Rich Sheridan removed the fear and ambiguity that typically make a workplace miserable. With joy as the explicit goal, he and his team changed everything about how the company was run. The results blew away all expectations. Menlo has won numerous growth awards and was named an Inc. magazine “audacious small company.”

Joy, Inc. offers an inside look at how Menlo created its culture, and shows how any organization can follow their methods for a more passionate team and sustainable, profitable results.

Sheridan’s approach really boils down to letting people’s lives not be overrun by work and getting rid of the fear of failure at work. One of the most memorable things Sheridan talked about in his presentation was parents being able to bring their babies into the office if they had childcare problems. This blew me away. It started when an employee was ready to come back to work after maternity leave and her childcare fell through. Since then, other parents have been able to have their babies ‘work’ at Melo as well. As far as eliminating fear, Sheridan has found ways to let his teammates be honest about the problems they are running into so they’re not afraid to say something’s behind or more difficult than anticipated. This creates better feedback for customers and a better understanding of their timelines and gives the teams adequate time to work on their work.

Sheridan was the only real ‘character’ in the book. If I hadn’t heard him speak, I might not have believed he really was as open as he describes himself in the book. He is a curious person and always eager to improve and try new things. He really believes in letting people be more than just employees and finding ways to integrate life with work without work taking over. He recognizes that he’s employing people, not robots.

I understood a lot of the concerns that his employees shared during the book. One of the more memorable moments was when the company sold a venture capital investment and was able to distribute the earnings amongst employees. Rich asked an employee how much the money meant to her and she was honestly not very moved by it but was enjoying the fact that she’d recently received a peer-supported promotion. She was so happy with this promotion that she wasn’t able to really articulate the impact of the money because it was minimal compared to the promotion.

Richard Sheridan
Image via Twitter

I liked how Sheridan described the ways his team overcame difficulties and how there were problems he was still working to solve. It started to seem like his company was nearly perfect. At the end, he addressed this and talked about how the company overcomes them methodically and in a way that lets them not be afraid when something new comes up.

Sheridan talked about how other companies would visit Menlo and how they can implement their ways in other industries. However, the only example he gave of this being affectivly done was in the IT group of an insurance company. I wish he’d given more examples of how parts of his model had been adopted for other industries and types of work. How would it work in manufacturing, where I am?

The audiobook was ready by Tim Andres Pabon and I felt he captured Sheridan’s tone well. He got excited at things Sheridan would get excited about and had a similarlly upbeat attitude about any issue that came about. Honestly, I’m putting Pabon’s voice to Sheridan’s face and it’s lining up well for me, I think he was a good pick.

In a time when technology is having people work what seems like 24/7, Sheridan’s message is a breath of fresh air. People are dreading work time and long hours to meet deadlines, especially in tech industries. Sheridan shows how small changes can make people happier and how to experiment and try new things to see how they go. Bringing Joy to work seems like a crazy concept until he explains in this book.

Writer’s Takeaway: Sheridan knew he had something great with his company and he knew he wanted to share it in a book. He writes how he planned to write three books before he finished his first. I think knowing when you have something worthwhile to say is important and Sheridan sure did. He was straightforward about what worked in his book and how he implemented it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be someone with something to say about business and a book to write, but I liked his determination and conviction that he had something unique to share.

A solid book and a great example of work culture. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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

Related Posts: 
Book Review: Joy, Inc. | Lily Snyder 
Meno Innovations’ Business Value of Joy Workshop | Michigan Tech 

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‘The Virgin Suicides’ Movie Review

28 Sep

Movie Poster Image via Amazon

I realize it’s been over a year since a did a page-to-screen review and I feel like I need to apologize. I’ve been bad at following up my books with the movie, even when I fully intend to watch the film. This case will hopefully change my motivation going forward. I absolutely loved Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. I was pumped to watch the movie and requested it from the library almost immediately after finishing the book.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Homecoming. The dance was a really critical turning point in the book and I thought it was well translated to the movie. Lux and Trip were electric together and I could understand why the night was so pivotal for her. I did feel like the other girls were a bit more glossed over than they were in the book but it was a small change.

Kirsten Dunst. OK, I didn’t believe she was 14, but I would have believed 16. She did great at the emotional highs and lows that Lux felt. She was rebellious and in love, scared and confident all at the same time and I thought she was wonderful.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

The tree coming down. I’m not even really sure about this one. My husband was watching with me and thought the tree came down, I didn’t think so but noticed in a later shot that it was down. I didn’t think this was a strong plot point anyway so I’m really fine with whatever happened to the tree.

Cover image via Amazon

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

Mary’s suicide. In the book, Mary’s first attempt wasn’t successful but she tried again later and did kill herself. I thought it was an important touch that Mary, like Cecilia, didn’t succeed but made a second attempt. Lux’s pregnancy scare. They speak very briefly about her trists on the roof but there’s a lot more made of them in the book. She really broke from her parents and her history when she was doing that and I thought her pregnancy scare was the last time she could have gotten help. Plus, the ambulance visiting the house was a huge build of tension that I think was missed.

Things That Changed Too Much

The collective narrator. In the book, it was much less clear who the boys are who are narrating the book. I’m not sure this could have been done any differently in the movie, where a visual group needs to be shown. I liked the idea that the ‘we’ narrator was a larger group, not boiled down to five like the film decided to do. It seemed a little too personal instead of a collective group recognizing how the girls were separate and different from themselves. I think this was a great adaptation and I see why so many of you have pushed me to watch it as soon as I could.

Reader, have you seen the movie for The Virgin Suicides? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

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

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

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Book Review: In the Distance by Hernán Díaz (2/5)

22 Sep

I had no idea what to expect out of this book because, as usual, I didn’t read anything about it before picking it up. I liked to do that with book club books because I like being surprised. Maybe I wouldn’t have been waiting for something to happen for so long if I’d known that this was a journey novel and that there wasn’t going to be a central action story. Maybe, for once, this worked against me.

Cover image via Amazon

In the Distance by Hernán Díaz

Summary from Amazon:

A young Swedish immigrant finds himself penniless and alone in California. The boy travels East in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great current of emigrants pushing West. Driven back again and again, he meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. Diaz defies the conventions of historical fiction and genre, offering a probing look at the stereotypes that populate our past and a portrait of radical foreignness.

This book just didn’t work for me. I kept thinking something would change and I’d start to appreciate something I’d missed or I’d become interested in a new character, but it never happened. Håkan didn’t even make a strong impression on me. This book was very episodic and that’s not a structure that I usually like. I wanted more closure from the people he met along the way or for someone to come back into play late in the story to complete a storyline. I felt perpetually let down.

There were very few of these characters that I felt were realistic. Lorimer and Asa are the only people I liked and didn’t seem like they stepped out of a movie. The corrupt sheriff was probably similar to other men in the era, but he still came across as cartoonish. Håkan didn’t seem realistic at all and I felt he lived up to and deserved his legendary notoriety.  This is part of what made it so hard to like the book.

Lorimer was my favorite character. He was likable and smart. Even though he did some dumb things and put himself and others at risk, he had a vision he was trying to achieve and he went for it. He cared about other people, which was rare for someone in this book. I gained a lot of respect for him when he helped the native people who had been attached and learned from their elder. 

Asa was the most relatable character to me, but some of his character development was a bit unbelievable. He had a soft heart and I liked that about him. He was able to see the good in Håkan and was angry about him being mistreated. However, I didn’t understand why he had such a soft spot for Håkan. Håkan never denied the brutal things he was accused of because they were true. What made him fall for a man who never spoke and was known to commit murder? He put a lot on the line to free Håkan and I didn’t see his motivation.

Hernan Diaz
Image via the book website

The storyline with Asa and Håkan’s time in the desert were my favorite parts of the book. I liked Håkan alone and how he described his life at that time. I also liked to see him happy, even if it was fleeting, with Asa.

The time Håkan spent with the woman bothered me the most. I didn’t understand the motivation for taking him prisoner and what her larger issue was. She was angry but how she used Håkan was inexcusable to me. The fact that this plotline ended so quickly and violently made me dislike it even more. It probably didn’t help that this was early in the book and put a bitter taste in my mouth for the remainder of the story.

The audiobook was narrated by Peter Berkrot. While listening, I didn’t notice anything that bothered me about his performance. His pace was slow and he expressed Håkan’s sense of wonder of America well. It wasn’t until someone pointed out at our book club meeting that Berkrot’s voice wasn’t a good fit for the story that I realized I agreed. It was just a bit off.

Part of what turns me off to episodic stories is that they seem to lack an overarching theme. In this book, Håkan is trying to find his place in a new country. He tries working, following someone else, and striking out on his own. None of them seem to work for him. In the end, America isn’t for him and he decides that rather than try a different part of the country, he’s going to head home. I was a little lost about the theme here and the relevance of a lot of Håkan’s stops along the way.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book was widely well-received, so maybe I’m missing something. The lack of return to previous themes, characters, and events is what frustrated me with this book. It’s the old adage that if you introduce a gun in act one, it better go off before the play ends. I didn’t think this book delivered on that promise to the reader and I was frustrated for much of the book.

Not a hit for me. 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!

Sign Up for Monthly Newsletters 

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: 
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz | North of Oxford 
Book rev. of Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance | Blog on the Hyphen 
In the Distance (Diaz) | BookReviewsbyCharles 

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Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (5/5)

14 Sep

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. I really liked Eugenides’ Middlesex and wanted to read his entire backlog immediately. I read The Marriage Plot and found it was okay, but not what I had hoped for. I’d heard amazing things about this book and I’ve attempted to squeeze it in between other book obligations before but hadn’t been able to until now. I’m so glad I finally did and also got it to pull me out of a reading slump that was hard to shake.

Cover image via Amazon

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Other books by Eugenides reviewed on this blog:

Middlesex (and Book Club Reflection)
The Marriage Plot

Summary from Amazon:

In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters―beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys―commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family’s fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time.

It’s interesting to me that the summary says the book takes place in Detroit because I don’t remember it ever being stated but I recognized my city well enough from the description. Anyway. This book was one of my favorites this year. The suspense was amazing. You know from the beginning that all of the Lisbon girls die by suicide, so that’s not ruining anything. The question is why. I’m not sure we ever get an answer. The story is told from a collective point of view of the boys growing up in the same neighborhood who are attending school with the girls and see their lives from the outside. I thought this was a fascinating way to tell the story and I really enjoyed the investigative method the boys had of looking into the Lisbon suicides.

The only real characters in the story were the Lisbon girls. Because of the collective narrative voice, none of the neighborhood boys had much of a role. Since the girls didn’t narrate, we don’t know what they thought or how the felt about the boys outside of their conjecture. We don’t know what happened in their house when no one was there, either. There’s a lot we don’t know about the girls but we can gather that Cecilia likely suffered from mental health issues and the other girls should have seen therapists. I think the distance from the girls made them seem more mysterious and added to the sense of foreboding that lasted the entire book. I could picture girls like this in school and like my classmates, I didn’t know what happened at their houses when I wasn’t there.

Lux was my favorite character. I think we knew more about her than any of the other sisters. Her promiscuity made her more of a focus for many of the boys and it seemed fitting that her story occupied a large part of the story. She seemed really lost and confused and I could see why she acted the way she did. She seemed to want to be different after her sister’s death and didn’t know how to do that. I’m sure the other girls had a way of coping, but it wasn’t as obvious to the boys or as worthy of gossip.

It’s hard to say I related to the characters but I did on some level. I’ve felt like my parents were too strict or like life was too hard or that I had no one to reach out to. There were many times I felt like someone who knew me at school would have no idea what I was thinking about or what happened in my head or my house. I think we’re often surprised when we hear about the details of someone else’s home and the lives they have. When we’re young, we assume all other homes are like ours and I remember how shocked I was when I found out that wasn’t true.

Jeffrey Eugenides
Image via Harvard

After the initial suicide, I was in utter suspense. I thought they were going to come one after another, one per chapter, until the end of the book. I won’t give anything away here, but the suspense Eugenides created and the mystery surrounding the Lisbon home was amazing and kept me up a few late nights trying to see what would happen next.

There wasn’t a part of this book I particularly disliked. I think it showed how different people deal with grief and how we don’t know what’s going on in a person’s life, even when they live down the street. We can guess and we can try to intervene, but nothing is guaranteed to work. Everyone’s life is different and we may not ever understand why. I thought Eugenides approached this in a really good way. There’s never a solid answer for why the tragedy happened and the way he leaves it still feels like good closure to the Lisbon story.

There’s a lot we don’t know about other people. The boys in the neighborhood didn’t know what it was like to be a woman in the Lisbon household. They didn’t know how the girls interacted or how their parents treated them. They didn’t know the health of the girls or what they wanted in life. They knew a little about their likes and dislikes and the clothing they wore and the people they saw, but that was it. When they go to Homecoming, it’s the most the boys interact with the girls in the entire book. We never know about someone’s life or inner struggle and it’s impossible to guess.

Writer’s Takeaway: The suspense in this book was thrilling and I really enjoyed it. Knowing how it would end and waiting and waiting to see why it happened was really suspenseful and kept me turning pages and reading. I don’t think this format works for all books, but I can see how it works for some and is wonderfully effective in keeping a reader engaged.

A great book and the perfect one to get me out of a reading slump. 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!

Sign Up for Monthly Newsletters 

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

Related Posts: 
A Postmodern Adolescence: “The Virgin Suicides,” by Jeffrey Eugenides | almostauthorblog 
Review – The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides | Love, Literature, Art, and Reason 
The Virgin Suicides | Flowers Between Pages 
‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides | The Afterword 

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Book Review: The Tory by T.J. London (4/5)

10 Sep

I heard about getting an ARC of the audiobook for this one almost too late. It was the last day to sign up and I’m glad I got in under the wire. London was in a writers group with me back in 2013-2014 time frame and I’ve seen her a few times since through a mutual friend we both made in the group. It’s been a few years since I saw her and workshopped with her and I know she’s been busy writing in the meantime. We workshopped a scene from her series at one point, but I can’t recall the details so I’m not sure if it was from this book or one later in the series. Anyway, it was fun to read something written by an author I know!

Cover image via the author

The Tory (Rebels and Redcoats Saga #1) by T.J. London

Summary:

His King or His Conscience…which will he choose?

It is the winter of 1776, and Captain John Carlisle, one of His Majesty’s not-so-finest, has gone back to the scene of the crime to right a wrong so dark it left a permanent stain on what was once an illustrious career and left a man broken, defeated, in search of justice…

In an effort to win back his commission, he must discover the true nature of the relationship between the Six Nations of the Iroquois and the Colonial Army. Undercover as a war profiteer, John travels to the treacherous Mohawk River Valley and infiltrates local society, making friends with those he’s come to betray. But a chance meeting with a beautiful half Oneida innkeeper, whose tragic history is integrally linked to his own, will provide him with the intelligence he needs to complete his mission—and devastate her people.

Now, as the flames of war threaten to consume the Mohawk Valley, John has the chance to not only serve King and country, but to clear his name. When the truth he uncovers ties his own secrets to those in the highest positions of the British military and threatens the very life of the woman he’s come to love, he will be forced to make a choice…

I’m a big fan of historical fiction but not a huge romance fan so I was iffy going into this book. I thought it started off strong and I liked the historical background for John’s character and the integration of the natives and Dellis’s plotline. Overall, the book set up well for a longer series. I had some minor quibbles with the relationship building between John and Dellis but I think the arc overall is strong. I enjoyed the political arc to the story a bit more, though. That’s just a preference.

I liked John’s character a lot. His back-and-forth loyalty between his duty and his heart was really interesting and I liked how it led him in two directions and how he reconciled that. I also liked that he wasn’t immune to injury. I didn’t get a sick pleasure from seeing him injured, but I get frustrated when the main character seems to come out of every situation unscathed so I was glad he bled. I didn’t find Dellis as believable. She seemed a little hot/cold at times without much logic for why she switched between the two. It made me feel a little lost during her arguments with John and I was always a bit confused about why she was triggered one way or the other.

John was my favorite character and I feel like the series will overall be more of a character study of his situation and I look forward to that. He has a strong backstory and I think he’s leading toward a strong final showdown in the final book.

These weren’t characters I really sympathized with or related to. I find that often in historical novels. The concerns of people 250 years ago are quite different from mine today. I understood their desires and needs, though, so I still enjoyed the novel and seeing if they’d get what they wanted.

T.J. London
Image via the author

I thought John and his men were the most entertaining part of the book. I liked that they were able to maintain an upbeat attitude and that they stuck together when things got tough. They’re the team I’d want to be on in a war or an undercover situation.

I thought the fights between Dellis and John were a little too frequent. They seemed to end very badly but resolve when John got hurt or Dellis is in danger without the object of their fight being discussed too much. I didn’t feel her reasons for being angry with him were merited much of the time. Though when she got mad at him for being with Celeste, I was all for it.

I haven’t listened to an audiobook with four narrators in a long time and that was quite a treat. This book was narrated by Shane East (John), Tara Langella (Dellis), Marnye Young (Celeste), and Patrick Zeller (Rodger). I thought East sounded a lot like Sean Bean and I really enjoyed his narration. Langella was great as well. I couldn’t strongly distinguish between Langella and Young but Celeste wasn’t a huge player in this book so she didn’t have much. I have a suspicion she and Rodger will be larger players in later books so their voices will be more apparent as the series goes on.

John has a lot on his conscious throughout the book. He’s battling with something he regrets from his past, trying to do his job and follow orders, and also finds himself romantically entangled. He has to face his past soon because there doesn’t seem to be a way forward with Dellis unless he does. And his mission seems to be in jeopardy because of it as well. Facing his demons is sure to be a big theme for the remainder of the series.

Writer’s Takeaway: Historical fiction is hard. You have to know your time period well and know the culture of the place you’re writing, too. I think London has done this well. When I was in a writing group with her, I know she traveled to the parts of New York she’s writing about and I think that would be really helpful to learn as much as possible about the area and understand the geography of it well.

An enjoyable read and a well-read audiobook. Four out of Five Stars

BEFORE YOU GO! I took place in the media blitz for this audiobook and posted about it yesterday. Please check that out and find an opportunity to win a Tory Prize Pack. It’s free, go look!

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!

Sign Up for Monthly Newsletters 

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: 
#MotownWriters Author Spotlight- T.J.London Historical Fiction Writer | Motown Writers Network 
The Tory + Giveaway! | Pursuing Stacie 

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Book Review: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddy Ratner (3/5)

31 Aug

I picked this book up at a library used book sale years ago. I’m surprised I finally got to it, if I’m being honest. But there’s the silver lining to quarantine.

Cover image via Amazon

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Summary from Amazon:

For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

This was not a book I was able to dive into and finish quickly. The subject matter was so dark that I had trouble reading even a chapter at night before I slept, which is my primary reading time. I also struggled with the book initially because it was written from the point of view of a young child and books in this style often rub me the wrong way. I can’t completely explain why but it has been consistent for a few years. It was hard for me to start immersing myself in the book once I got past Raami’s style because the death of the book was so pointless. I wanted to have some closure to it, but that wouldn’t have been real. What happened to the people of Cambodia as so horrible that it would have been wrong to have a hopeful or happy ending.

Ratner admits in the author’s note that Raami’s story is more or less her own. I think her descriptions of the people she knew along the way are so distinct because she’s drawing from memory. Her mother, father, uncle, and grandmother were the most distinct to me and I thought they were wonderful.

Raami herself was my favorite character. We see her change quickly from an innocent young girl to a girl who’s learned the reality of life far too quickly and who is trying to make sense of senseless violence. She sees people killed, betrayed, and broken in a way no child should. Her Polio shields her from some things, but not enough for her to remain unchanged.

It was hard to relate to these characters. I’ve never lived through anything as terrible as the Khmer Rouge regime and I hope I never do. This is part of what was so hard for me about reading this book. I wanted to connect with these characters but the atrocities they lived through were too hard to imagine.

Vaddey Ratner
Image via the author’s website

The time Raami and her family spent living in the Buddhist temple was my favorite in retrospect. They knew something worse was coming, but they were able to be together as a family and love each other. There was a sense of foreboding and this was when Raami started to realize that their situation wasn’t temporary and it wasn’t going to go back to normal. Her voice started being less childlike and more mature which helped me enjoy the story more.

A lot of the book was hard to read because it was so dark. I didn’t dislike it because it was bad or inconsistent, I just couldn’t read it because of the content. The time spent building the riverbank was horrible. It was like reading a Holocaust memoir to hear about the conditions the people lived in and what they were forced to endure. Every page, I expected another tragedy and became less surprised when they came.

This is a book about survival. By merit of it being about a child, you assume that Raami will survive. But what she will endure and if anyone will make it through with her are the key questions. The lengths her mother goes to are extreme but necessary in their world. It made me think about what it means to be a mother and love someone the way Aana loved Raami.

Writer’s Takeaway: The one thing I didn’t like about the book was the childish point of view at the beginning. It kept me distant from Raami and her concerns for longer than the author intended and made the book one I struggled to sit down with initially. I can’t blame Ratner for my inability to read such about such horrible conditions. If they’re true and that’s what happened, I’m glad she wrote it the way she did.

Overall, an important book but not one I’m going to rush to recommend. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

 

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

Related Posts: 
In the Shadow of the Banyan – Novel | Jack Rice 
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratnery: | Z Wonderland 
Book Review:”in the Shadow of the Banyan” Vaddey Ratner | Writing and Travel 

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Book Review: The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian (4/5)

24 Aug

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of Zadoorian before we read another of his books about a year ago. He’s a Detroit-based author and his books have been well received. With our book club selections limited to those available on the Hoopla platform, our previous selections went out the window and our leader chose this book for our August meeting.

Cover image via Amazon

The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian

Other books by Zadoorian reviewed on this blog:

Beautiful Music (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Amazon:

Joe Keen and Ana Urbanek have been a couple for a long time, with all the requisite lulls and temptations, yet they remain unmarried and without children, contrary to their Midwestern values (and parents’ wishes). Now on the cusp of forty, they are both working at jobs that they’re not even sure they believe in anymore, but with significantly varying returns. Ana is successful, Joe is floundering–both in limbo, caught somewhere between mainstream and alternative culture, sincerity and irony, achievement and arrested development.

Set against the backdrop of bottomed-out 2009 Detroit, a once-great American city now in transition, part decaying and part striving to be reborn, The Narcissism of Small Differences is the story of an aging creative class, doomed to ask the questions: Is it possible to outgrow irony? Does not having children make you one? Is there even such a thing as selling out anymore?

Parts of this book felt so real that it hurt. Living in Metro Detroit like Joe and Anna, I felt the setting very intimately. I also felt the workplace setting Ana inhabited and the stresses of a job that she didn’t love. I also related to Joe and his desire to make a living from his creative endeavors. I’d love to be able to do that but I feel I’m more accurately caught between Joe and Ana, being Ana while wishing to be Joe. This book was only hard to read because it felt so real and captured the hardships of modern living so vividly. It was well written and had me pulling up the file whenever I had a chance.

Joe and Ana were very realistic. I could see how they’d get caught in their ways from their 20s, finding that 15 years later, they hadn’t made a transition that most of their peers had and wondering if it was too late. Is there an expiration on getting married and having kids? Should there be? I just hit 30 myself and I can see a lot of my peers struggling with this and trying to decide if/how/when to make these same decisions. Ana’s coworkers are well-drawn as well. I loved Adrian and wondered if I could be friends with her. I think we’ve all known a Bruce in our work history. I’m thinking of a man from my first job and it helped Bruce come to life having that reference point.

Ana was my favorite and I really related to her. Maybe it’s a same-gender bias, but I felt her story more than I did Joe’s. I hated that people assumed she was having a relationship with a coworker because they spent time together. I’m someone who tends to have more male friends than female and I hate when that assumption is made about me. I work hard, like Ana, and the frustrations she had from people who seemed hell-bent on making work a nightmare rang true to me, too. Zadoorian captured the corporate world very well in his story.

Michael Zadoorian
Image via Amazon

I enjoyed Ana’s work life and her experiences with Woman Lyfe. They were just so corporately horrible that it was fun to read. I’m sure most working people have had an experience with a coworker or client who was difficult, but not to the extent of these women. Also, I loved that the horribly-privileged-white-woman character was actually named Karen. It was a bit cliche, but also so perfect.

Ana’s secret-keeping from Joe really bothered me. I’ll avoid saying what that secret was to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say there’s a big secret. I was frustrated that she wasn’t open and honest with him and then even more frustrated when Adriane told her to keep the secret from Joe. I’m a big advocate for not lying in a relationship about anything or keeping any secrets. It tends to become a bigger issue like happened with Ana and Joe. I think they’re very lucky their relationship was saved.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Patrick Lawlor. I think he was a good choice for this book. His voice for Ana wasn’t my favorite, it seemed a little too diminutive, but not enough that it took away from the book. He did great reading the big moments of the book and dramatizing the things that were dramatic.

The question I asked of this book is if Ana and Joe needed to grow up. They’re adults by merit of their age, but some of their tendencies are more often associated with someone in their early 20s. If they need to grow up, what are things grown-ups do? Does Joe need a real job, does Ana need to lie about her age and act younger to get ahead at work, and do they need to get married? In the end, I think the answer was ‘no.’ These two are perfectly functional and making a life together in their own way. If they decided to make changes, it was because they wanted to, not because anyone was making them do it. They were happy with the life they’d built and didn’t need anyone telling them what to change about it to make it ‘better.’

Writer’s Takeaway: This book was a great description of contemporary romance. Today, relationships aren’t as linear as they once were. There’s no pre-defined time to date before getting married and the stigma around cohabitation has lessened. But this does bring with it problems of defining what a relationship looks like and where it’s going. Zadoorian captured this is such a real way and I really appreciated a book depicting an experience I see a lot of my peers going through.

A great book that swept me away, though in the world I live in now. 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 Club Reflection: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

17 Aug

OK, I have a confession to make. I got the start time of my book club meeting wrong. For some reason, I thought it started at 7:30 even though I had it on my calendar as 7. Well, my calendar was right and I ended up missing the first half of the meeting. So I apologize for a slightly shorter summary. I’m kicking myself for missing this discussion!

I was the only person in our group who didn’t really enjoy the book. A lot liked its humor and Mattie’s character. Many enjoyed Mattie’s journey to finding a way to make an impact on the world at middle-age with a change of direction. Many found a link between the militant suffragettes and the current BLM protests. Both have a lack of trust in the police and what they do for the sake of ‘order.’ When women or Black Americans are oppressed, society’s potential is wasted because there’s so much more that could be achieved if everyone had a chance to contribute.

Mattie was the focus of our discussion. Her focus on Ines was so intense that it took over the book. She forgot about the rest of the girls in the Amazons because she was so concerned about developing Ines and watching out for her. She realizes at the end of the book that Ines’s parents care deeply about her. Her father was very caring, even knowing that Ines was not his biological daughter. Her character was hard to like and didn’t seem to relate well to people. She was a teenage girl, though, and like most teenage girls, she was a work in progress. Mattie saw this and wanted to be the one to push her along the way. Ines didn’t need pushing since her parents were there for her. Ida was the one who ended up needing guidance and Mattie’s failure there came back to haunt her later.

The relationship between Mattie and the Flea was complicated. We feel confident that the Flea was in love with Mattie but that it was unrequited. It was heartbreaking how the Flea hid jer sexuality and her feelings from Mattie because of her experience with homosexuality earlier in her life. We speculated about Mattie’s feelings toward the Flea. We never seem to get a feel for this. She never showed attraction toward anyone so she might have been gay and she might not have.

My apologies for missing more insight into this book. I’ll try not to be forgetful again. We’re going to continue to meet online for at least the next month. This might continue for the rest of the year; our library is still at curbside-pickup only.

Until next time, write on.

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

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: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (2/5)

11 Aug

I’m not sure if life’s getting me down or if I’ve had a bad run of books but I’m feeling a reading rut at the moment. This book didn’t help. I usually fly through audio and counted on flying through this one to finish in a week. I only just made it, finishing Sunday before my Monday book club meeting. And it was a bit more of a struggle than I would like.

Cover image via Goodreads

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Summary from Amazon:

Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

This book fell very flat for me. I didn’t connect with Mattie from the beginning and the Flea’s description had me off base the entire time so I failed to enjoy the characters from the go. I liked Ida and her character was strong but that wasn’t enough to carry the book for me. The main plot, with a battle between Mattie’s Amazons and Jacko’s Empire Youth League, seemed silly to me. It was a proxy war between two women who never had their own words. I felt the ending was very rushed after such a detailed start and it fell flat.

The characters seemed well described, I just didn’t like them. Ines was very hard to like and I think that’s what made the whole book feel forced. Mattie’s efforts to get Ines engaged in the world around her were a lot to stomach and seeing how much she hurt Ida in the process was hard. It made me lose respect for Mattie. After looking out for Ida so much, it seemed hard to believe she’d cast her aside so quickly.

Ida was my favorite character. She worked hard and was very smart. When the book started, I didn’t realize how prophetic it was that she was fired for correcting a client. She learned fast and proves how capable she is through her education and commitment to the Amazons. You want good things for her and when she falls on hard times, you want to sympathize with her. I thought she carried the story.

The Amazons reminded me of the Girl Scouts of America so I was engaged in the idea of the group Mattie was putting together. I enjoyed the Girl Scouts. My brother was a Boy Scout and I liked that I got to camp and do archery like him. It was a fun and memorable part of my childhood. I understood the attraction for the girls but I don’t understand the comparison to the Empire Youth League. The two groups seemed to have very different aims and I can’t imagine they’d attract people who were looking for the same things.

Lissa Evans
Image via the NY Times

The field day was a great scene. I thought the scavenger hunt was well done and the tension Evans created in it was good. I hated how the whole thing went down, but I think that was the point. It was supposed to upset me and it clearly upset so many of the characters.

The ending bothered me a lot. It felt very rushed. Most of the book covered about a year, but the final two chapters covered five. It seemed like a bit too much to me with a lot of time crammed into the book. It felt like Evans wanted to end the book with the women’s vote, but it was a bit contrived at the same time. The ending just didn’t seem to fit the story to me.

The audiobook was narrated by Jane Copeland. I thought she gave a good voice for Mattie, but she didn’t blow me away. Her reading of the other characters were very similar, except for Ines. It was a bit bland and I wondered if it contributed to how I felt about the book as a whole. It felt like she was trying to affect a period-specific way of speaking which I’m not convinced was accurate.

Mattie feels like she’s getting old. She’s no longer the militant suffragette she was and is unsure how to keep up the vigor she once felt for the movement. She thinks the Amazons will make her proud and help her continue to feel like she’s making progress toward a better future for women. Her failure there shuts her down and it’s not until years later that she’s revitalized. We all feel like we’re getting older and losing our energy. I feel like I’ve lost energy during COVID. It’s a natural process and we can only fight it so much as Mattie eventually learns.

Writer’s Takeaway: My biggest complaint about this book is the beginning. Introducing Mattie and the Flea during a lecture was not engaging. I especially did not like meeting the Flea like this. The way she was described made me picture her as old and frail instead of young and healthy. I couldn’t picture her and it was a struggle for me the entire book. The ending wasn’t for me either and disliking those parts made it hard to enjoy the middle.
(Note: It was pointed out to me after this review was posted that we meet Mattie and the Flea before the lecture scene, which starts around 24 pages into the book. I was working off of memory and apologize for my mistake.)

Overall, not one I enjoyed. 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.

Related Posts:
Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans | What Cathy Read Next
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans – A Review Revived in honour of the paperback edition! | The Northern Reader
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans | For winter nights
FICTION//Old Baggage- Lissa Evans | The Bookish Badger
Old Baggage – Lissa Evans | The Book Jotter

Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray (5/5)

10 Aug

I have mixed feelings on slowly going through this series. On the one hand, it means that now that I’m ready for the final book, it’s out and I can dive in as soon as I want. On the other hand, I could have fallen in love with this characters years ago. This series has been so much fun and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I’m looking forward to writing this gushing review.

Cover image via Amazon

Before the Devil Breaks You (Diviners #3) by Libba Bray

Other books by Bray reviewed on this blog:

The Diviners (Diviners #1)
Lair of Dreams (Diviners #2)

Summary from Amazon:

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over, and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them fact-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.

I’d forgotten that I was in love with Evie and Sam. I forgot how much I loved getting a chill up my back while I listened to this series. I’d forgotten how much fun super long books can be! This book was a pure joy from beginning to end. It could have easily suffered from some middle-book-syndrome, but I found it wonderful. It’s setting up for a major final battle and I’m excited about it.

The characters are amazingly diverse in this book and we dig into it even more. Either I’d forgotten or it was newly revealed that Ling is LGBTQIA+. I find her incredibly interesting, though I’ll admit I was skeptical of a character introduced in book 2 and how she’d fit into the group. I think Bray has done well and my skepticism is long gone and I’m back to admiration. All of the other characters are great because they seem so unique. I like that they’re all keeping something back, all of them not showing their full hand. It keeps them very dynamic and keeps me very interested in them and seeing how they develop.

Libba Bray
Image via Facebook

Theta was my favorite character this time around. She had a lot to deal with between Roy and Memphis and I could really feel her stress and anguish. She had a lot of different pressures weighing on her and I thought her behavior was very appropriate to the situation she found herself in. I wish she’d opened up to Henry a bit more, though. I think that the relationship was strong enough to take it.

These characters are just starting to push away from their childhood and into their adult lives more fully and I related to that. They’re pushing away adults who cared for them and venturing out on their own. It seems young, knowing many of these characters are around 18, but that’s also very appropriate for the 1920s. This isn’t exactly a coming-of-age story, but it’s a reminder of life after college for me. Well, except for the ghosts. I didn’t run into any ghosts.

Theta’s showdown with Memphis and Roy was my favorite part of the book. I loved how forgiving Memphis was able to be when faced with the truth and realization of what Theta did for him. I think her character will come into play in a big way in the final book and I really look forward to her future with Memphis.

Mabel’s story was the least compelling for me this time around. Her fight with Evie seemed unnecessary and I think it pushed her way too far toward radical than it should have, knowing her character. I knew something extreme was going to happen the more she broke away from Evie. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll stop here.

The audiobook was narrated by January LaVoy, who did the first two books. She’s incredible in this series. Honestly, the voices she does for Sam and Evie are so different that I’m amazed it’s the same person. She’s very talented and I look forward to hearing her bring the series to a conclusion and then searching out some other books she’s narrated.

The Diviners have to trust each other a lot, which can be hard to do. We see them grow into a ‘framily’ during this book and their reliance on each other is incredible. I think that reliance and trust are going to be very important in the end. Every paragraph I write is making me want to forget my other books and just dive into the end of this series!

Writer’s Takeaway: When writing, a writer is always advised not to ‘head hop,’ to go from one character’s thoughts to another’s within scenes. That’s Bray’s style and she makes it work. Within one scene, we might get two or even three characters’ thoughts, especially when the topic touches on something that they are keeping secret or something that makes them nervous. It’s so well done that I’m not sure I’d notice if I wasn’t looking for it.

A great book and one that’s got me excited for the series to continue. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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

Related Posts:
Before the Devil Breaks You | The Librarians Toolbox
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray | the words gremlin
Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners, #3) | Belle of the Library
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray | Review | ambsreads
Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3) Review (Audiobook) | bookloversblog