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Book Review: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton (4/5)

18 Mar

I’ve had this book on my TBR for ages. A family friend heard me talking about my old writing group and said I should read this book since it reminded her of the group I was talking about. I had it on my TBR and ended up buying a copy at a book store in Chicago in 2015. I’m embarrassed to say I waited so long to finally read it. Rightfully, I started it in Chicago.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Summary from Goodreads:

When five young mothers—Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett—first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born. The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes—ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another’s support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big.

This was a slow novel but I couldn’t put it down. All of the women were wonderfully unique and universal. I cared deeply about each of them and the things in their lives that made them different and loveable. Frankie was a good narrator because she was honestly the blandest of the women. Her story was interesting, but it was more about her husband and outside the focus of the book. My image of Kath, Brett, Linda, and Ally changed dramatically throughout the book and I loved that. I, like Frankie, had ideas about them at the beginning but loved them for different reasons later. Clayton did an amazing job of making me love these women.

Each woman was well-developed. Reading the interview with Clayton in the back, she talks about making each unique and it stands out as one of the novel’s strongest points. I identified with Linda and her athletic ambitions. I’ve read a lot about the women’s running movement that she is so interested in so it was fun to see a character who latched on to that.

Kath was my favorite character. In the beginning, I felt she was passive and a little naive. But the way she dealt with Lee’s infidelity was amazing. Her strength in confronting him and the strong face she showed her children was amazing. I respected her so much for the job she was able to take and how she found success and was able to help Brett. She really became the best version of herself without Lee and it was so great to see.

Linda’s athleticism was relatable to me. I didn’t expect that from a book set in this time period. I also related to Ally a bit, but not personally. I have a really close friend whose husband is non-white while she is. She’s mentioned to me the way people look at them and reading about Ally and Jim made me think of her. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been in this time period but it made me consider how we really haven’t come that far.

Meg Waite Clayton Image via Wikipedia

It sounds weird, but I loved when they got in a fight. It was so true to life, how friends say something stupid and upset each other but can be too proud to say they’re sorry and wait until you’re all sick of not being friends and apologize and then everything is back to the way it was. It was reassuring to see characters in a book put their feet in their mouths as well.

I wasn’t a fan of how quickly the book wrapped up. I wanted more, and that’s really a testament to how good this book was. Everything was wrapped up, but just a bit faster than I would have liked. I see there’s a sequel, but it switches to their children and it just wouldn’t be the same.

Female friendships can be very powerful and are often featured in books. I liked that this book covered the rest of the women’s lives with their families and how they could support each other through those troubles. It looked at each person as an individual supported by the team rather than as only a unit.

Writer’s Takeaway: In the back of the book, Clayton talked about her process and how she was told Ally and Brett were too similar and how she was able to separate them better by giving Ally’s mother-in-law a voice and an opinion about her. It helped Ally stand out by seeing her through someone else’s eyes. That’s a great trick when dealing with a lot of different characters.

This book was warm and fun and introduced me to five wonderful women. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1960-1979 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Guest Post: The Wednesday Sisters Book Group by Meg Waite Clayton | Books on the Brain
Review: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton | I’m Booking It

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Book Review: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe (3/5)

14 Mar

A few years ago, my book club introduced me to WIll Schwalbe and his love for books. I was excited to see that Schwalbe was going to be at the Midwest Literary Walk in 2018 and I had a chance to hear him talk about books and how they can change lives. I got a copy of his newest book, Books for Living, signed. I told him honestly that I was a little afraid to read his book because it would make my TBR so long. He responded, “That makes me very happy.”

Cover image via Goodreads

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Other books by Schwalbe reviewed on this blog:

The End of Your Life Book Club (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

“I’ve always believed that everything you need to know you can find in a book,” writes Will Schwalbe in his introduction to this thought-provoking, heartfelt, and inspiring new book about books.

In each chapter he makes clear the ways in which a particular book has helped to shape how he leads his own life and the ways in which it might help to shape ours. He talks about what brought him to each book – or vice versa; the people in his life he associates each book with; how each has led him to other books; how each is part of his understanding of himself in the world. And he relates each book to a question of our daily lives, for example: Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener speaks to quitting; 1984 to disconnecting from our electronics; James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room to the power of finding ourselves and connecting with one another; Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea to taking time to recharge; Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to being sensitive to the surrounding world; The Little Prince to making friends; Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train to trusting.

Here, too, are books by Dickens, Daphne du Maurier, Haruki Murakami, Edna Lewis, E. B. White, and Hanya Yanagihara, among many others. A treasure of a book for everyone who loves books, loves reading, and loves to hear the answer to the question: “What are you reading?”

This book reads like a list of book recommendations and Schwalbe does include an appendix of all books mentioned in the book. It’s an amazing ode to books that we love and that have changed us. I didn’t look at the list of books in advance and I got really excited when a book I’d read was mentioned. Of the 26 Schwalbe talked about, I’d read five and I’m in the process of reading another. There were countless references to other books I’ve read and loved and ones I’ve never heard of. And, surprisingly, I only added one book to my TBR. I know, I’m shocked.

My copy.

Schwalbe is very open and honest about himself and how these books have changed him. He talks about his life when he encountered the book and how it changed his view of the world and the trajectory of his life. He doesn’t sugar coat parts of his life and his faults. I felt like I knew him a bit after his first book, even more after hearing him speak, and now well enough to have a conversation because of this one. I wish he’d read the book, but nothing is perfect.

When I read the sections on books I’d read, I could relate to how they’d affected me and how they’d affected Schwalbe. Reading Lolita in Tehran y Azar Nafisi was a very emotional book and Schwalbe talks about the emotional impact it made on him. I remember I bought the book as part of a bartering agreement at a garage sale. I really wanted an end table and I’d pay the slightly higher price they wanted if they threw in a book. I read the book a few months later and I wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster that would come with it. Schwalbe is relatable in his reaction to books and how emotional he becomes when experiencing them. I’ve always been moved by books and it was wonderful to find out I’m not alone.

The one book Schwalbe encouraged me to add to my TBR was Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono. I was intrigued by the stories Schwalbe imparted about this book and how it helped him see the world differently. Sometimes, I’d like to come up with the magical option ‘e’ and find another solution where I didn’t think one existed before. Who knows, maybe it will help me in fiction writing.

Will Schwalbe at the Midwest Literary Walk on 10-March-18

I felt there were a few more recent selections than I would have liked. Of course, the book you just read has the largest impact on you for a time, but it’s not always lasting. I was a bit disappointed by this and tuned out a bit when he spoke about these titles. I’m sure this book would have some different selections if Schwalbe wrote it ten years from now. I guess I was looking for a bit more lasting impact.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jeff Harding. I got over my disappointment that Schwalbe didn’t narrate very quickly because Harding was a great narrator. There were no characters to portray in this book, but Harding kept things interesting and kept me entertained throughout the book.

Books about books are for readers. This isn’t a book for someone who casually picks up four books per year. This one was for someone who can’t seem to live without a book in their hands and shelves full of stories.  People who love books are changed by them. Schwalbe isn’t’ unusual in this respect and that’s part of what made his story strong. I’m just like him and I could write a list of 26 books that impacted me. It would be completely different and if we had any overlapping books, they would be for completely different reasons. And that’s totally fine. We can all love books and disagree on which ones or why. That’s part of being a reader.

Writer’s Takeaway: Readers talk about books. If someone is a reader, it’s unlikely that they’ll go through their day without mentioning something they are reading or have read. Schwalbe is a character in his own book. Characters that read need to talk about it. This applies to fiction, too.

Overall enjoyable but lacking great depth because of its format. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Will Schwalbe Finds Books for Living: What Are You Reading? | Narrative Species
BOOKS FOR LIVING by Will Schwalbe: A Review (Subtitled “Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life”) | powerfulwomanreaders
I Feel the Need, the Need to Read | Borden’s Blog

Book Review: You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg (4/5)

11 Mar

I found this book at a library used book sale and immediately knew I needed to read it. This was before I signed up for my 70.3 race but that race was always in the back of my head. I was ecstatic to find it on audio and it was an amazing motivator for the long bike rides I’ve been putting myself through. I think that if there’s a perfect time to read a book, I nailed it with this one.

Cover image via Goodreads

You Are An Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dreams of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon by Jacques Steinberg

Summary from Goodreads:

As he did so masterfully in his New York Times bestseller, The Gatekeepers, Jacques Steinberg creates a compelling portrait of people obsessed with reaching a life-defining goal. In this instance, the target is an Ironman triathlon-a 2.4-mile open-water swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride, then finally a 26-mile marathon run, all of which must be completed in no more than seventeen hours.

Steinberg focuses not on the professionals who live off the prize money and sponsorships but on a handful of triathletes who regard the sport as a hobby. Vividly capturing the grueling preparation, the suspense of completing each event of the triathlon, and the spectacular feats of human endurance, Steinberg plumbs the physical and emotional toll as well as the psychological payoff on the participants of the Ford Ironman Arizona 2009. His You Are an Ironman is both a riveting sports narrative and a fascinating, behind-the scenes study of what makes these athletes keep going.

I think I’m the ideal audience for this book. I am a weekend warrior, though for half the distance these athletes trained for. Triathlon has been part of my life since 2014 and I love it. Some things in this book were over-explained for someone with my background, but a lot of it was relatable and welcome. I could commiserate with being tired from work and training. I could understand not seeing friends and family who were not part of your triathlon community. I shared fears of illness, crashes, and injuries. I rejoiced with the athletes when they had breakthroughs and cried with them over setbacks and cheered with them as they succeeded. Steinberg picked a great group of athletes to follow for this race and I loved cheering for all of them.

I’m glad Steinberg chose athletes from such different backgrounds for this book. It kept everything interesting and made it so I had someone to relate to in all aspects. I struggle with the run so Laura wasn’t relatable in that sense but Bryan was. These people reminded me of those in my tri club and sometimes of myself. I got a great sense of them from Steinberg’s writing. Using their own training logs and blogs was a great tool to give them their own voices as well.

Tracey was my favorite athlete and I’m totally going to spoil how the race went for her so skip this paragraph if you don’t want that. I’m actually glad Steinberg profiled someone who didn’t make it to race day. Injury is a very real part of training for any athletic event and Tracey injuring herself was very real to me. It was how she dealt with that injury that made her my favorite. She didn’t let it stop her! Not one bit. I was glad that the book ended with her and knowing that she finished the race in 2010. I would have been shocked if she hadn’t. Her attitude along the way, that all of this was fun and a good reason to see her friends, made me happy. That’s how I’ve tried to view my training, too. It makes it fun instead of a chore and I was glad to see someone had successfully done that.

Jacques Steinberg Image via The New York Times

I was looking forward to race day from the start. I like how Steinberg told the story of that day and how he paced it, giving each athlete their due time. No matter how much you prepare, there’s nothing like a race day to make you doubt everything you’ve done to get there. The jitters were spot on, the doubts and performance and perseverance to just KEEP GOING when everything was rough. It was well done.

There wasn’t a part I particularly disliked. I sometimes worried that these people weren’t ready enough for their race but I’m assuming there were some workouts and dietary details taken out. I’m training 10 hours a week for a 70.3 and it seemed like these people were at about the same load for double the distance. I’m glad no more of them were injured!

The audiobook was narrated by Kirby Heyborne. I listened to him previously narrate the Miss Peregrine series and it took a few hours for me to stop associating this book with those because of his voice. I liked Heyborne better for this book. He didn’t have characters to voice or accents to do, just more of his normal voice. He sounds a little menacing but in this case, with such a daunting day hanging over the participant’s heads, it was very appropriate.

Setting a big goal can be scary. I can’t think of a goal bigger than Ironman. For many, it’s a lifetime achievement that they will remember for the rest of their lives. I think this book helps explain why being deemed an Ironman is such an accomplishment. It’s not about winning the race, it’s about finish it. No matter how long you’re on the course, finishing it is what’s important.

Writer’s Takeaway: Using the training blogs of the athletes was a great way to bring their voices to the book while having the author’s voice bind the book together. I’m thinking of how that could be used in fiction as well and it’s mostly applicable to dialogue. Not all characters should talk in the style the book is narrated. Making a character’s manner of speaking different helps the character stand out and feel original.

This book was highly enjoyable and I’m so glad I read it when I did. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Friday Reads – You Are An Ironman | Reading, Running, Cycling
Audiobook Review- You Are An Ironman- Jacques Steinberg | Dee’s Book Blog

Book Review: Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson (3/5)

7 Mar

I’ve been holding on to this book for far too long. I won it in a giveaway on the author’s blog but haven’t found time to read it for years. My recent push to read my TBR has been working and I finally grabbed it and gave it a go.

Cover image via Goodreads

Minutes Before Sunset (The Timely Death Trilogy #1) by Shannon A. Thompson

Summary from Goodreads:

Eric Welborn isn’t completely human, but he isn’t the only shade in the small Midwest town of Hayworth. With one year left before his eighteenth birthday, Eric is destined to win a long-raging war for his kind. But then she happens. In the middle of the night, Eric meets a nameless shade, and she’s powerful—too powerful—and his beliefs are altered. The Dark has lied to him, and he’s determined to figure out exactly what lies were told, even if the secrets protect his survival.

Jessica Taylor moves to Hayworth, and her only goal is to find more information on her deceased biological family. Her adoptive parents agree to help on one condition: perfect grades. And Jessica is distraught when she’s assigned as Eric’s class partner. He won’t help, let alone talk to her, but she’s determined to change him—even if it means revealing everything he’s strived to hide.

Disclaimer: My copy is one of the original 2013 publications. I’m not sure what changes were made between the 2013 publication and the re-release in 2015. Some of the content of my review may not be relevant to the most recent release.

I feel like I need to preface this review by saying I never read Twilight. I was never interested in the paranormal romance field. The closest I ever got was The Diviners and I read that because of the 1920s setting (though I enjoyed it a lot!). This isn’t a genre I have a lot of interest in and I’m not the target audience by far. I found the world confusing. I was often confused by the characters with two names (they have a human and a shade name) and it took me a while to know who was who and when. I was confused about how their shade powers worked and who had what abilities and what happened when things went wrong. It wasn’t clear to me why the light were so much more powerful or if that was just my perspective. Overall, I think there could have been a lot more backstory to make this story easier to digest.

Some of the characters were more believable than others. Jessica seemed to be very simple with low motivation and her emotions were predictable. Eric, on the other hand, was much more complex and seemed to be grappling with a lot of emotions and motivations simultaneously. I didn’t see what attracted them to each other because their relationship was filled with secrets yet they claimed to trust each other. I think a few more scenes could have made this stronger and more believable.

I wanted to know more about Pierce. His transformation between shade and human was very stark and I felt like it would have affected his personality in one or both forms. It would have been cool to explore that more and get to know him better.

I went to college in a town I didn’t know without knowing anyone so I could understand Jessica’s instant attraction to the first people who talked to her. I remained friends with those people for four years. I didn’t understand what Robb and Crystal really wanted out of their friendship, but I felt like there was something more behind why they roped Jessica into their group. Maybe that’s to be revealed in later installments in the series.

Shannon A. Thompson
Image via Amazon

I thought the descriptions of Prom were very true to my memories. It was always made into such a bit deal and it was such a superficial moment that was never what you wanted it to be. Jessica’s experience seemed pretty typical of what I recall. Maybe a little more ‘Prince Charming’ than I had, though.

The final battle seemed to end really quickly, to the point where I re-read a few pages because I thought I missed something. I understand that it was a small battle as the plot progresses toward its finale in book three, but the abruptness of its end was unsatisfying and I was confused about what had happened.

There wasn’t a clear theme to me in this book. Love was clearly something important to Jessica and Eric but it was unclear to me if this love was genuine or if it was the result of a prophecy that involved the two of them. Were they in love because the prophecy said they would be? With how quickly it developed, I really questioned how it would survive the action that’s sure to come in the next two books. I wish it had been parallelled in another couple, parents or allies in the fight because the theme wasn’t well emphasized.

Writer’s Takeaway: I thought a lot about my book while I was reading this one. I also have a teenage romance that builds. It helped me see where I thought there were strengths or weaknesses in this book and think about how I could use that to improve my own book. One of the big criticisms I had was that the romance between my two characters is implied for too long before it’s brought to the forefront of the book. Reading this, I thought where the romance could have been built more and it helped me see how I could build my own better.

This book didn’t really entice me to give paranormal romance a try. I’ll stick with what I’ve enjoyed before. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Cover Reveal: Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson | Note to Selph
Review: Minutes Before Sunset (The Timely Death Trilogy #1) | Real Rad Reads
Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson | The Modest Verge
Book Review: Minutes Before Sunset (The Timely Death Trilogy #1) by Shannon A Thompson | Press Pause Fast Forward

Book Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (3/5)

26 Feb

I picked up a copy of this book when it was clearanced at the local big box store. At the time, I hadn’t read anything by Tan. This past summer, I read her for the first time and I was excited to read this one. I guess I thought it would be similar to her other book. Boy, was I wrong.

Cover Image via Goodreads

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Other books by Tan reviewed on this blog:

The Joy Luck Club (and movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

A sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity, that moves from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village.

Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement resurrects pivotal episodes in history: from the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty, to the rise of the Republic, the explosive growth of lucrative foreign trade and anti-foreign sentiment, to the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign “Shanghailanders” living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II.

Of course, as always, I didn’t read the book summary. And reading it now, even if I had, I don’t think I would have realized it focused so much on courtesans as it did. Violet grew up living in one, worked in one, and almost owned one at a point. This didn’t bother me too much at first, but it got to be a bit much and it felt grating and tiresome after a while. I felt there were a lot of side plots unnecessary parts of the book. Violet’s marriage to Perpetual is a major one and I grew frustrated during that part of the book. The story was very long and in the end, I felt it could have been shortened.

For the most part, I felt the characters were credible. However, there were times I found them a bit hard to stomach. When Lucretia and Violet lost their children, they seemed very resigned to this fact. I couldn’t buy that. I couldn’t believe that a mother would have her child taken from her and lay in bed for three days and then be OK. It seemed a stretch and not one I was inclined to forgive twice. Other than that, I liked the characters and how they were developed.

Magic Gourd was a great character. I liked her sarcasm and wit and her fragile image of herself and how Violet had to speak to her to keep things going between the two of them. I marveled at her dedication to Violet and the way she was quickly made into a family member wherever Violet went. I was glad she got to tell her story a bit, too, and share how she came to be a courtesan.

These characters weren’t ones I related to well. Their living situation was very different from anything I’ve experienced and the things that motivated them weren’t things I’ve ever experienced or been motivated by. I think this is part of why this book felt like a chore for the majority of the middle. I lost interest in the character’s lives.

Amy Tan
Image via Harper Collins

The flashback to Lucretia’s childhood through the end of the book interested me most. Finding out how much the women’s’ lives parallelled each other was interesting and I liked how we found out about Flora’s life and how things had turned out for her. She was such a major character who we also knew so little about. It was a really interesting way to see a character and I liked her a lot.

I disliked the long advice that Magic Gourd gave Violet about being a courtesan. I feel bad saying this because I think Amy Tan narrated this part and I wonder why she felt that part was what she wanted to narrate. I didn’t feel it was necessary information beyond Magic Gourd’s background and story. It felt like filler, background information that had been found and that was added into the story because it was too painful to cut.

The audiobook had three narrators: Nancy Wu, Joyce Bean, and Amy Tan. I’m not sure between Wu and Bean who narrated Violet and who did Lucretia but both did a great job. I liked how they read with sarcasm and emotion. These were very emotional stories and their emphasis and emotion were well deserved. As I mentioned, Tan read Magic Gourd’s chapter and it was a segment I didn’t particularly like. I’m fairly certain it was her because the part wasn’t as well performed as the professionals, which didn’t surprise me. This isn’t to say it was poorly done, just that she’s not a professional. It’s always nice to hear an author read their own words.

The mother-daughter relationships in this book took center stage. Lucretia and Violet took many years to repair their relationship but were able to repair the damage between them eventually and find a way to connect and be friends. One hopes that Violet and Flora are able to do the same thing given time. Magic Gourd was a strong mother figure for Violet and it was good to see that she was loved and respected throughout the novel. Even with Lucretia off in America, there was someone looking out for Violet and helping her the way a mother would.

Writer’s Takeaway: When I’m writing, I try to be conscious of when I’m writing and when I’m rambling. I try to think about how what I’m writing will affect the story and if it’s important. It seemed to me that Tan didn’t always do this, especially with Perpetual. I wonder if there was a major change to the plot, to which Perpetual was originally important. The amount of sex and time spent in the courtesan houses seemed a bit unnecessary as well. It took away from the mother/daughter stories.

Overall, well written but a bit of a drag in places. Three out of Five Stars

This book fulfills the 1900-1919 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan | FictionFan’s Book Reviews
The Valley of Amazement- Amy Tan | The Home Book Club
The Valley of Amazement and Shifting Identities | American Literature in the World
Book Review: The Valley of Amazement | For the Someday Book
The Valley of Amazement | whatsannereading

Book Review: Hunger by Roxane Gay (4/5)

18 Feb

Of course, I’d heard of Roxane Gay. She’s very vocal about woman’s rights and each of her books has been well received. But I hadn’t read anything of her’s yet. Maybe a memoir isn’t the best place to start, but it was still a great pick. I’m very far ahead of my book club reads now so it was a delight to dive into this one with time to spare. I also knew my training has given me a lot of listening time on the bike trainer so I’d get through it faster than planned. I finished it in four days.

Cover image via Goodreads

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

More than anything, this book made me think. As an athlete, I tend to have a smaller body. I’m not model-thin in size 00 pants, but the last time someone else called me fat was middle school. As Gay described some of the ways people reacted to her body, I realized I was guilty of reacting in that way from time to time. The embarrassment that others have subjected Gay to because of her size is unacceptable. Seeing her side of it and how small things, unintentionally cruel comments, could be so hurtful made me really conscious of how I spoke to everyone this past week. I hope I continue to be like that going forward. More than food, Gay hungered for love and that’s a universal hunger. She dealt with a terrible trauma when she was young and her way of coping with it and finding a way to continue in the world may not have been the best choice, but it’s helped her be an incredible writer and a very successful person. Who’s to say it’s wrong?

Gay portrayed herself in a very realistic way. She was very open about her past and the hardships she’s had to endure in her life. She doesn’t talk a lot about others because they’re not the focus of her book. We hear a little about her family and some of her past partners, but it’s mostly about her and her challenges. I appreciated her honesty because I can’t imagine it’s easy to bare so much of your past pain to the world and to let them judge you. I don’t think I’m that strong.

Gay’s struggles to recognize love were relatable to me. I had a high school boyfriend whose ideas of ‘love’ were spending as much time together as possible and not talking to other males. Where he got this idea (movies, his parents, friends, etc.) I’m not sure but it began to influence my understanding of love as well. You learn to see love through the eyes of someone you think you love. For a while after that, even into dating my now-husband, I thought this was love. When we weren’t together, I felt alone, abandoned, and unloved. It took time for me to see love expressed in other ways and recognize that blowing off friends and family to be with someone wasn’t love, it was an unhealthy obsession. Gay had to have her view of love recalibrated in a very different way, but I understood why she struggled with this and how she went through a long process to change her perception.

Roxane Gay
Image via St. Louis American

Maybe this is a bias, but it felt like Gay started to find her own voice and strength during her PhD program at Michigan Technological University (aka Michigan Tech). I’m going to assume most of you have never been to Houghton, MI and for good reasons. It’s very isolated from any major city because of its geographic location. From where I live in Detroit, it’s 10+ hours away, mostly through fields and hills with moose crossing signs on the side of the road. We drove through when we were on vacation a few years back just to see the town with one of the best engineering programs in the state and the Midwest was located. It’s very isolating and I was able to imagine it well from her description. Picturing her there, at one of the northernmost points in the continental US, I could see how she would find her strength.

I love to travel. It made it hard for me to hear about Gay’s struggles to travel because of her size. She has problems with airplanes and when going to unknown places. It made me really think about how the world is built for the majority and how those outside that box may have problems. The extremely large, tall, and small are going to view the world in a different way than someone who’s of a standard stature. I would never have thought about how difficult getting through life and getting around can be for someone like Roxane. That was very eye-opening.

Gay narrated the audiobook herself. She has a slight lisp but I was able to get over it really fast and it didn’t detract from the book in any way. It was great to have her read it, though I have to think it would have been a very emotional experience. She talks about things that upset her and times she was abused and degraded. Reliving that and writing about it would be hard, but reading those words again would be even harder. I applaud her performance. I hope she narrates her future books as well.

The way Gay punctuates her title places emphasis on her point. Many people feel like they have some kind of ownership or opinion on her body because of her size. Doctors think they can ‘cure’ her and strangers feel entitled to give an opinion or offer advice or say a snide comment. People wouldn’t do the same thing to others who stand out for other reasons, but her size seems to make people feel like they have that right. And we honestly don’t. I have no idea what has happened in a stranger’s past to turn them into the person they are. And I shouldn’t make assumptions about how they feel about themselves; ever.

Writer’s Takeaway: One of the biggest stylistic choices in this book is the extremely short chapter lengths. Some people like this but I don’t. I felt the book switched focuses too quickly and it kept me from engaging too much with any of Gay’s points. I wish she’d grouped the book together a bit more and connected her points.

I liked this book though it was a challenging read. I’m glad I read it and I think we’ll have a great discussion next month.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
“Hunger: A Memoir of My Body” by Roxane Gay | The Book Hole
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A Review of Roxane Gay’s Book, Hunger | Women’s Center

Book Review: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (3/5)

12 Feb

I’ll be honest and say that I was less than thrilled when this title was selected for this year’s ‘Everyone’s Reading’ event. This is a bi-annual event where several Detroit-area libraries get together and bring in an author. Leading up to it, the libraries host programs focused around the book. And, of course, our book clubs all read it. The cover and title of this one threw me off. I was expecting a romance novel complete with a heroine in a ball gown like the cover. Of course, I didn’t read the blurb. So I was hesitant going in and for the first 100 pages, I kept expecting it to change to something more romance-y. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Cover image via Goodreads

Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Well, that is quite a summary! This book had a lot going on and it took me a while to figure out where I should focus my interest. Nicky was a great character but with everything else to focus on, it took me a while to focus on him. When the story finally settled on him, I let myself get invested. I forgot about the family rivalries and the Borelli financial problems and Hortense’s relationship and focused on Nicky. When those things came up, I gave them their moment, but I focused on Nicky. There was a lot to distract from him in this book and there is where it fell away for me a bit. I wanted a bit more of a focus on one character instead of splitting my interest so much. I also wished for a less miss-leading title and cover, but that’s something completely different.

The characters all felt real to me. While I had trouble keeping Nicky’s character’s straight, there was a lot of truth in his big family. It was wonderful how much they cared for each other and looked out for each other. I adored Calla and her father’s interactions and how she wanted to keep his dream alive despite how much it hurt her. It was encouraging to see her press on. The town of Roseto was a great setting and I could picture the families there and the jubilee that brought everyone together.

Calla was my favorite character. I wanted to say Nicky, but he seemed lost to me for a lot of the book and Calla never did. She’s stubborn and wouldn’t give up on her father’s dream and saw it become her dream. She was strong and stood up for herself even when it may have robbed her of her happiness. I was skeptical of Frank and I’m glad she was, too. It was good to see her stay strong for what she believed in against him.

I related to Nicky and his desire to do something that made him happy. I think we all chase something that delights us and makes us happy. For him, it was acting. He had to work a job he hated to have the chance to do something he loved. I don’t hate my job but I don’t live for it, either. My passions lie elsewhere and that’s fine for me. I was happy for him when his passion became his job, but I know not everyone is as lucky. And it was good that he recognized his fortunate situation and could step away from it when someone else needed him.

Adriana Trigiani
Image via We The Italians

I liked the time in Roseto best. I knew what the focus of the book was, I liked the rush of the ruse, and I liked the people of Roseto and how unique they all were. It was a nice escape from South Philly for a bit.

There were a few plot lines I thought were too much for the book. The family rivalry didn’t add anything to me and I thought it could have been taken out. The number of characters was a bit too much for me, too. I’m still confused about all the Palazzini cousins and who married who and had which kids. I’m not sure I’ll ever map it out. I think this book could have been edited down a bit, but there wasn’t any particular part that I disliked.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. The fact that it was narrated by a man should have been my first indication that the cover was misleading. Ballerini was a great choice for this book. Clearly, he speaks Italian (or fakes it well) based on the scenes where he reads Carlo’s Italian dialogue. He did great accents for the Palazzini family and all the other immigrant families. I found he did different enough voices for everyone that I could keep the huge host of characters separated in my mind. I also didn’t find his female voices condescending at all. Overall, it was a nice balance.

Family was very important to all the characters in this book. Even though Nicky didn’t have a nuclear family in the traditional sense. However, he was raised by extended family and the friends he surrounded himself with. He had a non-traditional family that loved him and looked after him. Even though he was an orphan, he didn’t face to face the world alone.

Writer’s Takeaway: With so many characters, Trigiani still gave them real and compelling back stories. Hortense is a great example of this. She wasn’t just an employee at the company. She had a history with Nicky’s mom, her own marital problems, and a drive in life that pushed her. Peachy, Frank and many of the actors had less-developed but still unique stories driving them along. She created a very rich world, even if it was a bit much for a stand-alone book.

An enjoyable book, if a bit much for my tastes. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani | Bookfan
Book Review: Kiss Carlo | Life by Kristen

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (4/5)

11 Feb

Every year, I challenge myself to read a book in Spanish. It’s a good way of keeping up the skill and learning new vocabulary words. When I was at Powell’s last summer, I grabbed a copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson in Spanish so I could read it this year. I’ll have to keep reading YA books for this personal challenge because I flew through the book faster than I’ve gotten through my Spanish reads in the past.

Cover image via Goodreads

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (translated by Noemí Sobregués)

Other books by Green reviewed on this blog:

An Abundance of Katherine’s
Looking for Alaska
Paper Towns

Summary from Goodreads:

Will Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their world will collide and lives intertwine.

It’s not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old – including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire – Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most awesome high school musical.

I’ve never read Levithan before, but I’m familiar enough with Green’s work. It was obvious quickly that one Will Grayson was the work of Green (who I’ll call Will 1 because he speaks first) and the other of Levithan (Will 2). I liked the paralleled nature of the story and how they overlapped for much of the story and how the Will’s came together. Tiny was a wonderful character to unite them and he was bigger than life in the book. He was someone I’d want as a best friend and someone I’d avoid at school. I understood Will 1 and his complicated friendship and why Will 2 would be attracted to him. It was a very heart-warming story and I think I’m down to one John Green book until I’ve read them all.

Will 1 and Will 2 were very believable, but I felt Tiny was a bit much at times. I wanted to like him and believe he was real, but he would be a bad friend to Will 1 and not apologize for it and it made it hard for me to want good things to happen to him. I wanted some more people to interact with him and see their reactions. It seemed like no one outside of the GSA talked to him yet he was on the football team and a ton of people wanted to be in his musical. I wondered how he got along with other students and how they liked him. I would have liked a bit more of this so I could see Tiny through another lens.

Will 1 was my favorite character. I thought it was because I met him first, but I liked him more and more as the book went on. He was a good friend, for the most part. He loved and hated Tiny all along but he recognized that they needed each other and were good for each other. He grew a lot during the book, coming out of purposeful isolation to put his heart on the line for Jane and help Tiny even when he didn’t want to. Will 2’s transformation was a little more obvious so I enjoyed the subtlety of it as well.

I related to parts of all the character’s stories. I related to Will 2’s fight with Maura. There are always fights in high school and they’re never any fun. I related to Will 1’s feelings of being an outcast and not really fitting in and feeling like he didn’t deserve happiness of friendship when it was available to him. I related to Tiny’s love of the theater and his desire to tell a story on stage. I did musical theater for years growing up and I loved the magic of it. These felt like real high schoolers with real problems and I loved it.

John Green and David Levithan
Image via BookPage

Tiny’s show was a great part of the book. I loved hearing about the choir and all the other actors and how the audience reacted to the show. It was great to have Will 1 in the wings narrating the show and Will 2 in the audience to give another perspective.

The time Tiny and Will 2 were dating was the least interesting to me. They were very obsessive in their feelings, which is realistic, but it dominated the plot too much. Will 1 was pushed aside and it seemed like Tiny’s obsession with his show was put on the back burner while he was with Will 2 and that seemed unrealistic to me. It was the only time Tiny seemed to lose focus.

Tiny tells us that the story is about love. It’s about being worthy of love and it’s about more than just romantic love. Will 1 loves Tiny in a different way than Will 2. Will 2’s mom loves him in a different way than Tiny does. It’s all beautiful and Tiny’s show gives us snippets of what’s in the rest of the book. Those who love us love us when we are difficult and when we have trouble loving ourselves. Love isn’t always easy, but it always finds a way.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked the shared authorship of this book. I have to imagine it would take a lot of planning and communication to write a book like this. For a dual-protagonist book, it worked well to have to distinctly different styles. It was easy for me to tell what parts Green had written. I wonder if a Levithan fan would be able to tell his part as easily.

I enjoyed the characters and the plot of this book. It was fun, even if it felt a bit ‘surface’ about some tough issues. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (5/5)

29 Jan

This book was everywhere a few years ago. Of course, I’m terrible at reading books when they’re popular so I’m only getting to it now. I remember at the time that it was billed as an early ‘New Adult’ book so that tinted what I thought it would be about. I’m happy to say it didn’t meet those ideas and ended up being more enjoyable than I thought.

Cover image via Goodreads

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Summary from Goodreads:

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades.

This book wasn’t what I was expecting, but in a good way. I heard it billed as ‘New Adult’ which I thought meant it would be about people in their 20s having moderate amounts of sex (more than is appropriate for YA) and swearing a lot. I guess I missed the boat on New Adult. Yet again, I struggle with my policy of not reading summaries from time to time. I was happy to see this book focusing on adults in their 40s but written with the same easy-reading style of a YA book. This is the perfect combination, in my opinion. I may have to seek out some more New Adult books. I loved the characters and it all seemed very real to me even though it was far-fetched beyond belief. I think I’m a convert.

Bee seemed a little unbelievable to me. She was fifteen but her actions seemed more like a nine or ten-year-old to me. I’m basing this off of my niece and maybe she’s mature for her age and Bee was spot on. Just my opinion. The other characters were wonderful and I loved them all. Bernadette was depressed, Elgin was oblivious, Audrey was a Stepford Wife, and Soo-Lin was waiting for her prince to come. They were all the people we know in some aspect of our lives and it was great to see them play out. At first, I thought Audrey was going to be a bit of a stereotype, but she grew on me as the book went on and in the end, I really liked her.

Bernadette was my favorite character. She would be a fun mom but it was also plain that she expected a lot of her daughter. Her balance of understanding and teaching was well done. The way the book was written showed that she was, on the inside, very different from how she projected herself on the outside. It was great to see how stark the difference is between what a person projects and what they mean to project. Those things can be very different.

Bernadette was easy to relate to. I think everyone feels they’re misrepresented at times or that their actions are misunderstood or misinterpreted. Her frustration was relatable. Bee gave her the benefit of the doubt, believing her and trusting in her, while others weren’t so gracious. It was interesting to see how she reacted to this.

Maria Semple
Photo via Goodreads

I loved hearing about the 20-Mile House. I thought that was fascinating and very cool to hear about the ways she used materials. I could see how infectious her work could be and why people were so interested in it. The story was wonderfully told, too, and I wanted that part to go on longer. But I understood it wasn’t a focus of the book, just some background.

Bee and boarding school was my least favorite plotline, especially with how it played out. I thought her going away was going to have something to do with Bernadette leaving, but it ended up being a dead-end and I don’t think it added anything to Bernadette nor Bee’s plot lines. I wish that part had been edited out.

My audiobook was narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite. She was amazing. I adored her. Her voices for everyone were great and her inflection made me want to turn this book on every chance I got. Maybe she made Bee sound a little younger than she is, but that’s minor. I would seek books narrated by her, it was that good. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the print version of this book as much as I enjoyed Wilhoite’s narration of it. I highly recommend the audio.

There was a lot of judging and presumptions in this book that led to bad decisions and a lot of drama. Audrey and Bernadette started out as enemies and ended up as allies. Soo-Lin was a sweet supporter at first and ended up being an annoying dreamer. Everyone had their own idea of Bernadette and what she needed and only one person was right. The book was about being who you needed and wanted to be, and not assuming things about other people, taking the time to ask them and talk about it instead.

Writer’s Takeaway: The letter format of this book was a great choice. I liked hearing the back-and-forth that went on and figuring out what happened in the time between letters. It also built tension because sometimes you didn’t know what happened and it would be a while before you found out more. I’m not sure it would work for my story, but it was great for this one and I think Semple applied it well.

This book was enjoyable. I originally gave it Four Stars, but I couldn’t think of anything I disliked about it as I wrote this review and changed my rating to Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (3/5)

24 Jan

I’ve had this book for way too long. It was recommended to me by a good friend who also writes and she often quoted Lamott about writing techniques and how to get started. I asked for a copy for Christmas many years ago and promptly put it on my shelf to forget about it. Well, I’m finally reading my own darn books and found time for it. I’ll get through the rest eventually.

Cover image via Goodreads

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Summary from Goodreads:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

I was reassured and terrified by Lamott’s advise. She breaks it down and makes it seem so simple. She writes like there is nothing more natural than writing if you put your mind to it and make it your work. But it’s not always that easy. Writing can be a struggle and Lamott recognizes that. She talks about bad first drafts, but what about bad fourth drafts? What if you just don’t get it and never will? What then? Is there only so much writing advise a person can get? I think she conveyed some practical things in this book, but I’m still terrified of not being adequate to implement them.

Lamott talks about herself and the struggles she went through to be a writer. I think it was actually a lot harder than she let on. She mentions briefly having another job while she was writing and being a single mother. Neither of those things is easy. Lamott focused on the lessons she learned that she can teach. I think there was a lot more to her story but it wouldn’t be as translatable to other writers. She played to her audience, budding writers, and not her cohort, working single mothers. It was a smart move but it left the book feeling a little incomplete to me.

Lamott would talk about her students and their struggles and it was those nameless characters that I related to most. I struggle with writing and finding a way to tell my story that someone else wants to read.  It’s a mix of being true to your vision and appealing to others that makes writing so hard. I’m glad she talked about those struggles because she’s at a point in her life where she’s found that voice so it probably never seems as far away as it does for a new writer.

Anne Lamott
Image via Penguin Random House

I liked the first section, about getting started and reigning in an idea. I thought that advice was very easy to apply and realize in my writing goals. It helped me feel okay about having a bad piece of writing but still believing in it. It helped me see how much I may have to tear characters down, but that they don’t have to be out for the count. It spoke most to where I am in my writing process.

As I said earlier, it felt like something wasn’t there. It was as if Lamott had almost taken herself out of the book and what you got was what you’d expect from a removed teacher. I missed some personal details that I felt were left out. She shared stories about her son, but not herself. I wanted just a bit more and found myself searching for it between lines but never finding it.

Lamott has a lot of time and experience in the industry and is uniquely qualified to write this book. I’m so glad she did because, as her title says, there’s no way to go about writing but to do it, one word at a time. I write these reviews one word at a time, my story needs to be the same way.

Writer’s Takeaway: Lamott had a uniquely conversational tone that I can’t compare to anything I’ve read before. She was very formal at the same time and it was lovely to read. A tone is something that’s hard to grasp and harder to perfect and it shows that Lamott follows her own advice and writes every day. That’s something I urge to emulate.

A good book on writing, though not much about the author. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1980-1999 time period of the When Are You Reading? 2019 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!

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