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Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (4/5)

27 Apr

At my former job, a coworker of mine was floored that I’d never read this book. I found a copy at a used book sale and it sat on my shelf for a few years. Then I heard that Lisa See was coming to town for a signing! I read her other book, Shanghai Girls, and got a copy of this one signed. I grabbed the audiobook before I had time to pick up the physical one and I wish I’d grabbed it sooner. This was a great story.

Cover image via Goodreads

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Other books by Lisa See reviewed on this blog:

Shanghai Girls (with two book club reflections and meeting the author)

Summary from Goodreads:

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear.

However See did her research for this book, she did it right. It was very easy to picture life in early 1800s China. Their culture, so different from mine, seemed natural after listening to the book for a little while. The foot binding scene caused me to gag in the middle of a run. My husband had to stop and ask me if I was okay. It was so vivid that it was terrifying. The time in the mountains was frighteningly vivid, too. There were a lot of good moments in this book that go back to how talented a writer See is.

I think the mark of good writing is seeing a story through one character’s point of view and not realizing how slanted or biased that view is until it’s pointed out. See did a great job of this. Lily’s views seemed natural to me as the reader and I never questioned her interpretation or views until Snow Flower or the Sworn Sisters pointed out how she was wrong. Lily was more complicated than she at first appeared and Snow Flower’s many layers are evident in the story. Both are wonderful characters.

I liked Snow Flower best because she was easier to analyze and feel sympathy for in the book. When Lily’s flaws were pointed out, I almost took it personally because I felt I knew was her. Snow Flower’s bad fate and hardships were sympathetic and I could see her struggles and feel for her.

I’m very much like Lily. When things are going badly, I persist. I tend to think that something that’s gone wrong must be because I didn’t follow a rule or instruction and I try to get others to conform to this as well. I’m not a great listener much of the time and Snow Flower and Lily’s adult relationship reminded me of many of my own.

Lisa See and me

The months in the mountains were very emotional in my mind. I felt bad for Snow Flower and Lily and got a sense of the desperate situation they were in from See’s writing. Snow Flower’s mother-in-law was quite wicked and the preference given to her second son was really shocking. Snow Flower’s husband confused me because he seemed angry and soft moments apart but that could easily stem from the difficult situation he was in up in the mountains.

Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph to avoid it. Lily’s realization that Snow Flower had not abandoned her after Snow Flower’s death was almost impossible to listen to. It was so heartbreaking to hear the Sworn Sisters be so cruel to Lily and to hear about Snow Flower’s suffering for the many years they were apart. Lily’s realization that she’d never apologized to Snow Flower was crushing! It was a really sad end to a story that was very sad and while it was fitting, it didn’t make it easy to get through!

Janet Song narrated the audiobook I listened to and I thought she did a great job. She used voices for the characters that were just different enough to tell them apart without any sounding like a mockery. I thought her pacing and intonation were good and it was to a point where I didn’t notice her, which to me means she’s doing a great job.

Lily wanted forgiveness and had trouble giving it herself. The message I got from this book was that friends can be closer than blood but we have to work on those relationships as much as we work on marriages and family relationships. There was a communication breakdown between Snow Flower and Lily that neither was able to correct and it created a rift between them that was never healed. They both needed forgiveness and neither was forthcoming with it. In the end, it poisoned their beautiful friendship.

Writer’s Takeaway: I believe the best historical fiction is when you don’t even realize that it’s historical. The setting felt so natural that I would forget this was 1850s China. It can be really hard to work historical context into a story in a way that will not shock the reader and See did an amazing job with this.

A great book that I’m glad I finally read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Audiobook) | Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog
Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See | lisasliterarylife

‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ TV Show- Half Way Review

24 Apr

Image via Flickering Myth

So, I was initially VERY against the Thirteen Reasons Why show. I still am, I’ve just weakened my position. I read the book and was really disturbed because I felt the author was trying to justify suicide. If your life is as bad as Hannah Baker’s, then killing yourself makes sense. What a terrible message to send to teenagers! The book made me really mad and I told everyone who would listen that I felt that way. I still will. I decided to watch the TV show out of a sick sense of ‘having to’ do it. I read the book, I wanted to see how it was changed to a show. I’m still very against the message and understand it’s almost worse (from a psychologist point of view) in a visual form. I wanted to give my thoughts at the halfway point, having just watched episode 6. I’ll come back with another review after the entire show.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Unlike the book, the characters stay involved after their tape is over. In a few of the tapes, I felt like the character wasn’t really that important in the end because their impact was there and gone. In the show, we’re really shown how this person is changed from Hannah’s death and the tapes. They continue to be important and even grow in importance. I thought this was well done.

How Hannah reacts to being groped or slut-shamed felt very real to me. It can be shocking that someone would do that and I felt her frozen reaction was justified and realistic. It wasn’t a weakness on her behalf, it was real.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

I imagined the town the action took place in to be very tiny! It seems that way at times because the characters all run into each other and they’re only now getting a Wal-Mart equivalent. However, the town’s so much bigger than I imagined! It’s big enough for Clay to ride through suburbs in every shot he’s on his bike and be ‘on the other side of town’ after a long ride. I guess I was thinking small town surrounded by farms, my midwest idea of a small town. Did anyone else struggle with this? Oh well, it works better as a bigger town with the difference in socioeconomic class of the characters.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

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

Hannah’s narration. After Tyler’s tape, we don’t really hear Hannah talking anymore. We get a bit, but her telling us a story has disappeared. I think the way the show is doing it is fine, but I wish it would stick with one method or the other: all voiceover or very minimal. The switch back and forth is weird.

Things That Changed Too Much

The ‘let’s get Clay’ mentality! I’m really hating it. Some of the characters, you got the idea from their tapes that they were sorry or would have tried to make things right, but having them now trying to ‘take Clay out’ or ‘get him’ in any way is infuriating. Alex is the most frustrating for me. He’s obviously going through a depression that’s likely worse than Hannah’s, and no one is noticing.

The parent’s point of view. This is heartbreaking and I really struggle with any scene the Bakers are in. Adding Clay’s mom as the prosecuting attorney is even worse. It’s sending me a mixed signal about the attended audience for this show. It seems more geared toward adults than teens and I think that’s rightfully so.

Please, no spoilers for the end! I’ll get to it soon with my semester ending today (!!!) and my husband taking a trip out-of-town soon. Reader, have you see the Thirteen Reasons Why show? 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!

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ Movie

13 Apr

Movie Poster via To Hollywood and Beyond Wiki

After FINALLY finishing Library of Souls, my husband and I figured it was time to pick up the movie based on this series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I actually watched it a few days before finishing the book and I was afraid I’d ruined the book for myself. They were so different it didn’t make a lick of difference.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Hollows. Really, this is about it. I was excited to hear Burton was doing this film, but I think this was his only add to it visually. The book was already so visual that there wasn’t much more to do. The Hollows were a little reminiscent of Jack Skellington so it even gave the impression he was copying his previous work. Regardless, they worked well. Except for the CG error when their pinstripes showed up while covered with cotton candy. That was dumb.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Fiona talking. I didn’t understand why her character was silent in the books. Having her talking and walking around was fine with me. She was completely different from what I imagined and much younger, but oh well. And she didn’t have an adorable love with Hugh but again, I could live without it.

Shortening the series to one movie. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I thought the series was meandering and far too long. This shortening was awesome. The ending was also much more satisfying than the end of the book series.

Switching Emma and Olive’s powers. Because honestly, Olive’s power was pretty useless and Emma is pretty useless so it didn’t really matter.

Olive being older. With her having the fire power, I can see why it’s easier to portray her as older. A 6-year-old with fire hands would be a bit terrifying.

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

Number of Hollows and Wights. In the books, there were hundreds and that’s why they were scary, they were all over the world. The movie portrayed it as just a small number, about 10 or so, and a few of them were wights already. That’s a lot less scary and I felt like I wouldn’t be as terrified of something where there are so few and some of them aren’t invisible anymore. Especially watching this after reading the third one, the numbers seemed way off.

Emma and Jacob’s creepy relationship. I mean, it was still there, but it wasn’t clear that Emma and Jacob’s grandfather had been together. Which gave it an ‘ick’ factor that wasn’t brought through in the film. Their relationship was really flat, anyway. She wasn’t appealing enough (in my opinion) to give up life for and there was no time for them to develop a relationship that would attract him at all.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Things That Changed Too Much

Miss Peregrine being young. Ugh. This was too much for me. Miss Peregrine was an older woman in my head and would have been a better role for Judy Dench where she didn’t get killed off right away. Young Miss Peregrine was wrong.

Hollow v. Skeleton Battle. The most epic battle of the whole movie is completely CG and takes place in front of a bunch of Normals? Really? This is so off from the series that it was annoying. And it kept all of the characters out of the climactic battle. That’s poor pacing.

Emma’s air power. Where did this come from? And how did it work? She could make the room of an underwater ship air-tight? And if she can blow enough air to raise a cruise ship from the ocean floor, why can’t she produce enough air to hold off a wight for a decent amount of time? I just don’t get it.

Changing the past. So Jacob and his friends are able to change the past enough that Abe doesn’t die? That was odd to me. Plus, the movie left Jacob abandoned in January 2016 London and he would somehow have to make his way back to Florida and it would see there would be two of him once he got there. So how did that all play out?

I heard this movie didn’t do well in theaters and I can see why. It’s riddled with plot holes and doesn’t seem to have attempted to capture the book fans. Reader, have you see the Miss Peregrine movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (2/5)

11 Apr

I know many of my readers follow my WWW posts and if you do, you’ll know how long I’ve been reading this book. I started it in December as a car-trip read with my husband. We took only a few long car trips since then and pecked away at the 15 hour recording. Our last one was 8 hours in on day two weeks ago and at the end of that, we had 1.5 hours left and decided to finish it up on our own. I’ll summarize my feelings by saying I’m so glad it’s over.

Cover image via Goodreads

Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs

Other books by Ransom Riggs reviewed on this blog:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) 3/5
Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) 2/5

Summary from Goodreads:

As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all.

All of the things I disliked about the second book just continued into this one. Besides the ymbrynes, none of the adults in this book are even respectable, especially Jacob’s parents. The love story between Jacob and Emma is completely superficial and forced. There are inconsistencies in the book just to work in the pictures Riggs loves so much. Things happen so conveniently that it’s very obvious these books were not well planned and Riggs is making up ways for things to work out. Jacob and Emma are constantly yelling before they even think about what they’re saying. My two stars are for Riggs’s creativity but this book really failed me.

Jacobs and Emma reacted like hormonal teenagers so in that respect, I’d say they were believable. In the sense that they didn’t really sleep for two weeks, it was completely unbelievable. Jacob recognizes in himself that he’s changed and fights between his need to be his past and present self, which is a very realistic outcome of his journey, but very introspective for a teenage boy. He acted like he was much older than a teenager and it really bothered me.

Sharon was one of my favorite characters and really redeemed the book for me. I’m still not sure why he helped Jacob, Emily, and Addison (another inconsistency and character flaw) but he was a redeemable character with flaws and advantages to him. I found it believable that he had been an Ambro addict and was in debt to Bentham for helping him recover. I found it believable that his family was gallows builders and I understood why he helped in the end. He was a great image in my head and I’m really glad he was involved.

The characters situation was unrelatable to me. Jacob kept discovering things about himself like a person going through puberty, but other than that, his experiences were extreme and I didn’t find his reactions to anything relatable. Many times, my husband and I would pause the audio and say, “Why don’t they just …?” and point out a much easier way to solve the current problem. I couldn’t sympathize with someone I thought made dumb decisions.

Image via Wikipedia

Exploring Devil’s Acre was one of the few parts I really enjoyed. Riggs’s imagination was in full force and he set up a great dark Victorian London that was reminiscent of Sweeney Todd and just great. Too much time was spent in some aspects, like the Peculiars for sale, but other parts, like Smoking Street, were great.

The ending felt so contrived. I was so upset with it. I wanted Jacob to suffer more, I really did. He had so many close calls that ended up working out for him that seeing him really suffer and fail would have felt good as a reader. I won’t say it now, but the way it played out was too happy for the set-up we’d had. I was very put out.

Kirby Heyborne narrated this final installment like he did the first two. There were a few times I was upset with his choices to have the characters scream or whine when the dialogue tags didn’t call for it. I find his British accent grating and for a book set in London, this can be a real issue. He does build tension well, which is important in a book like this, but I think his slow narrating style is part of what stretched this out to 15 hours.

I felt luck played too much of a role in Jacob’s success for there to be a strong lesson in this book. Just at the moment when something bad would happen to him, another character showed up or someone was distracted or he was protected from anything bad happening. I guess the lesson would have to be to have friends who can see into the future and who make loud entrances and have impeccable timing.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think the visual aspect of a book is very important. However, it feels like Riggs sacrificed plot and character development to give us a visual book. We don’t have dynamic characters besides Jacob, who doesn’t change much anyway. But we do have multiple characters who have great images and styles. We have a meandering plot with a lot of asides that add nothing to the main plot. But the setting for each can be shown in an antique picture. The visual elements of a book should enhance it, not be the only driving force behind it.

I’m honestly glad this series is over. I won’t feel obligated to listen to another one. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 time period for 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:
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs | Just Simplydelete It
Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs | Reading with Jenna
Book Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (Final Book in Miss Peregrine’s Trilogy) | Alice in Wonderbookland

Book Review: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss (4/5)

10 Apr

My library brings in an author each year and every few years, it’s a non-fiction writer and when that happens, the discussion usually focuses on Detroit and Michigan. David Maraniss’s ballad to the once-great (and now recovering) Detroit was this year’s selection. My book club discussion on it isn’t for a while, but I figured I’d get a head start on the audiobook so I didn’t have to rush it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1963 and Detroit is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America: Grandson of the first Ford; Henry Ford II; influential labor leader Walter Reuther; Motown’s founder Berry Gordy; the Reverend C.L. Franklin and his daughter, the amazing Aretha; Governor George Romney, Mormon and Civil Rights advocate; super car salesman Lee Iacocca; Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, a Kennedy acolyte; Police Commissioner George Edwards; Martin Luther King. It was the American auto makers’ best year; the revolution in music and politics was underway. Reuther’s UAW had helped lift the middle class.

The time was full of promise. The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before and inventing the Mustang. Motown was capturing the world with its amazing artists. The progressive labor movement was rooted in Detroit with the UAW. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech there two months before he made it famous in the Washington march.

Once in a Great City shows that the shadows of collapse were evident even then. Before the devastating riot. Before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight. Before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities—from harsh weather to high labor costs—and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse.

I’ve lived in Metro Detroit my whole life. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, we didn’t go into the city. It was dangerous and there was nothing worth doing there unless you were going to a Tigers game and even then, you went straight to the game and straight home. Now that I’m in my 20s and the city is rebounding, I go a lot more. It’s great to see the city rebounding and I can see how it strives to be the city it was in the 60s (less some obvious racial problems). Maraniss has an obvious love for the city and it’s portrayed in this book and touches on all aspects of city life ranging from Motown to politics to automotive. I listened to this book while driving and hearing about the Mustang concept car kept at World HQ while driving on the Southfield past the Glass Castle (local name for that building) gave me shivers. Going to Wayne State for an event while hearing about students from campus was awesome. I felt like I was walking through this book while I read it. I felt like Woodward Ave would be closed as I approached it for the Walk to Freedom despite it happening over 50 years ago. Maraniss brought the city to a life I hope it can see again soon.

I loved how Maraniss portrayed the figures in this book. Reuther was probably my favorite. My parents were GM engineers and I grew up thinking of the UAW as devils so seeing their infamous leader portrayed so positively made me think a lot. Hearing about George Romney, whose son Mitt would run for President in 2012, seemed like a strange precursor to that election. It was really cool to hear about these people via interviews Maraniss conducted and get a feel for how they lived and what they saw.

 

I could feel Maraniss’s pride for his city in this book. Wherever I travel, I say I’m from Detroit and I get looks like I’m going to whip a pistol out of my back pocket and shoot the person in the face. It’s not like that! Detroit has a rough reputation and it’s fought that for years. Maraniss notes how it was fighting that during the time period he selected, a great time period for the city. It got worse after that and is only now starting to get better.

David Maraniss
Image via Simon and Schuster

I’d never heard about the Walk to Freedom and I really enjoyed that part of the story. Hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Cobo Hall was really moving and hearing the positive things he said about the city gave me chills. I wish the city had been able to make more progress for racial equality without the violence that broke out a few years after the book ended. It seems the city was open to it, but also resisted the change that was really needed.

I wasn’t as interested in some of the plot lines, the Motown one for example. The Motown plotline didn’t seem to connect to the others the same way the rest of them intertwined and it made me lose interest in it very quickly. The civil rights one connected slightly, but it wasn’t strong enough to feel like it was all part of a cohesive story.

Having Maraniss narrated the story was great. He pronounced everything right! I’ve found that non-native narrators don’t always say local names correctly and as a Detroiter, this could have been very distracting. It was great to have a man who knew all the right names say them.

Detroit was a great city. It makes me sad to say that, but Maraniss is right. It was a great city that fell off the tracks and is trying to get back on. The years in this book were boom years for the Motor City and show what Detroit could be again. On a personal note, I heard a speech from the current mayor, Mike Duggan, on Friday and his hopes and dreams for Detroit reminded me of this book. I hope we will be there again soon.

Writer’s Takeaway: When choosing several plot lines, it’s important that they alight. The political landscape of Detroit and far-reaching connections of the auto executives helped most plot lines interact with similar characters and events but the Motown plot seemed forced. It’s a defining sound of Detroit and that era, but the Gordy’s weren’t political and the Jim Crow laws that touched the performers wasn’t touching them in Detroit. I think the book could have been stronger without it but it’s a good note for a writer.

I enjoyed this book and it made me optimistic about what my city can become again. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1960-1979 time period in 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 Post:
Review: Once in a Great City- A Detroit Story | Da Tech Guy Blog

Book Review: Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano (4/5)

4 Apr

I bought this book years ago. My friends and I were on a ‘book crawl’ of Ann Arbor and I was in Literati, telling myself I wasn’t going to buy any more books, but then I saw this one. The cover is gorgeous and the blend of Spanish in the text interested me. I was hooked and bought it. Unfortunately, due to the number of books I buy, it was a while before I picked it up but I wanted to treat myself after a long book to something that looked fun.

Cover image via Goodreads

Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano

Summary from Goodreads:

In Loteria, the spellbinding literary debut by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Latin American game of chance. With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of loteria cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images–mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars–sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

This book was a lot less ‘fun’ than I hoped for, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good. I don’t read summaries before I read books because if I’d read that one, I would have known how sad this book was going to be. Young Luz has had a rough life and her lotería cards are one of the happy memories she has. She likes to use the cards to remind her of her life because they’ve become such an intricate part, a weekly ritual formed when her family was happy and whole. Zambrano reveals the story slowly and I enjoyed learning about Luz’s story a bit at a time. She would flash from a happy memory to a moving one and back, using the cards to tell her tale.

Writing a child is hard and I think Zambrano did it well. There were one or two times when she seemed older than her age and there as a few mentions of how she was very mature, more so than the teenagers sometimes. I thought this was a bit unbelievable, but made writing her easier for Zambrano. I thought the other characters were very believable, especially Tencha.

I think Mama was my favorite character. This sounds terrible because she’s not really a hero in the book. The way Zambrano writes her, you feel bad for her but you also know she’s not doing the right things all the time. I felt bad for her more than anything. I saw her as someone who’s hurt, has no one to turn to, and who loves her children. It’s hard to see, but that’s what stuck out to me. Not knowing a lot about her made her really intriguing.

There weren’t any life experiences I shared with these characters. The thing I related to most was when they described spending time with the Silva’s after mass. When I was studying in Mexico, we would go to Abuela’s house a few times a week just to be with the family and hang out in her courtyard to eat and be with the family. We would cook and eat and sleep there because it’s where the family was and everyone was comfortable there. It was so much fun and I really miss that.

Mario Alberto Zambrano
Image via The Village Voice

I liked finally finding out what happened to Estrella. I’m not saying it was a good thing, but my opinion of Papi was very tainted by things I thought he did and clearing the air of that made the rest of the book easier to enjoy. It sounds like a weird favorite part, I’ll admit.

I didn’t enjoy the end of this story. It didn’t seem to really move anywhere. I think it’s supposed to be hopeful, like Luz and her father might reconnect, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as her giving up on her mother and staying put. The past had been cleared up, we knew how Luz got to where she was, but I didn’t know where she was going.

 

I think family had a very different meaning for Luz than it would for most people. For a time, the Silva’s were like family. Then she couldn’t trust her cousins in Mexico. Her immediate family was loud and yelled and, after a time, began to shrink. She had to find who she would trust and she’s placed that trust in her father. She was tested a lot and had to continue to decide how to justify her love for her father, the only family she has left.

Writer’s Takeaway: In the interview with Zambrano at the end, he talks about how the architecture of books fascinate him and I love the architecture of this story. The short stories made it easy to read many at a time and fly through the story. I liked basing the story on the lotería cards. I wondered if there was an order or if Zambrano put them in an order to drive his story. I really want to play the game now.

I enjoyed this book a lot and it was a fun, quick read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

 

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

Related Posts:
Lotería: A Novel – Mario Alberto Zambrano | Una Vita Vagabonda
Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano | Read More
An Interview with Mario Alberto Zambrano | Read to Write Stories

Book Review: Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (3/5)

28 Mar

This book has been on my TBR forever. I thought I was going to have to buy a copy off of Amazon because my library didn’t have it, but I was able to do an inter-library loan and snagged a copy. With the limited number of renewals for an ILL, I had to rush a bit to finish it over the weekend but I was up for the challenge! I powered through the last 3/4 of the book.

Cover image via Goodreads

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Summary from Goodreads:

Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944.

This book started out rough. I was really struggling to get into it. I didn’t connect or sympathize with the main character until well over 100 pages in so I didn’t want to read it. Once I started to be engaged in his story, the book read really fast. I was glad to reach the end, which was moderately satisfying, but I can’t forget the slow start. The author writes beautiful work, he just needs to jump into the plot a bit faster.

The characters seemed a little unbelievable, but I think they have to in a spy novel about Russia. Khristo was able to do things and know things that most men couldn’t and wouldn’t. His friends were the same way and while they were fun to read about, it’s crazy to think that all of this could happen anywhere in the world.

Khristo was a great character. He was dynamic and he also seemed human because of his vices and emotions. He wasn’t perfect and when he let up, people got hurt. When he hid in France, it tormented him that people were fighting and he wasn’t a part of it. When he let himself fall in love, it’s used against him. I liked that he had flaws and I liked that he suffered for them.

I could relate most to Faye. Besides her being an American living in a foreign country, I related to they way she thought about things and felt about things. She was genuinely scared at what happened, but she put up a brave face, which is how I tend to react. She was sad to be leaving France, even though living there had been pure misery for her. I get nostalgic a lot as well. I related to her desire to help make things better, too. She genuinely cared and I appreciated that.

I liked the story of Bob Eidenbaugh best. I liked that he was genuinely suited to fill the role of Lucien and I thought the way he was snatched up to be a spy seemed really genuine. His story was fast paced and really picked up the story for me. I liked how Khristo tied in as well. I wanted to know a bit more about Bob but the story of their escape from the trap had my heart racing a little more than was safe right before bed. Maybe it’s best that it ended there.

The training at Arbat Street really bored me. I thought this part dragged and I wasn’t sure what I was learning about Khristo while I read it. I wanted some action and this build-up was too much. I would have cut a lot of it out.

 

Khristo had to suffer but it’s not clear what he’s suffering for. Besides being Bulgarian, he doesn’t seem to have any flaws or history that people hold against him. For some reason, his nationality is always brought up, like it’s a bad place to be from, yet when he returns, it seems like one of the most peaceful places he’s lived. Again, for some reason going to America is the end of his suffering. I’m not sure how that works, either, to be honest. I wish Khristo’s motivations had been better explained. He got wrapped up in something and there was no way out for him, but he kept pushing forward and it’s unclear why.

Writer’s Takeaway: The pacing in this novel slowed it down a lot. I think it’s important to start with something big and while the death of his brother was a big moment for Khristo, it didn’t start the action. The action didn’t start until he had already served in Spain. Until then, he was following orders blindly. I wish a large section had been cut and we got to Khristo running sooner.

A fun novel that started out slow. Three out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period for 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:
Pan-European Lives: Night Soldiers by Alan Furst | Maphead’s Book Blog
Review: Alan Furst – Night Soldiers | Crimepieces

Movie Review: Slash

27 Mar

I know, another movie review! Yes, I’m sorry to have to resort to this. I think my reading slump is at an end, but I’m still not having much luck of finishing off books. I hope to not do this again for a while. When I was writing the review for ChickLit, I saw related movies and this one caught my eye. It had a lot of awards on it and after watching the preview, I realized it had Michael Ian Black (loved his memoir) so I decided I had to watch it. Plus, it talked about fanfic writing, which is how I got into writing in the first place.

Image via Imp Awards

Slash

Summary from IMDb

Freshman Neil’s Vanguard stories are all he cares about…until he meets the older Julia, who pushes him to put his own fan fic online. When the website’s moderator takes a special interest in Neil’s work, it opens up a whole new universe.

I found this movie highly relatable. Not so much the slash fanfiction (gay pornographic writing about a pop culture reference), but the nerd culture and growing up a fangirl (fanboy for Neil). Julia was easy to relate to because of her nerd obsession. I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan in middle school and many of you now know I’m a hardcore Harry Potter fan now. Honestly, I had a discussion about going to a con with my husband after we watched this movie. Nerd culture doesn’t get a lot of coverage in movies and I guess it takes a small movie like this one to flesh it out well. I thought it was really well done.

I loved Neil and thought he was spot on for someone going through the self-discovery he was. Julia was a little harder to believe. At sixteen, I found it hard to believe she had the sexual history with a guy out of high school that she had. With how much she wrote, she obviously cared some about her education and that’s demonstrated with her narrative writing class. Yet she’s skipping almost constantly and her friends have jobs during school hours (did this not make come up as an issue any other time?). She seemed 17 or 18, but sixteen seemed a stretch.

Neil was my favorite character. He was so shy but also very curious. He didn’t know what to think about himself or those around him and I felt he reacted in a very realistic way. I hope a bunch of nerdy fanboys saw this movie and thought, “Wow, it’s OK to feel the way I do about my interests and there are others who like the things I do!” Yes, there are. They might write weird slash fic about it, but they like it, too. Now, there are more productive things Neil could have done with his fandom, but at least he could find people to bond with.

I would say my fic writing was about on par with Julia’s. I wrote a lot in middle school and early high school, experimenting with plotting without having to develop characters. Like her, I could take elements of the plot I thought were underutilized or skipped and go into detail, making up some elements as I went and genuinely having fun. I found her desire for acceptance in writing relatable and her desire to be read. How do y’all think I got here today? 🙂

The relationship between Neil and Julia was wonderfully built. We see them find a camaraderie and become friends, see them build a tension, and see how that unfolds (I don’t want to give too much away!). The end of the movie leaves you feeling hopeful for them despite the conflict they go through because we see them go through conflict before. For such a movie, I thought the relationship had a lot of depth.

I didn’t like how Neil’s age became such a point of contention in the movie. It made him feel very limited. Yes, he’s 15 which means he’s a minor. If he was 17, would anything have been different? Making him 15 only served to have a girl older than him still be underage. The number of characters who mention his age is a bit astounding.

Everyone can find someone who’s just as obsessed with something as they are. That’s a wonderful thing about the internet. It brings together people who would never connect otherwise. Sometimes, like Dennis, they say things they would never voice without anonymity, which can be positive and negative. But being able to find these fellow fans can be a huge bonding activity for people. Look at the explosion of cons and cosplay in the past few years. The internet is wholly responsible.

Writer’s Takeaway: No one should put a limit on what you write. For Neil, it was slash fanfiction. For E.L. James, it’s erotica. For me, it’s 1920s YA fiction. When we try to label something as ‘wrong’ or ‘countercultural,’ that’s not going to stop it from existing. Just because I don’t read something doesn’t mean no one else can or will. We need to embrace that almost anything we can think of has been written and someone either enjoyed writing it or enjoyed reading it. I have to remember this about Jane Austen sometimes.

I really enjoyed this movie and any other nerd who thinks it sounds fun should watch it. Adult content is talked about, but the movie is not graphic in nature. 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!

Movie Review: ChickLit

20 Mar

In my desperate struggle to find content for this blog while going through a reading slump, I turned to movies. Yes, I know, I’ve done this before. But I want to go a different way with it this time. I remember recently reading an article about writers’ block and how it’s become such a well-known phenomenon that it’s part of several movies (The Shining, Secret Window, Stranger than Fiction). So I got thinking about other books involving writing and I started perusing Hoopla and found this title, ChickLit. It was flagged as a comedy which on a Saturday night when you’ve been reading your purchasing textbook all day sounds wonderful. It was the perfect little movie that I needed.

Movie Poster via CineMaterial

ChickLit

Summary from IMDb

ChickLit is a comedy drama about four guys trying to save their local pub from closing down. They group write a chick lit, or more specifically a ‘mummy porn’ novel in the style of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and it gets snapped up. The only snag is that the publisher insists that the young woman ‘author’ does press and publicity. The guys have to keep their involvement a secret and so engage an out of work actress to ‘role play’ the part of the author. This leads to her becoming the star in the film of the book, the tables are turned on the guys and she is in control – leaving them with the awful prospect of having to secretly churn out sex novels for the foreseeable future.

This movie did make me laugh, which I really enjoyed. Some of the acting was less than superb but the story was fun and I enjoyed that. It started with classic good intentions that were quickly blown out of proportions. I think this movie was probably a bit more relevant three years before it came out, but it still had relatable themes. There’s always a fad, even in literature, and if you can capitalize on it, you can make a fortune. It might not last, so you have to take advantage of it when you can. I think it could easily have been paranormal romance, but the erotica bubble was equally popular.

The four writers were a good mix to me. They seemed to be a close group of friends and their desire to save the bar was believable. I thought it was a bit of a stretch that they were able to write such a good novel, but I guess that’s also a comment on the quality of writing in erotic novels. I thought Zoe went along with the scheme really easily. Even if she is an out-of-work actress, she had to understand that the plan would tie her personally to the project, something that would stick with her long after the bit was over.

Chris was my favorite character. I often find myself the youngest in a group with a shared interest. That happens when your interests are book clubs, knitting, or (apparently) dominos. He seemed like a really nice guy and I wanted him and Zoe to wind up together. That seems like the subject of a sequel. His motivation was the strongest, I felt, because of his tie to the bar. He was also the most realistic character among the four men, except for maybe Marcus. Justin and David were a bit over the top.

I could relate to the four men. There are some things I’ve written that I’m not totally proud of and that I would prefer not have my name tied to. One of my published stories is from the point of view of a man and I think having a feminine name to it would be odd, though not as weird as the situation in this story. I understand wanting to use a pen name and having to go on a press tour can make something like gender a bit obvious!

I appreciated that though the subject of the book was very risque, the movie was rather clean. There were references to some more taboo subjects, but the visual content of the book was nothing out of the ordinary. I can’t find a rating for it, but I assume it’s no more than PG-13 (or whatever international equivalent that may be).

I thought Zoe coming into a position of power in the book was a bit of a stretch. She never seems to act much like someone who’s manipulating the four men. She seems calm and detached through the process. A lot of what she demands of the guys and ends up deciding to act on comes via David and Jen which makes it even less believable. I would have liked to see her be malicious or for her not to push the guys to write more.

 

There’s a price to fame and the guys were afraid to pay it. It’s opening up about yourself and letting your life be on show. Zoe had to pay that because the guys didn’t want to and she was able to use that to her advantage. There was still a price to her for what she did, I think. She’s going to have the stigma of being an erotic writer attached to her acting career for a long time. I seriously felt she would have considered this more!

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s always a bubble you can chase and try to get famous off of. It’s a matter of writing something you believe in, something you won’t be ashamed to have yourself tied to. If David and used the time and effort to write the novel he believed in, he might be a well-respected writer instead of the rep of his sister-in-law who didn’t write a word. I like to think he’ll finally write his book at some point.

Fun story and premise for a writer. 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!

‘Affinity’ Movie- Still really good and creepy!

16 Mar

Image via MoviePosters2

I read the book Affinity for my book club way back in October of 2013 but my interest in it was recently rekindled when someone commented on my book club reflection for the book. I found out there’s a movie version! And my library owns it! It’s been a while since I read the book, but I wanted to see what the movie had to offer. I don’t remember all of the details of the book but I’ll do my best here to compare the two.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Seeing Peter Quick. I won’t say too much, but I think the final scene with Peter was much easier to follow than the book. I struggled to see the crime scene while reading the book but seeing the film made it a lot clearer how everything was playing out.

The locket. I think I missed the connection with the locket when I was reading the book initially and had to have my book club point it out to me. Being able to see the physical object helped. I’ll add here that seeing other things that were connected was much easier in the film.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Margaret seeing other visitors. It was always clear that Margaret was only seeing other women to appease the matrons so taking that out of the movie was just a way to cut filler. I did think it made Margaret a bit more suspicious, though. She was obviously spending far too much time with Selena and I think more would have been done to stop her.

Less focus on the Spiritual Society. I remember the library playing a bigger part in the book and feeling like the book was a bit off course during those parts. It seemed like a distraction from the action and main plot that wasn’t really developing Selena well. I was fine with the minimized role it played in the movie.

Image from Goodreads

Affinity by Sarah Waters

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

This part is hard to write so long after reading the book. I do remember a big focus on wearing mourning clothes and while Margaret keeps to the black, it’s never brought up or mentioned which I thought strange.

Things That Changed Too Much

Theophilus. I don’t remember him from the book, but maybe that’s time fading the story. I remember the romance between Selena and Margaret, but I don’t remember him. Maybe it was played up a bit in the film? The actor made the part very memorable.

The ending. While the voiceover mirrored the text, you really had to read into the meaning of the words to understand what Margaret was doing (I’m trying so hard not to give too much away for anyone interested!). In the film, it was a little too obvious. I felt like something I had to dig for was just given to viewers.

Having such a long time between the two has really dampened my memory of the book. I remembered the big points, but picking out smaller changes has been hard. Reader, have you see the Affinity movie? What did you think? Was it close to the book?

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!