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Book Club Reflection: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

19 Jun

I finished reading Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman right before the book club meeting, something I normally don’t do! I’m usually really good about having a book read well in advance, but I pushed it this time. I’m not sure if I think it helped me be more prepared for the meeting or if it didn’t give me time to reflect on the book properly. We’ll see how I feel about doing it at the end of the month, too!

Harkaway’s father is John le Carré, an author I didn’t recognize by name but whose titles include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. Le Carré worked for MI6 before becoming a writer and it’s hard to imagine this didn’t influence Harkaway’s writing.

Thought I was one of few who disliked the book outright, many agreed that the first half dragged quite a bit. I’m glad other noticed this, too! There was a lot of setup for the book and some action earlier on would have been appreciated.

Those who did like the book liked that it was unpredictable. The next step in the plot wasn’t usually easy to find and a few things made for quick changes in direction. Shola, Jack, and the Fleet come to mind. There was also a lot of layers of meaning and commentary in the book. The environment was one that stuck out most to me and others point out war, father-son relationships, and a sense of duty. Many also liked the understated humor of the book. I guess I didn’t find this enough to make up for what I felt was an overwhelming amount of detail.

Of the major characters in the book, most were foreigners on the island. The Wwitch, Lester, NatProMan, the Fleet, and most others were visiting the island, getting something from their time there. Shola, the Boy, and White Raoul are the biggest exceptions. There was a lot of outside influence on Mancreau.

The rest of this will discuss some spoilers so end here if you want to skip them! We wondered by White Raoul didn’t act like more of a parent to the Boy. He seemed to know he was not being cared for at home. We wondered if his physical deformity kept him from being a caretaker. White Raoul seemed to know the Boy was Jack and was likely Jack himself before, maybe passing it on. Maybe the Boy’s mother was Jack before her accident?

The Boy was very smart. He manipulated Lester into becoming the Tigerman. The Boy was influenced by comic books and in the end, he influenced Lester to become a character in one. Lester often reflected on all the bad things he’d seen while serving in Afghanistan and how powerless he had been to stop those things. Becoming Tigerman gave him a way to influence the bad things around him and finally help create a better world.

The Boy’s mother was an odd twist. We saw her accident and subsequent mental illness somewhat like Uncle Ben in Spiderman. Losing his mother made the Boy become Jack the same way Uncle Ben’s death helps Peter Parker become Spiderman. It was just another tie-in to the comic book world. This book had a few of these we felt were well placed and gave it a comic book feel.

We’re taking a month off before this group meets again in August. Maybe I’ll have time to finish some other reads?! We’ll see.

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 Club Reflection: Stiff by Mary Roach

6 Jun

I read this book about six months ago but my second book club decided to read it and I thought I’d go without a refresher. It was my first meeting back after school ended so I was just glad for an easy transition. Much of the conversation was like my other book club’s discussion but I thought I’d share some of our thoughts with you all here.

Again, the main question we pondered was if the book was offensive. Some people found the humor to be too much. But we reasoned that the humor is how people can deal with working so close to death. The same way I can be light about a person not getting a job (I’m in recruiting), people have to make light of a heavy situation to deal with sad facts.

We discussed donating our bodies to science. Many in our group had living wills or insurance policies covering what would happen to them after they pass. We talked about how it’s the family, commonly the children of the deceased who have to live with the body donation. Could a child deal with what’s happening to their parent’s body? After reading the book, many of us were turned off to embalming or cremation so donating seemed like a better option. Many liked the idea of being composted into a tree.

We’ve all been to funerals and one thing the book cleared up for us is why sometimes the person doesn’t look the way you remember. If there was an illness especially, modern mortuary science can make the person look more like his or her healthy self than like they did before death.

Roach was very fearless in her pursuit of this book. We were impressed with how much information she was able to gather considering when the book was written. One of our members did question her facts, especially about automotive crash safety. She mentioned on page 92 that you can survive a 60mph crash into a wall. He didn’t believe this was a repeatable statistic from a crash lab, it seemed too unbelievable. It might have happened once, but cars are not designed for that.

This is a really fun book to discuss with a group and I’m glad I had a second go at it. We’re reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance next. I haven’t started yet but I’m looking forward to it!.

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!

Meeting Author David Maraniss

30 May

My community chose David Maraniss’s book Once in a Great City for our Everyone’s Reading book this year. I’ve already posted my book review and my book club reflection on the book and last week, I heard the author himself speak.

Maraniss was born in Detroit but spent much of his childhood in Wisconsin. He spoke about watching the Superbowl in 2011 and when this ad came on, he felt a pull to the city.

I really connected with this. I was living in Southern Indiana in 2011 and was watching the Superbowl with a bunch of other friends from the business school. As nerdy business students, we were more focused on the half-time commercials than on the game. It went completely silent in the room while that 2-minute ad went on and then when it was over, the whole room looked at me like I was the ambassador for the whole city. I just said, “Heck yes!” and grabbed more guac. It seems I wasn’t the only one with an experience like this, but Maraniss wrote a book because of it.

Once in a Great City is Maraniss’s 12th book. He uses the same research system for each book which he likens to digging an oil rig and getting as deep as he can to get all the information. The first step is to go to the place. When writing about Bill Clinton, he went to Hope, Arkansas. When writing about Vince Lombardi, he went to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Doing so has given him access to first-hand accounts and stories he wouldn’t have found otherwise. The second step is always to get the documents. For this book, it was letters from Mayor Cavanagh and Police Commissioner Edwards that were at the Wayne State University Reuther Library. He visited 11-12 other libraries and archives including an Olympic archive in Los Angeles and Duke University’s advertising archive for the documents about the Mustang. He found during his research that the Mustang tagline was originally Imported from Detroit. Well, at least it was finally used.

Maraniss’s third step is to talk to people. Being in the target area helps with this. Many of the major figures for the Detroit novel had passed but he was able to talk to a few including Berry Gordie Jr. and Martha Reeve. His final step is to look for what’s not there. For Maraniss, he saw the influence of the rest of the Gordie family, not just Berry. He saw the access to musical instruments, specifically pianos as a reason for the musical movement in the city at that time. He also saw the influence of public school music teachers and how that pushed many musicians to follow a musical career.

Maraniss expressed that the bittersweet tone of his book wasn’t intentional but grew as he wrote and edited the novel. He feels Detroit is still a great city but that the neighborhoods and schools need support to match earlier splendor. Due to length, there were other topics Maraniss chose to not cover including architects and other auto companies.  This book has been optioned into a 4-part documentary series on CNN with Anthony Bourdain that will likely release in early 2018. The makers are currently looking for home movies of that era to add to the series.

In answering questions from the audience, Maraniss revealed that on a recent trip, he went to see his childhood home and it had been knocked down the day before! He’d seen it other times on trips to the city for research but was really struck by the timing. He revealed that his next book will deal with the McCarthy era. Maraniss also said that there’s not really a set time it takes him to write a book and that the process is ongoing for him. He did say he often signs 2-book contracts and that it’s usually 8-12 months between book delivery to his editor and publication.

I decided not to buy a copy of this book because as much as I liked it, it’s not one I’ll read again and I’m trying to limit the books I own, even the signed ones, to ones I would want to lend out or read again. No pictures this time.

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!

PotterCon Detroit!

29 May

My amazing husband got me a great birthday present. I went to PotterCon! I didn’t even know about this event when I first opened the present but I got really excited all of April leading up to it.

In addition to my husband and I, another couple was coming with us. Here are our costumes. Can you guess who we are? The thing in my left hand is a book on a stick, that’s not part of the costume.

After waiting forever in line (very confusing which line to go in), we got inside the Masonic. This was the perfect location to have this event because it felt like Hogwarts. We were going up and down stairs, along passages and never really able to find our way from one room to another. If you look at the picture on the web link I included, it shows the room where they held Quidditch demonstrations and trivia. It was beautiful.

The first thing we did was get drinks! The event is 21+ so drinks were happening. I had a Butterbeer (picture below) which was scrumptious. Then we went to get sorted. Or we thought we’d get sorted. You put your name in a lottery and they drew names of people to sort. It was fun; they asked questions and the person answered and then the crowd shouted what house they thought the person should be in. None of my friends were picked, unfortunately.

We explored the castle, looking at wand making, the Diagon Alley stores, and Quidditch-pong. One of the things I really wanted to do was trivia! We ran into two more friends who joined our massive team. We decided to do intermediate trivia because a few of us are pretty knowledgeable. I think there was some kind of huge mistake. Husband and I caught the end of the novice trivia questions and some of them were WAY harder than the ones we got. We only got one question wrong and missed one bonus point. There was a grand suspicion that the questions had been mixed up. Needless to say, there was a massive tie for first and we were part of it! I was selected to represent my team and we went to the stage and were given a category. The category was Hogwarts Professors and we went down the line, each naming one until we couldn’t and were eliminated. I made it through two rounds, which only about eight people did. Not too bad!

After that, we went and got lunch, which was probably the least organized thing of the whole day. There were only 3 food trucks for 9,000 people! It took about an hour for us to eat burritos. After that, we were pretty tired and decided to go watch the costume contest finals before heading home. The finalists were amazing! I was so impressed with their costumes. My favorite was a woman dressed as Madame Pomfrey who had a freaking hoop skirt on! The woman who won was the Fat Lady, complete with frame and broken wine glass. It was really epic and well deserved.

It was a long, exhausting, amazing day. I hope there’s another event like this because it was well worth the ticket price. And I now have a cosplay costume! (Assuming at least two other people come with me.)

To my American readers, enjoy the Memorial Day holiday. I’m relaxing at the lake house.

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!

Library Writers Group: The Power of Words

25 May

It’s always good to meet with my library writers group! Our member Gary presented this month on the power of words. We went through different ways to use words, how to avoid the bad ones and how to use the good ones more effectively. I hope this makes more sense as I get into it.

Language can be concise, precise, or both. The sentence, “Jane said with fear in her voice” could be more concise as “Jane said” and more precise as “Jane squeaked out while trembling in fear.” The perfect compromise is when these two are combined so our writing is both precise and concise. “Jane said, trembling in fear.” You can be more precise by replacing adjectives with strong ones. Purple vs. lilac, hungry vs. ravenous, short vs. petite. There are hundreds of examples.

Idioms are phrases where the literal meaning of the phrase makes no sense or is in no way related to the meaning of the phrase. Doing something “at the drop of hat” or saying someone is “barking up the wrong tree” make no sense if taken literally. While listing these, we wondered if there were any ‘new’ idioms. I could find a few: drop the mic and crash (fall asleep).

As writers, we want to avoid purple prose, which is prose so flowery and over the top that it draws attention to itself. I’d never heard this before, but smaller uses of purple prose are called purple patches. This makes me think of wildflowers, but it’s really not that pretty.

We talked for a while about similes and metaphors. One of my favorite exercises was a list of similes we were provided with a key word missing. We were asked to fill in the blank with the ‘right’ word and then make up our own! Here’s the list if you want to try. I’ve replaced the missing word with an X. The ‘correct’ answers and my answers are below.

1.       You were as brave as a X

2.       The fought like X and X.

3.       This house is as clean as a X.

4.       He is as strong as a(n) X.

5.       Your explanation is as clear as X.

6.       Well, that went over like a X.

7.       They are as different as X and X.

8.       As cold as X.

9.       As innocent as X.

10.   As white as X.

11.   As sweet as X.

12.   As sure as X and X.

13.   As black as X.

Answers: 1) lion/Marvel action hero 2)cats and dogs / Hatfields and McCoys 3)whistle/a if you had a Rumba 4)ox/Norse god 5) crystal/a lake on a calm day 6) lead balloon/bad movie sequel 7) night and day/Harry and Voldemort 8) ice/[I couldn’t think of anything witty] 9) a lamb/Baby Groot 10)snow OR a ghost/[I got nothing] 11)sugar/McDonalds Sweet Tea 12)death and taxes/[nothing] 13)night/a Sith Lord

Mine might take a while to catch on. I was feeling the nerdiness when I was doing this, but it was a lot of fun! Let me know if you come up with any good ones.

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!

1,000 Followers! Thank you, and you, and you, and you, and…

23 May

Well, you can likely guess the subject of this post from the title. I was at PotterCon this weekend (post to follow) and got a phone notification that I’d reached 1,000 followers! Thank you all so much!

It’s been a wonderful journey blogging with you all. I’m sorry I’m not able to engage as much as I once was due to work and school becoming much more demanding of my time. I do my best to engage with anyone who comments here on the blog and I do love hearing from you all.

Hosting WWW Wednesday has been a huge part of my growth here and I thank all of you who have started reading my posts after finding me through this meme. It’s been a pleasure hosting.

Please continue to share my posts if you think they’re worth sharing. Please continue to participate in WWW Wednesday if you enjoy seeing what others are reading. Please enjoy books and stories as much as you can.

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!

My First ComicCon: Clinton-Macomb Public Library

15 May

I almost forgot to write this post! A few weeks ago, I went to my first ComicCon. It was a ‘baby con’ as my friend and organizer said. It was put on at a library about an hour away from me and it was their first annual event. I wanted to go over some highlights of my experience.

My favorite event was the wine tasting. They themed it after Cerci from Game of Thrones but in reality it was a normal wine tasting without much GoT references. I think I liked this one because there were crackers and wine. It was still fun.

I sat in on a panel about CosPlay which was really interesting. I’m going to PotterCon next week and it got me thinking about how I want to dress for it and I have some really good ideas (pictures to come!). CosPlay was something I felt really nervous about because I’m not very creative and worried that whatever I wore wouldn’t be ‘good enough.’ Hearing the panelists talk about their first costumes and how they honed their skills over time was reassuring. I feel like I can mess up now and it will still be OK. I have to start somewhere!

We did some pop culture trivia that I wasn’t too great at. We missed the Harry Potter trivia unfortunately. I’m not sure how I would have matched up in that one.

There was this throne. Which was awesome. Who does it better, my husband or me? It’s probably him.

One thing I didn’t explore much (and I feel bad about this) was the local author tables. I got there in the middle of their set-up and took a quick walk through but didn’t stop at any table. A big part of this is that most of their books were high fantasy and that’s not a genre I tend to enjoy. Another part is that I’m not good about reading self-published authors. If you follow my blog, you know I read mostly books by major publishing houses. I’m always nervous about books that aren’t through a big publisher and I’m one to look at a lot of reviews and ratings before I decide to read a book. I also have a backlog of books to read that’s keeping me from picking up new ones. Am I a terrible person?

The organizers set up a game where you had to find symbols from major fandoms around the library that each corresponded to a letter and then unscramble the letters to make a sentence. We did it but must not have won because we never got a call or a prize. I wondered if this is something done at normal ComicCons because it was really fun and forced us to explore the entire event space.

Overall, it was a really fun event and very well attended. I hope they do it again next year and I might have to consider dressing up.

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!

Midwest Literary Walk 2017: Part 2

11 May

Welcome to part 2 of my recap of the Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan. This is my second time attending and it was, again, a great experience.

The second stop on the walk was a non-fiction author, Heather Ann Thompson, who won the Pulitzer Prize in History for her book, Blood in the Water. Thompson was interested in the high rates of incarceration in the US versus other countries and wanted to know why. She traced this back to a single incident, the Attica Prison uprising in New York. The story of Attica that was released to the public at the time painted the prisoners in a very dark light, blaming them for the deaths of guards and soldiers brought in to settle the uprising. The truth that Thompson was able to uncover was that the state shut down access to the prison, brought soldiers into violently take the prison with no intention of settling for the prisoner’s demands, and changed the story to encourage a punitive system in America. Thompson took thirteen years to write her book because she had so much trouble getting records that were not redacted too far to read or were not released to the public. She’s fighting for safe conditions for those incarcerated and transparency of what goes on a public (state and national) jails. Thompson thinks there was direction from a national level but wasn’t able to find any proof or ‘smoking gun’ as she said she was looking for. There are some fingers to point at the state level for sure.

Airea D. Matthews and moderator

The final stop was for poet Airea D. Matthews. She’s local to Detroit and has been active in the spoken word poetry scene for a long time before moving to written poetry. She said she started writing when she was a stay-at-home mom. She felt people judged her for not having a traditional job. She likes to write about a person’s hidden identity, one that is not immediately visible such as what we inherit from our parents. She was talking specifically about disease and inclinations toward additions and abuse. She feels that sharing her struggles helps her create a kinship with her readers. I noticed during her speech that she is very open and spoke about her struggles with mental illness very plainly. She said multiple times that she has become comfortable being uncomfortable.

This was a really great event and I’m so thankful that I live within driving distance of it. I look forward to going for years to come.

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!

Midwest Literary Walk 2017: Part 1

9 May

Palacio, Ho Davis, and moderator.

I’m very fortunate to live reasonably close to Chelsea, Michigan, home of the Midwest Literary Walk. I’ve decided to split the day into two posts because there’s way too much to share for one!

My friend Amy and I met up again for this event. It was a bit overcast, but a nice day compared to the weather we’ve been having in Southeast Michigan. The first event was Peter Ho Davis and Derek Palacio. I thought these two made for an odd pairing, but their books shared very similar themes. Both men wrote books about immigrants and each shares a heritage with the group they wrote about. The men saw it as a way to explore their heritage.

Ho Davis wrote in The Fortunes about Chinese immigration to the US. He went to China to do research for the book and had the odd feeling of not being Chinese. In the US and UK, people see him as Chinese instead of Welsh (where his other parent comes from). In China, he wasn’t seen as Chinese and it fostered a feeling of rejection. Ho Davis and Palacio both expressed anxieties about having the right to write about their cultures. Both had a generation’s remove from the people and places they were writing about and feared that they would not represent the place well.

Ho Davis’s book is split into several parts. He drew from historical figures for some of his characters, especially in the first part. He was able to incorporate some historical events as well. He pointed out to us that during the Gold Rush, much of the Chinese immigration was male, men coming to work. A lot of recent Chinese immigration has been through international adoption which has been highly female. I’d never thought about gender waves of immigration before. Speaking of being a writer, Ho Davis said that his parents stopped telling him as many stories as they had in his youth. Also, they’ve begun correcting some of the ones they used to tell. Oh, the power of the pen.

Derek Palacio didn’t go to Cuba until after The Mortifications was finished. He’d questioned if he could be Cuban if he’d never been to Cuba. The two discussed a feeling common to immigrants or the children of immigrants of being caught between two identities, one from the homeland and another from the new home. They both wanted to write about how impossible it is to leave your homeland behind. It comes with you and you have to adjust to where you end up.

Palacio’s characters did not live in Miami as one would expect with Cuban immigrants. Palacio didn’t grow up in Florida himself and put them in the Northeast to make them more relatable to himself. I was really intrigued by Palacio’s story especially considering my education in Spanish language, culture, and literature. I was surprised to read in his bio that his wife is Claire Vaye Watkins, the author whose book I got at the 2016 event. I asked Palacio for some advice on writing and told him I wanted to be a novelist. His advice was not to save something ‘good’ for the end of the book. He said to throw it in and see what happens. Maybe what comes from that event will be what’s really of interest.

I’ll be back Thursday with Part 2 of this event. 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!

Day Off

20 Apr

I’m taking the day off today. I’m looking at a 50+ hour week at work and my final is Monday. Yikes! I’ll be back on Monday with a post, though. Have a great weekend.

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!