Writing Check In- April

2 Apr

One of my goals for this year was to write more. My husband had the suggestion of making a monthly feature to talk about my writing and how it’s going. I’ve decided to make this the first Tuesday of the month so you can all look forward to these posts with bated breath and get a little update on where I am.

I had a major breakthrough with a character a few weeks ago. Her motivation was weak and she is (on purpose) quite an annoying character so I needed to give her a great reason to act the way she does and I hadn’t been able to figure it out. It finally came to me in the middle of one of my weekly writing sessions and I immediately started adding it back into the novel. It was almost like starting over each scene she came up and it took a lot of work but I’m almost caught up again to where I was when I had this idea. It feels so good. I ran the idea past my husband and my beta reader and both loved it. I’m so glad!

Once that’s worked in, I’ll continue working through the feedback my friend and beta reader Kristine Kruppa gave me. This will probably take me a few more months since I’m going at it a bit slowly. Once that’s done, I had another beta reader give me some feedback that’s a bit more topical and stylistic than plot. I’ll go over that quickly I expect. I have a book to work through after that, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I read the book that came with a workbook a few years ago and it seems like it’s time to go through the workbook. After that, I’ll send it to two beta readers again and then I think it might be time to query. It also seems too soon, but I know it has to happen at some point!

I have a few other stories started, but no more novel ideas at this point. My second completed manuscript isn’t something I love and I’m not sure I want to go through the extensive editing process with it if I’m not super passionate. Maybe I better start again fresh with another idea. However, that seems too far off to worry about just yet.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Challenge Update, March 2019

1 Apr

I feel like I killed it this month! I’m flying through audiobooks and I’m fairly up to date on reviews. I’ve got my posts scheduled ahead of time and I’m feeling great about meeting my challenges. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in March:

The Wednesday Sisters // Meg Waite Clayton (4/5)
Books for Living // Will Schwalbe (3/5)
Out of the Easy // Ruta Sepetys (5/5)
Origin // Dan Brown (4/5)
This Is A Book // Demetri Martin (3/5)
Thunderstruck // Erik Larson (3/5)
Wonder // R.J. Palacio (4/5)
Dodgers // Bill Beverly (3/5)

KILLING IT! Five of these are audiobooks and I’m going to attribute that to massive amounts of tri training and now I’m feeling doubly productive. I’m working on the reviews that are missing and you should see those in the next week or two as I catch up.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

5/12
One more done! The Wednesday Sisters knocked down another time period for me. I was hoping Out of the Easy would get another, but I already read a book for the 1940-1959 period. Still, forward progress! I’m hoping I can tackle some more without trying before October, which is when I start to read a little more strategically.

Goodreads Challenge

18/52
I just doubled my books for the year in March. That’s how good of a month I had. Killing it! Very happy with this progress. I’m now about six books ahead and feeling a lot more comfortable. I might have to tackle some longer books now that I’m feeling good about it. I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin!

Book of the Month

An easy choice this month, I have to go with Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. The book blew me away and had me wanting to ride my bike trainer so I could listen to more. That’s really saying something.

Added to my TBR

I’m still amazed at how my TBR is coming down. I’m at 76 books now! After being over 100 for so long, this feels really liberating. I even added two this month and I’m still impressed with myself.

  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. This is the only add as a result of Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living. I thought I’d end up adding millions to my list, but this one caught my attention more than any of the others he mentioned. I hope it works for me!
  • The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. The summary of this one caught my attention and I can’t stop thinking about it. Eating disorders are so tragic and unfortunately common. I can’t wait to dive into the heads of these women and follow the help they’re given.

Personal Challenge

I’m gearing up again to track personal goals here. This is a great way to keep me accountable and to tell you about me outside the wide world of books.

  • Finish 70.3 Half Ironman: I keep praying the weather breaks and I can take this training outside. I love the swimming and the running has been fun but I’m still lacking some love for the bike. Maybe once it’s outside more I can appreciate it and look forward to it more. I’m eating more and trying to sleep better. This training is hard but I love the challenge.
  • Attend six weddings: So far, so good! We’ve got two formal invitations now and have RSVPed to both. I’m in one, so that’s a no-brainer. Especially because my brother is the groom!
  • Finish a weather blanket: I finally started! After two re-starts to get the gage right, I’m on track. I always think these things are so ugly for the first month or two until the pattern starts to emerge. So now, I’m only in January and I think it’s hideous. I’ll let you know more when I catch up and get to April.
  • Write: This is my favorite goal so far. I’m making great progress in my book and had a mini break-through (more on that in my Writing Check-In post tomorrow!). I’m glad I pushed myself to do this.
  • See my friends more: I’ll still say this one is OK. Training is keeping me away a bit, but I’m hoping that once the weather breaks, I can work seeing my friends into training and enjoy it even more.

How are your challenges going so far? I hope you’re off to a good start If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for 2019, it’s fun!

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!

Off Topic Thursday: Training

28 Mar

I’ve talked about my 70.3 Race in July so I thought this would be a good chance to talk about the training I’ve been doing to get ready for it.

Cover image via Goodreads

I borrowed a training book from my tri club with week-by-week training plans. This gives me workouts to do six days a week, usually more than one per day. I’m trying really hard to keep to this and have only missed one workout so far! It’s currently week six and I’m in the ‘build’ phase where I ramp up time and intensity and train my body to push harder for longer.

There are ten levels for each distance. I was going to go for level two, but a teammate talked me into trying level six! He said levels 1-4 were not enough and to go for six because if it was too hard, I could drop to five. So far, I’m sticking with six. It will have more than prepared to complete my goal of finishing the race. At this point, completing the training feels like more of a task than the race itself.

During a non-recovery week, I’m doing about ten workouts a week, ranging from 45 minutes to two and a half hours. Most of this is biking, my weakest discipline and where I need the most work. I replace one swim a week with my team swim practice and I’ll probably start swapping out other workouts for team workouts as the weather warms up and those start. I want to follow the plan, but I also want to be social and see my friends!

For cycling, I use an app called Zwift for indoor riding now since the weather makes it too cold to ride outside. Zwift creates an avatar that you control by riding your bike. It uses a heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensors on my bike to estimate my power output which determines how fast my avatar rides. There are different maps available (London is my favorite) and you can use pre-set workouts or join groups of other uses for workouts, training rides, or races. It’s way better than staring at a wall and more motivating than watching a movie. I listen to audiobooks while I ride and I’m getting through them very fast with all the time I spend in the saddle!

To run, I prefer to go outside, but Michigan weather doesn’t always participate. I’ll also use the treadmill at my gym and I often take an iPad with me and watch Netflix. Comedy specials are a favorite but it can be hard to laugh and sprint! I try to run with my husband or a friend whenever possible. It pushes me harder and it makes it much more enjoyable.

I usually swim at my gym though I’m looking forward to swimming in some lakes once the temperature warms up. I still saw ice this morning so that feels ages away. Maybe by May?

So don’t mind me being absent from my friends and spending every spare second planning out workouts and meal prepping. July seems ages away, but I know it’s right around the corner. My plan is going to be halted a few times by weddings and other obligations so I’ve built some slack time into the calendar to let me enjoy life and to keep me pushing hard.

Until next time, run (bike & swim) 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!

WWW Wednesday, 27-March-2019

27 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: It’s been slow going with Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min because of a crazy work schedule. I hope to read a bit more of it during my lunch breaks this week, but I’m not planning on it. I work through ebooks slowly and this seems destined to that fate.
I’m making decent progress with Midwives by Chris Bohjalian before I go to bed at night. Though I suspect this book is increasing my anxiety because it seems impossible that someone is put on trial for doing their job and questioned so much!
I needed a new e-audiobook faster than expected and I picked up Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. There were some issues borrowing from the library so it took a bit longer than I hoped before I could start this one, but all is good and I’m going strong! Maybe I’ll finish this one as fast as I’ve finished my last few audiobooks.
I started a new audiobook in my car while I wait on my library hold. This is my next book club selection, News of the World by Paulette Jiles. It’s a nice short one so I’m optimistic that I’ll wrap it up quickly!

Recently finished: I wrapped up Wonder by R.J. Palacio on Saturday and adored the ending! I have some minor quibbles about the style, but the story and premise were wonderful. I’ll be reviewing this in the next couple weeks (because I’m so backlogged on reviews!) and I’m giving it Four out of Five Stars.
I absolutely flew through Dodgers by Bill Beverly. The story grabbed me and made me think about race relations more than I thought it would. East was a great voice to tell this story. This should be a great discussion point for my book club when we meet in April.

Two book reviews to share as well! The first is Origin by Dan Brown. This was a fun read for me and I’m glad I’m caught up on Robert Langdon’s adventures. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the professor and I’ll be ready for the next one when it comes. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed This Is a Book by Demetri Martin. This was a little harder to review just because there wasn’t much of a plot to this collection of comedic stories. I liked it, though, and it had my husband giving me weird looks as I laughed out loud in bed. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I’m still waiting for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli to come in at the library. I’m hoping it’s soon but not too soon so I can finish my other audiobook first.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

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!

Book Review: This is a Book by Demetri Martin (3/5)

26 Mar

I’m a big fan of Martin’s stand up comedy. I saw him live back in high school. I own one of his books and I’ve wanted to read this one for a long time, too. I’m glad I finally did and it was a nice, quick read.

Cover image via Goodreads

This is a Book by Demetri Martin

Summary from Goodreads:

Demetri’s first literary foray features longer-form essays and conceptual pieces (such as Protagonists’ Hospital, a melodrama about the clinic doctors who treat only the flesh wounds and minor head scratches of Hollywood action heroes), as well as his trademark charts, doodles, drawings, one-liners, and lists (i.e., the world views of optimists, pessimists and contortionists), Martin’s material is varied, but his unique voice and brilliant mind will keep readers in stitches from beginning to end.

This book is about what I expected. There were some parts I thought were funnier than others. A few made my husband come in from the other room to check on me, a few made me smile. Some were grounded in a comedy I could appreciate, a few were a bit too much for me. Some were puns, others situational comedy. It was a real mixed bag with something I think everyone could find funny.

Demetri Martin
Image via the Royal Oak Music Theater

I liked the drawings best. That was always my favorite part of Martin’s comedy specials and the entirety of his other book and I was glad to be able to enjoy them in this installment as well. He does great in a visual medium.

Some of the long-form work was a bit much for me. I liked Protagonists’ Hospital, but Sheila didn’t do it for me. The situations he describes are a bit much and pieces like Socrates’s Publicist just ran too long. There were one-liners in it, but they weren’t the focus and that made it fall flat for me.

Writer’s Takeaway: Martin’s comedy shines here, but it needed to be a bit better refined. I believe his second book, which I read first, was a better expression of his comedy. I haven’t watched his TV show but all the references to it on the back blurbs makes me think I should. Maybe I would appreciate some of these jokes more. I think Martin did a great job in his first book, but it did feel like a Freshman effort. I’ll have to be equally easy on myself when (not if!) I publish my first book.

This book was fun and quick, just what I expected of it. 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:
“This Is A Book” by Demetri Martin review | Demetri Martin News
I Give Up Book Review: “This Is A Book” by Demetri Martin (2011) | Elliot’s Blog
This Is A Book by Demetri Martin | Allison’s Weblog
Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #144: This is a Book by Demetri Martin | Cannonball Read 5
Erin Sullivan’s #CBR5 #1: This Is A Book by Demetri Martin | Cannonball Read 5

Book Review: Origin by Dan Brown (4/5)

25 Mar

I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books so it seemed a shame to stop. Especially with the amazing (if a bit unreal) Robert Langdon coming back to star in another adventure. At least he didn’t leave this one with another female heroine on his arm. Maybe he’s losing his touch.

Cover image via Goodreads

Origin (Robert Langdon #5) by Dan Brown

Summary from Goodreads:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

This book was exactly what I was looking for: fun without being too deep. I read ebooks slowly and a plot that’s too deep or involved can be hard for me to keep track of. I loved the racing plot, short chapters, and seemingly clear bad-guys. I loved the setting, too. And yes, I’m very biased. I’ve been to Spain twice and love the country. Most recently, my husband and I were in Barcelona and enjoyed the Gaudí architecture of the city including its gem, La Sagrada Familia. My mom said I should have read this book before visiting, but reading it after brought back the awe I felt when seeing it and I think this order may have been best.

I never read a Brown book for the characters. Langdon seems to be an idealized version of Brown, a middle-aged man who isn’t slowed down by age and seems to look better as he gets older. Not everyone is George Clooney. Vidal seems too perfect, too. Her one flaw is something beyond her control and doesn’t affect her actions in this story. Prince Julian and Bishop Valdespino are the most flawed characters in this book and they still come away on top. Not a lot of people suffered during the story except the ‘bad guys.’

Father Beña was an amazing character and it’s a testament to him that a small side character stuck out so much. His grasp of religion, the church, and its place in our world was very modern and promoted a moderation that I feel many Catholics would be on board with. I also have to mention Winston as a favorite character though I’m not sure a computer technically counts as a character.

There was no particular character I really related and I find that’s par for the course in an action story. There’s not a lot of emotional attachment to characters in a fast-paced plot like this, it’s more about the story. I still enjoyed the plot without having a character I could see myself in.

Dan Brown Image via the author’s website

The time in La Sagrada Familia was my favorite because of the powerful images it evoked for me. The way light streams into the large space and the feeling of being small yet a part of something big that the church delivers is amazing and Brown portrayed it well. It was clear he’d been in that space to research this book.

I felt like Monica Martín’s character deserved a bit more closure than she got. For a while, she was central to the plot and all of the confusion that occupied the middle of the book. When she simply disappeared toward the end without explaining much about how she was changing the story of the palace, I was frustrated. I guess I wished she was on Avila’s side or something.

Science and religion have been at odds for thousands of years. I doubt very much that one person could change that, even with the findings that Edmund presented. There will be debates and infighting and wars as there always have been and as there will likely continue to be. I don’t think the religious can all fight that science and belief starkly contradict at times. Some people can’t change what they see as true.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book is a great example of pacing. With an adventure book, you have to be going from page one and Brown did an amazing job of that. The varied chapter lengths helped this as well. Some were short, just a quick press release, while others took up as many pages as they needed to in order to get their point across. I’d love to be able to use the pacing of an adventure writer in anything I do.

Overall, the book was fun and exciting but not very deep, though that was to be expected. 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:
ORIGINal Sin: Dan Brown’s Origin | 52 Books 52
Origin by Dan Brown | Book Nation by Jen
Dan Brown Visual Companion
Book Review: “ORIGIN” by Dan Brown | Written by James Allder
Book Review- Origin by Dan Brown | Reading Between the Pages

Book Club Reflection: Hunger by Roxane Gay

21 Mar

My book club met to discuss Roxane Gay’s Hunger last week. It was a very emotional book and it made very a very emotional discussion!

I wasn’t the only person who listened to the audiobook. There were a range of opinions about the narration. Gay spoke slowly and some readers listened at a faster speed. She read it in a very monotone voice and some felt it didn’t give the subject matter the right amount of gravitas that a professional reader may have given it.

Many felt the book itself was a bit long and repetitive. By the end, some described it as whiny. Interestingly, there were not many professional reviews that had anything negative to say about the book. I guess it’s hard to criticize someone’s raw pain. No matter how many times she repeated it, though, someone who’s never been her size will never understand what it’s like for her. I can’t get it, even after reading this book. The subject matter was very personal and it felt like the reader was almost too involved in her life to the point of being obtrusive.

Roxane has the conflicting desires to be larger and unattractive to men but to receive the rewards that she sees as coming with weight loss and being small. She’s scared to be small because she thinks that if she is, she could be raped again. This contradiction carries through the book.

One thing that stood out to us was her not being able to tell her family about the rape until years later. We think they would have been more than understanding and helped her get the justice and guidance she needed. For a family that was so accepting of her bisexuality, surely they could accept something that she suffered so terribly.

Reading this book opened many of our eyes to how someone who is overweight feels about being looked at. Our society is very critical of someone who overindulges in food rather than something less visible such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. It’s because it’s something we can so readily see. Saying someone is obese is an accusation of something that is wrong with a person. It’s something medical personnel want to treat and which they get paid to correct. Gay’s problem was compounded by her gender. We all felt it was easier for a man to be overweight than a woman. They’re less likely to be stared at in the same manner.

We wondered if writing this book helped her cope with anything. We felt she firmly cemented that she is always going to be big and that she’s OK with it. We speculated that if Gay did lose the weight, people would comment on it and those comments would likely upset her because she wouldn’t lose weight to gain anyone’s approval. If she ever did it, it would be for herself.

I’ve only just started our next book, Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m hoping that one won’t be so emotional, we need a break!

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!

WWW Wednesday, 20-March-2019

20 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ve been really enjoying Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The way the plot is told is really engaging and I like how each character reveals a bit more about the plot. It’s making me want to drive around just to listen more.
I began a new ebook and decided on Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min. This was one that was recommended by my page-a-day book calendar in 2013. I’m still working that calendar off. Maybe once every ten years will be good for another one.
My book club’s next pick is Dodgers by Bill Beverly and I’ve grabbed it on audio. I don’t know anything about it, really, I’m just going in blind like I normally do. I’m so early into this one that I’m not ready to form an opinion yet. More to come.
I’m making a great effort to tear down my TBR mountain and I’ve started another one from the list, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. I’ve been reading Bohjalian for a few years now and my copy of this one is actually autographed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed but I’ve got a feeling this break-out hit will be a win with me.

Recently finished: I finally finished Origin by Dan Brown while I was waiting for my computer to update on Friday. I didn’t realize how close I was to finishing it. I’m glad to be caught up on the series and I’m excited to see what else comes next from Langdon. I’m sure there’s more to tell. I gave the book Four out of Five stars. A review will be up next week.
I was able to finish This Is a Book by Demetri Martin quickly. It was a fun book of essays, drawings, and lists. Not much substance to it but fun all the same. I gave it Three out of Five stars.
I think I’ll have finished Thunderstruck by Erik Larson by next week. I’m getting through it pretty quick with my long bike rides. It’s not my favorite thing to listen to while riding because it’s so technical, but I can tell the plots are about to intersect and I’m excited to see how.

And so many reviews as well! I was first able to review Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. This one was really touching and a great book for book lovers. The post went up last Thursday, please go check it out.
I also reviewed The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. This was a surprise winner for me and I’m so glad I finally gave it time. I wish I’d gotten to it earlier. Four out of Five Stars.
I also wrote a review yesterday for Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. Yes, that is a review every day since my last WWW Wednesday! I’ve had so many good books to review. This book blew me away and I think I may soon have a new favorite YA author. I gave the book Five out of Five stars, changing my rating when I started reviewing it and realized I had nothing bad to say about it.

Reading Next: I’ll need a new car audiobook soon and the next up is one I’m very excited about, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while and I’m getting giddy about starting it soon.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

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!

Book Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (5/5)

19 Mar

This book was wonderful. It took me on an adventure to somewhere I’d never dreamed of and I loved every second of it. I was rooting for Jo the whole time and I loved all the side characters in her story that were along for the ride. I initially gave this a 4/5 rating but when I started writing this review, I couldn’t think of a single thing I disliked about it. So get ready for some high praise.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

I wasn’t fully prepared for the well-orchestrated adventure I was going to be on when I started this book. I wish I’d read it closer to my trip to New Orleans, but that’s two years behind me now. When I think of the 1950s, I’m too often overwhelmed with images of poodle skirts and flashy cars (thank you Grease) but this was a very different picture. Jesse was a bit of the greaser, but the New Orleans setting took over the story and dominated the pages. Jo was a good choice of narrator to see the underbelly of the city while staying above the really terrible parts, but the city itself overpowered her and is the most memorable thing in this book.

While I’d like to believe there’s no one as terrible as Louise, sweet as Jesse, or pitiable as Charlie, I know that’s not true and all of these characters were wonderfully crafted. I developed feelings for all of them and cared deeply about their outcomes. Even the unlikable characters were believable and I could understand their motivations. I think characterization, plot, and setting all tied together wonderfully in this book.

Patrick was my favorite character. Until his big secret is revealed (no spoilers!) I was pulling for him and Jo to be together. I thought he was really sweet and loved how he looked out for his father. I liked how he was responsible for his business and his father and that he asked for help when he needed it. And I adored how much he cared about Jo.

I wanted to get out of my hometown when I was Jo’s age. Not for the same reasons, but I wanted to go somewhere and start over. I’d been in the same school since I was in Kindergarten and I wanted to go to college with people I didn’t know and start fresh. I related to her desire to get out but her reluctance to leave the people she loved behind. It was liberating, yet lonely, to leave home and I think Jo senses the same thing coming her way.

Ruta Sepetys
Image via the Between Shades of Gray website

The setting was just so good that I’m going to talk about it again. I was in New Orleans for a conference two years ago and was able to spend some time alone walking around the French Quarter. It still has the vibe that Sepetys describes. I can only imagine it 60 years ago with fewer tourists and different laws. It took me back to wandering around in the heat of summer looking at bookshops and I loved it.

Spoilers here so skip down to avoid them! The only part of the book I disliked was Willie’s death. It seemed to come too fast. I think it was built to very subtly, but it was too subtle. If Willie was ill, it should have been more obvious. It seemed too convenient and wrapped up the plot too quickly. I guess I didn’t buy it being grown into the plot.

The audiobook I listened to was read by Lauren Fortgang. She did an amazing job with this book. The characters’ accents seemed to jive with where they were from and her intonations for the different genders, ages, and lifestyles was perfect. I actually searched for other titles read by Fortgang and I’m thinking of listening to them just to enjoy her again.

Jo didn’t have a traditional family. The one blood relative she did have didn’t support her in any way and hurt her at every opportunity to further her own agenda. Willie was more like a mother, Cokie and Charlie fathers, and Patrick a brother. These people took care of each other. They were a community of people who looked out for one another and I loved that. I think it’s something we’re missing today in a lot of the country and I’d love to see this kind of community come back.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m going to talk about the setting again. It’s very obvious that Sepetys did a lot of research into New Orleans in the 1950s. As a historical fiction writer, I know that can be hard and I think she’s done an amazing job. She brought it to life and the city was almost a character that could help or hurt a person and I think that’s amazing.

This book blew me away. 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: 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!

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