Tag Archives: Before You Know Kindness

Book Club Reflection Part II: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

27 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re all getting ready for a big turkey dinner with your families. What a better way to celebrate than the dysfunctional McCullough family.

In an effort for the library to save money, I’ve been able to read Before You Know Kindness with both of my book clubs now. You can read my book review and my earlier Book Club Reflections in these links. And now on to a new discussion!

This discussion was in my ‘edgy’ book club and we debated first if it fit our theme. We thought it was a unique topic to write about. We don’t get a lot of books about vegetarianism and activism in that area, but it’s a far cry from the definitive edgy-ness of China Mieville. In the end we decided it qualified, but was low on the spectrum of Joshua Ferris to Ray Bradbury.

The narration skipped between the heads of many of the main characters. We talked about if this technique helped us know the characters or hindered our enjoyment of it. On a personal note, I enjoyed it. Our group was split. Some found it hard to keep track of all the characters and how they were related to or associated with the others. Some liked getting in the head of all the main players in the story. There was a general feeling that you didn’t get to know the characters as well as we would if one person narrated the tale. Some were more flushed out than others. We found Willow the most flushed out. She was easy to relate to and likable. Sarah was likely the least developed. She was a therapist so she listened well, but she didn’t really talk enough that we could get to know her. We wondered if her reluctance to talk about her problems was a New England mentality. Because we didn’t get into the characters heads as much, we didn’t get a lot of emotion from Nan. It felt like she cared more about how her family looked and what they did more than how they were emotionally. She seemed to care more about the appearance than the fact.

On the topic of too many character, a few people wondered why the EMS woman reappeared in the book. She seemed like a throw-away character when she first appeared and we didn’t see a reason behind her coming back to see Spencer. We wondered if she’d come back a second time, but no such luck. It seemed odd to us.

Spencer showed a lot of person growth as a result of his injury. It saved his family in a way because it forced him to change. At first he was angry and pushed his family away further. He was in denial of his injury and thought things could return to normal. And thank God they didn’t. I’m glad Spencer suffered because it brought him so much closer to his family and helped him connect with them. Would would have thought losing your arm could be so beneficial.

On that note, one member brought up that she thought the resolution between Spencer and Catherine was a bit rushed. For the whole book and before the story begins, Catherine is unhappy in her relationship and I think she felt obligated to stay with Spencer after the accident instead of wanting to. Overcoming all of that resentment seemed to happen really quickly. If Charlotte hadn’t confessed, he might have gone through with the law suit and Catherine would have left him. It was really Charlotte who saved her parents marriage more than Spencer and Catherine being able to reconcile their differences.

Spencer’s vegetarianism and devotion to FERAL were huge points of the story. Knowing what I do about the author, one would expect Spencer’s point of view about animal rights to come across strongly but to still be convincing. We didn’t see that at all in Spencer. We didn’t find him effective in converting others to his style of vegetarianism or in seeing the harm he saw in animal abuse. Spencer was so unappealing through most of the book that his point was less effective. We think Spencer felt important when he was outspoken and could force others to eat what he thought was ‘good.’ He forced his wife and daughter into his beliefs and seemed to think he could do that to the rest of America. We felt the book was rather one-sided and didn’t talk about the benefits of meat and animal products that Charlotte might have needed growing up.

Go meat!

It seems pretty clear that FERAL is a fictional representation of PETA when it comes to extreme measure to protect animal rights. These people were willing to go to court to protect animals like many people would protect their own children. We hated to see Spencer taken advantage of by his company, but that seemed to be what was happening. He was a pawn and either didn’t realize it or didn’t care.

The other character we talked about a lot was Charlotte. She seemed to fit her age more than Willow did. She still seemed pretty sophisticated for her age, but we as mid-Westerners can’t understand a blue-blood New Yorker lifestyle.

Charlotte seemed to have an up-and-down relationship with her father before the accident. She idolized him and we think she saw him as a strong person, which he probably liked. He would spend intense weekends with her, treating her to her favorite things and then be away or busy for a long period of time. She seemed to respect his values, except for her plastic shoes because she wasn’t allowed leather ones. I wonder if their relationship will improve when he’s able to spend more time at home with her.

If Charlotte hadn’t confessed, we wonder if the trial would have happened. If it did, we feel confident Willow would have told the truth because she seemed to have a lot of integrity. We think Nan suspected the girls were drunk but didn’t want to say anything in front of their parents that night and then felt forced to bite her tongue later on. This relates back to her caring more about appearances than about people.

One thing I wanted to make sure was brought up was the casing in the crow’s nest at the end. Some felt that Bohjalian was trying to close some loops and patch holes and that bringing the casing up helped him do that. Personally, I would have preferred if that part was left out. I would have been okay not knowing the truth. A few others felt the same way.

As a side note to my fellow book clubbers, Chris did tweet me back.

We won’t be meeting in December and our January selection is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. So pumped!

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!


Meeting Author Chris Bohjalian

5 Jun
Me and Chris Bohjalian

Me and Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been meaning to write this for a month and I’m overwhelmed because I took SO MANY NOTES when Chris was speaking. Instead of summing up by saying, “What an incredible man!” I do want to go through what he said. Hold you nose and dive in, this will be a long one.

My first impression of Chris was him walking to the podium with a Red Bull in his hand and telling a story about wearing another man’s underwear while on a book tour. Is there a better way to meet someone? I don’t think so. After that story, he started at the beginning, telling us about the 250 rejection slips he got for short stories before he finally sold his first one. And where, Reader, do you think he sold his first story? Cosmopolitan magazine. Yep. But the positive turn was that after he sold it, agents started to approach him. They asked him if he was working on a novel. So of course, he started working on a novel. And like I’ve heard from many writers, he hated it. The only way to learn to write better is to keep writing. So naturally a first book, looking back, is not reflective of an author’s best work. On the bright side, it taught him to learn how to deal with bad reviews.

Chris made some general comments about literacy that I appreciated and want to share. Did you know there are more libraries than McDonald’s in the US? Yeah, fact checked that one. And this makes me incredibly happy because of how much I love my library and how much I enjoy participating in its programs. An opinion he had that made me really happy is that the physical book will not disappear. That seems to be a fear of publishers nowadays, but Chris thinks it’s an overreaction. Modern society has a 4000 year history with books. They hold our past and we have a cultural connection with them. Recorded music has not been around for near as long; only since vinyl popularized it. Our society wasn’t as connected to vinyl so moving from that to tapes to CDs to computer files didn’t force us to lose any part of a shared culture. Books are here to stay. Yay!

Chris’s presentation (and yes, I believe we’re on a first name basis because he follows me on Instagram) was focused mainly on the book that our library read, Before You Know Kindness. You can read my review and book club discussion to dive into the conversations I’ve had about the book. Chris said he is often classified as an ‘issues oriented’ author and it’s easy to think that Before You Know Kindness is one such book but in his mind, it’s not. Many of his books were written to address an issue, but this one was written to reconnect with his own family. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Bohjalian was thinking about his own family, especially his wife who had previously worked in those towers. He thought back to a conversation he’d overheard in his family about crows and ravens and shiny dimes; a conversation that appears in the opening pages of this book. He based Spencer on himself. Both are vegetarians for the same reasons, having realized the pain of animals after spending a summer slaughtering lobsters for hungry tourists so much that Chris says of himself, “I am the Hannibal Lector of crustaceans.” When his mother-in-law read the piece, she responded with a quote from Zelda Fitzgerald, “[Mr. Fitzgerald, I believe that is how he spells his name,] seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”

The audience asked amazing questions. Why was FERAL portrayed as so evil in the book if the author himself believes in their goal? In short, it makes for a better story. It adds conflict and allows for human transformation. Spencer needed to change in the book; he needed to show the reader his ‘before and after’ from the horrible accident. At the beginning, he and Charlotte are both very unlikable. Their heads are in the clouds and Charlotte is behaving like a 21st century Mary Lennox, the character she’s cast as in The Secret Garden.  By the end, they are quite different.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

What does the cover image mean? Chris did not pick the picture himself. He thinks it’s supposed to represent an idyllic summer. Maybe the girl is Charlotte, hosing her self off to stay cool. Maybe it’s Katherine as a girl. He says that covers don’t have to be literal because we can create whatever we want them to be in our minds, the same way that we create the characters and setting of a story.

Why did Nan have to die? This was a question our book club covered and one of our members was brave enough to ask. We were more or less spot on. Chris says that the grown-ups needed to lose their matriarch so they could be grown-ups themselves. With her around, they could still act like kids and focus on themselves. After she was gone, they had to stop reliving adolescents.

Do you consciously write in such complex sentences? One of the audience members thought he used too many semicolons and long sentences and this was my one complaint of the book. Chris said that his books tend to be of two types; those in first person which have shorter sentences, reflecting the thought process of the narrator and those with longer sentences where he is able to weave humor, horror, and all other emotions into his sentences.

How did you learn so much about guns? The same way the lawyers in the book did: research and interviews. He never wanted to wake his reader from their fictional dream with something inauthentic.

Why weren’t you harder on gun control? When he wrote the first draft of Before You Know Kindness, it was 185,000 words long. The final is about 135,000 words. In edits, he took out about 90,000 and added 40,000. In trimming it down, he decided it was easier to deal with one issue (animal rights) and leave out any others (gun control) to focus the story. Yay for editing.

There were some questions about Chris’s other books which I haven’t read. The first was about what inspired him to write Trans-Sister Radio. The main premise of the story was based on something that happened to a friend of his. Her boyfriend decided to have a sex change and wanted to stay together. This friend kept hoping her boyfriend would change his mind but he didn’t and went through with the surgery. Afterword, they broke up but she confessed to Chris that he (now she) had been the love of her life but her mental attachments to gender wouldn’t allow her to stick with that person. Chris was inspired to write about if love could survive a sex change.

Nicole and Chris Bohjalian

Nicole and Chris Bohjalian

He was asked about his book The Buffalo Soldier. In this book, he wanted to explore grief. Many times a marriage crumbles when a child dies and in this story, the main couple tries to fill that hole with a foster child. He has members of his family who adopted Asian children  and are themselves white. Chris noticed in his home state of Vermont that his children were in all-White schools. What if the foster child adopted to fill the shoes of a lost child was a different race from the parents and the only non-White in a small community? Boom- instant story.

I was convinced to add The Sandcastle Girls to my reading list based on the discussion about it. Chris was asked if it was his Armenian heritage that inspired him to write the book and he answered with a resounding ‘yes.’ He said that his identity as an Armenian has become very important to him in his adult life. It made me think of my relative Tom Mooradian who I’ve posted about before. I asked Tom later if he knew Chris (because how big can the Armenian writers’ community be?) and he said yes (answer- small). He was asked about the title of the book, because it doesn’t seem to carry the weight of the Armenian Genocide, a focus of the book. Bohjalian explained that he chose the title because he was told that the book would be released in July and in his words, “July is where literary fiction goes to die.” It’s beach reads season and a story about the massacre of the Armenians might not count as ‘light and fun.’ He’d also seen that a lot of successful titles are three words long and begin with ‘The’ so it seemed a good place to start. The line ‘the sandcastle girls’ does appear in the book, so there is still a thin reference to text in the title.

Someone asked him if he ever thought about what happened to his characters after the book ended and he said that had only happened to him once. It was the book Skeletons at the Feast and it was the only time he’s ever considered a sequel. He compared the feeling to postpartum depression and said he missed his characters immensely. I can understand being very protective of your characters!

I was really excited that Chris spoke extensively about his writing process. He said that he writes one book at a time, only moving on to the next when he’s finished the final draft of the previous book. Before something is ‘done,’ he goes through tons of revisions and feels like he “publishes to stop re-writing.” Sometimes his characters will shock him in what they do and where the story around them goes. Chris self-identifies as a pantser: a writer who begins with no plan and writes by the ‘seat of his pants.’ (My term, not his.) Every fifty pages or so, he’ll print out his writing and edit it by hand with a fountain pen so that he’s forced to write slowly and think about the changes he’s making. Then he goes on to the next 50 pages, etc.

Mt. Abraham

Mt. Abraham

I loved what he said about his writing routine. He wakes up and starts writing by 6 AM in his living room, facing Mt. Abraham. He writes for six hours, ending at noon with 750-1000 words (a bit slower than NaNo speeds). After lunch, he goes on a bike ride. If you follow him on Instagram, you can see some of the beautiful sites he sees. Once he gets back, it’s research time until dinner, after which he updates his social media presence. I think it would be great to have a routine like this. But that requires a couple best sellers, so it’s still in the works.

As I always do, I asked Chris what advice he would give to me as a fledgling writer and he gave me three great pieces of advice.

  1. When you start writing for the day, re-write the last 100 words you had before. This gives you a good way to ramp into what you’re going to say. (He thinks he got this from Hemingway, so thank you Papa!)
  2. Leave a little gas in the tank. Don’t write until you’re exhausted and can barely keep your eyes open. Save some for the next day.
  3. Embrace synonyms. Find big words and use them (correctly). I’ll add that as in his writing, Chris has a great vocabulary when he speaks and it’s very obvious how much he loves words.

I encourage you to find him on Goodreads and see what he reads. He’s a very active member. I’ll say again how great of a person he is, giving Nicole and I more time than we deserved to talk to us about writing. I was very humbled and enjoyed talking to him.

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: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

12 May
Me and Chris Bohjalian

Me and Chris Bohjalian

This is the longest it’s ever taken me to write a book club reflection. To the women and man of my group, I apologize for the delay. There have been so many wonderful literary things in my life to blog about that I’ve been putting off this one that will take so much time. I hope you enjoy.

There are going to be a lot of posts about this book on my blog and I’m excited to share them. I write this review a few weeks ago and I’ll soon be posting something about meeting Chris Bohjalian. He is a wonderful individual.

My biggest question was about Charlotte’s fault in the whole situation. She’s twelve, how much can she be blamed for shooting a gun that she was (arguably) playing with? She always seemed to blame herself and felt guilty about her father’s injury the whole book. And she never came out to say specifically if she’d done it on purpose. She thought at times about the moment, how she’d felt at the time and what she’d really seen, but she never says she did it on purpose. We thought that she did mean to kill a deer and that was her way of being rebellious. Her relatives would be happy that the deer was gone, but her father would be furious. It would be a way to pay him back for the plastic shoes and vinyl purse she had to carry.

When drugs and alcohol are involved, there’s always a fuzzy line when placing guilt and blame. If someone’s driving drunk, is their crime driving with a high BAC or hitting another car? Can we blame them for hitting the car if we’ve blamed them for turning the key in the first place? It’s a question of when there is a bad decision and when there are consequences of that decision and if we view them differently.

We suspected that the girls were not really very drunk or high. We thought their loopy state was more in their own heads than real. I’ll admit to being someone who feels dizzy after two beers but as far as actually drunk, I’d say there’s a pretty major difference. As for the marijuana, I’d doubt they were suffering much of its effects. It’s pretty well-known around a college campus that you don’t get high the first time you smoke. I personally doubted Charlotte when she said she’d smoked before and it was plainly Willow’s first time. They were probably acting a lot more like their normal selves than they thought: probably not much dinner than them after too much caffeine and sugar.

Nan never felt guilty for not putting the girls to bed that night. She was angry that their parents weren’t taking care of them and walked away, never looking back to think that she could have stopped the accident by caring for her granddaughters. She was frustrated with her own children for not being parents. When her own children were that age, she took very good care of them because her husband was out of the house and left her to do that alone. It was her favorite thing to do and why she likes to take care of her granddaughters for a month each summer. Though it seems that she’d reached her breaking point for being a babysitter that night, hoping her son-in-law would overcome his moodiness. But Spencer wasn’t much of a father at that point in the story. He was so absorbed in FERAL and his work that he didn’t have time to be a father. At least, that is, until his accident.

We were shocked the lengths Spencer was prepared to go to hold on to who he was before the accident. He threw himself into work so strongly that he didn’t even try to stop his wife from leaving him over the lawsuit. He seemed to be clinging to his identity as an obsessive worker and unable to let it go now that he was injured. I think people have to change a lot when they have major accidents that can cripple them. It really makes you re-assess you life. We were just as shocked that Catherine would consider leaving her husband in the state he was in. They had to help him put toothpaste on his toothbrush for God’s sake. How could she leave him to his own devices knowing he couldn’t do the simplest task? I was floored.

I think there was a lot of symbolism in Spencer getting his arm amputated. It seemed like it was him parting with the final piece of his personality from before the accident that he had clung to. He left it behind like the life he led before the injury; he was able to part with his work obsession and blindness to his family’s needs.

A part that seemed strange to one of our members was when John and Catherine would talk on the phone before John and Spencer reconciled. She thought it seemed odd that the siblings would keep a close relationship despite the feud between John and Spencer. I know if my husband’s ever mad with one of his siblings or a friend, I take his side immediately and am equally as mad. I suspect that the rift between Catherine and Spencer helped the siblings stay together because they were both on the short end of Spencer’s affections.

This begs the question of why Spencer was so mad with John. It shocked me that John seemed to be the guilty party so early on in the action. To me, it was clear that Charlotte had committed the crime. If my husband leaves a baseball bat in the foyer and someone breaks in and beats us with it, whose fault is it? My husband’s for keeping a baseball bat? I think not. But maybe it would be different if it were a gun. Then would it be our fault for keeping a gun in the house? (For the record, I’m very anti-gun and our compromise is a katana sword.) I think Spencer blamed John because he couldn’t put blame on his own daughter and was dealing with the fact that John hunted. I don’t think John was to blame.

One point that irked our group was Nan’s death. It seemed very convenient and almost cliché that she died in the end. We decided that she was the family glue that held them together and once she wasn’t needed any more and passed away, the family had made its own glue and could hold itself together without her. Before the reconciliation in the final chapters, they still needed her. But after, they could go on without her.

Some members were also put off by the bird who found the casing shell. We would have been perfectly happy without knowing it was damaged because the story was more about the family than it was about the accident by the end. The family fixed but there was no way to fix Spencer’s arm. There’s no use crying over spilled milk.

We liked that the characters had very conflicting opinions on a lot of topics. I think that’s very representative of modern families. I have opposing political views from my parents and my brother and I fiercely disagree on the merits of Indian food. John liked venison and Charlotte liked soy substitutes. Sara didn’t mind having a gun in the house while Spencer hated the idea of guns. Willow wanted to tell the truth more than anything while Catherine had no problem lying about eating meat.

Sara that “… the problem with Nan – and with John and Catherine and, yes, Spencer when they were all together – was that they could never just… be” (p. 38). We wondered what was meant by this. We pointed out that Nan could never stay still. She always had a towel in her car just in case she could go swimming and had no problem taking impromptu hikes. Catherine and John learned this growing up with their mother and Spencer, who had known Nan since he was a teen, had adapted to this as well. When they’re that busy, they don’t have to think. One of our members pointed out that the Kennedy’s had a very similar life style and would host their own Summer Camp activities. We wondered if they were an inspiration for Nan and her children.

While I loved the characters, some of our members strongly disagreed. They thought they were unbelievable and unlikable. I think being so unlikable was very believable. Is there anyone you know who you like 100% of the time? Because I know I don’t. As I said in my review, I thought the young girls used vocabulary words beyond their years and one of our members added that they were psychologically beyond their years as well. I felt this was the only fault.

Gun control was an obvious theme of the book. It was clear Bohjalian thought not everyone should have a gun. If John doesn’t know how to use it properly, should he have one in his house? The gun experts were portrayed very positively in the book so we didn’t feel that Bohjalian was anti-gun, but that he had opinions on controlling access.

We felt that FERAL was portrayed in a very negative light. They were taking advantage of a situation and we felt that Bohjalian was reflecting them negatively. It was a “Don’t let any tragedy go to waste” kind of feel, which is irksome. Spencer’s extreme dedication surprised most of us. Some members had never heard of veganism and were shocked at all the dietary restrictions imposed by vegans. We wondered if Spencer would have stayed a vegan, knowing that his wife had no intention of remaining one. Would he have continued to force it on his daughter as well? We think he would have remained a vegan but that Charlotte would have had the chance to choose for herself.

I have never read The Secret Garden before and our other members filled me in on how it applied to this book. The Secret Garden is a hidden place like a family’s secrets are hidden. From the outside, you don’t see them but when you pull the ivy aside, there’s something very different on the inside.

The other cultural reference we tied significance to was the title. It’s taken from the poem Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye. There’s a quote before the book begins taken from the poem.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

You can read the full poem here. Spencer lost his arm, but found his family and humanity. They found kindness in each other and were closer in the end than they were in the beginning. We wondered if they could have reached that level of closeness when Nan was still alive, but we think they would have been too busy playing tennis at the club.

I hope you enjoyed this book club reflection. I’ll be posting in the near future about meeting Bohjalian. 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!


Review: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian (5/5). A family’s worst nightmare is having a vegan in the house

28 Apr

This is yet another example of a book I never would have picked up if it weren’t for my book club. I’m so glad to have these experiences because they’ve let me to some amazing books.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

A hunting riffle goes off on the last night of July in a small New Hampshire town and changes the lives of the Seton family. The bullet strikes Spencer McCullough in the shoulder, permanently injuring him for life and rendering his limb useless. The shooter is none other than his twelve-year-old daughter, Charlotte who thought she was shooting the deer that tore up the family garden. The gun belongs to Spencer’s brother-in-law and Charlotte’s uncle, John Seton. The following pages unravel the story of how the daughter of an animal rights activist came to be shooting at deer and who is really to blame in this lamentable but very real family tragedy.

I was very reluctant to dive into this book. The reviews I saw on Goodreads were polarized and the plot seemed like it would be a little winding and wordy. I realized quickly that I didn’t care how wordy the story was because I loved every single word. I thought the sentences were beautiful and the characters were dynamic and deep and I just feel in love with it. I started reading faster and faster to see how the family would resolve their differences before the book ended and I’m really happy with how it happened.

Part of what made this book so awesome for me were the well-developed characters. Charlotte reminded me of all the girls in middle school that drove me crazy and I could picture her in my head. I sympathized with Catherine’s struggles to make herself happy midst her husband’s obsessive veganism. I cheered for John to forgive himself as a task he put off had disastrous consequences and someone had to be blamed. Everyone was painted so vividly that I was cheering for them all and for their problems to be resolved so that the family could be reunited.

Spencer was my favorite character. I hated him and loved him at different points in the book. At the beginning, I really hated him because I felt he was putting his family aside for his career. When I see people at work who I think are doing this, I get mad. I think as Americans we work too hard and that it hurts our family lives and might be a contributing factor to the high divorce rate. I make a point to take time off for my husband and spending time with him.

After his accident, I felt bad for Spencer. My mom had a very traumatic injury when I was young and I loved how real his struggle to function was. When you’re severely injured, the stupidest things are staggeringly difficult. Putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, opening a jar, and simply taking a shower require monstrous effort and help. I saw my mom go through this and went through it myself after a hip surgery while in college.

Once Spencer started realizing what he had done to his family with his actions before the accident, I liked him. And boy did I really like him. I loved that he got his priorities sorted out and that he was able to do it in such a dramatic way. He almost ruined his career for the sake of his family but he knew he needed to do that. I loved Charlotte’s devotion to her father at the end and her love for him really helped me love him, too.

As I said, I saw my mother go through a traumatic accident and because of this I could relate to Charlotte. I was about her age (12/13) when it happened and as a child, you want to help but feel very helpless. There was only so much you can do when you’re small, don’t have money, and can’t drive, but you do as much as you can. Charlotte couldn’t imagine leaving her father to fend for himself while he was still figuring out the world and I can completely understand that.

I related to Catherine on a different level. I loved that she had to hide that she ate meat. It’s something that seems so normal to most people and yet in her family, it was taboo. I can’t think of a specific example, but I think we all have something that we wouldn’t mind flaunting in front of friends but hide from our families (or vice versa). I adored her struggle.

I’m not sure I had a ‘favorite’ part of the book. There were parts I thought were so real to life they scared me, but I’m not sure if they were my favorites. I liked the scene where Charlotte and Willow are at the bonfire. I also really liked how Spencer recalls working at the lobster restaurant. My ‘favorite ‘ parts of this book were lines and scenes more than plot points.

I didn’t like the part of the book immediately following the accident. I hated how John blamed himself so much and how Spencer was being moody and angry. It was realistic, but so frustrating. I understand that people involved in such a traumatic event wouldn’t want to start talking to each other right away, but wading through their emotional baggage was tolling.

The most obvious topic to discuss with this book is guilt. Many of the characters feel guilty for something and are suffering from the effects of that guilt in the book. Charlotte feels guilty for shooting her father. Willow feels guilt for not telling anyone about the drugs and alcohol surrounding the accident. John feels guilty for not taking better care of his rifle. Catherine feels guilty for eating meat and wanting to leave her injured husband. Spencer’s guilt is for his dependence on his family. All of the characters have an internal struggle to deal with this weight and eventually ‘get off their chests’ what’s holding them back.

I loved the roll Nan played in the book. She was the life force of the family in the exposition; getting them to move and interact and enjoy each other. After the accident, she felt lost and unneeded while she was still in New Hampshire. It was only when she returned to New York that the families could start to communicate again, using her as a means of communication. When they had talked to each other enough and resolved their problems, Nan’s role in the book was done and she could leave gracefully. I loved this author’s technique.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not normally a reader who enjoys character studies but I adored this book. I think how Bohjalian combined his character study with a very action-packed event helped that. Even in books that talk about human nature, there still needs to be some motion.

I also loved his use of language. Everything was so well described and the pictures the book created were very real. The only complaint I have about the book is that in the sections that followed the girls, Charlotte and Willow, the language was equally as descriptive and I felt that the girls wouldn’t use such eloquent words. I’ve never heard a 13-year-old say ‘placid’ before and it struck me as odd.

A completely thrilling book that I adored. I can’t wait to meet Bohjalian on the 30th! A full 5 out of 5 stars.

This book covers ‘New Hampshire’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Before You Know Kindness Book Review | Book Club Queen
Before You Know Kindness – Book Review | Caribousmom
Recent Read: Before You Know Kindness | Grey Cat Blog


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WWW Wednesday, 23-April-2014

23 Apr

I’m always overwhelmed by my own post for WWW Wednesday hosted by MizB. I hope I can finish all the books I’m starting. Also, should I start including pictures? What do you all think?
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I feel like I’m adding more to this list than I’m taking off. I started reading The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which really excited me because I didn’t think I’d get to! This is a Goodreads First Read I got ages ago and haven’t been able to start. I’m only a little bit in and really enjoying it, but I’m putting it on hold because I’ve got a wave of book club books tumbling down on me. The first is The City and the City by China Mieville. Can anyone spell his name phonetically for me? I’m curious. It’s very science-fiction-y and that’s not usually my thing so we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good. On my phone I’m still working through The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going here. The story is good, but not grabbing me the way I hoped it would. I hope it picks up soon.

On audio I’m about half way through And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’m sad to announce that I’m not as into this story as I’d hoped to be. I’m hoping it’s a slow start, but it’s dragging a little. I think part of it is the narrators. Two of them have such strong accents that it distracts from how much I’m enjoying the story. I still have Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk to listen to while I’m cooking and cleaning and I’m really enjoying this option. It makes cooking funny.

Recently finished: I finished reading Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian on Friday. I adored the book, a full 5 out of 5 stars. I’m writing the review now and it should be up next week. I got tweeted by the author and it made my day!

Reading Next:  I’ll be starting two more books in the next week. The first is The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa which is for my book club. It’s a short one so I’m hoping I won’t be held up on it for too long. The second is The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This is the book chosen for my first Read Along With Me series. We haven’t started yet and there’s still time to join. There’s more information here and you can email me at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining us.

Phew that was long! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

WWW Wednesday, 16-April-2014

16 Apr

A couple of updates for this new installment of WWW Wednesday hosted by MizB. I hope I can keep up this reading pace!
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m getting toward the end of Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian. The book was a little slow to start, but Bohjalian is a beautiful writer and it kept me interested through the long yet necessary exposition. I have another of his books waiting on my shelf. I’m hoping to get it autographed when I hear him speak on the 30th! I know I said I put Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk on hold but I’ve found time to listen to it while I clean or go on walks and it’s a nice thing to listen to at those times because it’s so darn funny. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is keeping me entertained on my phone. It’s going slowly, mostly because I read during breakfast only. And if I have to wait at the chiropractor. But mostly breakfast. I’m really excited to say that I started And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’m lucky enough that I got to hear Hosseini speak when I was in school and he is such a wonderful person and writer. I have a ton of respect for him and I’m really excited to read this book! I’ve heard wonderful things.

Recently finished: I finished the audiobook for The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. The review should be up next Tuesday, barring any emergency that might arise. I give it a 4/5.

Reading Next:  I might have time to squeeze in an ARC book, but probably not. Book club timing is pretty tight between my two groups. The next one up is The City and the City by China Mieville which sounds like a trippy science fiction. Jury’s out on how I’ll feel about it.

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

As a reminder, if you’re interested in doing a Read-Along, please respond to this post. There’s a poll where you can vote on what book you’d like to read. I’m closing the voting at 5 PM today (Eastern time). Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

WWW Wednesday, 9-April-2014

9 Apr

Being a part of MizB’s WWW Wednesday has really encouraged me to keep reading at a break-neck speed!www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: Last night I was finally able to pick up Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian. This is the next book for my book club and I wanted to pick it up right away, but had another book to finish first. I’m only 12 pages in, so no assessment yet. On audio book I put Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk on hold. I was able to listen to a little while I was cleaning the other day, which kept me in a good mood while I vacuumed. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith is my main audiobook focus. I’ve been listening on the way to and from work (as opposed to just on the way home as I normally do). I’m scared my next hold is going to come in before I finish it. These are my real problems. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is keeping me entertained on my phone. It’s going slowly, mostly because I read during breakfast only.

Recently finished: I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson last night! When I drafted this and realized I had no finished books to report on I was devastated! I’m glad I can report some progress today. Look for a review next week.

Reading Next:  As much as I want to read one of my own books, it will probably be a book club book. The next one up is The City and the City by China Mieville which sounds like a trippy science fiction. Not normally my cup of tea, but we’ll see how it goes.

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog! Until next time, write on.

WWW Wednesday, 2-April-2014

2 Apr

Being a part of MizB’s WWW Wednesday has been such a great experience. Please join in if you haven’t yet! www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: My co-worker lent me Life After Life by Kate Atkinson so I’ve started in on that. I’m about 200 pages in and it’s slowing down a bit, but I’ve heard it will pick back up. On audio book I put Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk on hold. I will finish it, but I finally got The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith on audiobook! I’ve been waiting since October and it’s finally here! I’ll be powering through because I have another hold coming in soon. On my phone I’m still working through The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s getting slowly better, but it really is slowly.

Recently finished: After a year, I finally finished Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix by J.K. Rowling! I’m so excited, it’s a huge accomplishment for me.

Reading Next: I shouldn’t even try to tell you what I’m reading next at this point. I guess I can say for sure that I’ll be reading Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian for my book club. I’m going to hear him speak at the end of the month so you can look forward to a review and pictures of that as well! Yay!

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

Recently Added To My To Read List

14 Feb

Wow, it’s been a while since I did one of these posts! I’ve only added five since then and I think I’ve taken more than that off. Something is finally going in the right direction for my list! Let me know if you’re familiar with any of these and if there are some I might want to reconsider.

  1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: Do I really need to explain this one? I think I need to explain more why it wasn’t on my list until now. I apologize to be slow to pop culture.
  2. Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson: I’m going to start line editing my novel soon, and I want to learn more about how people spoke in the 1920s. My library has this on audiobook and I’d love to hear what Bryson as to say about the development of language since the 20s. Is my nerd showing? I’ll cover that, oops.
  3. The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way by Bill Bryson: This just seemed like a logical addition to the above. This book focuses on English inside and outside of the US.
  4. Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian: This author will be coming to my area at the end of the year, so my book club added it to our list for the summer. The story is about a man whose daughter accidently shoots him at their home.
  5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A woman in my book club recommended this, saying she thought it seemed like something I’d like. I’m game. The story is about a homeless girl who has a talent for flowers and choosing the right flowers for the people who need them.

Wow, just five books! This is awesome for me. Any winners? Any duds? Let me know what you think of them in a comment, Reader! Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!

Until next time, write on.