Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar (4/5)

18 Sep

I read Umrigar’s memoir for my book club and followed that up with the oft-recommended The Space Between Us. When I found another Umrigar book on clearance at B&N, it was an easy decision for me to snatch it up.

Cover image via Goodreads

The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Other books by Umrigar reviewed on this blog:

The Space Between Us

Summary from the author’s website:

As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But over the past thirty years, the quartet has drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.

Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter, fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms.

I love Umrigar’s depiction of modern India. I’m not sure how true it is, but I love it. There’s a unique blend of old and new, combining modern and traditional culture that I find really well done and really engaging. The four women in this book represent completely different people. They were bound together once by ideology and their commitment to a cause. Life took them in completely different directions and ripped two of them away but the world has a way of bringing people back together as it’s done in this novel. The husbands and children take a back seat to the main women and they have a good lesson about how female friendships, true friendships, stand the test of time.

The characters felt very real to me. I have my 10-year high school reunion coming up and I think about how different my life is from those of my high school friends, even this short while later. I can’t imagine how different they will be when I’m the age of these women. I thought the paths they’d gone down and the lives they led were logical conclusions from their college days and each of them was very unique and fleshed out.

Thrity Umrigar
Image via Goodreads

Kavita was my favorite character. She was most like me in many ways. She was passionate about her career and loved it, she had found someone who was special to her, and she was still close to her family. Laleh was too reactionary for me to relate to well. I’ve never had a life-threatening illness like Armaiti or been close to someone living through one so she wasn’t a character I connected with, either. Nishta’s situation was very unique and engaging to follow, but it was so different from myself that it was hard to see through her eyes.

I thought Adish was easy to relate to as well. He liked to fix things and I think that’s very much how I am at times. I hate when someone is upset or mad or fighting and I want to fix it. I don’t have the same financial pull that Adish had or the optimism he had that everything will work out.

Nishta’s idea of freedom dominated this book for me. At a young age, it was the freedom to follow the man she loved and defying her parents to do that. As she got older, it was freedom from the religion her husband pushed onto her. She didn’t agree with the man he’d become and felt distanced from him. As such, she felt trapped and wanted to be free from his control. While Iqbal once meant freedom, later escaping him did. Realizing that this had changed took her a while but seeing her come around to find that the world was different (thus the title!) was beautifully done.

Writer’s Takeaway: I applaud Umrigar for taking four women who were once inseparable and probably indistinguishable from the outside and turning them into four very different and unique women. Sometimes with large groups as the main focus, characters can run together but Umrigar’s never did.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I’m glad I grabbed it from the clearance shelf! Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Book View: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar | The Blog of Litwits
Book Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar | Of Books and Reading
The World We Found | Necromancy Never Pays

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Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (5/5)

11 Sep

I first heard of this book because of its incredible run at the top of the NYT list. Then my sister-in-law posted about it. She lives in Katy, TX which has banned the book in its schools. She got a copy of it and read it and loved it. (Seems a good soul was buying copies and filling the Free Little Libraries with them.) That was enough to get it on my TBR. Then my book club picked it and I had no excuse but to pick it up and read it. I’m so glad I got through it before the movie and while there are so many people to talk about it with.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Summary from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

I was really blown away by this book. Starr’s life is complicated and Thomas doesn’t narrow it down to just one plot line. She recognizes that there are a lot of things going on in Starr’s life and they’re all impacted by Khalil’s death. I liked how everything ran together and impacted one another though it did mean that a lot was left unfinished when the main plotline wrapped up. The characters were great and I loved how fleshed out the majority of the side characters were. Thomas set a high standard with this as a first novel. I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.

I loved all the characters in this book. Starr is brave but we see that it’s hard for her to be that way all the time. Her family loves her a lot and recognize that they’ve gone through a lot to get to where they are. Their struggles are very real and the people around them are very real. Small details like Lisa’s mother being a retired drama teacher made them all come to life even more and I adored it.

Maya and Seven were my favorite characters. I honestly can’t pick one. Maya was a great balance to Starr. She came from privilege but still dealt with people like Hailey say, the micro-aggressions that end up being very uncomfortable and rude to a minority. I liked that her perspective was worked in. Seven was a really interesting character because of his relationship to Starr, Lisa, Maverick, Kenya, and King. I loved how he protected his sisters and how he had a back-and-forth relationship with Iesha. I adored how much Lisa cared for him and took him into her family. I also loved how strong he was and how smart he was and how the utilized that to stay strong. I had a lot of respect for him and what kind of character it took to be himself.

I felt Chris was the easiest character for me to relate to. He understood the impact of what was happening around him and wanted to help but he didn’t physically fit into the group that was protesting. He was comfortable but uncomfortable at the same time. He experienced the cultural clash that Starr had lived on a daily basis. His perspective amplified how much the Carter kids had to deal with and how bicultural they had become.

Angie Thomas
Image via the National Book Foundation

I thought the opening chapters were really well written, probably the best in the book. I have to imagine that Thomas re-wrote them a number of times and I think she hit gold. Being introduced to Starr and Kenya and learning about Khalil the way we did was great and it delivered a strong punch when he died even though I’d just met his character. I thought it was impactful that we spend a lot of time with Starr in Garden Heights before seeing her in Williamson.

I felt DeVante’s storyline was a bit more than the book needed. I think someone else could have ratted on King without pulling in another character who shadowed Maverick’s path out of the King Lords. It wasn’t that I disliked DaVante’s story, I just thought it was repetitive.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Bahni Turpin. She was incredible. She had a voice or inflection for each character so it was easy to figure out who was talking. The only one I didn’t like was Hailey but I ended up disliking that character so it seemed to fit in the end. I adored the emotion she put into Starr because there were some very emotional scenes for her character. Overall, I think it was one of the better narrations I’ve heard.

This book is very timely and addresses a lot of issues going on in the US now. It made me question the way I look at minorities and challenged me to overcome the stereotypes I hold and question where they come from. Showing how unconscious bias can be deadly and how that can impact a community was really powerful. I think this should be taught in schools and I think the movie that’s about to come out will help spread this powerful message.

Writer’s Takeaway: Thomas did a great job of getting into the head of a 16-year-old girl and making it relatable to someone of a different generation and race. It was great to get her personality with her reactions to her mother and father using colloquialisms that mirror my own thoughts. I think Thomas has an amazing career ahead of her and I’m so excited to see what else she can deliver.

This was an amazing book and one I highly recommend to anyone who’s reading this. 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!

Related Posts:
Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | all the books i can read
‘THE HATE U GIVE’ by Angie Thomas | alwaysandforeverreading
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas | ReadExerciseRepeat
THE HATE U GIVE by ANGIE THOMAS | Written in Ink Blog
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Reviewing Shelf

Book Review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (5/5)

27 Aug

Here is another reason I’m in a book club. I’d never heard of this book and never would have picked it up before my book club selected it for this month. The author is new to me and I’m so excited to have found him. I loved the story and the characters, not to mention the amazing writing.

Cover image via Goodreads

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Summary from Goodreads:

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

This book knocked me off my feet a bit. I wasn’t ready to dive into it and enjoy it as much as I did. I had no expectations going in and, as is normal for me, I didn’t read the summary of it before I jumped in. I love finding books this way because I feel sometimes the summary on the back takes away a lot of the suspense depending on how soon major events happen. Knowing nothing and going in blind made this book all the better.

I thought the characters were true to life and I loved how different they all were and how they had their own struggles. Every character was well-rounded.

Jake was easily my favorite character. He was so devoted to his older brother that he was around and involved in much of the book. He was also a very moral character and obviously loved his family fiercely. He went through a major event in his life during the course of the book, much as Frank did. The loss that their family suffered change people and I felt Jake had a really realistic way of dealing with that trauma. I also enjoyed how he and Frank were able to hear things and tag along to many things in the town because they were good kids and how much that served them over the course of the summer.

I most closely related to Frank and Jake. I feel closer to childhood than adulthood despite my age and I could remember the feeling of being young and feeling like you’re old enough for something and finally being given the benefit of the doubt and trusted. I think the summer of the novel is the beginning of that for Frank and he feels like he’s an adult at the beginning of the summer. By the end of it, he’s gone through the emotional maturity to go along with it and is more of an adult than would have happened without the events of the summer.

William Kent Krueger
Image via Goodreads

I’m going to be a bit vague about this so as not to ruin it. I thought the events after the third death were the most interesting. The way Frank, Jake, and their family dealt with it were very raw and felt real to me. I’ve never gone through something like that but can understand how difficult it would be to process that kind of loss. It wasn’t a happy moment by any means, but well written and a time that jumped off the page and sucked me into the story.

Of the deaths in this book, it was really the third and fourth I felt were significant. The other three seemed a bit superfluous and seemed a bit like filler to me. It set a tone and a mood, but maybe one could have done that? Another three was a bit much.

Krueger was able to address a lot of themes in such a short book. The ideas of family, growing up, and faith all make their ways into Frank’s summer. His family seems fractured at times, especially with his mother. She sometimes feels like she settled in her marriage like she could have done better and married someone of a higher caliber. The children sometimes feel like they’re not as loved because of it. Frank and Jake are forced to grow up as the summer forces them to confront that there are bad things in the world after all and those bad things can happen to them. The struggle with faith that their mother has contrasts well against the rock-hard faith of Jake and their father.

Writer’s Takeaway: Krueger drew me in with the tension he built. I kept waiting for something bad to happen and I didn’t have to wait long but when I found out something worse was coming, I was hooked. I loved how he paced the story and how he kept it going over the whole novel. While there was a lot of external tension, the character-driven plot was amazing and I think I need to look into more Krueger books.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. 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!

Related Posts:
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger | addyfran
Review of “Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger | Rhapsody in Books Weblog

Book Review: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See (4/5)

20 Aug

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Shanghai Girls, and enjoyed hearing the author speak. It seemed about time to read another Lisa See book and picking up Dreams of Joy was an easy choice. I listened to this one on audio on my phone and ended up taking a two-week break for my trip before I came back and finished it up.

Cover image via Wikipedia

Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2) by Lisa See

Other books by See reviewed on this blog:

Shanghai Girls (Book Club Reflection [twice], meeting the author)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

This book picked up right where Shanghai Girls left off so I’m glad I remembered that ending. I liked that there was something after because the ending of the first book was so abrupt and open-ended. I felt this one had a better ending. I liked the way the story unfolded. It really highlighted Joy and how much she changed during the book. She grew up a lot and had to learn lessons the hard way, the way Pearl had learned them, even though Pearl tried to protect her from that.

I thought Pearl’s reactions to what happened were very realistic but I felt Joy was a bit too oblivious to what was happening around her. I understand that she was young and a bit idealistic, but it was a bit too much for me. By the end, she was more realistic but it was only to be expected after what happened to her in the village. I thought her ‘youthful optimism’ was a bit over the top.

Pearl was such a good mother, I really loved her character, what she did, and what she was willing to endure to make sure her family was safe. Even though Joy’s story was more dramatic, I loved Pearl’s struggles to return home to China, it felt much more realistic and showed the huge change in Shanghai between this book and the first one.

I don’t share a lot in common with these characters but I was still able to connect with them. Joy’s excitement at contributing to a new idea was relatable as was Pearl’s concern for her family and taking care of her child. See did a good job of developing characters in an environment I’ll never encounter whose shoes I could see myself in. I really commend her for the women in this book.

Lisa See and I

I thought the second half after Joy gets married, was more interesting than the first. Her idealism around communist China disintegrates quickly and her panic, fear, and desperation made me read faster. It was hard to read about some of the suffering going on in the rural parts of the country, though. I found myself clutching my hand to my heart on several occasions.

I thought the speed at which Joy found ZG was too unrealistic. Honestly, it a city that size, it should have taken some time. Even with his fame, it should have been more difficult to locate him. It started the book out on a rough note for me and it took a while to recover from that.

This audiobook was narrated by Janet Song. If I’d listened to audio of the first one, I would have heard her read that, too. I heard Song before when she narrated another See book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I guess she has the corner on the See audiobook market! She did a great job before and I enjoyed her narration again. She’s good at putting emotion into the characters and showing their fear, joy, and frustration. If I read more See, I bet I listen to more Song.

Mother-daughter love was a theme of Shanghai Girls and See brings it back in this book. What Pearl does for her daughter is almost unimaginable. The danger she puts herself into and the risks she takes would only be taken by a mother for a child. Daughters are reflections of their mothers and Joy grows to be more and more like her mother as the book goes on.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think See balanced the two stories well. There was a potential for Joy’s story to overtake the narrative because it was more dramatic than Pearl’s. See balanced the chapter lengths and gave a good plot line to Pearl to keep her story interesting and progressing. I think this balance could have been poorly managed by a less experienced writer but See did it wonderfully.

This book kept me engaged and reading (listening) and I really enjoyed listening to it. 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:
The Surprise Sequel: Dreams of Joy | The Paperback Princess
Lisa See Explores the Concept of Love in Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy | cultcrumbs

Book Review: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (3/5)

14 Aug

I ran across this book at a used book sale a few years ago and realized it was a shame I’d never read Amy Tan before. It seemed about the right time to fix that problem. I didn’t get to it for another three years. I started this book on audio but I had to return it to the library before I left on vacation. At the urging o some readers, I decided to take a physical book on my trip to read before bed and avoid looking at my screen before sleep. Being the packing minimalist I am, I took my physical copy and cut it in half, taking only the half I hadn’t read. Hate me if you must! I’m keeping the second half of the book. It’s a fun memory.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. With wit and wisdom, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between these four women and their American-born daughters. As each reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined…

I think I did myself a disservice reading this at the same time as a book by Lisa See that also focused on the hardships of living in China. I would sometimes mix up the plots and think I had been reading something in one book that was in the other. The vignette style of this book was really fun. I enjoyed getting to know the women and their daughters, how their lives interacted and affected one another. I would sometimes get confused about who was related to who and without the first half of the book, it was a bit hard to reference sometimes. I liked how the book resolved in the end. I have the DVD ready to watch as soon as I finish this review and I’m excited to dive into it.

I loved how Tan gave us so many representations of the Chinese immigrant and first-generation experience. Her characters were all very unique individuals and their daughters were even more unique. I thought she built a strong community of women who had their own heartbreaks that they’d suffered and were going through the immigrant experience together as best they could. It seemed a logical group to share such stories with and I loved the candid sharing they did.

Waverly stuck in my head best. Her story of being a young chess champion and how she selfishly threw it away came back in other stories that shared how selfish she was later in life and how the rest of the community felt about her. She stuck out to me because her mentality was so different from the rest of the women. I’m not sure she was my favorite character, but she was the most memorable.

I didn’t personally relate to many of the women but their stories reminded me of friends from school who were first-generation children. A good friend of mine from high school was first-generation from Taiwan and the stories of many of the daughters reminded me of her stories. The distance she would sometimes feel from her parents who didn’t ‘understand’ American culture in the same way she did and who disliked a lot of the music and entertainment we enjoyed were similar to the impressions I got from the daughters in this book. It’s obvious that Tan herself is a first-generation immigrant child.

Amy Tan
Image via Harper Collins

I liked the beginning and ending stories that surrounded the book. Using the idea of a daughter returning to China and teaching her about China and how life in America is different was a great way to frame the novel and introduce the characters. I was excited when I got to the end and could hear the rest of Jing-Mei’s story. It gave a solid ending to a series of short stories which can be very hard to do.

I can’t name particulars, but there were some stories that didn’t interest me as much as others. That’s to be expected in a series of short stories so I’m not surprised. I can’t think of any that I really disliked or wouldn’t read again. Most of them were just a bit slower than others, nothing really negative. I gave this book the rating I did mostly because of the short story format. It’s not a favorite of mine.

The audiobook that I listened to for the first half of the book was narrated by Gwendoline Yeo. I loved hearing Yeo’s narration because she gave great voices to the daughters and mothers. Her inflection was right in line with Tan’s writing (which I found out when picking up the print). I think she was a good choice. The sound quality of the item I picked up wasn’t the best but that’s nothing against Yeo.

Mothers and daughters have very complicated relationships. Children tend to not think of their mothers before they became mothers. Many of the mothers in this book compared their daughters to their young selves. When the daughter doesn’t know what she’s being compared to, reactions can be hard to read. I can see this a bit in my relationship with my mother though we don’t have the cultural differences these women did. Just generational differences.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not a huge fan of the vignette style but I think Tan made it work. It’s not something I’m brave enough to try, though. Developing so many small plots and having them work into an overarching story is incredibly difficult. Tan crafted it beautifully and it’s hard to believe this is her first novel.

A great story just not told the way I wanted to read 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:
The Joy Luck Club | The Rise of Asian Americans from 1970 to 1989
Book Review: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan | The Blog of Litwits
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan | Reading Post-Colonial Literature

 

Book Review: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (2/5)

13 Aug

I had hoped to go to the book club discussion of this book but I didn’t finish it in time. I was also a bit time-pressed before my trip so I decided I’d skip the meeting but still finish the book. I think it’s taken me longer to finish the book than it should have, but I persevered and finally finished it up when I got back from vacation. This review may be a bit scrambled as I try to remember what I read it in over a month ago when I started.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Summary from Goodreads:

Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of “the problem that has no name”: the insidious beliefs and institutions that undermined women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities and kept them in the home. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire.

The fact that this was published in 1963 was glaringly obvious. The idyllic ‘Leave it to Beaver’ perception of women and the housewife mentality is something I have no personal connection to and that my mother had no personal connection too. I’m very removed from the generation that suffered under the mystique which made this book seem antiquated while reading it. I can see how reading it in the 1960s would be eye-opening and life-changing, but I didn’t find it relevant anymore and had to look at it as a historical piece more than anything. More than anything, it made me want to talk to my grandmother who was born in 1932 and was raising my mother and her other six children during the 1960s. I can see studying this book in the context of US history or the course of the feminist movement but as a ‘for fun’ read, it was quite a struggle to get through.

Betty Friedan
Image via Harvard University

Friedan did a lot of interviews and research while trying to find the source of the problem with no name that she eventually labeled the mystique. These interviews were my favorite part. I enjoyed hearing how the mystique manifested itself in real women’s lives. Even in some that seemed happy, there was a river of sadness that they couldn’t overlook. I think there are women who can be happy as housewives, but I don’t think there are many. In my job, I see a fair number of women returning to work after their children have grown up and they’re always really excited to work again. I think having a purpose outside the house gives you a sense of value if you can’t find it at home and I’m glad Friedan was able to communicate that.

I felt that the book was a bit repetitive. The mystique was well described and established by the end of the second chapter, about 100 pages in. The book is over 500 pages long! I felt Friedan tried to explain the mystique for far too long before she talked about how it affected women and how to solve it. I think the book should have focused more on those topics and less on describing the phenomenon.

There was clearly a backsliding in women’s liberation during the 1950s and 60s. I think it’s great that Friedan could identify it and trace its origins. It’s important to know how the backsliding came about and what could be done to regain the footing women had in society before WWII. I think most of it has been resolved, though we’re not yet equal. I feel there are other groups that have lost some ground in equal rights that could learn from Friedan’s research though I’m not sure if the source will be as easily identified.

Writer’s Takeaway: Though interesting, I think this book went on far too long and provided more history than it should have while lacking in solutions. I think having some proposed solutions taking up the second half of the book would have been more interesting. Her call to action was a bit weak I felt so rather than motivate me to act on behalf of women, I was more intrigued by researching the problem.

This book was a slog for me and I wouldn’t recommend it as a ‘for fun’ read. Two 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:
The Feminine Mystique: “We’ve Become the Girls We Hate” | Half-Way to a Mid-Life Crisis
The Feminine Mystique & Helicopter Parents: Why We Still Need Betty Friedan | Dr. Christy Tidwell

Book Review: The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (4/5)

9 Aug

I read another book by Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and found it terrifying and riveting at the same time. I found a copy of another title she wrote on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble and decided I needed to read it. I eventually grabbed it as an ebook that I took with me on vacation to Europe. I skipped a siesta in Spain to finish it and enjoyed the story structure immensely.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Other books by Shriver reviewed on this blog:

We Need to Talk About Kevin (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Children’s book illustrator Irina McGovern enjoys a quiet and settled life in London with her partner, fellow American expatriate Lawrence Trainer, a smart, loyal, disciplined intellectual at a prestigious think tank. To their small circle of friends, their relationship is rock solid. Until the night Irina unaccountably finds herself dying to kiss another man: their old friend from South London, the stylish, extravagant, passionate top-ranking snooker player Ramsey Acton. The decision to give in to temptation will have consequences for her career, her relationships with family and friends, and perhaps most importantly the texture of her daily life.

Hinging on a single kiss, this enchanting work of fiction depicts Irina’s alternating futures with two men temperamentally worlds apart yet equally honorable. With which true love Irina is better off is neither obvious nor easy to determine, but Shriver’s exploration of the two destinies is memorable and gripping.

I didn’t realize it was a parallel-universe structure until I was a few chapters in. I read this book very slowly at first during my lunches at work but I got into it a lot more when I realized what was happening with the structure and even more so on my travels in Europe. It was interesting to see how the same events in Irina’s life (Christmas with her mother, snooker tournaments, world events) played out depending on which path she was on. My only disappointment in the book is that I could see how it was going to end when I was 2/3 of the way through. It was a bit of a let down when it actually happened.

I loved all of these characters. Irina was a good mix of compliant and rebellious, selfish and selfless. Both fates worked for her character. Lawrence was both intolerable and lovable, as was Ramsey. It was easy to draw similarities and stark differences between the two. Irina’s mother was a great addition to round out the cast.

Ramsey was my favorite character just because you didn’t know what he’d do next. He was volatile but I really started to love how predictable he was at the same time. His chapters were more fun to read because you knew when he was going to blow up but you had to watch it happen, which was always a joy.

I had a boyfriend in high school who Ramsey reminded me of so I could sympathize with Irina. He was jealous and pushy like Ramsey but we didn’t have the same emotional connection that Irina and Ramsey shared. It reminded me of how unhappy I was in that relationship and how unhappy Irina was at times. I wanted her to leave him but I could see how she was really happy with him at the same time. It was a tough boat to be in.

Lionel Shriver
Image via The Times

I loved the two books Irina wrote, differing depending on which man influenced her work. It was cool to see how Irina and her motivation didn’t change, though the reasons she went for the project was different. I liked how the comparative quality of the books was slightly different as well, depending on who was around her. I don’t want to give away much more!

Because I could see the end coming, it was a bit of a let down for me. I wish I could say something different because the ending was so well done, but I said what I thought to my husband and when I finished it, I was waffling between Four and Five Stars. I only went with Four because I guessed the ending.

Irina’s life was very different in the two plots but also shared a lot of similar elements. She wasn’t going to escape certain heartaches and joys. Life went on in both stories, for better or for worse. No matter the decisions we make, we can’t see the far-off consequences and we can’t say if we’ve been right or wrong with them for years. In life, there may be some decisions that are definitively bad or good, but many fall somewhere in the middle.

Writer’s Takeaway: I really enjoyed the alternating chapters and alternative universes of this book structure. I was a little confused as to what was going on at first because I didn’t read the back cover of the book, but that’s a problem I bring upon myself. I would get excited when a chapter ended and I could jump into the other world. It kept the pace of the book going strong. I’m not sure I would recommend this format because I think it could go badly, but Shriver nailed it.

This was a great book and one I really enjoyed. 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:
The Post Birthday World | Charlotte’s Web
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The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver | Honeywhitlock

Book Review: The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer (3/5)

10 Jul

I throw a thriller into the mix every once in a while, just to keep things fresh. Meltzer has been a go-to author for a while since I picked up a few autographed versions of his books at an author event a few years back. I’ve turned to audiobooks for a few of them just to save myself some reading time. They also make for good distractions while driving.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Fifth Assassin (Culper Ring #2) by Brad Meltzer

Other books by Meltzer reviewed on this blog:

The Book of Fate
The Book of Lies 
The Inner Circle (Culper Ring #1) and Book Club Reflection
Meeting Author Brad Meltzer

Summary from Goodreads:

From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, there have been more than two dozen assassination attempts on the President of the United States.

Four have been successful.

But now, Beecher White discovers a killer in Washington, D.C. who’s meticulously re-creating the crimes of these four men. Historians have branded them as four lone wolves. But what if they are wrong?

Beecher is about to discover the truth: that during the course of a hundred years, all four assassins were secretly working together. What was their purpose? For whom do they really work? And why are they planning to kill the current President?

Beecher’s about to find out. And most terrifyingly, he’s about to come face-to-face with the fifth assassin.

It’s been a few years since I read the first book in this series but I was able to pick up on things pretty quickly as I went along. I’ve read a few Meltzer books now and it always catches me off guard when people show up in more than one of his books. It makes them all run together a bit more than I’d like, but it’s also a nice touch to those who have read a lot of his books. My frustration with this one was that it felt too much like all of his book. Presidential thrillers don’t allow for too much variety because they’re going to involve a lot of politics and Secret Service and likely a good amount of presidential history. There’s not much more to it than that. These books can get a bit repetitive if you read too many in a row so I’ll probably take a break for a while.

Credibility isn’t something I look for in characters in this kind of book. The fact that the characters are unbelievable is part of their appeal. Nico isn’t a normal religious fanatic or assassin. Beecher is much more than an archivist. Something’s fishy about the small time Beecher, Marshall, and Clementine come from and none of it is believable. If it were, it wouldn’t be fun.

I didn’t really have a favorite character in this book. None of them were very likable to me. In the end, I think Marshall was my favorite, but I still didn’t care for him much. His motivation ended up being great and, without spoiling anything, he was very different from what everyone thought and ended up being a great, deep new character for this series. If I read more, it will only be to answer questions I have about Marshall and his background.

These characters were hard to relate to but I didn’t expect that out of this genre. I’ve never suspected my father’s death was faked or that there was government interference in my run-ins with old friends. Beecher’s life is a bit too fantastical to be relatable to a 20-something in the Midwest working in Automotive.

Brad Meltzer and me

I thought the trip to Camp David was pretty cool. It seemed well researched for a place no media has seen. I wonder how much of it was made it. I bought the whole thing. I’ve never thought too much about the Camp and how remote it is before. That’s really great that the President has somewhere like that to retreat to.

I’m not sure how much this book advanced the plot of the trilogy. It was good as a stand-alone but Clementine, Nico, Wallace, and Beecher didn’t change much as a result of this book. If Meltzer wanted Nico free and Marshall introduced, I think that could have been done much simpler at the beginning of a book that was going to advance the plot more. Maybe I’d have to read the third book to understand the significance of what’s happened in this one but now, I’m shrugging my shoulders a bit.

The audiobook was narrated by Scott Brick. He did a good job building tension through eventful scenes. He didn’t differentiate his voice much for characters and it threw me off a few times but over twelve disks, that was almost negligible. I don’t have too much very positive or very negative to say on this narration. It was good but not stand-out.

This genre doesn’t lend itself well to themes and morals. I guess not trusting your government could be part of it but you could just as easily derive the history of playing cards being critical to major assassinations. It seems silly to try too hard to gather a moral message from this one.

Writer’s Takeaway: Meltzer had me guessing until the end who the Knight would be and what role Marshall would play in the book. Sometimes these things can seem overly obvious in thrillers but it was disguised well here. I think this is a good trick for any writer to master because it helps build tension in a story and can make for a very exciting conclusion.

This was a good book for its genre but I wasn’t in the right mood for 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:
Book Review – The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer | Tim Busbey
Book Review: The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer | Just Rochelle

 

Book Review: Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt (3/5)

9 Jul

Y’all, I finished a book! I know, I’m shocked, too. I may have cooked some chicken a few minutes longer than needed to finish it up, but we don’t need to talk about that. I’m so glad to have something finished to share here and be able to move on to some other books.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt

Summary from Goodreads:

“Critical Chain,” a gripping fast-paced business novel, does for Project Management what Eli Goldratt’s other novels have done for Production and Marketing. Dr. Goldratt’s books have transformed the thinking and actions of management throughout the world.

If you’re unfamiliar with Goldratt, you probably didn’t study business in higher education. His book, The Goal, is considered a must-read for anyone studying production or supply chain. I read it in my undergraduate and enjoyed it, despite it being for an operations course. I liked how Goldratt combined characters and a plot to tell his theory rather than writing a paper or textbook. I was glad to read another of his books, this time about project management.

Given that Goldratt’s characters are created to tell you about business theory, they’re fairly well developed. Rick Silver and his wife have a very believable marriage and the three employees at Genemodem each have their own personalities and strengths. I honestly didn’t expect much from the character development but was happily surprised.

Rick was a very likable character. I felt bad for him when it came to his relationship with his wife and I admired him for his teaching styles and abilities. I would have loved to take a class with him. I appreciated how he developed his theories and the work he put into his research. It was believable that he had to struggle to create the program he did. I liked that things weren’t just handed to him or easy for him.

I related to the three Genemodem characters. They saw a problem developing at work and they had no idea how to solve it. I think most employees feel that way pretty often! They were lucky enough to be given all the resources they needed and the means to solve their problem. No, it wasn’t easy, but they were able to do it. It helped that people were receptive to what they were saying because, you know, it’s a book about business.

Eliyahu Goldratt
Image via Historia y biografia

I liked the end when Rick was able to show his theories worked in practice and implemented them. I enjoy the way Goldratt introduced the theory and then had to fight through all the times that there are ‘exceptions’ and show how they’re not really exceptions at all. The one with the contracts was my favorite because there was no way being late could be a good thing for this theory. I thought the way it was explained was good.

There wasn’t a part of this book I particularly disliked. The pacing was good and I knew I was getting a lesson in project management and the theory of constraints even though it read like a novel. It was what I expected out of it and nothing more or less.

The audiobook was narrated by Alexander Cendese. I got some of the students mixed up from time to time because his voices for them were very similar but I think there were one too many students anyway. I also didn’t like his voice for the women, it seemed condescending which I was OK with for Janice but it bothered me for Ruth. Ruth was a smart and able woman and her voice made her seem like an oblivious airhead.

I think Goldratt got his theory across well. It would be good to have a more concise summary of the theory if one was trying to implement it so that you weren’t searching through this whole book for what to do when a shared resource is a bottleneck. The idea of the critical chain came up very late in the book. For it being the title, I was expecting it to be prevalent much earlier. It’s a really great idea and I hope it’s widely used now.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m far from an academic but I can see how this is an odd format for someone writing about a theory they have. I think Goldratt has been so successful because it’s much more engaging. Jesus told stories in parables and Goldratt spews business theory hidden in novels. People learn and remember better when something is relatable and they can see the application. I think he’s onto something good with this style.

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot but I miss fiction a bit so my rating has been lowered. 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!

Book Review: A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson (5/5)

12 Jun

I’ve read two Bryson books before this and liked them both. I saw this book at a used book sale around the time the film came out and decided to add it to my TBR. It was the first Bryson memoir I’d encountered and I ended up listening to it so I could enjoy it sooner. I really want to go hiking now.

A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Apalachain Trail by Bill Bryson

Other books by Bill Bryson reviewed on this blog:

The Mother Tongue
Made in America

Summary from Goodreads:

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I liked Bryson’s sense of humor and wit in the two books I’d read previously, both of which are non-fiction. I hoped it would translate to memoir as well. I was glad it did and really enjoyed the dynamic between Bryson and Katz at the beginning of the book. I felt the story changed a lot when they split up for the summer and it was never really the same when they rejoined each other. I did feel I was cheated a bit because I’d thought they were doing the trail in one stretch, not in a big stretch to start, small daily stretches with just Bryson in the middle, and then a short stretch together at the end. I understand it’s reality, it just wasn’t what I believed when I started out.

I felt Katz seemed very believable. He had his foibles but he was also a strong person and did his best to hike the trail. I did feel Bryson pained himself in a dazzling light, but what memoirist wouldn’t. It’s his story so he’s sure going to look good in it. The quick descriptions of his fellow hikers were fun but I wonder how much they would have changed if he’d stuck with them for any length of time.

For lack of other options, I’ll say Katz was my favorite character. I liked his devotion and obsession with modern life and technology and how that contrasted with his time on the trail and dedication to get up and walk every morning. His reluctance was clear and I kept hoping for him to have a change of heart, but I don’t think it ever came about.

I related to Bryson better. I’m someone who likes to finish something when I start it. I won’t complain, even if my decision is making me miserable. I put my head down and push on. I felt like Bryson was doing this in the early parts of the trail. I would have done the same. Fake it until you make it. He pretended he was having fun and enjoying himself even when he wasn’t.

Bill Bryson
Image via Amazon

I liked the first third of the book best; when Katz and Bryson were hiking the trail together. I could feel their excitement and their dread that the trail went on forever and they’d never reach Maine. Every minor setback felt like life-or-death and I could see how that would happen on the trail.

I was disappointed with the middle portion of the book when Bryson was hiking alone. I felt these were a bit melodramatic and filled with a bit more background on the trail and the Park’s Service than I wanted to hear. Other parts of the book, he mixed that information in well with the story, but the middle was a bit too heavy on history and background and light on hiking time. Probably because there wasn’t much.

My audiobook was narrated by Ron McLarty. I enjoyed his narration a lot though his accent threw me at times. It didn’t come out much, but when it did, I laughed aloud a few times. He had good inflections for Katz and Bryson and Bryson’s frustration came out well with McLarty’s voice.

Bryson has an appreciation of nature that’s mostly forgotten in our society today. The trip he took was guided with maps and involved minimal contact with the outside world. Today, that same trip would likely be taken with a cell phone and periodic Facebook updates for friends and family to know he was OK. It’s hard to escape nature but Bryson found some benefits from doing so.

Writer’s Takeaway: My favorite memoirs blend story with background and research and Bryson does this well. You learn about the trail, the area he’s in, the people who have been there before, and what led him there. It’s a great blend and rather than one story about walking a long distance, you get that plus four or five other areas which are well researched and where you learn a lot of related things. He’s a master of this as I’ve learned from his other books.

I enjoyed this book and really can’t say something too bad about it. 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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