Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob (4/5)

21 May

I can’t remember how exactly I heard about this one. I think it was in a ‘new releases’ pamphlet a few years ago. Anyway, I wanted to add it to my TBR and it took me almost five years, but I finally got around to it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

Summary from Goodreads:

When brain surgeon Thomas Eapen decides to cut short a visit to his mother’s home in India in 1979, he sets into motion a series of events that will forever haunt him and his wife, Kamala; their intellectually precocious son, Akhil; and their watchful daughter, Amina. Now, twenty years later, in the heat of a New Mexican summer, Thomas has begun having bizarre conversations with his dead relatives and it’s up to Amina-a photographer in the midst of her own career crisis-to figure out what is really going on. But getting to the truth is far harder than it seems. From Thomas’s unwillingness to talk, to Kamala’s Born Again convictions, to run-ins with a hospital staff that seems to know much more than they let on, Amina finds herself at the center of a mystery so thick with disasters that to make any headway at all, she has to unravel the family’s painful past.

I liked the back-and-forth style Jacob used to move through time. We see Amina as a girl growing up with Akhil and then we see her as an adult visiting her parents. Both stories lead us to find out how Akhil died (this isn’t really a spoiler, it’s pretty clear from early in the book). The theme of sleepwalking, or sleeping in general, is pretty prominent. Her uncle (whose name completely escapes me) is a sleepwalker and his sleepwalking ends up causing a major and deadly accident. Akhil suffers from a sleeping disorder, and her father ends up developing one. But ultimately, the sleepwalking motif is also a theme about enjoying the time you have. For a lot of Amina’s life, she’s gone through the motions without enjoying or really taking in what is happening around her. She’s sleepwalking through life when she could be dancing through it and enjoying it to the fullest.

I adored Amina’s parents. Thomas and Kamala reminded me a bit of my parents and of my friends’ parents as well. Their speech patterns were great, like how Thomas repeated someone’s name three times when greeting them. The way they cared about their kids was very real to me. Kamala was fierce when it came to Amina and Akhil and I adored her love for them. I also liked how they’d changed when they became empty-nesters. They were more relaxed with their kids and able to enjoy being a couple again. I see that in my parents and my in-laws and I’m glad Jacob was able to capture it.

Kamala was my favorite character. She was well drawn and she had a great attitude about life. Her religious convictions were fun to read about and the way she spoke to and cared about her kids was very loving. She called them dummies all the time, but you knew she was the most kind-hearted character in the story. The way she treated Thomas through his illness was heartbreakingly beautiful. She was a woman who was kind and loving on the outside but could yell and push to get what she needed for her family. I loved the way she was drawn.

Because I’m a similar age to Amina, she was easy to relate to. I liked that we got a character around 30 who isn’t settled and happy in her career. I feel that, all too often, characters in books are wildly successful by age 30 and that seems so unrealistic. She felt more real to me because of this and I was glad to have a character I could relate to.

Mira Jacob
Image via India Today

The flashbacks to Akhil in high school were my favorite parts of the book. Seeing a boy becoming a man so quickly and seeing it through his sister’s eyes was a great way to develop his character. I enjoyed hearing about his political dealings because it felt reminiscent of high school for me; when we were 17 and out to change the world. He was full of optimism and hope. Amina watching him change was paralleled with herself at 30, who has not yet come into herself in the same way and needs a kick in the pants to be comfortable with herself.

Dimple was my least favorite character and the parts of the book with her in it disappointed me. She felt very flat to me and I didn’t think she added much to the book. She seemed like a terrible friend if I’m being honest. She pushed Amina into doing a lot of things she didn’t want to do and wasn’t very supportive when big things were happening in Amina’s life. She also kept secrets and seemed to demand a lot of attention when they were together.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jacob. At first, I was nervous because some authors are not meant to be narrators. But Jacob really impressed me. She did great accents for her Indian characters and gave each a distinct voice and inflection so they were easy to tell apart. I hope she continues to narrate her books going forward as she has a great gift for it.

Writer’s Takeaway: It was clear to me that Jacob had some personal knowledge of being Indian in America. The story was reminiscent to me of a Jhumpa Lahiri novel and I thought the immigrant story was well done. This is a great example of ‘write what you know’ and it really shone for me.

This was a great read and I’m glad I finally got around 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!

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The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacobs | 52 Books or Bust
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Book Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob | ahouseofbooks


Book Review: Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton (2/5)

20 May

S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is probably my favorite novel of all time. I adore it each time I read it and I love the movie adaptation. I have a ring with a quote from the book. Everything about it is amazing. So when I found out Hinton had published a novel more recently, I added it to my TBR. It took years, but I finally got to it. And I’m quickly trying to forget about it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton

Summary from Goodreads:

An orphan and a bastard, Jamie Sommers grew up knowing he had no hope of heaven. Conceived in adultery and born in sin, Jamie was destined to repeat the sins of his parents–or so the nuns told him. And he proved them right. Taking to sea, Jamie sought out danger and adventure in exotic ports all over the world as a smuggler, gunrunner–and murderer. Tough enough to handle anything, he’s survived foreign prisons, pirates, and a shark attack. But in a quiet seaside town in Delaware, Jamie discovered something that was enough to drive him insane-and change his life forever. For it was in Hawkes Harbor that Jamie came face to face with the ultimate evil…

The book started strong for me. Jamie had a rough childhood and grew up to be a bit of an outlaw but a happy guy until he sees a coworker killed for a cause he doesn’t support. The timeline jumps between his time in a mental ward and spiraling downward in New Orleans. I thought there was some connection between the drugs and alcohol abuse and his space in the ward. Then he moved to Deleware and things seemed to be OK for a while. And here’s where the book lost me. I’m going to spoil it completely so skip this review if you want to read this. There he’s attacked by a vampire and made to be his slave. Yep, no joke. A story that I thought was going to be about the perils of drug abuse and making the wrong friends is about not waking up vampires from their long slumbers. The rest of the book is Jamie trying to escape from the vampire’s grip and their almost friendship by the end. I was hoping for a while that the vampire was some kind of metaphor for Jamie’s state of mind but when I lost that hope, I stopped caring about this book. It was so far from what I loved about Hinton’s other novels, the gritty reality of growing up on the wrong side of town, that I couldn’t like it.

Before the vampire attack, Kell and Jamie seemed like very likable characters and I could picture them easily. I liked easy-going Jamie and too-smark Kell. The first half of the book was great. But when it turned Twilight-y, I was done. Jamie dissolved into a shell and Kell was killed for a quick drink.

I didn’t like any of the characters but the least likable was Louisa, the doctor treating Grenville. She was very cruel to Jamie and I didn’t understand her motivation. She was not his master and even Grenville didn’t treat him as cruelly as Louisa did. She appeared out of nowhere to be a lurking presence in the novel and I wish she’d been taken out, I don’t think she added anything to the book.

At the beginning of the book, Jamie was relatable. He had some rough times, he was a bit impulsive, but he had a good heart. Once he was bitten, I hated him. I think that change made this book kind of hard for me to read. It essentially killed off my favorite character.

S.E. Hinton Image via FixQuotes

Jamie’s stories about sailing with Kell were great. I would have read a book of just that. I liked the adventure and risk he faced. I love the water and I won’t lie, some of that life was really appealing to me. I’d love to be on the water all the time but I’m a little too settled to start now.

The ending of the book was rough for me as well. If Grenville’s curse was lifted, I would have thought he’d age. But I guess every author gets to re-write their vampire lore just a bit. I don’t like that Jamie ended up being a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. I would have thought he’d get out of there completely or never recover from it. I guess his character weakness was too much for me by then. I wanted him back to his former glory and it was never going to happen.

I can’t begin to think of what the theme for this book is. Don’t go sticking your nose somewhere a kid tells you is haunted? Tough luck if you’re attacked by a vampire? It doesn’t matter if your doctor has the best intentions? The book was so disjointed and felt like three different books so I’m not sure what to think of it or even how to critique it. It was just too much.

Writer’s Takeaway: At the beginning, Hinton was using flashbacks to build tension. We saw Jamie growing up and exploring the seas and would return to him in psychiatric care. Unsure what had landed him there, we followed him and heard him share his story with the doctors. Then he’s released and the story fell apart for me there. All the tension seemed unimportant. His adventuring had nothing to do with why he was there, he’d be bitten and had tried to save someone else but was accused of assault. The tension disintegrated and I stopped caring. If using a flashback structure, it’s important that the flashbacks are important.

This book was a huge let down for me, sad to say. 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:
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Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman (3/5)

9 May

I’d seen a bit about this book a while back but it had fallen off my radar when my book club selected it. This is another instance where I’m glad I knew nothing about the book before reading it because I think the development of the skein would have been ruined for me. This was fun to discover as I went.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Summary from Goodreads:

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I liked the idea of women becoming the dominant sex though I didn’t like that it had to be an almost magical power they gained to make it happen. I also didn’t like the number of characters we followed through the book, it almost seemed like too much. I think the narrator took a little away from this for me, too. She wasn’t my favorite.

We got a good variety of characters in this book and, for the most part, they eventually overlapped which was a nice way to tie the whole thing together. I appreciated that, though I think we could have done without one or two of them. Margot was a hard character for me to like but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t believable. I could see someone like her coming to power and maybe that’s what was so unlikable about her. You felt terrible for Jocelyn, being the daughter of such an ambitious woman who seemed to be using her daughter for political gain. Unfortunately, I could see it happening.

Allie was my favorite character. I’m not sure if I think the voice was God or not, but I thought her journey was the most interesting. The way she rose to power and the following she created was incredible. The way she spoke when the Voice was speaking through her was so markedly different from the one in her internal dialogue and I appreciated that in the writing. I liked how she teamed up with Roxy. They were my favorite pair. I think she may have taken things just a little too far, but I still liked reading her story.

Jocelyn was the most relatable to me. Her position, with inconsistent power, is most like a woman in a mans’ world today. She is nervous to show her power and looked down on when she is overpowered. She’s trying everything to stand out and nothing works so she takes stupid risks. I think I’ve felt like or done all of these things at one time or another.

Naomi Alderman Image via The Guardian

I enjoyed the flashes to the future when they would share a museum view of modern objects. The analysis of an iPhone sticks with me a lot. I liked that aspect of sharing objects that would be used in the book and tieing it into the post-Cataclysm view of the present. These bits were a nice way to break up the book.

I didn’t feel like the ending was really clear, or maybe I rushed through it. I’m about to spoil it so skip this paragraph to avoid that. I guess I’m supposed to assume that the rebel army used nuclear weapons to such an extent that they ended civilization altogether. It was on the brink of collapse anyway so I can see how that might happen, but it was still a bit much for me. I don’t understand how that would result in all knowledge of what happened during the time but would leave enough people alive for humanity to restart in a few thousand years. Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but it seemed like a bit of a rush to me. Especially that we’d develop English and publishing again, as Naomi and Neil write in English and are both authors. I think if we got to do everything over again, we might do a few things differently.

The audiobook is narrated by Adjoa Andoh and at times, I liked her and at times I didn’t. I liked her for Tunde, Roxy, and Allie but I didn’t like her for Margot and Jocelyn. Maybe it was the Brit reading an American thing, but it didn’t work for me. She made Margot too pushy in my opinion, and Jocelyn too weak.

The Power discusses the nature of power. Is power derived from physical strength like a skein? Or is it from nuclear weapons? Political pull? Followers? Fear? Information? Each of the characters had power in a different form and none of them were all-powerful. There are different kinds of power needed at different times for different things Allie didn’t have fear or information, but Roxy had fear and physical power. Tunde had information, but little strength. Together, they could have done a lot more than they could apart.

Writer’s Takeaway: When I started the book, I thought the characters would never meet or intertwine and I resigned myself to that. But when they did, I was so glad because they enhanced each other’s stories. Roxy showing up to save Tunde or Jocelyn meeting Roxy’s brother or Margot meeting Allie, all of these times I became more invested in the characters because they were made more vivid by the eyes of the other characters. I liked how Alderman drew them together.

Enjoyable, but not a favorite. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the Future time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Midwives by Chris Bohjalian (5/5)

7 May

I’ve owned a signed copy of this book for years. I met Bohjalian back in 2014 and got this book signed. It’s lingered on my shelf since then. I’m making great efforts to actually read my books so here I am, getting through a backlog that’s five years old. I’ve seen that there’s a movie of this one out there so I’ll have to watch that soon on a recovery day.

Cover image via Goodreads

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

Other books by Bohjalian reviewed on this blog:

Before You Know Kindness (and two book club reflections)
The Sandcastle Girls
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Summary from Goodreads:

The time is 1981, and Sibyl Danforth has been a dedicated midwife in the rural community of Reddington, Vermont, for fifteen years. But one treacherous winter night, in a house isolated by icy roads and failed telephone lines, Sibyl takes desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performs an emergency Caesarean section on its mother, who appears to have died in labor. But what if—as Sibyl’s assistant later charges—the patient wasn’t already dead, and it was Sibyl who inadvertently killed her?

As recounted by Sibyl’s precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Connie, the ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt except for the fact that all its participants are acting from the highest motives—and the defendant increasingly appears to be guilty. As Sibyl Danforth faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.

This book kept me up late reading every night I picked it up. I had to decide not to read a few nights because I couldn’t afford to be up for another half hour engrossed in the book. It was mesmerizing that someone with the best of intentions, like Sibyl, could be so reviled and hated. She was doing her job. I was a bit terrified that something like that could happen to me.

Connie was very real to me. She was an observer and a good set of eyes for this story. I think Sibyl’s reactions were very real, too. And the father. Overall, it felt real. I would have been lost in a similar situation and I think they all felt that except for the lawyers. A manslaughter charge isn’t something many people face regularly so being unsure how to navigate and lost in a legal battle made sense. If the characters had felt confident, it would have been weird.

I liked how Connie took charge toward the end. For so long, she was the observer and though we get a bit of her as her own person, she doesn’t do much in the story until the end. She understands what is at risk and she wants to help her mother and without saying too much, I’ll say that she does those things. She’s a very loving daughter. She has her doubts about what her mother is doing and what she has done, but she’s very loving. I liked seeing her come into herself at the end.

The loss and confusion the characters felt were relatable. I think everyone has a time in their life where they do something they’re confident of but later question everything about that decision. Hopefully, not many people have to do it on the scale of Sibyl’s decision, but I think we all do it. Should I have changed my major? Should I have gone to that party? Should I have picked a different vacation spot? Not everything is cut and dry and Sibyl’s work was a big grey area.

Me and Chris Bohjalian

It wasn’t my favorite part, but the C-Section scene has quite an impact on me. I kept closing my eyes as I read, trying to block out the vivid image but it was only in my head. I was visibly cringing to a point my husband asked if I was OK. It was very well written and the descriptions were incredible.

A lot of time was dedicated to Connie and Tom’s relationship and I felt like it fell flat at the end of the book. I would have liked a little something more to make it memorable. If they weren’t going to last, maybe a first sexual encounter or a bigger role in supporting her through the trial. I just felt it could have concluded a bit better.

So many things in life are not right or wrong, they are somewhere in the middle. What Sibyl did can’t be described as either. Her actions were neither perfect nor deeply flawed. The situation was so complicated that it’s unclear if a good outcome could have resulted no matter what. Personally, I think I would have found Sibyl innocent, but I’m hearing Connie’s side of the story. Maybe Asa’s story would have convinced me otherwise.

Writer’s Takeaway: Making the reader uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. The operation scene was vivid but it was great. I didn’t agree completely with Connie’s actions, but I understand why she did it. I’m not sure if Sibyl’s reaction was the right call, but it’s what she did. None of the actions were ambiguous, but how I feel about them are uncomfortable. It made me enjoy this book and think about it for weeks afterward. That’s a great accomplishment.

This book kept me interested and engaged until the end. 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:
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Review: Midwives | Quirky Girls Read

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapien’s Agenda by Becky Albertalli (5/5)

30 Apr

I put off reading this book for FAR too long. I knew about it, knew it was well reviewed and knew about the movie and the hit that it was. But I kept putting it off! I feel like I have to apologize to the book for this. I could have been telling other people to read it well before now and I wasn’t. I’ll always have that on my heart. Sigh.

Cover image via Goodreads

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Summary from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

I just adored this book. Loved it. The dialogue was my favorite part. It sounded very natural and reminded me vividly of being in high school. Albertalli nailed the sarcasm and discomfort of being a teenager and now knowing who you are. I adored it. I envied it, even. It was brilliant.

The characters were spot on and I loved it. Leah’s anger at being left out, Nick’s obsession with playing his guitar and girls obsession with Nick playing guitar was spot on. I really adored Simon’s relationship with his older sister, Alice. I thought it was really realistic how they changed when she moved away, but how much they still loved each other. It reminded me of when I left for college and how my relationship with my brother has never been the same. Everything about these characters enchanted me. It was great.

Abbey ended up being one of my favorite characters. And as much as I liked her, I saw why Leah disliked her and I think that made her more real to me. Not everyone is infinitely likable. I liked that she did sports and drama and was a real friend. I understood why Martin liked her and why Nick did. And I understood why Simon opened up to her. It was a nice touch having a character who was new to school and I liked the dimension she added to the story.

Simon was so easy to relate to. While I didn’t have to come out as gay in high school, I still felt like I had to hide part of who I was and I think most high school students feel the same way. You hide who you have a crush on or things you enjoy or what you do outside of school, anything that you fear may make you ‘uncool’ or your friends doubt you. It’s not always something as big as sexuality, but his struggle is universal to growing up.

Becky Albertalli
Image via Atlanta Magazine

I loved the emails back and forth with Blue. The flirting was adorable and I blushed at it constantly. I remember flirting over AIM and texts so it gave me flashbacks. I was sad when Blue stopped emailing back, though he had very valid reasons. It was a really sweet way for them to grow their romance and I had a blast guessing who Blue was. For the record, he dropped a really major hint that I picked up on and I TOTALLY got it right. Win.

I thought the talent show was really anti-climactic. It resolved the sibling’s plotline a bit, but not really for me. It just felt like a little too much and a weak excuse to get Simon’s parents out of the house for a bit. I think something else could have been used to keep that complication out of the plot.

My audiobook was narrated by Michael Crouch. He was absolutely amazing and I adored him. He read with the right amount of teenage angst to be authentic without being trying. He nailed Simon’s voice and those of his friends and family. It was the kind of performance that would make me seek out other narrations he’s done.

Simon is rightly scared to be open about his sexuality. When he is, he’s mocked and people say and do hurtful things. But his friends and family don’t. They love him and support him and fight for him. What I got from this book is that we have a right to be scared of things that could hurt us. But we will also be supported by our friends and family when we are scared and it will all be OK in the end.

Writer’s Takeaway: The dialogue here was just amazing. I can’t say enough good things about Albertalli’s insight into the teenage mind. It honestly made me doubt my own writing and that it’s any good. I worry that I don’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager as well as other writers do so maybe my writing for them will be irrelevant. It’s always good when a book is so great it makes you doubt your own writing, right?

This book blew me away and I adored 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!

Related Posts:
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Review: Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli | Let the Pages Reign

Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles (4/5)

22 Apr

Yet another book club selection I knew nothing about and ended up enjoying. Seriously, I should let my book club pick everything I read. I’d have no idea what I’m getting into and I’d enjoy every minute of it.

Cover image via Goodreads

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Summary from Goodreads:

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

For such a short book, that summary covers a lot! I’m glad I didn’t read it before I started the book. I enjoyed the style of this book, with rather sparse writing, a very Hemingway-esque feel. It felt appropriate for Captain Kidd. He was a basic man who didn’t need much to be happy and he didn’t need a lot of words either. I’m not sure what I expected to happen to Johanna. I knew she had a sad story and I wasn’t sure how it would get better. While I liked her bonding with Captain Kidd, I knew they’d be separated in the end so I tried not to be too emotionally attached to the two of them. But it was hard not to.

I really believed these characters traveled Texas. It was easy to picture Captain Kidd, an aged war veteran who’s disenchanted with what’s happened in the land he fought for. Johanna was a spunky little kid, not too sure why some things are happening, but she adapts and moves on.

Captain Kidd was a great character. He was very open-minded for someone of his time and I like how that was explained by his marriage. I liked how he stuck to his commitments and morals, even to the point of paying for the chickens Johanna had killed. I thought he was very resourceful to read the news as a form of income. He was very smart about it as well, making sure to keep the peace in his readings and not stir up trouble. I think he’d find a way to make it in today’s gig economy as well.

The Captain’s sense of morality was something I related to. I would have paid for the chickens the same way he had. His dedication to Johanna was very admirable and I liked how much he ended up caring for her. I easily get sucked into small commitments as well so I could see how that would happen.

Paulette Jiles
Image via Texas Monthly

The shootout was my favorite scene. I liked seeing Johanna and the Captain fight together and I loved how inventive Johanna was with the shells. It made me wonder about her a bit, and what she’d seen when she was living with the Kiowa. It was the first bit of mystery we got from her. I also liked how it showed she was dedicated to him in the same way he was to her.

I disliked the ending only because it felt rushed. After so much time getting to San Antonio, it was a bit of a let down to be there and for so much to happen right at the end. Between his kidnapping and Johanna’s wedding was only a page or two. It seemed far too fast after such a slow book. I thought the ending was appropriate for the characters, though, and I was glad of that.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Grover Gardner. He was a great selection for reading this book. His voice was exactly what I wanted Captain Kidd to sound like. With his narration, the short sentences and narration were brought to life and it didn’t feel choppy. I liked how he read Johanna’s words and her learning English. It felt very real to me and I can always appreciate a male narrator who does a good female voice.

Captain Kidd’s story was about dedication. Sometimes our dedication is tested and tempted but Captain Kidd stayed strong throughout. It seemed out-of-place for a girl to test an older man in such a way but I liked that it seemed so unusual. I think it would take something unusual to make such a change in a man like Captain Kidd.

Writer’s Takeaway: As much as I enjoyed this book, one of my major takeaways is the pacing. I felt the story was very front-loaded and most of the activities of the novel took place in the early part of the journey to San Antonio. I knew that in such a short book, things would be rushed at the end after such a leisurely first half. It felt like the writer ran out of ideas, time, or energy when the end started to come so fast. I don’t think any of those are the case, but it felt a little off that way.

An overall enjoyable book and one I look forward to discussing with my group. Four out of Five Stars

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 time period of my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (4/5)

18 Apr

It seemed like this book was everywhere for a while. And, as is my custom, I added it to my TBR with the knowledge that I wouldn’t read it for years. And that’s exactly what happened. Better late than never.

Cover image via Goodreads

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Summary from Goodreads:

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Parts of this book I really liked. I enjoyed the Chimaera and their backstory. It was interesting to hear how they endured the fight with the Seraphs but I liked learning about them through Karou’s eyes when they were family to her. I disliked the insta-love. It’s something that always takes me right out of a book and there were two cases of it in this book that made it hard for me to keep on believing the characters and story. I’ll get into both of these later. In the end, I’m iffy on if I want to continue on with the series. I feel like this book was a big build-up but that there wasn’t any resolution. This is another thing that frustrates me with series. I felt like there needed to be something more definitive to end this book before the second one began. I’m left really on the fence.

Character credibility is hard to judge in a fantasy book like this one. Karou seemed credible as a human as far as she could be considered a normal human. But her world was so warped and different that anything she did that was unusual or inhuman could be contributed to that. The same can be said for Akiva. It was the insta-love that did me in. Unless it’s a part of the fantasy, that two beings can tell if they’ll be compatible by seeing each other, I don’t buy it. Especially because in both cases, they were mortal enemies. I can’t imagine any circumstances where someone attacked me and I fell in love or where I was dying on a battlefield and a medic from the other side gave me some small assistance and I risked my life to find that person. Maybe the second is more probable, but it was still too much for me to process. It stopped me caring about the characters for the last third of the book.

Zuzana was my favorite character. She was fierce and a great friend. I’m sad to think she won’t be as involved in the later books as Karou heads to Eretz. I liked her (not instant) relationship with Mik and the puppet show she put on. It was fun to think of a character so small and strong spending the day with Karou and Akiva on a prolonged double date.

There wasn’t a lot I could relate to in this story. The best would be the opening scenes where Karou is putting up with Kaz. I had a high school boyfriend who was equally cocky and flippant and unrelenting and I wish I had wishes to make him itchy and uncomfortable. That would have been awesome. Other than that, I didn’t have much to relate to and it didn’t bother me much. I don’t look for a lot of relatable life experiences in fantasy. It’s escapist for a reason.

I liked the richness of the Chimaera world best. It was well described inside Brimstone’s shop and the details that were presented throughout the story were wonderful. Taylor did an amazing job of building a very unique fantasy race and giving it regional variations within the race. It was really a joy to read.

I’m going to insta-love bash again. It was just too much for me. Call me unromantic if you like, but I think two characters need more than instant attraction to build the kind of relationships that you risk your life for or go to battle for. Romeo and Juliet was unrealistic to me and this wasn’t much better. Madrigal and Akiva shared a moment. And that moment led to a year-long mission and a life-risking decision. It was too much. And I’m a bit afraid to keep reading this series and see how much was risked over a shared moment.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Khristine Hvam. For the most part, I enjoyed her narration but there was one notable exception. The voice she used for Razgut had me pulling my earbuds out and almost falling off of my bike. It was so grating and terrible and I understand why she chose to do such an altered voice, but it was way too much for me to handle. I wish she’d gone with something a bit quieter at least.

Unfortunately, I think the major theme in this book was love. It scares me a little when I can only find that theme in a YA novel. Karou does want to save her family, but that desire was pushed aside. I’m being hopeful that a desire to reconnect with the Chimaera will continue to drive her forward but the end of the novel isn’t giving me a lot of hope. Honestly, I’m surprised she didn’t give up and decide to stay human.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve not been brave enough to attempt a trilogy or to even give serious thought to doing so. I believe a well-written trilogy needs to have two mini-endings before there’s an overall ending to the series. Harry Potter accomplished this with school years, the Hunger Games did it with subsequent games. I often grow frustrated when there’s no discernible ending between books and it feels like a long chapter break. That’s how I feel about this series now. Using the last third of the book for a prolonged flashback and then ending abruptly left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Because of a lackluster ending and a bit too much insta-love, I had to go with Four out of Five Stars for this one. And I have to know, should I continue the series? Will it get better?

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Dodgers by Bill Beverly (3/5)

11 Apr

Based on the title of this one, I had no idea what to expect. Draft Dodgers? That had been my best guess. I never expected LA Dodgers, nor why that city would be significant. It was a joy to discover this book as it happened instead of reading the blurb. I had no idea what was coming.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Summary from Goodreads:

Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.

There were multiple times in this book where I was shocked at the decisions the characters made. Not because they were out of character, but because they reinforced how different the characters were from me. East surprised me at every turn and I wanted to wrap him into a hug and tell him it would be OK, even though it probably wouldn’t be. He was very strong and resilient and I rooted for him the whole time.

I liked how different each of the boys was. Ty and East were dichotomies but adding in Michael Wilson and Walter rounded out the team. I believed all of them, though it was hard to believe they were all so young. It’s crazy to think a boy Ty’s age was part of a crime mob.

Besides Easy, Walter was my favorite character. I thought he was smart but also realistic. He seemed to hold the team together to me and I liked how he tried to help East when he could. He seemed to realize Ty and East had a very strange relationship and didn’t try to get in the middle of it but also didn’t assume they were close because they were blood.

These characters were so different from myself that I couldn’t relate to them and that made the story more fun for me. I’ve never been sent across state lines to kill someone and I’ve never walked across Ohio until I found a job that didn’t do a background check. Hearing about the measures East took to survive amazed me. The places he slept, things he stole, and what he ate were amazing to me. It’s hard to imagine certain levels of poverty if you don’t see them first hand.

Bill Beverly
Image via Twitter

East’s time in Ohio was my favorite. He was doing a lot of self-reflecting but the work he was doing was also similar to his old life. The guns just didn’t kill people. It was reassuring to see he was good at something besides being a gangster if he just tried. I started to believe in him and was glad he saw he wasn’t a lost cause. Maybe it’s my aversion to violence that made me like this part of the book.

The time in Wisconsin was my least favorite. I hated Ty’s character and that section was a lot about Ty. I couldn’t understand Ty nor his motivation so he frustrated me. I was glad when he was left, to be honest. It wasn’t the best of circumstances (trying to be spoiler free…) but I was relieved that the edge was gone. Walter and East could relax a little.

My audiobook was narrated by J.D. Jackson. I thought he did a really good job. His voices were subtly different so it wasn’t distracting. He also gave the right amount of gravitas to scenes that deserved it. His narration wasn’t distracting which made it enjoyable for me.

East was given an identity because of his relation to Fin. He was a yard boy and he did what Fin asked. But he got to learn that he could be something more. That he could forge his own path, find other people who would care about him, and make something of himself. He grew to believe in himself and what he could do. He grew to respect himself and have others respect him.

Writer’s Takeaway: Beverly created a very realistic view of poverty that was beyond anything I’ve ever imagined. I see those who are struggling in my city, but that doesn’t mean I understand the desperation that they might face. I don’t see the reasons why someone might get into drugs or why they might kill someone. It’s hard to picture what drives someone as young as Ty and East to be part of something so dangerous. But this book helped. It’s clear Beverly has some contact with this level of poverty or exposed himself to it for this book. Kudos to him.

I enjoyed this book but at the same time, the second half of it was a little flat for me. 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!

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Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio (4/5)

9 Apr

This was a book I heard about but didn’t really intend to read. It was for people who had biases, and I didn’t have a bias, right? Right?! I finally decided to go ahead and read it when it was recommended by Will Schwalbe during his appearance at the Midwest Literary Walk last year. The book also appears in his book, Books for Living, which I read recently and was reminded that I needed to read this one.

Cover image via Goodreads

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Summary from Goodreads:

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Overall, I have to say I liked this book. Auggie was well portrayed, a normal kid with an abnormal face. I liked how the book focused on those who loved him and cared about him, too, and how they were affected and dealt with Auggie’s deformity. I think his classmates were the best characters, though Via and Justin may have topped them. It was reassuring to read from Auggie’s point of view and see how he saw the world and how he coped with the reactions of those around him. He was very smart and resourceful.

I found the characters credible though someone closer to a family like the Pullman’s might feel differently. Not being a part of a family like that, I appreciated the insight to difficulties they faced as well as the normality of their lives. No matter what you look like, you have to deal with siblings fighting and parents disagreeing. Those are unavoidable. Miranda and Justin were great side characters to include. They believed in Auggie and stuck up for him when they weren’t obligated and you wouldn’t guess that they would. Auggie had people fighting for him all around him.

Jack was my favorite character. He messed up and admitted it, which was very brave. I understood why he felt he had to say that he did, but how he realized what he’d done, tried to atone for it, and confessed was very admirable. I liked how his friendship with Auggie grew through the year and how other kids came to accept Auggie in the same way.

I’m fortunate to come from a family unline Auggie’s, so I couldn’t relate to them because of his facial abnormality. It made that part of the story hard to relate to. But bullying is universal. There were people in my school who were bullied for any number of reasons. You were too smart, friends with the wrong people, wore the wrong clothes or talked the wrong way. The base story of how harmful bullying can be and how it can be stopped and turned around did speak to me. I work in an industry that is trying very hard to push beyond bias and hearing how it can be affected in young children was a great story.

R.J. Palacio
Image via the book’s website

I liked the chapters from Via, Justin, and Miranda. I was in high school more recently than middle school so I could relate to their stories better. I also did theater so that part of the story spoke to me, too. The four years between Via and Auggie was huge and the approach that her classmates had to Auggie was very different than his peers and I appreciated that other view.

As much as I appreciated them, I also disliked the chapters from Auggie’s point of view. I felt that it was written in a much more juvenile voice than any of the other characters, even Jack and Summer. Maybe it was from being homeschooled for so long, but he didn’t seem to catch on to things quickly and it was a bit frustrating. Those chapters read at a lower reading level than the rest in my mind.

This book was blessed with three narrators; Diana Steele, Nick Podehl, and Kate Rudd. I was glad for the multiple narrators when I realized there were chapters from a multitude of characters’ POVs. It was good to have Justin and Jack with a male voice while Summer and Miranda had female ones. I only disliked the voice of Auggie and I was glad the whole book wasn’t narrated in that voice. It seemed like one of the female narrators assumed the voice of someone who had trouble breathing properly. Maybe this was meant to mimic Auggie’s difficulties breathing and eating because of his deformity, but it seemed demeaning and it became annoying very quickly.

People’s appearances attract attention for a hundred different reasons. Auggie’s face is atypical so people stare. We might think someone like Auggie doesn’t notice but he clearly does. I read this right after finishing Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger and she talks about being stared at because of her size. Her sentiments were the same in regards to people looking at her. Maybe we can’t help looking, but we need to learn to not say anything. The words of Auggie’s classmates hurt him much more than anyone staring at him would have.

Writer’s Takeaway: The other character’s taught me more about Auggie than Auggie did. The way they viewed him and how they loved him said a lot about who he was and how he treated others. I liked seeing him through their eyes. With my novel, I have two points of view and I should consider how one character can show the reader more about the other.

I enjoyed this book and what it had to say with my only reservation being Auggie’s narration. 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!

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Book Review: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (3/5)

4 Apr

I have a lot of love for Erik Larson. I’ve read a number of his books and enjoyed them. I like how he makes history feel like a story and how he intertwines science and invention into his stories. So naturally, I’m running through his backlist.

Cover image via Goodreads

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Other books by Larson reviewed on this blog:

Dead Wake (4/5)
In the Garden of Beasts (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners, scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed, and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect crime.

I liked the story and the way Larson wove the stories of Crippen and Marconi together, but I did feel like there was a large lull in the middle. Wireless was a fickle obsession for Marconi and it took him years to get it right. Reading about those years of trial and error was a bit redundant. Especially the many men who tried to undermine him and their varying degrees of success. I would have preferred a bit more about Crippen but I’m guessing there isn’t much more to be known. He seems to have lived a very quiet life.

Crippen doesn’t seem quite capable of what he’s accused of. While that’s part of what makes the story so unbelievable and captivating, it also makes it a bit confusing. It seems very little was asked of Crippen after he died and that he didn’t leave any clues behind. I’m a bit amazed that more wasn’t asked of him before his execution. You’d think with such a major chase going on, people would want to know how he committed the crime.

Crippen was my favorite character. I liked his up-and-down career and how he managed to have such an odd wife. Belle wanted everything for nothing and must have been very hard to live with. He seemed to be coping well right until the end. The fact that he snapped fascinates me and is part of why I want to know more about him and his motivation than history allows.

Marconi’s frustration with his invention was relatable in an abstract sense. There are things that I work on which frustrate me yet I continue to work on them. Training, writing, former school subjects, the list goes on. But Marconi was relentless and even seemed to make a living with his wireless system before he had figured out the operation of it completely. He was relentless in his trials and goal of figuring out wireless and that was admirable.

Erik Larson
Image via Twitter

The chase at the end was wonderfully written and exciting to read. I felt like someone reading about it in the newspaper while it was happening and my heart was jumping when it came to the ends. I wanted them caught so badly! I can see why the murder was so sensational at the time and why it drew so much attention. It also seems it was a good time for wireless to have made such a mark on the world and a great way for the technology to make it into popular use.

As I said, the book dragged for a bit when Marconi was the focus in the middle and it seemed he would never figure out wireless. There was a lot of trial and error, and it felt like the errors dominated. There were a lot of failures and competing companies and parties and none of it interested me much. I knew this would somehow tie to Crippen’s story and I felt it was a bit too much to remember all the names and places of failures and challenges.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Bob Balaban. I’ll be honest and say that the narration didn’t have a lasting effect on me. With a non-fiction book like this that doesn’t have speaking characters, per se, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Bob let the story be told without interfering or making it about his performance instead of the book. I’d say he was wonderfully absent.

I don’t think Larson was trying to get a theme across much in this book. I’d say he was more trying to tell a story. It’s a story of how technology can catch up with us and change the game. Wireless telegraphy was a means for ships to talk to each other and for North America and Europe to be able to converse. However, it also stepped in and changed what could have been a flawless crime by Crippen. It can be used in ways we don’t expect to do things we’d never anticipate.

Writer’s Takeaway: It wasn’t until I’d finished this book that I realized there was next to no dialogue. It flowed well, like I was being told a story, and not like a history textbook that it could have easily morphed into. Larson does a wonderful job of this in his books and it’s one of the things I most admire about him. He uses a multitude of sources to tell his stories and they come off flawlessly and effortless. Though I bet there’s a lot of effort. An awful lot.

This book was fun and entertaining but it dragged a bit for me in the second half before rushing to a conclusion. 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!

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