Tag Archives: Book Review

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!

Related Posts:
A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson (1998) | I’ve Just Finished Reading…
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A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson | Ton of Worms

Book Review: The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2/5)

7 Jun

I was going to read this last year, but I was booked on a trip (that ended up being canceled) when my book club read it. This time around, the other book club was set to read it and I had no reason to demure. I was excited to read the first book written by an American to win the Man Booker Prize. Until I wasn’t.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Summary from Goodreads:

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality – the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens – on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles – the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to find it funny. I wanted to see the satire in it. But I found it sad. I felt like it perpetuated stereotypes. I felt pity for the main character, never respect or admiration for what he did. I felt that after the Prologue that maybe he was a man to be followed and respected, someone who could change things. But I found him weak and I wanted the book to end so I could move on to something else.

The characters were all jokes. Hominy was losing his mind. Foy was always hiding something. Marpessa should have been fired. Me (that’s what I’ll call the narrator) cared a lot but seemingly about the wrong things. I couldn’t like any of the characters and they were so unpredictable because they were so satirical that I couldn’t like them either.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Marpessa. She seemed to know what she wanted and how to go after it. (The fact that it involved cheating on her husband aside.) I liked the respect she had for her job and the way she had control of her bus. I laughed when she took it home with her each night so that it could end up in a museum, unlike Rosa Parks’ bus.

The characters were hard for me to relate to. Besides geographic and racial differences, I just couldn’t understand the logic of bringing back segregation and slavery. It was too much of a stretch for me. It was the satire and for me, it was too much. It wasn’t funny enough to be a comedy and not sad enough to be a tragedy.

Paul Beatty
Image via the Wall Street Journal

I liked the bus ride to the ocean and the ensuing party. It reminded me of a good time that I would have loved to have. In the world of this book, having everyone quit their jobs to join the party seemed perfect and it made sense to drive the bus right into the ocean. It was a fun scene and it was the last moment before the book took what I thought was too much of a weird direction.

Foy’s sections were my least favorite. He was clearly a man past his prime who was looking to keep up appearances he should have let drop and he was sad. You knew he was going to do something stupid from the beginning so I just waited for that time bomb to blow and was still disappointed when it did. I didn’t feel his big secret was big enough to hide all that time and it makes more sense with his character for him to want to tell everyone and put his own spin on the story.

Satires are always supposed to make the reader think. This story and premise seem ridiculous but they address a very real problem in our society. Could reinstituting slavery and segregation solve the problems this book addresses? Doubtful. But are the solutions that the book sees the real and tangible solutions we need to work toward. Of course. If we’re not going to segregate buses and schools, what else can we do to get to the solution we need?

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve heard since reading this that Beatty doesn’t consider the book a satire, which confuses me beyond belief. I thought it was a satire and I’m not a fan of that style in general. I remember reading A Modest Proposal in school and thinking it was ridiculous. At least that piece had a paragraph of ‘ridiculous solutions’ that proposed actual ways to resolve the problem. I didn’t feel this book left us with any ideas for how the problem could be reasonably solved. I wished Beatty left us with some ideas at least.

This book fell through the cracks for me. It wasn’t funny enough or sad enough of thought-provoking enough. I kept waiting for something to happen which would make me think, “Oh! That’s what Beatty really thinks would help the racial problem in the US.” but I never had that moment. 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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Review: The Sellout by Paul Beatty | Paper Cups & Paperbacks
The Sellout – Paul Beatty | crazybookladyreviews
Review: ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty | Ephemereality
“A series of complex riffs on a theme”- The Sellout by Paul Beatty | Bookmunch


Book Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (4/5)

5 Jun

When my book club picked this title, I immediately looked to see if the audiobook was available. It makes my life a lot easier to have an audiobook than to squeeze a physical book in. I thought it was a mistake to see that it was only 2:30 long. But it’s true! This little gem is a slim book but it’s also really short, written more in verse than in prose. I knocked it out in under a week.

Cover image via Goodreads

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Summary from Goodreads:

Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

This was my first Jacqueline Woodson book so I wasn’t sure what to expect with the writing style. I was surprised that the audiobook was only 2.5 hours and when I heard how lyrical the writing was, it made more sense to me. I loved listening to this book and getting to enjoy the sound of it as much as I enjoyed the story. I don’t know how typical August’s story was for the time and place or if she had a unique story from her childhood, but it felt like a story of the city, not just of four girls. I think Woodson did a wonderful job of winding these three girls stories together and showing how the world could rip them apart.

The characters felt very real to me. I remember as a girl feeling unstoppable and powerful like August and her friends. I remembering wanting boys to leave us alone because being a girl was too much fun to confuse with boys and feelings. I enjoyed seeing how life tore the girls apart. Sometimes it feels like that happens so slowly that you can’t pinpoint why it happens and I felt Woodson gave us reasons but also showed the slow degradation of friendships.

August was my favorite character. This is probably biased because she narrated. It felt safe to pick her as a favorite because we know from the beginning that she goes on to have a good life. I’m always sad when my favorite character has a bad fate in the end but August is an educated world traveler. I wished there was a little more about her brother because his life seemed to parallel his sister’s in the end, being what she would have if she’d stayed in Brooklyn. I thought he helped to emphasize that she’d taken control of her life and made a point of making it different from the path that was set for her.

I related to the characters sense of youthful invincibility. I remember feeling like I could do anything and the world would bend to my will. It didn’t last long and in retrospect, it seems stupid, but at the time, nothing could stop me. I’d forgotten that feeling before I read this book. It’s great that Woodson is able to remember it.

Jacqueline Woodson
Image via NPR

I enjoyed how Woodson slowly revealed the truth about August’s mother. I had suspicions, but I was afraid to guess for sure. The ways she and her brother reacted to her father’s girlfriends was very moving for me considering August’s memories of her mother and how close she kept her to her heart. I had to go back and reference my physical copy because I tuned out for one second to the audiobook and missed it and knew it had been something big.

Hearing about the girls drifting apart was hard. The life choices and happenings that drew them apart were hard to process. Some of them were happy, others sad, but the grief of losing a friend always overshadowed it. Though you couldn’t focus on that, because something bigger was going on. Losing a friend was just a side effect.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Robin Miles. I loved how she read the lyrical words of this book and I felt she gave the story the weight it needed. It was an emotional read and Miles felt the words and shared the story in a wonderful way.

The world changes forever when we’re young and have to grow up. It can be a very trying time for young girls who have to realize not only that the world is cruel, but that it is inherently unfair. These girls learned that hard message, each in their own way. Boys change into men and you never look at them quite the same. You change into a woman and you start to see yourself the way others do.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had some of the lyricism I normally associate with poetry but it was clearly a novel. Woodson did a great job of combining what I’m assuming is an inclination toward poetry with a long-form novel. Though the result is short, it’s very impactful and a ton of fun to read. Poetic prose is great for an emotional book and really helps pack a punch.

This was a fun, quick read and I’m looking forward to talking with my book club about it. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1960-1979 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Review of “Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson | Rhapsody in Books Weblog
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Book Review: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne (4/5)

24 May

My husband and I did a long weekend trip to Cleveland a few years back and we couldn’t help but notice a bookstore down the street from our hostel. Horizontal Books drew us in immediately with its pricing structure. But 1- 50% Discount. Buy 2- 60% Discount. Buy 3 or more- 70% Discount. Clearly, we needed to buy at least three books. This was one I picked after we’d both selected one and someone had to split the middle. It seemed like stealing at those prices! I guess I was intrigued by the title (granted, the cover I have doesn’t seem to be the final and the subtitle has changed). Mine is subtitled ‘A Book Lover’s Adventures’ but the final subtitle seems to be apter.

Cover image via Goodreads

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

Summary from Goodreads:

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7″ when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living.

I love a good memoir and I’d gone through a dearth before this book. And religious memoirs are even more my speed. This was a great combination of a book lover’s story, a fitness journey, and a religious memoir. It hit all my buttons. Plus, the super sarcastic voice and great narration helped. I liked how the chapters started with Dewey Decimal numbers to tease what was coming. I liked his honesty and the way he talked about his Tourette’s. I just liked this book.

Hanagarne is very truthful about his flaws. He talks about being unable to hold down a job, his wavering faith in the LDS church, and his ticks. I’m not sure how realistic the other people in his life are portrayed. His mother, father, siblings, and wife all seem to be pretty perfect and I’m sure they’re great, but everyone has flaws. In a memoir, the focus is on the writer and having perfect side character’s isn’t as important so I can forgive Josh that one. Though Adam seemed really well-developed and I hope his characterization was right on.

Janette was one of my favorite side characters. The amount of patience that woman has is amazing! First, her patience to wait for the right man to show up in her life, her patience for Josh to find a career, for them to start a family, and for Josh’s ticks. When things went well for Josh, she was able to celebrate. When things went poorly, she still supported him and helped him find answers. She was an amazingly supportive spouse and a great mother.

While it’s nothing like Tourette’s, Josh’s struggles to find answers to his condition reminded me of a year in my life when I was struggling to get a diagnosis and treatment for a hip injury. I remember the frustration when I went through different treatments and as my diagnosis changed. Medical conditions with no easy solution are frustrating. There’s something wrong and you just want to know how to make it go away but you have to go through rounds of treatments before you find what works for you. I understood Josh’s frustration and I’m glad he was able to find something to help control his symptoms.

Image via the Oregon ALA

The story of their struggles to conceive really struck me. Their desire to have a child was so strong as they overcame miscarriages, adoption, and their final pregnancy and parenthood. Josh was very honest about the process he and Janette went through and I appreciated his honesty about a period of time that must have been clearly stressful.

There wasn’t a part of the book I disliked, per say. Josh did a great job of keeping the focus of his book on the three things he set out to cover; faith, family, and Tourette’s. I felt he blended these well together and never lost focus. There were parts I was slightly less interested in, but nothing I disliked.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Stephen Thorne. I thought he did an amazing job of voicing the sarcastic undertones of Hanagarne’s writing. He also gave proper tenderness to the parts of Josh’s story that were emotional and hard. I also adored how he read Adam. Overall, it was a great performance.

Josh set out to talk about three things and I think he covered them wonderfully. We see his progression from a boy with Tourette’s to a man living with it to a man controlling it and growing into a father. He talked about his faith, growing up with a mother and father who encouraged him to grow in his faith to a man who went out to preach and convert. His illness seemed to deter him from his belief and I appreciated his honesty about how he struggled with his faith. His family took leading roles in both of these other aspects, having a great influence over his faith and supporting him through his treatments. It was a great combination of topics.

Writer’s Takeaway: Being able to laugh at yourself is so important when you face hardships. Making light of a tough situation, when appropriate, can help reduce stress and help you enjoy life. Josh had some very tough times in his life and he didn’t make light of all of them. Misty’s return late in his life and the struggles he and Janette faced to have children were never made into jokes. But he was able to make light of living with Misty and his struggles with faith; things still very important but ones he’d deal with for a long time to come. I appreciated his way of looking at himself and the world, it made for a good read.

I enjoyed this memoir a lot. Four out of Five Stars and a high recommendation.

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: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose (3/5)

17 May

This was yet another book that I had never heard of and probably never would have read if it weren’t for my book club. There are just far too many good books to read them all. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to find the good ones.

Cover image via Goodreads

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Summary from Goodreads:

Mister Monkey—a screwball children’s musical about a playfully larcenous pet chimpanzee—is the kind of family favorite that survives far past its prime. Margot, who plays the chimp’s lawyer, knows the production is dreadful and bemoans the failure of her acting career. She’s settled into the drudgery of playing a humiliating part—until the day she receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer . . . and later, in the middle of a performance, has a shocking encounter with Adam, the twelve-year-old who plays the title role.

Francine Prose’s effervescent comedy is told from the viewpoints of wildly unreliable, seemingly disparate characters whose lives become deeply connected as the madcap narrative unfolds. There is Adam, whose looming adolescence informs his interpretation of his role; Edward, a young audience member who is candidly unimpressed with the play; Ray, the author of the novel on which the musical is based, who witnesses one of the most awkward first dates in literature; and even the eponymous Mister Monkey, the Monkey God himself.

This book started off with a summary of the book-turned-play that the plot revolves around. That threw me a little because I thought the rest of the book would focus on an odd story about a family in New York adopting a monkey. I was beyond relieved when it didn’t. I liked the revolving narrator in the book and how the next narrator was connected to the previous story. I did think the skip to Eleanor was a bit of a stretch, but it still made sense. More sense than the Monkey God talking but not ending the book. I liked how certain phrases and ideas were repeated (unhappy love affair, Darwin, etc.) and how the play was at the center of the book but never fully spelled out and explained. You explore the story from all sides without seeing it and by the end, I think I could tell you the plot fairly well.

The characters were great in this story. Each one was well-developed and they were all very different as well. Though they were all touched by the play in some way, everyone was affected differently or less directly than others. I loved how flawed they all were, it was very realistic, especially Sonya. She was the one I related to most because I’m closest to her age and I have friends that she reminded me of. I thought Margo’s flaws were great, too, and Mario. Honestly, all the characters were easy to fall in love with. Except for Adam. He was the worst.

Like I said, Sonya was my favorite character. She seemed slightly stuck in a bad situation and as hard as she tried, she wasn’t finding a way to climb out of it. I felt bad for her and could understand why she had the problems she did with sleeping pills. I wanted her date to go well but that was a dud from the beginning. I felt really bad about her situation at work, too. Sometimes you get talked into a corner and there’s no good way out and that’s what had happened to her.

I admired Eleanor. There were times I’ve wanted to tell a kid that they’re out of line when a parent won’t, but she had the nerve to do it. I also respected that she held two jobs, one a passion and one a calling. It must have been exhausting but she did well for herself. She also seemed the most collected and happy with her life out of all of the characters.

Francine Prose
Image via the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

I found Ray’s story really interesting. The actors are really involved in the musical but Ray is, of course, intertwined with the book. I liked how he talked about the back story of the novel and what he really wanted to say with it to start. It was interesting to hear how the message had changed and become so diluted with edits that he didn’t feel as connected to it anymore. I think a lot of writers worry about that and it was interesting to hear Ray, someone who was made famous and rich off his story, lament it.

The chapter from the Monkey God rubbed me the wrong way. I think it would have been better at the end, but stuck before Roger’s chapter, it seemed odd. Plus, it took away from the smooth transition from character to character. Eleanor to Roger would have made sense, but Eleanor to a God to Roger was a bit much. It seemed strange to see into the future of some of the character’s we’ve explored before we finish with the present. I wish it had been removed completely, I didn’t need to know about Ray and Sonya’s futures.

The audiobook I listened to had dual narrators in Nan McNamara and Kirby Heyborne. I’m glad that they used two for the male and female narrators, it was more believable than Eleanor in a man’s voice or the Grandfather in a woman’s. I’ve heard Heyborne before because he narrated the Peculiar Children series. Both did well incorporate the character’s disappointment in certain parts of their lives and the heaviness of humanity that was hanging over them all.

The lives of these people touched without some of them ever meeting. Eventually, Eleanor and the Grandfather meet and Margo and Mario hit it off, but some will never interact and it’s great to see how small things that other people do can affect us. It was a cool concept to jump from one to the other as they’ve interacted and I had a great time guessing who would come next.

Writer’s Takeaway: The flaws that Prose was able to give to each character made them come alive. You’d think such heavy flaws would weigh the characters down but it didn’t. I loved conscious-heavy Mario and pill-popping Ray and feeling-old Margo. It made them much more real and having well-developed adult characters was important in this book focused on a children’s play and all the ridiculousness involved in that.

I enjoyed this book but wasn’t blown away or overly captivated. 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:
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Book Review: What I Know Now by Ellyn Spragins (3/5)

15 May

This book has been on my shelf for ages. Well, not ages, but five years. It was one of the earliest books I shelved on Goodreads and I think it came onto my radar because of the suggested reading feature, which I’ve stopped using to keep myself sane. It wasn’t one I ever found at used book sales so I eventually did an inter-library loan and read it. It was a nice, short read and I’m glad I read it but I think I built it up a bit in my mind.

Cover image via Goodreads

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins

Other books by XX reviewed on this blog:

Summary from Goodreads:

If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say?

In this moving collection, forty-one famous women write letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and insights they wish they had had when they were younger.

Today show correspondent Ann Curry writes to herself as a rookie reporter in her first job, telling herself not to change so much to fit in, urging her young self, “It is time to be bold about who you really are.” Country music superstar Lee Ann Womack reflects on the stressed-out year spent recording her first album and encourages her younger self to enjoy the moment, not just the end result. “Your hair matters far, far less than you think,” is the wry advice that begins the letter bestselling mystery writer Lisa Scottoline pens to her twenty-year old self. And Maya Angelou, leaving home at seventeen with a newborn baby in her arms, assures herself she will succeed on her own, even if she does return home every now and then.

These remarkable women are joined by Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, Cokie Roberts, Naomi Wolf, Eileen Fisher, Jane Kaczmarek, Olympia Dukakis, Macy Gray, and many others. Their letters contain rare glimpses into the personal lives of extraordinary women and powerful wisdom that readers will treasure.

My first impression was that this book was physically smaller than I thought it would be. I figured that with so many women contributing to it, it would be a lot thicker. I realized that the letters were all quite short. If I were able to write a letter to my younger self, I’d go on for quite a while! Most of these women had about a page, maybe two. I was also a little disappointed by the breadth of the letters. It was clear that these were women Spragins had worked with as their careers seemed to focus on the entertainment industry. If they weren’t in that industry, then they were probably interviewed because of their experience. The women selected also seemed a little dated. The book was published 12 years ago and it showed because of the number of times I had never heard of the writer.

The women who shared their stories were very candid about their lives. Most of them talked about being afraid to make big changes and encouraging themselves to be brave. Many of them talked about their families, too, and spending time with children when they’re young. I was surprised at how many of them discussed staying at home with their children and stepping away from successful careers. I’ll talk more about this later.

One of the letters stuck out to me and that was from singer Macy Gray. She had a very rough time before her career took off and spoke very openly about her relationship with her family. She was trying to be a singer and take care of a child and live with her parents. It’s crazy to think that someone on hard times would continue to push forward in a career where success and even a paycheck aren’t guaranteed. I admired her guts but I probably would have been on her mother’s side and pushed her toward a steady job!

Many of these women were writing to themselves in their 20s, where I am now. I was surprised how little I related to the letters considering my age! I thought it would speak to me more now when I’m at the age they focused and where they made their mistakes. Instead, a lot of the letters focused on children, which I do not have, and big career moves, which I’m not ready to make. Maybe being 28 in 2018 is different than being 28 in the 70s and 80s when most of these women grew up. There were a few who were writing to themselves in the 90s and early 00s, but it wasn’t as many. It did feel a bit outdated which was a slight disappointment.

Ellyn Spragins
Image via Twitter

I got really excited when the letter was from someone I’d heard of, like Vanna White or Nora Roberts. These were women whose success has lasted over time and whose names were still recognizable twelve years after the book was published. White’s story stuck out a lot because she talked about some poor decisions she made early in her career and how they came back to haunt her on Wheel. She was one of the few women who warned their younger self to make a different decision and I thought that was really insightful.

A lot of the women in this book talked about taking time off from their careers to stay home and raise a family and that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. Now, I have nothing against stay at home moms, please don’t take it that way. My mom stayed home until I was 10. However, the letters made it sound like staying home with a family and then having extraordinary career success after was completely achievable. I think these women are the exception and I think doing so can be very difficult. I’ve seen many women take entry-level roles when returning to the workforce just to get in the door. This means they’re starting the corporate climb all over again which can be a huge disadvantage and is part of why we see such a wage gap between men and women. I felt like the women selected were too exceptional to give a realistic picture of taking time off and returning to the workforce. Most people have an amazing experience raising a family full time and some enjoy working full-time. It’s very rare to have both and this book was full of rare women.

Sometimes, in tough situations, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. These letters were a way for the light to scream, “You’ll get here and you’ll be fine, keep going!” to women struggling to find their way out of a tunnel. I liked that there was a lot of encouragement in these books and it made it easy to see that everyone struggles before they are successful.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book felt like a fun project Spragins wanted to try but not like a book she really put a lot of time into. The introductions were very generic and then focused heavily on the point in the writer’s life she was going to write about. Spragins helped each woman write her letter and I felt they were a bit too vague and short. I would have liked to see more. I also would have liked some more variety in the industries the women worked in. It felt like she asked her friends and then stopped.

There were some good messages in this book, it just fell a bit flat when it had the potential to shine. 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: An Abundance of Katherines (3/5)

14 May

After enjoying two John Green books and somewhat liking a third, I figured I might as well read through all of his books. I’m getting there, really. This is one I was given by a friend preening her bookshelves but I eventually read the ebook so I could get to it sooner.

Cover image via Goodreads

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Other books by John Green reviewed on this blog:

Looking for Alaska
Paper Towns

Summary from Goodreads:

Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun–but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed. There were also parts that annoyed me a lot. It started out with annoyance. I felt the whole premise of going on a road trip at the drop of a hat and staying with complete strangers was a bit too far-fetched. Colin’s parents seemed to keep a close eye on him so when he was able to go off with no destination without much debate, my eyebrows went up. When they were offered a job and a place to stay for the summer without much trouble, I cocked an eyebrow. There were points from then on that were fun and that I thought were well written, but I was already soured to the book and it wasn’t a great way to start. I also felt like a lot of the ending was missing. A bunch of loose threads were left untied and I kept thinking there was another chapter hidden later in the book.

One thing you can never say is that Green doesn’t understand teenagers. He understands them so well that it’s scary. Colin doesn’t care about college, he’s worried about his girlfriend (short-term) and mattering in the universe (very long-term). He doesn’t see the next five years. Lindsey and Hassan are afraid of change and having to be adults. They’re very typical and remind me of myself at their ages. Hollis seemed like an odd character to me but, in classic YA fashion, the adults don’t really matter so it wasn’t something I got hung up on.

I liked Lindsey a lot. She was happy in her small town and happy with her mother and her friends. But really, she’s scared of anything changing. She seems to have gone through a lot of change in her life with her father leaving and wants to stay where she is. But she’s also open to change that does come her way, though it takes some time for her to realize she needs it. Even if she and Colin break up, he helped her see the world outside of Gunshot and realize that she can move on.

I remember having big questions about what I would do and how important I would be when I was Colin’s age. Granted, I wasn’t a prodigy, but I still wondered. I was also afraid of change. I went out-of-state for college and didn’t know anyone when I got there. It was a bit terrifying! I could relate to Hassan’s fear of going to school, knowing that everything would change. I can understand why Lindsey didn’t want to leave Gunshot. Major changes can be terrifying and I understand the fear of finishing high school and having to make a decision about what comes next.

John Green
Image via PRH Speakers

I liked the plotline about the factory a lot. This could be a spoiler so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read this yet. I wondered about Hollis’s motivation behind the interviews so I wasn’t really surprised that it wasn’t 100% positive but I didn’t see it coming. I know what Hollis is doing is completely counter to all business logic but it matters that she’s doing it. It matters that she’s supporting her neighbors and friends. It’s one of those sticky ethics questions and I wish that plotline had been wrapped up better.

The boar hunting scene was a bit odd for me. I didn’t understand the point of it. It seemed like its only purpose was to get Colin and Hassan at a point where they could find TOC and Katrina. Granted, that scene was hilarious. However, all the detail about boars and the wasps seemed unnecessary and didn’t move Colin’s plot forward much. I could have done without it.

Colin was stuck in a rut. It was an odd rut about girls named Katherine, but it was still a rut. So was Hassan, Lindsey, Katrina, Hollis, and almost every character in the book. Getting out of a rut is hard because it’s so comfortable there. These characters helped shake up each other’s worlds long enough to climb out of their ruts and I thought the book showed that well. It wasn’t a very eventful summer, but it mattered enough to all of them.

Writer’s Takeaway: The footnotes in this one were really awkward in an ebook so that’s something to consider in writing a book. I liked how they showed Colin’s personality, but I didn’t think it was worth it. As much as I liked the teen characters, there were some jumps in logic I couldn’t get past and would even classify as plot holes. I wish Green had been a little more conscious of things that seemed out of character, especially for the parents. I get annoyed with YA books where all of the parents are stupid. I was hoping this wouldn’t be one.

An enjoyable book, but it didn’t blow me away. 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:
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An Abundance of Katherines – John Green | Clare’s Bookshelf

Book Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2/5)

7 May

This is my third Ishiguro book and I own one more that I plan to read at some point. I’ve noticed that Ishiguro’s ‘thing’ is keeping something hidden from the reader. He doesn’t hide it well, but it’s just far enough out of reach that you start to look into it before the text openly explains what is going on. I’ve liked that in his previous books. Honestly, I didn’t feel like this was by the same author. This book was so different and the ‘thing’ was more subtle and less a key part of the plot. I’m still sorting through my feelings on this one more than a week after I finished it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other books by Ishiguro reviewed on this blog:

The Remains of the Day
Never Let Me Go Book Club Reflection
Meeting Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary from Goodreads:

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in nearly a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.

This book was too layered in meaning for me to enjoy. I started reading it and was thinking of the characters being exactly who they were described to be. These are two Britains traveling to see their son. Knowing Ishiguro, I didn’t think there would be more to it. As they traveled, the people they met confused me. Gawain seemed too old to be a knight and his backstory was mixed. Wistan’s linguistic abilities confused me and I didn’t understand why he was so attached to Edwin. It wasn’t until I started getting ready to write this review and saw other takes on the book that I ever considered what the characters ‘stood for’ and what the setting ‘represented.’ I think if a book is going to be an allegory for a couple growing old, it should work as a story by itself. I didn’t feel this one did.

The characters weren’t credible enough for me. I liked the love between Axl and Beatrice but the way she dismissed her pain and their knack for forgetting their pasts (but not what they’d done since the book started) bothered me. I didn’t think of it as relating to Alzheimer’s and dementia in old age. Edwin seemed to have no purpose to me and seemed like a burden to Axl and Beatrice and later Wisten. I didn’t see the point in him and I never would have thought of him as a stand-in for their son. The people seemed like the caricatures they ended up being and I didn’t like them or connect with them.

Axl was the only character I liked. He was so sweet to Beatrice. He always called her Princess and never got angry. He made decisions that were best for her and always had her interests in mind. He was the kind of husband anyone would want.

My inability to relate to or connect with any of the characters is a big part of why I didn’t like the book. I didn’t care what happened to them. After the final scene, I didn’t sit and think about what had happened to them or bother to look up interpretations of the book. I’m only now looking into that! I was OK with the Arthurian setting but the allegory was too strong for me to connect with the characters.

Me, Ishiguro, and my friend Nicole, 2015

I enjoyed the escape from the terrible beast that Gawain, Axl, and Beatrice had. It was after this scene that I started getting confused about timelines so it was the last scene that stuck with me before I was confused. I liked the image of them creeping along in the dark and finding an escape route. It seemed like a good adventure for an Arthurian tale. I did find it a bit inappropriate for their ages, but that was something I could get over.

I really disliked the ending. This might end up in spoilers so best skip down if you don’t want to know that. I was so frustrated that after all the warning’s they’d had, they would still separate with a boatman. I couldn’t believe they’d have no patience to wait or that they’d place trust in a stranger after they’d had bad experiences with strangers earlier in the story. The fog had lifted, they should have remembered what they’d learned but they carried on anyway. It made Querig’s plotline seem pointless.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by David Horvitch. I didn’t like his narration very much. I thought he made Beatrice sound a bit whiney and he didn’t use very different voices for the male characters. It’s fairly often that I find a male narrator whose female voices bother me so this isn’t a surprise but it didn’t help when I was already struggling to stay engaged with the book.

Looking it up now, I see a lot of different interpretations of this story. Axl and Beatrice’s story is about losing one’s memory in old age and reflecting on relationships and their merits. The characters represented themselves and others at different stages of life. It’s all well and good and if I’d known these interpretations, I might like the book better. As it is, I didn’t and I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been couched in a frame narrative like a dream or book, like how The Princess Bride structures the film. As it is, they were too hidden for my tastes.

Writer’s Takeaway: Ishiguro was trying too hard to say something that I didn’t hear him. It was completely lost on me and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. I think he strayed too far from what made his previous books enjoyable. I think there’s something to sticking to a ‘type’ of book. I wish there had been a bit more realism in this one.

Not my favorite and not an Ishiguro book I’d recommend. Two out of Five Stars

This book satisfied the ‘Pre 1500’ time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

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