Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (4/5)

20 Jun

This is one of those books I feel like every book club read before I joined book clubs. I’d heard good things about it and wanted to read it so when I saw it at a library book sale, I grabbed it. Of course, I never had time to get around to it so I ended up listening to the audiobook. This feels like a common theme lately, huh?

Cover image via Goodreads

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from Goodreads:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I think I’m a sucker for dual timeline historical fiction books. I really enjoy the format and find it helps make the history seem closer to me. I enjoyed both Sarah and Julia’s timelines though I wish Sarah’s had continued on a bit longer. I think it could have been done to an extent without giving away Sarah’s future too much. Anyway. Julia was a good character, though not very relatable for me. I liked her extended family, too. Sarah’s story was so sad that it was hard to hear at times. She grew up well before she should have due to her losses.

Even though I didn’t relate well to Julia, she was a well-developed character. She never felt like she fit in Paris as hard as she tried. I thought the relationship she had with her daughter Zoë was a little unbelievable for Zoë’s age, but that was minor and didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. Julia’s desire to find the truth was a great asset and I liked how she followed things through to the end, even when they were difficult.

Even though I didn’t like him as a person, Bertand was my favorite character. He was very opinionated and strong-willed which was fun to read. Yes, he was a terrible husband, but we knew that from the first scene when he was making fun of Julia for being an American even though it upset her. He doesn’t redeem himself when we find out he’s been unfaithful but gains some sympathy when he points out to Julia she’s been neglectful of him. I thought he was very realistic and I liked his character a lot, even if he was a total jerk.

There weren’t many characters in this book that felt relatable to me. Probably the most relatable thing was Julia’s feeling of not fitting in. It’s not the same, but I lived in Southern Indiana for college and I never felt like I fit in there. It was a small city with a strong farming community, very different from Metro Detroit! Even when I knew my way around and held jobs in town, I wasn’t from there and it seemed it was always obvious to everyone.

Tatiana de Rosnay
Image via the French Embassy in the United States

I liked Sarah’s timeline. Those were my favorite parts because they made me feel like I knew more than Julia and I liked watching her figure out what I already knew. Her story had more pressing dangers to it and I could feel the fast pace and immediacy to her story. Even though it was sad, I liked the pacing.

I disliked the storyline about Julia’s pregnancy only because I thought it was superfluous to the story. She could have had a fight with Bertand without that being the cause and she could have connected with William without it, too. It felt almost like an afterthought and was almost too convenient to push the plot forward.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Polly Stone. It must be a challenge to narrate a book with so many foreign words and I thought Stone handled that well. The one thing that bothered me, and I’ve witnessed this before, is that she gave the French characters French accents when they were speaking French. Maybe this is just my brain but the accents gave me a feeling of the characters not having mastery over the language even though they were speaking their native tongue. It’s a small thing, but it got to me. Besides this, Stone did a great job building tension and tackling all the French names and places.

Family was a hard thing for Sarah to deal with. After her loss, she never felt happy with the Defaures. I felt she was always wondering what she’d be doing if her parents and brother were still alive. Julia’s family is breaking up and she seems to be redefining what her family means to her. Can it be a family without Bertand? Can her family include one more? I thought these questions played on one another well. Sarah’s struggle was much more difficult and I’m glad it got so much attention in the later half of the book.

Writer’s Takeaway:  I’m really enjoying the dual timeline in historical fiction! I think it makes the story more relatable for a modern reader and it takes some of the pressures away of researching every small detail so finely. I might have to give this a try myself in my next book.

This was a really enjoyable title with a great history lesson and some really cool twists to it. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay | Literary Treats
Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | The Book Stop
Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay | What Counts!
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | Denton Public Library

Book Review: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (2/5)

13 Jun

This is my book club’s last selection before our summer recess. To be honest, I forgot we had one more or I would have started it early. I scrambled to finish this over the weekend and turned the last page Saturday night. I wanted to like it more than I did but I’ll get to that shortly.

Cover image via Goodreads

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Summary from Goodreads:

The island of Mancreu is the ideal place for Lester to serve out his time. It’s a former British colony in legal limbo, soon to be destroyed because of its very special version of toxic pollution – a down-at-heel, mildly larcenous backwater. Of course, that also makes Mancreu perfect for shady business, hence the Black Fleet of illicit ships lurking in the bay: listening stations, offshore hospitals, money laundering operations, drug factories and deniable torture centres. None of which should be a problem, because Lester’s brief is to sit tight and turn a blind eye.

But Lester Ferris has made a friend: a brilliant, internet-addled street kid with a comic book fixation who will need a home when the island dies – who might, Lester hopes, become an adopted son. Now, as Mancreu’s small society tumbles into violence, the boy needs Lester to be more than just an observer.

In the name of paternal love, Lester Ferris will do almost anything. And he’s a soldier with a knack for bad places: ‘almost anything’ could be a very great deal – even becoming some sort of hero. But this is Mancreu, and everything here is upside down. Just exactly what sort of hero will the boy need?

There were parts of this book that had me really excited. An island nation that’s going to be destroyed: cool. A shootout and a revenge plot: cool. A love story: cool. But between these things, I was completely uninterested. The author wrote in long stretches of internal monolog or a lot of movement with minimal dialogue. It made the plot drag between moments of high action and it didn’t keep my attention.

I liked Lester a lot, which is one thing that kept me going. He didn’t feel like a hero but he was one, at least to the boy. He had legitimate fears and concerns and I felt it was very realistic that he would start to feel for the people of Mancreu. The way this love made him act made sense and he was very aware of the fact that he ‘shouldn’t’ feel that way but none the less did.

Kaiko was my favorite character. I liked that she was a strong female in a scientific role but she was still funny. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind when she needed to and stood up for what she believed in. She was a stark contrast with Africa/Laura who was more of the stereotypical woman in power. I liked that Kaiko wasn’t yelling at everyone all of the time. She was funny and smart, a delightful combination.

The situations the characters were in wasn’t very relatable and that made it hard to get into. So much of their thoughts and actions were influenced by the volatility of the island and it’s a situation I can’t relate to. I think the reason I liked the relationships in this book best is that I could relate to them. I could understand Lester and Kaiko’s emotions or Lester and the boy’s feelings for each other. These were the most interesting for me.

Nick Harkaway
Image via Amazon.com

I liked the first adventure of Tigerman the best. I thought it was well written because from Lester’s point of view, what he does is very routine or in an attempt to not die. When the footage is reviewed, he comes off as something completely different and I liked seeing how in his head, it was obviously a shoddy job to make the best of a bad situation, not a highly planned operation.

I disliked the riot scene. I thought the way it ended was very unbelievable. With such a small island and so few people left, it seemed strange to me that there would be a mob. Everyone probably knew each other so the mob wasn’t faceless or attacking unknown people. These people all knew each other. If I could be on my 2,500 person college campus and know about 25% of the students, surely the residents of that island knew each other.

 

Tigerman had to realize why he was a hero. He wasn’t trying to save the island or find justice. He wanted to protect one person, the boy. It was an admirable goal to be sure and I think it took a completely different direction than he originally envisioned. I was glad he was aware that this was his goal the whole time and why he wanted to be a hero. It made sense why he kept going back.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book didn’t hit a balance between dialogue, action, and reflection to me. There was too much inside Lester’s head and too much description of the action. I needed a better balance and more dialogue to be sure. The book had a lot of long paragraphs of Lester deciding to do something and I could have done without those.

This book missed the mark for me. 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!

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Book Review: Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (4/5)

12 Jun

I enjoy listening to some comedy from time to time. I couldn’t stand waiting for this eaudiobook any longer so I got the CD version to listen to in my car. It took me a little longer than normal to get through it, but I’m glad I listened to it. I own a copy of this book and have it signed by Sedaris.

Cover image via Goodreads

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Summary from Goodreads:

David Sedaris plays in the snow with his sisters. He goes on vacation with his family. He gets a job selling drinks. He attends his brother’s wedding. He mops his sister’s floor. He gives directions to a lost traveler. He eats a hamburger. He has his blood sugar tested. It all sounds so normal, doesn’t it? In this collection of essays, Sedaris lifts the corner of ordinary life, revealing the absurdity teeming below its surface. His world is alive with obscure desires and hidden motives–a world where forgiveness is automatic and an argument can be the highest form of love. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is another unforgettable collection from one of the wittiest and most original writers at work today.

I have an odd relationship with Sedaris. I first tried reading his book Me Talk Pretty One Day in college and I couldn’t stand it. I returned it to the library without finishing it which is something I’d never done before. Two years later, I hated that I never finished it and got the audiobook and finished the book, loving it. I met David Sedaris three years ago and found him warm and welcoming. This is one of his books that I had signed and he was impressed with the long line of people he met. I knew what I was getting into with this book and I think that helped me enjoy it from the get-go. Sedaris narrated this one himself which helps a lot. Hearing him make fun of his brother’s accent or the emphasis he places on his disgust of his sister’s apartment is great. I really recommend his books on audio to anyone wanting to try Sedaris for the first time.

I love the way he portrays his family. You can tell he feels like a bit of an outcast amongst them and as different as he is, they still love him beyond reason. It’s great to hear him talk about his mother and how much he loved her. I enjoyed the stories about his siblings a lot, too. He never gets too deeply into his partner, Hugh, and how he feels about him. I can only think of one story that mentions their quarreling. I think Sedaris portrays his family in very realistic ways because as much as they may seem like caricatures, they’re consistent from book to book and none of them have come forward publicly denouncing him yet.

Paul was my favorite and the story about his daughter being born was amazingly funny and heart-wrenching. He has a heart of gold, it’s easy to see and really cared for his wife and daughter. Sedaris made a comment about how often Paul calls that really stuck with me and talk of how much he loves his siblings and father. I could tell there was a huge age gap between Paul and David that meant they were never that close, but I wish there could have been more about Paul in Sedaris’s childhood stories.

I think Sedaris’s family stories are so relatable because we’re all embarrassed by our families at one time or another. I work at the same company as my mother and spend about 20% of my time trying not to embarrass her by my own actions. It’s a very universal feeling, especially as a kid which is why I suspect so many of Sedaris’s stories are from his childhood.

My signed copy of the book.

My favorite story was Six to Eight Black Men. It talked about cultural differences, focusing on Christmas traditions between America and the Netherlands. Sedaris has this great sense of humor and vividness to make American traditions sound just as outrageous as the Dutch ones and poke fun at both. He also taught me that in my home state of Michigan, the legally blind can hunt alone. I have to say, I’m not at all surprised but I wonder if this is still true.

It’s hard to say if I disliked any of the stories but there were some with more dark humor than I was comfortable with. Monie Changes Everything comes to mind. David’s family gained a lot from Aunt Monie but he seems to not care much for her, even when he went to see her. It was a little too dark for me.

Sedaris narrating the book himself was perfect. Like I said before, it changed how I perceived the whole story the first time I listened to him. There were two stories recorded live and played back for the recording which was even better. Sometimes, Sedaris wouldn’t pause after something funny and if I laughed too hard, I’d miss the next bit. In the live recordings, he pauses to let the crowd laugh and then I didn’t feel as silly laughing alone in my car. There were recorded voices of hundreds of others joining me.

Sedaris is very different from the rest of his family but they all accept and love each other. I think that’s the most important thing he tells his readers. No matter what, we all need to love our families because we never know how far away we’ll end up or how long they’ll be with us.

Writer’s Takeaway: Sedaris does a great job poking fun at himself. It can be hard to admit your flaws or when you mess up but he does it humbly and it makes for a really fun read.

A great laugh. I made my husband listen to one of the stories before we returned 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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Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (4/5)

8 Jun

I heard this one was going to be turned into a movie and I wanted to read it before the film came out. My husband and I needed a book to listen to for our drive to the cottage over Memorial Day weekend and we picked this one. We finished it up last week over dinner. I love having a husband who loves books, too!

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot #10) by Agatha Christie

Other books by Agatha Christie reviewed on this blog:
El misterio de la guía de ferrociarriles 4/5

Summary from Goodreads:

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. A passenger lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

I really enjoyed this story. I think that I listened to it in big chunks helped me enjoy it because I could keep track of the small details. My husband and read this book a long time ago and he remembered the final reveal, but he had fun picking up on the small details along the way. I was changing my guess at the murderer every ten minutes! Christie really is a master of mysteries.

I loved the variety of characters Christie was able to create and how distinct each of them was. She did a good job of building all of these people and then slowly revealing their secrets. I loved each time we found out something new. A part of me was very glad Poirot was on the train to solve the case, but it seems like mystery chases him! He was on his way home from solving one case to dive right back into another. Can’t the guy get a break?

I loved and hated Mrs. Hubbard. She was a great character but she made me feel like Christie must really hate Americans. Her hysterics were very believable and as annoying as she seemed, she also came off as a very loving mother and grandmother. She made for great drama on the train to be sure.

This wasn’t a book where I was looking to connect with any of the characters so I can’t say I related to any of them. I’m going to talk about the reveal a bit here so skip to the end of this paragraph if you don’t want that ruined! I have experienced times where I felt justice wasn’t served and I’ve wanted to do something about it myself but I never have. I could understand why the people involved wanted to do something, but I would never do it myself.

Agatha Christie
Image via Biography.com

OK, one more paragraph about the reveal so skip down again if you’re so inclined. I promise this is the last one. I loved the reveal! I thought it was such a perfect fit and I was, as always, impressed Poirot could think of it. It started to seem more and more suspicious that so many people connected with the Armstrong case were on the train. They, of course, would have recognized each other but were pretending not to know each other, which is when I started to suspect it was something bigger. I was sitting slack-jawed the whole time Poirot revealed it. Amazing!

I can’t think of a part of this book I didn’t like. I thought the part on the first train was dull, but that became important later. And I got a little frustrated when Poirot seemed to know the ending but wasn’t giving anything away but, again, that was important at the end. The book moved along well and I really enjoyed it!

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Dan Stevens. He did an amazing job doing all the voices! I wondered if it was full cast at one point but I think Stevens is just that talented. I didn’t realize until we were done with it that he plays Beast in the new Beauty and the Beast movie! I’m tempted to just start listening to all of his audiobooks, it looks like he’s done some great classics!

OK, one more paragraph of semi-spoilers. Sorry about that. The biggest theme I got from this book is revenge. It became obvious very early on that the murder was one of passion. The number of stab wounds was excessive for a murder and the revealed connections made it more clear. When is revenge justified? Was this murder justified? It’s up to the reader to determine.

Writer’s Takeaway: Christie had me feeling stupid and I liked it. I was OK not knowing what Poirot was thinking all the time. I still liked the story when I was guessing to the last minute who the murderer was. I don’t feel this way often, but Christie did a great job of it! She gave me just enough as she went through the story, having Poirot reveal a little at a time so that I enjoyed feeling smarter than the passengers. It’s a great balance.

This was a really enjoyable read and I hope others take a chance to read it before the film comes out. Johnny Depp and Kenneth Branagh! Be still my heart.

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: Landline by Rainbow Rowell (3/5)

5 Jun

I waited a long time to read this one because I didn’t know if I would like it. I found a copy at the library book sale. It had been taken out of circulation after the book started being checked out less. I hadn’t found time to read it so I’m just now getting around the audio version of the book. I was wasn’t completely right about my feelings of it, but it is probably my least favorite Rowell book.

Cover image via Goodreads

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Other books by Rainbow Rowell reviewed on this blog:

Attachments 5/5
Fangirl 3/5
Carry On 5/5
Eleanor & Park 4/5

Summary from Goodreads:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

I’ve read Rowell’s fantasy and I’ve read her realistic fiction and liked both. I wasn’t ready for a hybrid, though. The whole magical phone thing really got me. In Carry On, I was ready for magic and how it would affect the story. In this story, it wasn’t explained and there wasn’t a culture that normalized it. It was too much for me to buy into. I liked Georgie and Neal and Seth and Heather and all the other characters, but the phone really ruined it for me. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief in a phone that talks to the past.

Rowell does an amazing job of building realistic characters and that’s why she kills contemporary fiction. I thought all of the characters were very realistic and I really enjoyed Seth. I feel like I was supposed to hate him, but he reminded me of friends from college and it was hard to dislike him. The little girls were great and Heather was super fun. As much as Georgie’s mom seemed like a caricature, I’ve met women like her. It was all great.

Seth was my favorite character. I liked his confidence and sense of humor but also his dedication to Georgie and their show. I would have been one of the girls swooning over him from a distance in college. Spoiler warning for the rest of this paragraph! Skip to the next to avoid it. I didn’t like how he admitted having feelings for Georgie at the end. That really bothered me. It was implied but I don’t think it ever needed to be spoken and I think it would really have ruined the relationship between him and Georgie which put their future success at risk. I wish he hadn’t said anything and it seemed a bit out of character for him to do it.

I could understand where Georgie’s problems came from. Even having only been married four years, I can see how the magic of dating is not a daily occurrence in my marriage. I’m sure this is not uncommon. I hope I’m never as blindly committed to my job as Georgie, but I can see how it would happen. This is a very relatable problem and I hope it doesn’t take a magic phone to solve it if I ever do run into a similar situation. I don’t think I can count on one.

Rainbow Rowell
Image via the author’s website

I liked Heather’s story (spoilers, again!). I think it would be really hard to tell my mom if I thought I was gay and the way she handled it seemed real to me. It didn’t surprise me that her mom already knew, either. The pugs being born bringing the girls together was cute. I liked that touch.

If the phone had been removed, I would have liked the story a lot more. I think it could have been. I think there could have been some home videos or letters or pictures that stirred up memories and gave Georgie the same sense of urgency and reflections that the phone did. It took the book into magical realism and that’s a genre I don’t much care for.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Rebecca Lowman. I thought she did well with the girls’ voices and the guys without being distracting. Sometimes a man’s voice is too over-the-top in an audiobook and with how much Neal talked in this one, it’s good that it wasn’t. She gave the women in the story just enough difference to make them distinguishable, too.

Georgie didn’t mean to put her job before her family, but that’s what happened. I don’t think our priorities get that out of whack on purpose. I know there are times I’ve put school ahead of my husband and it was never an intentional decision. The trick is to recognize when you’ve done this and make things right. It might not be as extreme as what Georgie went through, but saying you’re sorry is always important.

Writer’s Takeaway: Rowell’s contemporary characters knock it out of the park again! I think adding a fantastical element was a bit of a risk for her and it didn’t work for me. She’s had great success with contemporary fiction and I don’t know what made her deviate from that. Personally, I hope she doesn’t again. It’s risky for a writer to move to another genre. Rowell has crossed over adult and YA but maybe magical realism is a bit too far for her.

I liked the book but the premise wasn’t 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: Seriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres (4/5)

22 May

I love celebrity comedian memoirs. I remember listening to an Ellen book with a friend of mine in high school and laughing so hard it was inappropriate. I grabbed this book during a bag sale at the library but I found time to listen to it before I had time to read it, so here we are. I used to watch Ellen’s show when I’d get home from high school while I ate a snack so I’m a big fan of hers.

Cover image via Goodreads

Seriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

Summary from Goodreads:

“Sometimes the greatest things are the most embarrassing.” Ellen Degeneres’ winning, upbeat candor has made her show one of the most popular, resilient and honored daytime shows on the air. (To date, it has won no fewer than 31 Emmys.) Seriously… I’m Kidding, Degeneres’ first book in eight years, brings us up to date about the life of a kindhearted woman who bowed out of American Idol because she didn’t want to be mean. Lively; hilarious; often sweetly poignant.

This book was exactly what I was expecting which was perfect. I wanted something honest and lighthearted. I wanted someone who was going to talk about her life and poke fun at herself but who is uplifting and a wonderful role model. This is a woman who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and she had me laughing at silly jokes in her book. She’s a true American Icon, even if she’s not an American Idol.

Ellen portrays herself and her wife in a very realistic way. I don’t know much of de Rossi outside of her character on Arrested Development but I feel like I know Ellen from watching her show. As silly as she is and as outrageous as some things in her book may seem, I honestly believe that her life is like that. I think she embraces the silliness and things seem outrageous because of her perspective on the world.

 

I think celebrity memoirs really make the star seem very human. When I think of a celebrity, I think of someone who doesn’t do their own grocery shopping or cleaning or anything that could be work. But reading these memoirs reminds me that very few celebrities reach that level of wealth. That’s mostly reserved for businessmen. A lot of celebrities have very normal and relatable lives. They have to clean their houses and pets. They have fights with their significant others. They do a lot of ‘normal’ things and I find that reassuring.

Ellen DeGeneres receiving her Presidential Medal of Freedom with Pres. Obama
Image via NY Daily News

Ellen’s talk about a Finding Nemo sequel was really funny in light of the recent release of Finding Dory. I might not have laughed at those jokes five years ago, but today I don’t see them as bitter, just ironic.

The one thing I dislike about this style of book is the short chapters. They don’t allow for much substance but I imagine with many other books under her belt, DeGeneres might have been a bit short of solid material.

Having Ellen read the audiobook was amazing. I’m glad I listened to it instead of reading it, I don’t think it would have had the same effect. She even read the chapter numbers in funny voices to make the listening more fun. I would highly recommend this format.

I’m not sure there’s a running theme in this book, to be honest. Memoirs like this don’t always have one. DeGeneres wants to make her reader laugh and she does a good job of this. She uses a variety of jokes which I really appreciated and enjoyed. I’d read another of her books in a heartbeat.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not sure the variety of topics and formats for chapters would translate as well to the fiction I write. It works well for a genre that can seem repetitive after a while. She mixes up her essays with lists and commentary that keep her style in mind but keeps the reader pushing forward to see what’s going to come next.

This book was a fun listen and I enjoyed it a lot. 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: Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie (4/5)

18 May

It was years ago that I read the first book in this series, Medicus. I think it was in high school and I grabbed the book off a shelf at Borders because of a gift card I had. Years later, a friend of mine saw I’d marked it as ‘books I own’ on my Goodreads shelf and asked to borrow it. She loved the title and went on to finish the series! She gave me the second book, Terra Incognita as a birthday present and it’s sat on my shelf until now. I decided to listen to this book so I could enjoy it sooner. The sequel, Persona Non Grata, is also on my shelf and may be another audiobook.

Cover image via Goodreads

Terra Incognita (Medicus Investigation #2) by Ruth Downie

Summary from Goodreads:

It is spring in the year 118, and Gaius Petreius Ruso has been stationed in the Roman-occupied province of Britannia for nearly a year. After his long and reluctant investigation of the murders of a handful of local prostitutes, Ruso needs to get away. With that in mind, he has volunteered for a posting with the army in Britannia’s deepest recesses- a calmer place for a tired man.

But the edge of the Roman Empire is a volatile place; the independent tribes of the North dwell near its borders. These hinterlands are the homeland of Ruso’s slave, Tilla, who has scores of her own to settle there: Her tribespeople are fomenting a rebellion against Roman control, and her former lover is implicated in the grisly murder of a soldier. Ruso, filling in for the demented local doctor, is appalled to find that Tilla is still spending time with the prime suspect. Worse, he is honor-bound to try to prove the man innocent-and the army wrong- by finding another culprit. Soon both Ruso’s and Tilla’s lives are in jeopardy, as is the future of their burgeoning romance.

I kept thinking that I would look up a summary of Medicus before I read this to make sure I remembered what happened but I never did. I remembered the important parts, that Tilla was a slave Ruso bought and she’s his housekeeper. That was as much as I needed to remember. The story was written so that the important parts from the previous book were introduced in this one so I didn’t have to feel stupid. It’s kind of like how Rowling will re-explain Hogwarts in the second and third Potter books, you know, just in case you forgot. The book was as sarcastic and fun to read as I remembered so I had a lot of fun listening to it. The mystery also wasn’t so buried in a single detail that I couldn’t solve it which I enjoyed as well. I followed Ruso’s suspicions and thought, “Yeah, it’s totally him!” when he had the wrong guy in mind and doubted Tilla when Ruso doubted her. Downie sucked me in.

Part of the fun of Ruso is that he’s smarter than a man in 118 should be and as a modern reader, you can sympathize with him. He doesn’t believe in praying to the Gods and he doubts the Roman system he’s sucked into more than a doctor of his time likely would. He’s smart like the modern man so he’s a bit out of place and unbelievable in the setting, but he’s what the reader needs to connect with that time. Gambax is more like the man I’d expect in that time period whose intelligence is very self-serving.

As I’m implying, I liked Ruso best. He was easiest to relate to and he was a kind person who got taken advantage of. He’s easy to like and I share his sympathies and frustrations because of that. Even when he sees Tilla and the other women hurting the guilty man, he wants him to be dealt with using the Emperor’s justice. He does things the right way and is admirable.

I think the realization Tilla comes to about Rianorix is very enlightening and one that a lot of people are afraid to admit. While Rian might love her and take care of her, he’s going to be in love with Aemilia until he does and settling for him would only her Tilla in the end. She has to be very brave to walk away from him and I’ve met people who are not that brave or wish they were.

Ruth Downie
Image via the author’s website

I liked the scene where Ruso hosted the free clinic. I thought the descriptions of the people who came to see him and the ailments they complained of was well written and really well researched by the author. Ruso showed his intelligence but also worked like a man in 118 with the limited resources he had. The sarcasm and humor in the scene were really enjoyable as well.

Because I liked Ruso so much, it was hard to hear about his flaws and Tilla pointed them out a lot at the beginning. Though he’s in debt, he spends a lot of money on luxuries and that was hard for me to read about. I’m very frugal so Ruso’s decisions to spend money on a hotel room was frustrating. I agreed with Tilla but it made me uncomfortable to hear negative things about a hero I like so much.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Simon Vance. He did a good job of capturing the sarcasm of Ruso and Tilla and I really appreciated that. I hope he narrates the entire series because he has a good way of expressing Ruso’s frustrations at the world he lives in and I appreciate that.

Greed plays a big role in the motivation for the murder. The killer is overreaching his means and has to protect himself to maintain his social position. The book also talks about discipline and how the hospital works when there’s discipline and order and how chaos can cause problems. Thessalus’s story is about love and devotion where there shouldn’t be any and I found this endearing and sweet. It made for a great plot twist!

Writer’s Takeaway: Two things Downie does made this book stand out for me. The first was a relatable character where history says there likely wasn’t one. She had to manipulate Ruso a little to make him relatable but I think that’s important for her series. The second is that these books are funny. It’s a subtle humor but it’s really fun, especially with the audiobook and a narrator that articulates it so well.

This book was really fun and I hope I don’t wait as long to read the third one! Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Post:
Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie | ozziesbookblog

Book Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (4/5)

8 May

This is one of those books that was popping up everywhere for a few months. I added it to my list and was really surprised my library only offered an ebook copy. I always read ebooks really slowly on my phone, mostly while I’m eating lunch at work or waiting at the doctor’s office. Recently, I’d been reading it more consistently and was really hooked by the climax at the end. The two plotlines were converging and I was loving it. But, as all good bookworms have experienced, I lost the hold! Because it’s an ebook, it auto-returned and I couldn’t even agree to pay overdue fines to finish it. Fortunately, the ILL system in my area is pretty great and I was able to get a physical copy a week and a half later. I literally had twenty pages left. I finished the book while eating lunch the day I picked it up.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Summary from Goodreads:

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.

The book started out a little slower than I was expecting and there was a bit more magical realism than I had anticipated. Magical realism isn’t something I enjoy and I think if Swyler had put any more into it, I wouldn’t have liked this book. As it stands, it was just enough to be fun without being overwhelming. Simon is very lost in his life and it seems appropriate that a book would help a librarian find his way. The subplot with Alice was a nice touch. I liked the back-and-forth between Amos and Simon. I could tell there would be some kind of relationship between them and the way it came together at the end was fun.

I’m always weary when I see a writer pick the opposite gender for their main character. Sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it seems awkward. It’s hard for me to tell if a female author is writing a man well, as in this case. Simon felt very relatable and I couldn’t tell if it’s because of the female writer or he’s a relatable human.

Amos was a great character. The bit about him literally disappearing was a bit much for me, but I thought his emotional development from Wild Boy to a father was realistic and his emotional turmoil as it related to Evangeline was moving and real. I wanted better things for him, but he was very happy for a time. I wish he’d handled his grief better and thought about Bess more.

Alice was most relatable to me. I tend to be the practical one come whatever situation. When Simon’s let go and the house is collapsing, she’s not swept up in her emotions but trying to find a way out of a bad situation for him. I could see myself reacting to bad news the way she did and trying to find jobs for Simon. I also related to the betrayal she felt with Simon stole from the library. It wasn’t an affront to her but reflected badly on her. I could sympathize with that sense of guilt.

Erika Swyler
Image via Allen & Unwin

I liked the descriptions of the horseshoe crabs. It was a little hard to understand where they came from (magical realism) but it explained the deaths in Simon’s family and it was a great tension-building tool that Swyler used. I knew something bad was going to happen when they showed up!

Amos’s journey seemed odd to me. He came from the woods, couldn’t talk but learned English and then spoke through Tarot cards. It seemed too much of a stretch and he didn’t seem to grow as a character. His ability to disappear didn’t add much to him, even at the end. I would have liked that to be flushed out a bit more.

The message about holding onto the past was well done. The cards were a bit much for me, but the message with the house and family secrets was well done. Enola had moved on physically and emotionally from her childhood while Simon was stuck in the house and his past. He started trying to get away when he applied for jobs in Georgia but he seemed to self-sabotage when he let his phone die and be disconnected. By the end, he’d gotten ahold of himself and his goals though not in the way I expected. I was really surprised Alice went with him, too. She seemed much more practical than someone who was going to quit her job to travel with the circus. That bothered me a bit.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked Swyler’s dual timelines. I normally don’t like a back-and-forth approach but this one worked for me. I think it’s because the plots were so different that I didn’t confuse them easily and they converged slowly and mostly at the end which made for a great climax individually and for the book as a whole. It was great pacing.

I really enjoyed the book and its structure. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1700-1799 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: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (4/5)

27 Apr

At my former job, a coworker of mine was floored that I’d never read this book. I found a copy at a used book sale and it sat on my shelf for a few years. Then I heard that Lisa See was coming to town for a signing! I read her other book, Shanghai Girls, and got a copy of this one signed. I grabbed the audiobook before I had time to pick up the physical one and I wish I’d grabbed it sooner. This was a great story.

Cover image via Goodreads

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Other books by Lisa See reviewed on this blog:

Shanghai Girls (with two book club reflections and meeting the author)

Summary from Goodreads:

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear.

However See did her research for this book, she did it right. It was very easy to picture life in early 1800s China. Their culture, so different from mine, seemed natural after listening to the book for a little while. The foot binding scene caused me to gag in the middle of a run. My husband had to stop and ask me if I was okay. It was so vivid that it was terrifying. The time in the mountains was frighteningly vivid, too. There were a lot of good moments in this book that go back to how talented a writer See is.

I think the mark of good writing is seeing a story through one character’s point of view and not realizing how slanted or biased that view is until it’s pointed out. See did a great job of this. Lily’s views seemed natural to me as the reader and I never questioned her interpretation or views until Snow Flower or the Sworn Sisters pointed out how she was wrong. Lily was more complicated than she at first appeared and Snow Flower’s many layers are evident in the story. Both are wonderful characters.

I liked Snow Flower best because she was easier to analyze and feel sympathy for in the book. When Lily’s flaws were pointed out, I almost took it personally because I felt I knew was her. Snow Flower’s bad fate and hardships were sympathetic and I could see her struggles and feel for her.

I’m very much like Lily. When things are going badly, I persist. I tend to think that something that’s gone wrong must be because I didn’t follow a rule or instruction and I try to get others to conform to this as well. I’m not a great listener much of the time and Snow Flower and Lily’s adult relationship reminded me of many of my own.

Lisa See and me

The months in the mountains were very emotional in my mind. I felt bad for Snow Flower and Lily and got a sense of the desperate situation they were in from See’s writing. Snow Flower’s mother-in-law was quite wicked and the preference given to her second son was really shocking. Snow Flower’s husband confused me because he seemed angry and soft moments apart but that could easily stem from the difficult situation he was in up in the mountains.

Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph to avoid it. Lily’s realization that Snow Flower had not abandoned her after Snow Flower’s death was almost impossible to listen to. It was so heartbreaking to hear the Sworn Sisters be so cruel to Lily and to hear about Snow Flower’s suffering for the many years they were apart. Lily’s realization that she’d never apologized to Snow Flower was crushing! It was a really sad end to a story that was very sad and while it was fitting, it didn’t make it easy to get through!

Janet Song narrated the audiobook I listened to and I thought she did a great job. She used voices for the characters that were just different enough to tell them apart without any sounding like a mockery. I thought her pacing and intonation were good and it was to a point where I didn’t notice her, which to me means she’s doing a great job.

Lily wanted forgiveness and had trouble giving it herself. The message I got from this book was that friends can be closer than blood but we have to work on those relationships as much as we work on marriages and family relationships. There was a communication breakdown between Snow Flower and Lily that neither was able to correct and it created a rift between them that was never healed. They both needed forgiveness and neither was forthcoming with it. In the end, it poisoned their beautiful friendship.

Writer’s Takeaway: I believe the best historical fiction is when you don’t even realize that it’s historical. The setting felt so natural that I would forget this was 1850s China. It can be really hard to work historical context into a story in a way that will not shock the reader and See did an amazing job with this.

A great book that I’m glad I finally read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Audiobook) | Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog
Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See | lisasliterarylife

Book Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (2/5)

11 Apr

I know many of my readers follow my WWW posts and if you do, you’ll know how long I’ve been reading this book. I started it in December as a car-trip read with my husband. We took only a few long car trips since then and pecked away at the 15 hour recording. Our last one was 8 hours in on day two weeks ago and at the end of that, we had 1.5 hours left and decided to finish it up on our own. I’ll summarize my feelings by saying I’m so glad it’s over.

Cover image via Goodreads

Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs

Other books by Ransom Riggs reviewed on this blog:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) 3/5
Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) 2/5

Summary from Goodreads:

As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all.

All of the things I disliked about the second book just continued into this one. Besides the ymbrynes, none of the adults in this book are even respectable, especially Jacob’s parents. The love story between Jacob and Emma is completely superficial and forced. There are inconsistencies in the book just to work in the pictures Riggs loves so much. Things happen so conveniently that it’s very obvious these books were not well planned and Riggs is making up ways for things to work out. Jacob and Emma are constantly yelling before they even think about what they’re saying. My two stars are for Riggs’s creativity but this book really failed me.

Jacobs and Emma reacted like hormonal teenagers so in that respect, I’d say they were believable. In the sense that they didn’t really sleep for two weeks, it was completely unbelievable. Jacob recognizes in himself that he’s changed and fights between his need to be his past and present self, which is a very realistic outcome of his journey, but very introspective for a teenage boy. He acted like he was much older than a teenager and it really bothered me.

Sharon was one of my favorite characters and really redeemed the book for me. I’m still not sure why he helped Jacob, Emily, and Addison (another inconsistency and character flaw) but he was a redeemable character with flaws and advantages to him. I found it believable that he had been an Ambro addict and was in debt to Bentham for helping him recover. I found it believable that his family was gallows builders and I understood why he helped in the end. He was a great image in my head and I’m really glad he was involved.

The characters situation was unrelatable to me. Jacob kept discovering things about himself like a person going through puberty, but other than that, his experiences were extreme and I didn’t find his reactions to anything relatable. Many times, my husband and I would pause the audio and say, “Why don’t they just …?” and point out a much easier way to solve the current problem. I couldn’t sympathize with someone I thought made dumb decisions.

Image via Wikipedia

Exploring Devil’s Acre was one of the few parts I really enjoyed. Riggs’s imagination was in full force and he set up a great dark Victorian London that was reminiscent of Sweeney Todd and just great. Too much time was spent in some aspects, like the Peculiars for sale, but other parts, like Smoking Street, were great.

The ending felt so contrived. I was so upset with it. I wanted Jacob to suffer more, I really did. He had so many close calls that ended up working out for him that seeing him really suffer and fail would have felt good as a reader. I won’t say it now, but the way it played out was too happy for the set-up we’d had. I was very put out.

Kirby Heyborne narrated this final installment like he did the first two. There were a few times I was upset with his choices to have the characters scream or whine when the dialogue tags didn’t call for it. I find his British accent grating and for a book set in London, this can be a real issue. He does build tension well, which is important in a book like this, but I think his slow narrating style is part of what stretched this out to 15 hours.

I felt luck played too much of a role in Jacob’s success for there to be a strong lesson in this book. Just at the moment when something bad would happen to him, another character showed up or someone was distracted or he was protected from anything bad happening. I guess the lesson would have to be to have friends who can see into the future and who make loud entrances and have impeccable timing.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think the visual aspect of a book is very important. However, it feels like Riggs sacrificed plot and character development to give us a visual book. We don’t have dynamic characters besides Jacob, who doesn’t change much anyway. But we do have multiple characters who have great images and styles. We have a meandering plot with a lot of asides that add nothing to the main plot. But the setting for each can be shown in an antique picture. The visual elements of a book should enhance it, not be the only driving force behind it.

I’m honestly glad this series is over. I won’t feel obligated to listen to another one. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 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!

Related Posts:
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