Tag Archives: Book Review

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:
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs | Just Simplydelete It
Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs | Reading with Jenna
Book Review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (Final Book in Miss Peregrine’s Trilogy) | Alice in Wonderbookland

Book Review: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss (4/5)

10 Apr

My library brings in an author each year and every few years, it’s a non-fiction writer and when that happens, the discussion usually focuses on Detroit and Michigan. David Maraniss’s ballad to the once-great (and now recovering) Detroit was this year’s selection. My book club discussion on it isn’t for a while, but I figured I’d get a head start on the audiobook so I didn’t have to rush it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1963 and Detroit is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America: Grandson of the first Ford; Henry Ford II; influential labor leader Walter Reuther; Motown’s founder Berry Gordy; the Reverend C.L. Franklin and his daughter, the amazing Aretha; Governor George Romney, Mormon and Civil Rights advocate; super car salesman Lee Iacocca; Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, a Kennedy acolyte; Police Commissioner George Edwards; Martin Luther King. It was the American auto makers’ best year; the revolution in music and politics was underway. Reuther’s UAW had helped lift the middle class.

The time was full of promise. The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before and inventing the Mustang. Motown was capturing the world with its amazing artists. The progressive labor movement was rooted in Detroit with the UAW. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech there two months before he made it famous in the Washington march.

Once in a Great City shows that the shadows of collapse were evident even then. Before the devastating riot. Before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight. Before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities—from harsh weather to high labor costs—and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse.

I’ve lived in Metro Detroit my whole life. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, we didn’t go into the city. It was dangerous and there was nothing worth doing there unless you were going to a Tigers game and even then, you went straight to the game and straight home. Now that I’m in my 20s and the city is rebounding, I go a lot more. It’s great to see the city rebounding and I can see how it strives to be the city it was in the 60s (less some obvious racial problems). Maraniss has an obvious love for the city and it’s portrayed in this book and touches on all aspects of city life ranging from Motown to politics to automotive. I listened to this book while driving and hearing about the Mustang concept car kept at World HQ while driving on the Southfield past the Glass Castle (local name for that building) gave me shivers. Going to Wayne State for an event while hearing about students from campus was awesome. I felt like I was walking through this book while I read it. I felt like Woodward Ave would be closed as I approached it for the Walk to Freedom despite it happening over 50 years ago. Maraniss brought the city to a life I hope it can see again soon.

I loved how Maraniss portrayed the figures in this book. Reuther was probably my favorite. My parents were GM engineers and I grew up thinking of the UAW as devils so seeing their infamous leader portrayed so positively made me think a lot. Hearing about George Romney, whose son Mitt would run for President in 2012, seemed like a strange precursor to that election. It was really cool to hear about these people via interviews Maraniss conducted and get a feel for how they lived and what they saw.


I could feel Maraniss’s pride for his city in this book. Wherever I travel, I say I’m from Detroit and I get looks like I’m going to whip a pistol out of my back pocket and shoot the person in the face. It’s not like that! Detroit has a rough reputation and it’s fought that for years. Maraniss notes how it was fighting that during the time period he selected, a great time period for the city. It got worse after that and is only now starting to get better.

David Maraniss
Image via Simon and Schuster

I’d never heard about the Walk to Freedom and I really enjoyed that part of the story. Hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Cobo Hall was really moving and hearing the positive things he said about the city gave me chills. I wish the city had been able to make more progress for racial equality without the violence that broke out a few years after the book ended. It seems the city was open to it, but also resisted the change that was really needed.

I wasn’t as interested in some of the plot lines, the Motown one for example. The Motown plotline didn’t seem to connect to the others the same way the rest of them intertwined and it made me lose interest in it very quickly. The civil rights one connected slightly, but it wasn’t strong enough to feel like it was all part of a cohesive story.

Having Maraniss narrated the story was great. He pronounced everything right! I’ve found that non-native narrators don’t always say local names correctly and as a Detroiter, this could have been very distracting. It was great to have a man who knew all the right names say them.

Detroit was a great city. It makes me sad to say that, but Maraniss is right. It was a great city that fell off the tracks and is trying to get back on. The years in this book were boom years for the Motor City and show what Detroit could be again. On a personal note, I heard a speech from the current mayor, Mike Duggan, on Friday and his hopes and dreams for Detroit reminded me of this book. I hope we will be there again soon.

Writer’s Takeaway: When choosing several plot lines, it’s important that they alight. The political landscape of Detroit and far-reaching connections of the auto executives helped most plot lines interact with similar characters and events but the Motown plot seemed forced. It’s a defining sound of Detroit and that era, but the Gordy’s weren’t political and the Jim Crow laws that touched the performers wasn’t touching them in Detroit. I think the book could have been stronger without it but it’s a good note for a writer.

I enjoyed this book and it made me optimistic about what my city can become again. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1960-1979 time period in 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 Post:
Review: Once in a Great City- A Detroit Story | Da Tech Guy Blog

Book Review: Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano (4/5)

4 Apr

I bought this book years ago. My friends and I were on a ‘book crawl’ of Ann Arbor and I was in Literati, telling myself I wasn’t going to buy any more books, but then I saw this one. The cover is gorgeous and the blend of Spanish in the text interested me. I was hooked and bought it. Unfortunately, due to the number of books I buy, it was a while before I picked it up but I wanted to treat myself after a long book to something that looked fun.

Cover image via Goodreads

Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano

Summary from Goodreads:

In Loteria, the spellbinding literary debut by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Latin American game of chance. With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of loteria cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images–mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars–sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

This book was a lot less ‘fun’ than I hoped for, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good. I don’t read summaries before I read books because if I’d read that one, I would have known how sad this book was going to be. Young Luz has had a rough life and her lotería cards are one of the happy memories she has. She likes to use the cards to remind her of her life because they’ve become such an intricate part, a weekly ritual formed when her family was happy and whole. Zambrano reveals the story slowly and I enjoyed learning about Luz’s story a bit at a time. She would flash from a happy memory to a moving one and back, using the cards to tell her tale.

Writing a child is hard and I think Zambrano did it well. There were one or two times when she seemed older than her age and there as a few mentions of how she was very mature, more so than the teenagers sometimes. I thought this was a bit unbelievable, but made writing her easier for Zambrano. I thought the other characters were very believable, especially Tencha.

I think Mama was my favorite character. This sounds terrible because she’s not really a hero in the book. The way Zambrano writes her, you feel bad for her but you also know she’s not doing the right things all the time. I felt bad for her more than anything. I saw her as someone who’s hurt, has no one to turn to, and who loves her children. It’s hard to see, but that’s what stuck out to me. Not knowing a lot about her made her really intriguing.

There weren’t any life experiences I shared with these characters. The thing I related to most was when they described spending time with the Silva’s after mass. When I was studying in Mexico, we would go to Abuela’s house a few times a week just to be with the family and hang out in her courtyard to eat and be with the family. We would cook and eat and sleep there because it’s where the family was and everyone was comfortable there. It was so much fun and I really miss that.

Mario Alberto Zambrano
Image via The Village Voice

I liked finally finding out what happened to Estrella. I’m not saying it was a good thing, but my opinion of Papi was very tainted by things I thought he did and clearing the air of that made the rest of the book easier to enjoy. It sounds like a weird favorite part, I’ll admit.

I didn’t enjoy the end of this story. It didn’t seem to really move anywhere. I think it’s supposed to be hopeful, like Luz and her father might reconnect, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as her giving up on her mother and staying put. The past had been cleared up, we knew how Luz got to where she was, but I didn’t know where she was going.


I think family had a very different meaning for Luz than it would for most people. For a time, the Silva’s were like family. Then she couldn’t trust her cousins in Mexico. Her immediate family was loud and yelled and, after a time, began to shrink. She had to find who she would trust and she’s placed that trust in her father. She was tested a lot and had to continue to decide how to justify her love for her father, the only family she has left.

Writer’s Takeaway: In the interview with Zambrano at the end, he talks about how the architecture of books fascinate him and I love the architecture of this story. The short stories made it easy to read many at a time and fly through the story. I liked basing the story on the lotería cards. I wondered if there was an order or if Zambrano put them in an order to drive his story. I really want to play the game now.

I enjoyed this book a lot and it was a fun, quick 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:
Lotería: A Novel – Mario Alberto Zambrano | Una Vita Vagabonda
Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano | Read More
An Interview with Mario Alberto Zambrano | Read to Write Stories

Book Review: Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (3/5)

28 Mar

This book has been on my TBR forever. I thought I was going to have to buy a copy off of Amazon because my library didn’t have it, but I was able to do an inter-library loan and snagged a copy. With the limited number of renewals for an ILL, I had to rush a bit to finish it over the weekend but I was up for the challenge! I powered through the last 3/4 of the book.

Cover image via Goodreads

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Summary from Goodreads:

Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944.

This book started out rough. I was really struggling to get into it. I didn’t connect or sympathize with the main character until well over 100 pages in so I didn’t want to read it. Once I started to be engaged in his story, the book read really fast. I was glad to reach the end, which was moderately satisfying, but I can’t forget the slow start. The author writes beautiful work, he just needs to jump into the plot a bit faster.

The characters seemed a little unbelievable, but I think they have to in a spy novel about Russia. Khristo was able to do things and know things that most men couldn’t and wouldn’t. His friends were the same way and while they were fun to read about, it’s crazy to think that all of this could happen anywhere in the world.

Khristo was a great character. He was dynamic and he also seemed human because of his vices and emotions. He wasn’t perfect and when he let up, people got hurt. When he hid in France, it tormented him that people were fighting and he wasn’t a part of it. When he let himself fall in love, it’s used against him. I liked that he had flaws and I liked that he suffered for them.

I could relate most to Faye. Besides her being an American living in a foreign country, I related to they way she thought about things and felt about things. She was genuinely scared at what happened, but she put up a brave face, which is how I tend to react. She was sad to be leaving France, even though living there had been pure misery for her. I get nostalgic a lot as well. I related to her desire to help make things better, too. She genuinely cared and I appreciated that.

I liked the story of Bob Eidenbaugh best. I liked that he was genuinely suited to fill the role of Lucien and I thought the way he was snatched up to be a spy seemed really genuine. His story was fast paced and really picked up the story for me. I liked how Khristo tied in as well. I wanted to know a bit more about Bob but the story of their escape from the trap had my heart racing a little more than was safe right before bed. Maybe it’s best that it ended there.

The training at Arbat Street really bored me. I thought this part dragged and I wasn’t sure what I was learning about Khristo while I read it. I wanted some action and this build-up was too much. I would have cut a lot of it out.


Khristo had to suffer but it’s not clear what he’s suffering for. Besides being Bulgarian, he doesn’t seem to have any flaws or history that people hold against him. For some reason, his nationality is always brought up, like it’s a bad place to be from, yet when he returns, it seems like one of the most peaceful places he’s lived. Again, for some reason going to America is the end of his suffering. I’m not sure how that works, either, to be honest. I wish Khristo’s motivations had been better explained. He got wrapped up in something and there was no way out for him, but he kept pushing forward and it’s unclear why.

Writer’s Takeaway: The pacing in this novel slowed it down a lot. I think it’s important to start with something big and while the death of his brother was a big moment for Khristo, it didn’t start the action. The action didn’t start until he had already served in Spain. Until then, he was following orders blindly. I wish a large section had been cut and we got to Khristo running sooner.

A fun novel that started out slow. Three out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 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:
Pan-European Lives: Night Soldiers by Alan Furst | Maphead’s Book Blog
Review: Alan Furst – Night Soldiers | Crimepieces

Book Review: The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson (4/5)

13 Mar

I wanted to read this book when I thought Bryson was a little more dry and scholarly and a little less fun and quirky. I thought it would be more systematic instead of picking up on the fun parts of language history. I read another of his books, realized I was mistaken, and still wanted to read another because they are fun and entertaining. They can make a long drive or a long run much less terrible.

Cover Image via Goodreads

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson

Other books by Bill Bryson reviewed on this blog:

Made In America

Summary from Goodreads:

With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson–the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent–brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can’t), to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world’s largest growth industries.

Listening to this book was a joy. I didn’t have to worry about the different pronunciations Bryson talked about or read them in the phonetic alphabet because the narrator did it for me! A lot of this book talked about the language’s shift from old English to modern English, the words we lost and gained along the way, where words come from, and how they’re preserved or dropped. It’s clear there were a few resources Bryson relied heavily on for certain chapters. He organized the book well and was able to explain how certain words come to be in a very amusing way. I wasn’t ready for this book to be funny and I got looked at while running at the gym for spitting out a few giggles.

There were two parts of the book I really enjoyed. The first was the detail of how British English and American English came to be pronounced differently. Bryson detailed how English was before the American Settlers came over and then how the two changed since then. I ‘ve always wondered why we speak so differently. The theory that they will one day become so dissimilar as to be different languages is interesting, but as Bryson points out, modern technology has Americans, Brits, Australians, and South Africans speaking to each other via the internet so frequently, that future differences are less likely to happen.

My other favorite part was talking about names and how that developed. It’s fairly easy for me to see where my name, Stevens, came from (likely a shortening of Stevenson, ‘Steven’s son’) but it was fun to hear about other last names. Bryson also went into details about place names and I was happy to hear so many Michigan cities mentioned. Of course, Detroit coming from the French was mentioned, but I was glad he also mentioned Milan. I first saw the city name written down and asked, “Where is Milan?” pronouncing it like the Italian city. I got a stern look and was reproached, “It’s MY-lan.” With a long I. Same with Lima, Versailles, and Charlotte (other cities I drive by in the Midwest pronounced LYE-ma, ver-SALES, and shar-LOT).

The chapter on the dictionary was the least interesting to me. It did emphasize how quickly the language was evolving, but I thought there was a lot more history on a few men in this chapter than any developments in the language. I would have liked to see a shorter chapter on it and maybe a bit more focus on how the dictionary preserved pronunciations or changed them.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Stephen McLaughlin. Kudos to him for having to pronounce so many words in a variety of languages and accents. One of the later chapters had to deal with word games in French and he rambled them off like a pro. If he was off with any of his pronunciations, I’m none the wiser because his Spanish was spot-on when used and the little I know of Italian and German was well done, too.

Bryson’s focus was on how the language has changed, but he also talked about things that had stayed the same. I appreciated hearing about how words had changed very little since Shakespeare’s time. He also focused on how it could evolve going forward which was almost alarming. English words are being adopted into most world languages mainly due to innovation and English words being used for things and concepts that did not exist previously. If you know another language, think of words for technology and new concepts. In Spanish, I’ve heard both ‘el internet’ and ‘el márketing’ used even if there are Spanish words for these things (el red y el mercadotecnica). Bryson points out that Japanese does this the most. With English words infiltrating foreign languages and English becoming the common language for business, we might start to lost the beauty of other languages and in fact, start to lose speakers of those languages.

Writer’s Takeaway: Bryson hides some jokes in his writing, like when talking about where the last name ‘Bush’ came from. I enjoyed these small jokes tucked into the book. I’m not sure how well they would work in fiction, but in non-fiction, which can be dry, Bryson kept it interesting and fun. I really appreciated this in a book that easily could have been bogged down in details.

I enjoyed this book and I’m sure I have loads of fun facts to spring on people now. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way // by Bill Bryson | The Aroma of Books

Book Review: You’re Not Doing It Right by Michael Ian Black (4/5)

6 Mar

I think it was just after I finished reading Bossypants that I added this book to my TBR. I was on a comedian memoir high and Michael Ian Black seemed like the logical next step. I love his dry sarcasm. I found the book a few months later on the sale shelf at a bookstore and picked up my copy. It’s been a few years, but I’m glad I finally grabbed time to read it!

Cover Image via Goodreads

Cover Image via Goodreads

You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black

Summary from Goodreads:

Darkly humorous and told with raw honesty, You’re Not Doing it Right is Michael’s debut memoir. In it, he takes on his childhood, his marriage, his children, and his career with unexpected candor and deadpan wit, as he shares the neuroses that have plagued him since he was a kid and how they shaped him into the man he is today.

In this funny-because-it’s-true essay collection, Michael says the kinds of things most people are afraid to admit, and as a husband and father living in the suburbs, asks the question so many of us ask ourselves at one point or another. How did I end up here?

This book was exactly what I expected and wanted from it. Black is self-deprecating and honest in a way I don’t think a lot of people would be. He fights with his wife and he’s going to tell you about it. It’s not always funny but when it is, he’ll make the joke. He goes through his life in semi-chronological order. There are times he goes back because of something that’s happening to him that causes him to reminisce but I found this book pretty well-organized. I’ve said before, I like logical order. I also like when people can be honest about things that suck and Black did that. Some things aren’t funny, like your dad dying or your sister having a mental disability. I felt he treated things with the respect that needed to be and shared a lot of his life and the parts of it that aren’t funny.

I think Black portrayed himself and his wife very realistically. A lot of their relationship wasn’t a perfect and they had to work at it. Some things were funny and cute and he found time to make jokes about them. I was surprised about how ‘Stepford’ his life seemed at times. I’m used to thinking of comedians as either too rich for childcare or so hipster they wouldn’t live in Connecticut. I guess I need to stop stereotyping famous people.

Black’s wife, Martha, sounds awesome. She’s pushy and sarcastic, but I think you’d have to be to marry him. She sounds like a riot and the way their relationship started makes me want to gossip with her. I wasn’t a big fan of how she and Michael got together, but I respected the way they raised their children when they were young and she seemed awesome to me.

Black talked about not feeling he fit in when he was in high school and I could understand that. As much as I wanted to be friends with my friends, the people I respected, you always feel that pull to be ‘cool’ and have the ‘popular kids’ like you, too. The chapter where he fought Dale stuck out to me, I could see if happening so easily that it frightened me. Black was easy to relate to and he portrayed his life as a misfit very well.

I thought the stories of Black’s life as a father and husband were most enjoyable. Buying a BMW and having a fussy infant were funny and down-to-earth. Not many people can relate to the guy who went into entertainment with no degree and were successful. He would have a very limited audience if he focused on this part of his life. But being a family man is relatable. I could see these things running through my dad’s head and I liked the humor in it.

Black’s dating life wasn’t as interesting to me. He seemed like a pig when he talked about the college student who wouldn’t be intimate with him and he was unrelatable to me. I wish he’d stuck more to his adult life when he was likable though more pessimistic.

Even though Black is pessimistic and down about most things in his book, he still has a good life and he admits it. He has a wife he loves (most of the time) and two kids he admires. Even when he’s making dark jokes and ripping on himself, he’s still a happy person. It’s his internal outlook, not what he expresses, that really seems to matter.

Writer’s Takeaway: I would be wary of a book that adopted this tone if it were by someone who wasn’t known for bleak humor. Black pulls it off because that’s his personality and someone picking up this book likely knows that. If I published a book, on the other hand, and people didn’t understand my brand of humor, that might not find it amusing. Black kept his voice and didn’t sacrifice for book sales, which I can appreciate, but I would caution less-famous writers from adopting a strong tone as he did.

This book made me laugh and was great on vacation. 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: ‘You’re Not Doing It Right’ by Michael Ian Black | Bookpeople’s Blog
Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #21: You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black | Cannonball Read 5

Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling (5/5)

23 Feb

I don’t think there was any chance I wouldn’t read this. My husband got me a copy for Christmas and it sat on my shelf taunting me. I was waiting for a hold to come in at the library and decided I had the time so I might as well read it. I feel even more in love.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Other books by Rowling reviewed on this blog:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Harry Potter y el orden del fenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter y el misterio del principe by J.K. Rowling
Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Summary from Goodreads:

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Having seen the movie, there was nothing in the plot itself that surprised me much. The only thing I might mention is that I was unsure how old Credence was supposed to be in the film. Ezra Miller looks younger than he is and I thought he was supposed to be in his mid to late-teens, not his early twenties. No wonder Grindelwald didn’t suspect him! The art in this book was a great joy. The drawings of the animals I had seen on-screen were really fun and I enjoyed having them as part of the scene breaks while reading.

It’s hard to judge the characters too harshly. I think we’ll learn a lot more about Newt and what drives him going forward. The only character that bothered me was Queenie and I felt the same when I was watching the movie. She seems almost stupid with what she reveals about herself and her ability to read minds but she’s very resourceful at the same time. She uses her looks and flirtation to get everything she can and she seems almost useless besides this. It was kind of frustrating when paralleled with a strong character like Tina.

Jacob is so easy to like and very lovable. Folger did a great job with him in the film and Rowling wrote him well, too. He’s very well-meaning and just stuck in a bad situation. I’m glad the muggle all Potterheads wanted to be was a good person!

Tina loved to try to do the right thing even when it was hard. I think most people can relate to that. Be it saying something no one wants to say or helping someone who annoys you, Tina tried to do the right thing and would put herself at a disadvantage to do it. It made her very admirable and made her easy to look up to and relate to her bad situations that most people have faced from time to time when putting their necks out for someone else.

J.K. Rowling Image via The Telegraph

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

I loved the Niffler. I think most people did. I didn’t expect for a little creature to have such a great personality and shine in the book and story so much. Pickett was a close second to me.

I thought the scenes chasing down many of Newt’s creatures were a bit of fluff for movie-goers. They didn’t add much to the plot, but they must have looked good! (I did see it, they did look good.) Reading the screenplay made these stick out to me and I realized how little difference they made to the plot.


The pending exposure the magic community is facing is having Grindelwald start something similar to a race war, what Voldemort is able to provoke in the Harry Potter series. I think this is very timely with the escalating racial tensions we’re seeing in America. The things said about Jacobs and other no-maj’s are not the nicest things people could say and there’s a strong sense of superiority in the magical community that Newt points out, doesn’t exist in the UK. I’m really interested to see how this evolves with Jacob as a main part of the plot.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not sure what else I can learn from the great J.K. that I haven’t already. I think she had fun with this book and that excites me because I thought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was fun, too, but it was so much deeper than that. I think we’ll see a big growth of these characters and a big deepening of the plot in the movies to come and that makes me so excited.

As if there was any doubt, this book gets a full Five out of Five stars from me.

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:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling || Review | Romi Reads

Book Review: The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom (4/5)

20 Feb

Mitch Albom is from Detroit and he does a lot of book signings in my area as a result. A good friend of mine and I went to hear him speak a few years ago and I got a copy of his latest (at the time) signed. I hate taking signed books out of my apartment, so using an audio version of this book made the most sense to me. It was a nice, quick read.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Cover Image via Goodreads

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

My past post on Meeting Mitch Albom

Summary from Goodreads:

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief–and a page-turner that will touch your soul–Albom’s masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

I’ve read and listened to a few of Albom’s books before and this seems right in line with his style. He’s going to talk about Christianity without hitting you over the head with it and he’s also going to talk about doubting religion and that strengthening belief. This book was hard to read only because my Christian side wanted to believe and my reader side wanted to think ‘Magical Realism’ but following a character who doubted so strongly made me doubt, too. I wasn’t sure what to think until the end, which I’ll avoid talking about. I liked the ride, though. The breadth of characters covered the topic well and gave me someone to commiserate with each step of the way.

I liked that there were characters who were strong believers, skeptics, and people who went through all stages of belief and disbelief along the way. I think that’s a fair representation of how humanity would respond to such a miracle. I’ve often wondered if a great prophet came to Earth, would we believe him or her? Would we discredit this person or recognize that he/she is the one we’ve been waiting for? I think Albom must have wondered something similar when he wrote this book. Some believed it immediately, dropping everything and moving to Coldwater while the miracle was happening. Others came out of anger and a lot kept at arms distance and waited for proof that the whole thing was real. I liked how the people of Coldwater went through this as well, even those receiving the calls. It seemed real and made me wonder where I would fall if calls like that really happened.

Jack was my favorite character. I thought the way he dealt with his son’s calls was really believable. At first he wants to keep them to himself and not call attention to himself, which I could see a police officer wanting to do. I liked seeing his internal struggle to tell his ex-wife and how he told Tess to commiserate with her. I think he really struggled with believing Robby was really talking to him and thought that if he said it out loud, he would have to believe it.

I think I would have trouble believing something as wondrous as phone calls from Heaven at first. I think I would be like Elias or Jack and think it was someone trying to trick me for a while, testing the miracle to see if it stood on its own two feet before I could buy in completely. Even Pastor Warren was skeptical and Father Carole called in his boss to make a decision. This helped me feel like it was OK to doubt but to question and not discredit something that could be a miracle.

Me and Mitch

Me and Mitch Albom, 2013.

I love Sully’s story. It was so moving and complicated and I thought Albom did a great job of balancing all of the conflicting feelings inside Sully. I was scared for a second that he was going to give him a romantic relationship with Liz but I think the way that ended was for the best. Sully was looking out for his son most of all and on his journey to protect the boy, he ended up neglecting him a bit. He needed to refocus his priorities and Liz helped him do this.

I didn’t’ like Amy’s character very much. She was really self-focused and I felt like she was taking advantage of Katherine the whole book. Even when she was taken off the story, she stayed with Katherine because she had no where else she wanted to be. She didn’t even seem to care when her fiance left her and didn’t try to hard to contact him. She seemed unimportant to the plot and just fulfilled Albom’s desire to have a reporter character in the story.

Albom narrated the audiobook himself which I really liked. He gave the characters the voices he wrote them with. There were a few instances of him using audio effects like knocking and thumping to enhance the story which I really liked. He narrated well but that can be expected from a radioman. I hope he does his other audiobooks as well.

All of the characters struggled with belief. Even Catherine, who believed immediately and spread the word, struggled with others not believing her and how to handle those who doubted her. The characters were very representative of Christians that I’ve met. Some believe with all of their hearts and struggle to see how others can live without the faith they have. Others used to believe but have fallen away from God for one reason or another. Others don’t believe and many are somewhere in the middle. The book brought up something incredible that effected people’s faith in different ways and showed how no one Christian is exactly like another and how things can shake or build faith depending on how they’re perceived.

Writer’s Takeaway: I thought Albom had almost too many characters. I struggled a bit to keep Jack and Jeff straight and I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the TV people besides Amy. I’m glad he didn’t include all of the people receiving phone calls but I thought he could have focused on just a few less to help the reader keep more of them straight.

This was a solid book that helped me see how strong my faith is. 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:
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Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (3/5)

16 Feb

I love comedian memoirs. That might be kind of niche, but there are enough books in this genre that I feel it’s safe to make that blanket statement. I’ve read many I enjoyed and about the time I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, I was also binge-watching The Office on Netflix. Logically, enjoying both, I wanted to read Mindy’s book. I found it a few months later at a massive book sale and I’ve been waiting to read it for a while.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Summary from Goodreads:

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka

Having read in this genre before, I knew this book could go one of two ways: 1) memoir of her life up until the point of writing or 2) sporadic, jumping around commentary on life. This book was oddly a mix of the two. Mindy followed her life pretty steadily until she broke into writing and then skipped around with parts that sounded like bits she had no show to write them into. I enjoyed the first part more than the second half. I would have liked to hear more about Mindy on The Office. She devoted one chapter to it and while it was the longest of her chapters, it was still short in comparison to the length of the book.

Mindy portrays herself in a very relatable light. She seems like your average everyday young woman and I think many people have a friend who is reminiscent of Mindy. It was refreshing to read that someone who is invited to awards shows also sits at home in her pajamas or cries over TV shows or calls their mom when something weird happens with her eye. She did seem to focus a lot on how she looked and fret about it, which was something I hadn’t read in a memoir before but I can most certainly understand.

There weren’t any major characters in Mindy’s story. Her parents showed up from time to time, as did her brother, and then a few roommates from college but no one who was a major part of Mindy’s story through the whole thing. I noticed this in a few other memoirs I read about celebrities and I wonder if there’s some celebrity editor who recommends this. How do I get that job?

Mindy Kaling Image via Paste Magazine

Mindy Kaling
Image via Paste Magazine

Mindy made a few predictions in the book which have wound up being true. First was a female Ghostbusters and the second was an Oceans 5 but which will actually be Oceans 8 but close enough. There were some things that dated the book as well. Most notably the Blackberry references and talking about how Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are a great couple that all couples should strive to be like. While funny and grounding, these made the book feel ‘old’ six years after publication.

I think this book would have been better as an audiobook. I know Kaling’s style only as far as Kelly is a reflection of how she really talks. If Kelly is nothing like her, I have no idea how some of her jokes were supposed to come off. I might have missed a few that fell flat without her inflection. I couldn’t tell if she was actually at odds with Rainn Wilson or if they were the kind of super-close friends who rag on each other all the time. Audiobook could have helped there.


Mindy stresses her body image a lot. As a woman in Hollywood, she’s pressured to fit into a certain body style and she just doesn’t do that. She says she’s the average American woman and I would argue she’s probably a little smaller than average. Anyway, she’s constantly forced to dress in a way that stylists think is appropriate for her body type instead of what she wants. She talks about the pushback she’s gotten from this and I think it’s her main message. She’s trying her best to be comfortable in her own skin but she’s pushed back on a lot. I think Kaling is a good role model for girls. She’s a minority, a woman, and not a size 0 but she’s still funny. That’s a great combination.

Writer’s Takeaway: The second half of the book seemed thrown together to me. Her stories would bounce back to college or The Office and there wasn’t a strong sense of a timeline like there had been in the first half. I would have liked a little more structure to it.

A fun and quick read by a funny woman. 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:
Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling | Book Spoils
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling | Literary and Lovely