Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer (3/5)

7 Dec

When I met Brad Meltzer last year, I bought several of his books to have them signed. Since then, I’ve slowly started going through the large stack which is being made faster by audiobooks. This one was a doozy! It’s just over 500 pages in the hardcover I have and sixteen hours of audio. On the upside, this was my 50th book of the year and helped me wrap up my reading goal for the year!

Cover image via Goodreads

The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Other books by Brad Meltzer reviewed on this blog:

The Inner Circle (Book Club Reflection)
The Book of Lies

Summary from Goodreads:

“Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. None of us knew it was coming.”

So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive’s oldest friend, into the president’s limousine. By the trip’s end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, and a two-hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.

This book was what I expected it to be. There were presidential secrets, a lot of traveling around, fights, deaths, and enough twists to keep me guessing. If you’re a political thriller fan, this is a good book for you. Unfortunately, this isn’t my favorite genre and some of the things I look for in a book were missing. There wasn’t much of an arc for Wes. (He slightly overcame his fears but it was so forced it didn’t feel like growth.) There weren’t any relationships that developed between the characters in a meaningful way. (I felt the relationship with Lisbeth was a bit sudden.) I enjoyed the book, to be sure, in the same way I’d enjoy watching an action movie. It can be well done but not what I’d really want to be watching.

It’s hard to say the characters were credible because they were put into situations where it’s hard to know how any person would react. These people led very public lives as well. Dreidel is a sleazebag, to be sure, and I don’t know if that makes him more believable. It does seem true to modern politics, though.

Rogo was my favorite character. I thought the loyalty he had to Wes was admirable and he had a distinct personality which helped him stand out from so many of the government-employed characters. (A lot of them were really flat.) I wish his intelligence and law knowledge had come into play more, though. Even if he’s fighting traffic tickets, he still had to pass the bar exam! He was comedic, which was nice, but his job didn’t have to be a lawyer if it wasn’t going to be utilized.

With such high profiles and such extreme circumstances, it’s hard for me to relate to any of these characters. In particular, I didn’t relate to Lisbeth. I felt her involvement in the case was a huge risk to herself and there was a very little reward in it for her. If I had to pick someone, I’d say I related to Wes. He was almost married to his job and I’ve felt that way sometimes with work. Though I can’t say I’d go to the life-threatening extremes Wes did to understand what was happening around the office!

Brad Meltzer and me

I thought the ending in the graveyard was great. It was fast-paced, had a great twist (that I want to say but won’t) and gave a satisfactory ending. I also appreciate (‘like’ seems to be the wrong word) when characters are actually hurt in a fight. I think too often heroes walk away from a fight without a scratch when they really would not have been able to do so. Lisbeth got hurt and I think that if she hadn’t, the scene would have been very unrealistic.

Boyle’s son bothered me a lot. What happened to him?! I might have missed it, but I don’t think we ever find out. If we do, let me know, I’m dying here trying to find it in the book. I thought the wrap-up with his character was really weak and I wish the last few chapters had focused on him just a little bit more.

The audiobok was narrated by Scott Brick. I think he did an amazing job. Flipping through the book now, I see how many ‘sound’ words Meltzer included and looking through the pages, it’s almost distracting. I never noticed that with Brick’s narration. He also did well differentiating voices with such a heavily-male cast. It must have been a stretch to find different ways to represent so many voices!

Appearances were never what they seemed in this book. President Manning looked cowardly in the picture taken of him at the racetrack when he was in fact trying to help. I think there were many instances of that in the book. Dreidel looked like an upstanding person but had some personal baggage. Boyle appeared to be dead but wasn’t. And the person who ended up being key in the whole thing (again, holding my tongue), was someone you never would have expected. Wes could trust Rogo, but there were few others who deserved that trust.

Writer’s Takeaway: I always admire in trhrillers that the author has the ability to surprise me up to the end. Meltzer is great at that and I’ve seen it in several of his books. I hope that I can surprise my readers even on the last page in books I write.

This was a good book, and well written, though not a genre I’m particularly fond of. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer | The Book Pedler


Book Review: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (3/5)

5 Dec

Haruf is an author whose work I always see other reading or in shops or in some WWW Wednesday posts and I wonder if I’d enjoy his books. When my book club picked this title, I was excited because it would give me a chance to finally try him out and, even better, talk to others about the book. I was also surprised to find out he has a very sparse writing style so I flew through this book in just a few days.

Cover image via Goodreads

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Summary from Goodreads:

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

I liked how this book dove right into the plot. There wasn’t much exposition and Haruf made that work well. It was a slow novel. There wasn’t much action and only one or two dramatic moments which seemed played down with Haruf’s short sentences and a lack of details. He reminds me of Hemingway in that sense. I liked Addie and I liked Louis even more. Jamie was a great character to introduce as a way of changing the course of their relationships. I think the style is the only thing holding me back from rating this book higher. It was a bit too light of detail for me.

I felt the characters and the way they interacted was incredibly realistic. The gossiping reminded me of high school and the relationship Addie and Louis formed was really sweet. I think that was a strong point of the book because I felt like I could drive to Holt and find Louis in his garden. It was all so easy to picture.

Louis was easily my favorite character. With the way the book ends, it’s easy to blame Addie (though Gene is really to blame!). Louis has some bad light cast on him in town because of his affair years before but I found him remorseful and easy to forgive. His wife probably didn’t think he was as easy to forgive, but looking at him from Addie’s perspective, he had shown true remorse. Besides, Addie was never looking to marry him. Louis’s slow and methodical approach to life was very admirable, too. He reminded me of summers in the country and the freedom of a pre-iPhone world.

There were small parts of each character I related to but I think my age difference between these characters is one of the things that kept me from enjoying the book more. It’s hard for me to think forty years into the future and imagine how I would feel if my husband had passed and how lonely that would feel. Not having children distanced me from the characters as well. I could understand loneliness, but not on the same scale as Louis and Addie.

Image via the New York Times

I loved all the activities they got Jamie interested in to help him deal with his parent’s fighting. I thought the camping trip sounded wonderful and I could imagine the wonder Jamie felt at watching the baby mice grow up. I liked that they got him off of his phone and experiencing the world. I think children are naturally curious and television and devices are a learned action. It’s great that Addie and Louis were able to teach him something else.

I felt the ending was very sudden and it was a bit of a let down for me. I wanted to see Addie as a stronger character but I felt she was manipulated by her son and it made me sad. In the end, her decision was the best one, but it was hard to watch what happened between her and Louis because of it.

There are many themes Haruf worked into the book. The idea that being older doesn’t mean you have to stop living is the most obvious. It seems like Addie and Louis gave up on having anything new in their lives but they were able to really enjoy each other and what they found together.

Writer’s Takeaway: The sparse detail and simple sentence structure are very distinct in this book. I’m going to assume Haruf’s books all follow this style. Personally, it’s not a way I could write a book. I think leaving some things up to the imagination of the reader is important but Haruf took it a step farther than I would have. I felt he also paced the book equally throughout, not slowing down to spend more time on important events or to speed up through unimportant things such as what was eaten for dinner. I think changing the pacing of a book helps emphasize key moments in a story.

I liked the book though I didn’t connect with it well and the style threw me a bit. 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: My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen (4/5)

21 Nov

I got sucked into a genre I’m calling religious memoirs. If there’s a better name for these books, I haven’t heard it. The first I read was A.J. Jacob’s book The Year of Living Biblically. From there, I read The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose. This one was next on my list and I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. I love memoirs because they let you look through someone else’s eyes for a bit. A chance to look at Christianity through the eyes of a Jew sold me and I’m glad I found a copy of this book on the sale shelf at the library.

Cover image via Goodreads

My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith by Benyamin Cohen

Summary from Goodreads:

One day a Georgia-born son of an Orthodox rabbi discovers that his enthusiasm for Judaism is flagging. He observes the Sabbath, he goes to synagogue, and he even flies to New York on weekends for a series of “speed dates” with nice, eligible Jewish girls. But, something is missing. Looking out of his window and across the street at one of the hundreds of churches in Atlanta, he asks, “What would it be like to be a Christian?”

So begins Benyamin Cohen’s hilarious journey that is My Jesus Year—part memoir, part spiritual quest, and part anthropologist’s mission. Among Cohen’s many adventures (and misadventures), he finds himself in some rather unlikely places: jumping into the mosh-pit at a Christian rock concert, seeing his face projected on the giant JumboTron of an African-American megachurch, visiting a potential convert with two young Mormon missionaries, attending a Christian “professional wrestling” match, and waking up early for a sunrise Easter service on top of Stone Mountain—a Confederate memorial and former base of operations for the KKK.

During his year-long exploration, Cohen sees the best and the worst of Christianity—from megachurches to storefront churches; from crass commercialization of religion to the simple, moving faith of the humble believer; from the profound to the profane to the just plain laughable. Throughout, he keeps an open heart and mind, a good sense of humor, and takes what he learns from Christianity to reflect on his own faith and relationship to God. By year’s end, to Cohen’s surprise, his search for universal answers and truths in the Bible Belt actually make him a better Jew.

Cohen has a great writing voice that really helped me enjoy this book. He doesn’t assume a Jewish or Christian audience for this book which is good because he explains almost everything where needed. He often refers to laws in Judaism and he gives both the Hebrew and English words while explaining the tradition or law. He also doesn’t assume the reader knows about Christianity which I found helpful when he explored denominations different from my own. He was funny without being demeaning, which was a good touch.

Benyamin has only one other consistent character in the book, his wife Elizabeth. He speaks about his father occasionally and touches on his siblings from time to time, but Elizabeth is the only other person who appears regularly. Even so, he doesn’t go into a lot of detail about her, leaving the impression we get one of a loving wife who is tolerating her husband’s travels through Christianity. She’s not discouraging him, but not encouraging either. As someone who’s been a Christian and decided on Orthodox Judaism, she doesn’t’ see the point; she’s already done the reverse journey.

Benyamin made himself very likable. I wondered how much of this was really his personality and how much was good editing. He was observant, polite, and questioning without ever seeming condescending. He seemed open-minded, which someone on his journey would need to be. He seemed to doubt himself a lot, though. He needed someone’s approval, his rabbi, his wife, or God’s, to do almost anything. I felt a bit bad for him. OK, a lot bad for him in parts.

I’m not afraid to say I’ve doubted my faith for a time in the same way Benyamin did. I never considered leaving it, but I wasn’t as strong and convicted as I’ve been at other points. While I didn’t explore other religions, I could relate to the lost feeling Benyamin had. He was looking for the fire and vigor he saw in others and wanted to get it back. I think he had it again before the year was over, but I’m glad he finished his journey.

Benyamin Cohen
Image via From the Grapevine

The story of him dating before he began the journey was one of my favorites. I found it hilarious that he’d fly to New York to look for a wife. That just seemed ridiculous to me and I had to tell my husband so we could shake our heads together. I also liked the Christian Wrestling show. It seemed like such an odd concept but as Benyamin experienced it, I saw how it could be used to call others to God. It wasn’t a traditional ministry, but sometimes the unusual gets people.

I waited the whole book for Cohen to get to my denomination, Catholicism. I guess as a Catholic, I should be offended that he went to confession and didn’t tell the priest he was Jewish. Honestly, I’m not. I think he got more from the experience than many Catholics do. I wish he’d gone into a little more detail about the mass, though. He went into a lot of details about the Baptist and Evangelical services he went to that it was a bit of a let down for me. It was still nice to feel represented, thought!


Cohen says several times that he wants to explore Christianity to make him a better Jew. I feel the same way about reading religious memoirs and books on religious understanding. It helps me to have my faith convictions when I can see why other people have theirs. I understand why what I believe is different from what a coworker or friend believes. Rather than tempting me to convert, it helps reinforce my own beliefs. I don’t know what I’d do if I ran into another religion that made sense to me, the way Elizabeth did. I haven’t come into that situation yet so I don’t know.

I love memoirs that read like a conversation with the author and Cohen did an excellent job of that. I admired how conversational he was about a topic that divides so many people.

This was a really enjoyable book about a topic that I find fascinating. 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:
My Jesus Year, by Benyamin Cohen (LentBooks #15) | Compulsive Overreader

Book Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (3/5)

20 Nov

I find I usually give ebooks lower-than-normal ratings. I think it’s because I read them so slowly that some of the connections to the beginning of the text are lost on me. I think this is one of those cases. The heartbreaking story of Pecole Breedlove was tear-worthy in small steps but if I’d sat down and binge-read this book, I probably would have cried the latter half of the book. I won a physical copy of this book through a giveaway on Uncharted Parent. I’m sad to say that was over a year ago and I finally picked up the ebook so I could get to it sooner. Thank you, Tracy!

Cover image via Goodreads

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife.

I don’t read book summaries before I start a book so I expected the two girls, Frieda and Claudia, to be bigger characters in the book. I kept waiting for the narrative to come back to them. I was also thinking that the blue eye would become a big part of the plot earlier in the storyline. Overall, this book took me by surprise. I didn’t expect the rotating narrators and I found it unpredictable who would speak next. Because I read it in chunks, I struggled to remember who was talking, what the time period was, and how the person was connected to the main plot with Pecola.

It’s hard for me to say how credible the characters were. I’ve never been in Pecola’s situation before nor known anyone who was. I thought Frieda and Claudia were wonderful. Their innocence and perception of the world are what I remember from my time at their age. I found it hard to put myself in Pauline or Cholly’s shoes, either, because they had very different lives than I did. Cholly, in particular, was hard to relate to. Maybe it was the gender difference but I found him do deplorable that I wanted to skip his chapters.

Claudia was my favorite. She had her heart in the best of places and you could see her questioning the logic behind everyone being mean to Pecola. She knew she was poor and ugly, but she was still as nice as she could be. Her loss of innocence was a big part of the plot in my mind. By the end, she realized what was so pitiable about Pecola and she still wanted to do nice things for her.

I related to Claudia and Frieda a bit. I think I shared their generalized good spirit at their age (or at least I’m going to think I did). I remember bad things happening around me to people but in a very removed way. I didn’t know why people’s parents were getting divorced or what that really meant. It was a youthful disconnect from reality and I remember, like the girls, slowly piecing together that there were larger, sadder, things going on in the world.

Toni Morrison
Image via Goodreads

The scene where Pecola has her first period was one of my favorites. To an adult reader, it’s so obvious what’s happening. But the panic of the girls, their failures to communicate with their mother and with each other, made the scene funny and memorable. It was light-hearted, unlike most of the book, which made it stick out a lot in a good way. I was hoping that kind of humor might come up again later on, but no such luck.

I don’t want to ruin the ending of the book, but it was so sad that it was my least favorite part for that reason. What Cholly does and how Pecola deals with it are really sad. The part at the end where she sees her blue eyes was a bit confusing at first, but beyond sad when I figured out what was going on.


Pecola desires to be loved and feels that if she is pretty like a doll, someone will love her. Unfortunately, her dolls and her idea of beautiful is the caucasian idea of blue eyes. To become pretty, she’ll have to find a way to have blue eyes. The idea of a singular definition of beauty has been challenged a lot in recent years but wasn’t in the 1940s. Her singular push to that idea of beauty is sad when we see how unobtainable it is. Modern society has created surgeries, diets, and clothes to help women attain that idea of beauty, but how real is surface beauty? What if we’re the only ones who see it, the way Pecola sees her blue eyes?

Writer’s Takeaway: Morrison uses a sample from a reading primer to set up a stark difference between what the girls read and idealize as a perfect family and the world they live in. I understood why she did this, but it wasn’t a style I would imitate myself. It became tedious to read and, frankly, I started skipping those parts.

This book was good and it was sad, but it was a bit abstract in parts for my taste and jumped around a bit. Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
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Book Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (5/5)

31 Oct

This was another book club gem that I knew nothing about when I picked it up and by the time I was done, I never wanted to put it down. The story and writing were amazing and I’m so glad to have read it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Summary from Goodreads:

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

It’s been a while since I let the writing of a book woo me and let me forget about the plot. Towles has a way with words I haven’t experienced for a few months and I loved it. I also loved Katey which made falling in love with this book easy. She was brave and forward while still being likable. It was only her time with Dicky I didn’t like. I thought the book was a great depiction of life in New York City during the period as well. I really appreciated the historical detail and the descriptions of ethnic subcultures that the characters ran into. It felt so real as if this novel was written in the 30s instead of set there.

The characters jumped off the page. I think we’ve all known a Katey and an Ann and a Tinker and a Wallace and an Eve. None of them felt like a stereotype and each of them felt like someone I went to high school with. I really enjoyed a male author’s ability to write a strong and believable woman. I know that can be hard and I think Katey was spot on.

I adored Wallace. I wanted him to last longer in Katey’s story. I thought he was sweet and shy when he first showed up. His stutter was so endearing and I enjoyed his forwardness despite the handicap. The friendship he and Katey formed was wonderful and was my favorite part of the plot. He was really good to Katey, too, and I appreciated someone who wanted to give her something rather than take something from her.

Katey wanted to move up in the world and had things dashed around her several times to get there. The accident, Tinker’s truth, and her fall-out with Dicky kept knocking her down, but she kept getting up. That’s someone who’s easy to cheer for. We all feel knocked down in life and it’s easy to stay down, but Katey gets back up; why shouldn’t I?

Amor Towles
Image via Goodreads

Katey’s rise in her own career won me over. There were much more limited career options for women in the 1930s than there are today and Katey, though she started on a traditional path, moved into a company where she took risks and where she was rewarded for those. She became influential and a pioneer in her field and I kept rooting for her.

I felt Katey treated Dicky poorly and it was my least favorite part of the book. He was a sweet kid and it was so obvious she was using and manipulating him that it hurt to read. I was glad she finally told him the truth but I was also sad it took her so long to get it out. I didn’t want to see him hurt but you knew it had to come.

Katey was passive at the beginning of the book but she came into her own when she realized she missed out on Tinker because she was too quiet. She decided to start going after things then and really take an initiative in her own future. I liked how Katey grew in the book and how her aggressive pursuit of and investment in her future paid off in the long run. I thought it was a great message.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s no one thing I can say about why this book was such a joy to read. There were descriptions that made me sigh with pleasure and the way the characters were brought to life was incredible. I’d have to study Towles writing more to put my finger on what was so special about it and I’d be glad to do it! This book was a joy to read.

A great book which makes it clear why this author is so celebrated. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Post:
RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles | Only Good Books

Book Review: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (5/5)

30 Oct

I felt like a bad Detroiter when I’d say I hadn’t read this classic. Albom is a sports and literary staple in our town and not having read one of his biggest books felt bad. I even met the guy and hadn’t read it. I wanted a nice, short audiobook and this seemed to be just what the doctor ordered so I decided to cross it off my ‘eventually’ list and read it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Other books by Mitch Albom reviewed on this blog:

The First Phone Call from Heaven (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, and gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.

Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded. Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you?

Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying of ALS – or motor neurone disease – Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final ‘class’: lessons in how to live.

Having read The Last Lecture, I thought this book would be pretty similar and on some levels, it was. I liked Mitch’s approach to his time with Morrie. Even as the disease took his body, Mitch knew his old friend’s mind was still sharp and capable of answering some of the tough questions Mitch had. I think Morrie was well poised to answer these questions. His life’s work had led him to analyze human interactions and behavior so he was able to look at his own behavior and history and identify what he needed to pass on.

I think Mitch portrayed Morrie in a very realistic way. I’m not sure if any of it was altered to make Morrie more likable, but I’d like to think none of it was. I remember professors from my own undergrad that I’d love to reconnect with and hear more about them and their lives. I’m thinking of one Spanish professor in particular. If something had happened to her and she was sick, I’d like to think I’d fly to see her. Maybe I would, but I’m not Mitch and I can’t say for sure what I’d do. But I remember her like Morrie: full of wisdom and always willing to share.

Morrie was easily my favorite character. It’s hard to see someone you love in pain and I appreciated that Morrie didn’t try to hide his pain from Mitch. He was straightforward with how and where he was hurting and while he asked for help, he never asked for pity. He wanted to remember loving his family, not being pitied by them and I think that’s a very noble, though difficult, thing to strive for.

In February, I’m going to fly to California to celebrate my Grandpa’s 100th birthday. While he hasn’t been diagnosed with anything specific, old age is getting to him and he frequently gets confused and disoriented. Like Mitch, I live far away from my grandpa and because of the distance, I lost contact with him for a long time. Unlike Mitch, it’s hard to establish it when dementia is setting in. I was jealous of what Mitch and Morrie were able to share. I wish I could do something similar with my grandfather.

As much as the life lessons were useful and heartfelt, I loved hearing Mitch describe Morrie and how he became so animated when Mitch would walk into the house. Knowing that when things were that dire and that painful, seeing an old friend could animate Morrie so much was heartwarming.

There wasn’t a part of this book I really disliked. If anything, it was the 20th Anniversary note at the end of my recording, but that’s only because it felt tacked on (which, of course, it was).

The audiobook was narrated by Mitch Albom. He narrates many of his own books so I wasn’t at all surprised. I think it added a lot because toward the end, he was able to imitate Morrie’s labored speech. It wasn’t disrespectful in any way, but it gave a good indication of how hard it was for Morrie to get out the words.

Morrie preached love. He loved his family, his wife, his job, and his life. It’s hard not to remember the things that make you happy when you read this book. I think it can be a good reminder. It’s very lucky for Mitch and Morrie that a newspaper strike and a national television spot timed up and worked out perfectly for this to happen. I’m glad it did. I can see why this book continues to be popular long after its publication.

Writer’s Takeaway: Books are so frequently about famous people: queens, presidents, athletes, actors, etc. Sometimes, you just need a book about a retired teacher. I like the Morrie wasn’t someone big and famous talking about life and dishing out advice. He really lived a great life and wanted to share everything he could. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t know him from Adam before this book. Now, everyone knows Morrie and the great lessons he imparted.

There’s nothing to dislike about this book. It’s short, sweet, and heartfelt. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
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Book Review: Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks

23 Oct

This is the last book I needed to read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge! This book was carefully selected for its setting in the 1600s. I’ve found there’s not a lot of books set in this era so it’s become a struggle each year to find a new book with this time period setting. I’m sure I’ll find more and hopefully, they’re not all depressing and about the plague!

Cover image via Goodreads

Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks

Summary from Goodreads:

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders.”

I liked this book through the last chapter but I wish I hadn’t read the epilogue. It really ruined what had been a dynamic book. I liked that the character’s lives kept changing and that I couldn’t guess the terrors that would befall the citizens of the village and the characters we loved. I liked the dramatic irony of knowing Eleanor was going to die but not knowing how. It kept me on the edge of my seat. I think the epilogue was predictable and it made me roll my eyes. What is it about women having to get pregnant as their lives change at the end of best-selling books? I had a flashback to Sarah’s Key. It was too similar and soured the taste of what was an enjoyable book despite its depressing subject.

Anna was almost too perfect but her flaws made her believable enough. She didn’t seem to express too much emotion but that may have been the reader of my audiobook (the author herself). She had her moments of self-pity but was always able to pick herself back up. It seemed unbelievable but juxtaposed next to so many people who didn’t recover, she seems slightly more believable. Michael and Eleanor were great characters and I think they really made the novel.

Eleanor was a great character and it was hard not to love her. I felt bad for her, especially when Michael revealed his true colors. Even before then, it was obvious she was a sad person and that she was trying to atone for some great loss or fault. Her giving nature was contagious to Anna and I wished that it had been passed on to other women in the village.

Though I’ve never had a situation like Anna’s, I could understand her thoughts about giving up. I think a lot of people experience this when it comes to difficult work assignments, school, or relationships. Sometimes, it’s so tempting to give up and let yourself be overrun. Anna’s situation was truly dire, more so than anything I’ve experienced. Regardless, I’ve still felt the desire to curl up into a ball and forget about everyone else or to have enough to drink to forget for a moment that something terrible is happening. I guess we all have to be like Anna and not give into those thoughts every time they cross our minds.

Image via Amazon

Following Aphra’s demise was the most interesting part of the book for me. She was never a character I cared for much but I pitied her and watching her life slip away from her was heartbreaking which, in turn, means it was very well written. I could see how she would find everything that had rooted her slowly slipping away and I could see how it would come to the end and how she found herself. It’s sad to see that happen to a person but Brooks wrote it in a very believable way.

But that ending! The epilogue really ruined the book for me. I recommend anyone reading this book stop and not read the epilogue. I think Anna riding away from town would have been a fine ending but learning that she’d had a baby and named her Eleanor was too much of an eye-roller for me. Anna cared so much for her village and it was hard enough to think she’d leave them all but with her mothers’ instinct, I could almost believe it. Still, I wish it had stopped just a bit sooner.

The audiobook was narrated by the author and this is one of the cases where I think that was a terrible idea. Brooks made Anna sound drab and in a sense, I guess she was. However, the effect was that Anna felt removed from her emotions and almost had a ‘dead inside’ feel to her. She seemed to react superficially to everything around her and it was like she was a narrator and not a player in the story until the end when she got involved with Michael. I wish a professional narrator had done this one because I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

This story is one of loss and grief and how people deal with those two things. Anna and Eleanor fight to keep everything and don’t let their grief overwhelm them. Aphra lets her loss affect her entire life and loses herself in grief. The other villagers fall somewhere between these women and the book lets us see the interplay between the group. Both can be deadly.

Writer’s Takeaway: I felt like Anna was too much of a window to the plague and not enough a player in the story. This is why I can’t give this book a higher rating. Maybe it was the narration, but I think at least part of it was the writing. I wish Anna had been a bit more vested in most of the story. With her boys passing so early on, she felt numb to other people’s grief because she was living in a cloud of her own and only watching what happens around her. She finally had that fog lift at the end, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in her anymore. I would say that pacing the book differently and letting Jamie and Tom live longer might have helped me stay vested in Anna’s grief.

This was going to be a four-star read for me until the epilogue. Three out of Five stars.

This is the final book of the When Are You Reading? Challenge and I’ve now completed it! This book fulfilled the 1600-1699 time period.

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:
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks | Ardent Reader
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks | Blogging for a Good Book

Book Review: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

10 Oct

I found this book at a used book sale, I believe. When I started going through audiobooks of books I owned, it made it to that list. When I was getting worried about the When Are You Reading? Challenge this year, I chose this one to help me finish up some hard-to-fill time periods. I always enjoy Gregory so it was no hardship for me!

Cover image via Goodreads

The Other Queen (Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #16) by Philippa Gregory

Other books by Philippa Gregory reviewed on this blog:

The Boleyn Inheritance (4/5)
The Lady of the Rivers (3/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Two women competing for a man’s heart.
Two queens fighting to the death for dominance.
The untold story of Mary, Queen of Scots.

This dazzling novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory presents a new and unique view of one of history’s most intriguing, romantic, and maddening heroines. Biographers often neglect the captive years of Mary, Queen of Scots, who trusted Queen Elizabeth’s promise of sanctuary when she fled from rebels in Scotland and then found herself imprisoned as the “guest” of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick.

The newly married couple welcome the doomed queen into their home, certain that serving as her hosts and jailers will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court. To their horror, they find that the task will bankrupt them, and as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Elizabeth, their loyalty to each other and to their sovereign comes into question. If Mary succeeds in seducing the earl into her own web of treachery and treason, or if the great spymaster William Cecil links them to the growing conspiracy to free Mary from her illegal imprisonment, they will all face the headsman.

As always, Philippa Gregory makes history come alive in her historical novels. She has great figures, like Mary, Queen of Scots, speaking in a way that makes her feel real and relatable. She makes sense of a history that at times seems twisted and outlandish. I love that about Philippa Gregory. What I didn’t like about this one is that it felt too strongly settled in history with no fun to it. There seemed to be written accounts of everything Mary said or Bess referenced that stand today. Not much seemed invented and fun. I wished for a little more scandal and maybe a few fewer characters. I miss Gregory’s storytelling that you see in her earlier novels. This one felt a bit too much like a history book.

I’m certain the three narrators are as historically accurate as possible. There’s an author’s note at the end that talks about how the Queen Mary we see in this book is based on new evidence about her plotting and life in prison with the Talbots. I’ve never doubted that Gregory does her research. The three have distinctly different personalities and the audiobook narration did a wonderful job of accenting that. The two women are night and day of each other and George was given a rather distinct, though not admirable, personality.

Bess was my favorite character. George was so weak that he was hard to like and Mary was such a liar I found her hard to like, too. Bess, on the other hand, was smart. She was always thinking of her future and her children’s inheritance. She knew what she wanted and would go after it. She wasn’t afraid to say what she thought, either. I take care of finances in my home and it was fun to see a woman doing that 500 years ago and the pushback she got for doing it!

I think Bess was the most relatable character in the book. She had a great rags-to-riches story and I think she appeals to a modern woman. She was very ahead of her time with how concerned she was about her share in a marriage and amassing wealth. It made her unusual in her own time but someone a modern reader could relate to very well.

Philippa Gregory
Image via Fantastic Fiction

Bess’s back story was fun to read about. She endured a lot to get to where she ended up and it made her easy to root for. I have to imagine there were few people like her in England at that time and it makes it understandable why she liked Cecil and why she would treat Queen Mary the way she did.

I found this book a bit dull in places. It seemed like Gregory was so determined to use all of the historical research she did and include every note between Queen Mary and her friends, conspirators, and lovers, that there was so little action for long stretches of the book. She would sit in the castle and plot for chapters at a time before another plot would come and fail. I felt this should have been sped up a bit and could have done with a few chapters removed. Though, when you get to the sixteenth book in a series, your publisher is probably about done editing you.

The audiobook had three narrators. Jenny Sterlin was the voice of Bess. I thought she did an amazing job. Bess was authoritative and bossy while still being submissive and demure when needed. Sterlin got the anger in Bess’s inner thoughts just right. Stina Nielsen did the voice of Queen Mary and was my favorite of the narrators. She was cunning and sweet at the same time, just marvelous. Ron Keith did the voice of George and I have to say he did well because I hated George as I was supposed to do. He was weak and whining. Ugh. The three narrators together had a tremendous effect and were very helpful for keeping straight if it was Bess or Mary narrating.

Though in school we learned about all the great things Queen Elizabeth I had done, this book shows her darker side. We also see a woman who was executed for treason and a murderous plot and how her deepest wish was to be freed. There are two sides to every story and two sides to many people. While this book shows the dark sides of each woman, it’s important that it shows a positive side to Queen Mary, who history painted in a very dark light.

Writer’s Takeaway: Historical research is paramount for a historical novel but I feel it was overdone here. When I research for my historical book, I only end up putting about 30% into the story. The rest is for me to know and build a back story for my characters. I think that’s important to remember and sometimes, authors seem too eager to throw everything into a book and I feel the plot can suffer for it.

Enjoyable but a bit dense. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1500-1599 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 Posts:
Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory | Tudor Blogger
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Book Review: The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory | Love London Love Culture

Book Review: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (4/5)

9 Oct

I met Watkins over a year ago when I went to the Midwest Literary Walk and heard her speak. The book sounded interesting, like a better form of California, and I bought a copy. Unfortunately, it took me so long to get to it but I’m glad I finally did.

Cover image via Goodreads

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Summary from Goodreads:

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

I was pretty spot on by thinking this would be a better version of California. It was similar at the beginning, talking about a futuristic American West that descended into chaos due to an environmental crisis. I thought this book had more to it. The introduction of a child, Ig, into Ray and Luz’s lives was a great addition. I liked the bit of background we got about these two and their path forward in life. I thought it was interesting that the plot shifted to the Amargosa but Levi and his cult of followers were really interesting and it got into Watkins’ life a bit as well. Her father was a member of Charles Manson’s Family but eventually testified against Manson and left the group. I found it interesting that Watkins would choose to talk about this topic in her book but she made it seem very natural for Luz to join the group and I wondered if this was a way for her to explore what could bring her late father into such a group.

My inscription from Watkins.

I found Ray and Luz very realistic. When there’s not much to do, you either make things to do or lay around. When you think someone is being mistreated, you either act or do nothing. When you think someone is dead, you let go or hold on. They were opposites of each other in all of these ways yet they continued to come together and be good for each other. I thought it was very real to have them still so attracted to each other.

Ray was my favorite of the two. He was more like myself in the ways he reacted to the situations he found himself in. He was resourceful and determined and I admired his loyalty more than anything else. He’s the kind of guy I would want to have with me if I was living in a water-deprived world like Luz found herself.

There wasn’t much in this book that I could relate to. The conditions they lived in were very harsh and the decisions they had to make were very removed from the reality of the modern world I live in. Though, being unrelatable didn’t make me like this book any less. It was very escapist and a fun story.

Me and Claire Vaye Watkins

The end of the book with Levi was most interesting to me. I never would have expected the book to take a turn toward cults when I started it. Having Ray convincing Luz that she was being manipulated was hard to read about but I was rooting for Ray the whole time. Knowing what I did about Watkins’ family, I found it even more engaging and wondered how much was drawn from her father’s story.

I was bothered by Ray and Luz taking Ig at first. I was mad to think they could just take a child, even if that child seemed to be mistreated and not cared for properly. I wondered if she was being cared for by a reckless older brother for the day when there was a proper, caring mother waiting for her girl to return home. I never stopped thinking that and at the end, I wondered if Ig was better off having been taken or not.


Survival was a key theme in this book. There were many things the characters did to survive and they had to give up parts of themselves and their identities to survive. Ray gave up his driver’s license and his ties to the military. Luz gave up her comforts and Ig. It’s up to the reader to decide if it was worth it. I’m inclined to say some of it was, but other parts were not worth losing.

Writer’s Takeaway: Watkins created a terrifying future because it’s so easy to see something like this happening. Climate change has started to affect our world in startling ways. If not checked, could we see a growing desert in the southwest that slowly moves to overtake other parts of the country? Would animals really evolve to survive so quickly? Speculative fiction is so scary because it’s so eerily similar to our world and we can see it coming to pass. I feel Watkins did a great job of moving our world to a terrifyingly realistic crisis.

A fun read though I thought the plot was just a bit wandering. Four out of Five stars.

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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Review of “Gold Fame Citrus” by Claire Vaye Watkins | Rhapsody in Books

Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

3 Oct

It was over two years ago that I bought this book. I was in Chicago for a conference and my bookstore exploring found me a signed copy of Armada right after I’d read and enjoyed Ready Player One. I was ready for some more Cline in my life. But then, of course, things got in the way and it’s only now that I’m getting to this one. I actually enjoyed both the ebook and audiobook of this one since my hold returned the ebook before I could finish it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Armada by Ernest Cline

Other books by Ernest Cline reviewed on this blog:

Ready Player One (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

That’s one heck of a description, huh? The description of this book made it sound like a cross between Ender’s Game and War Games and even after finishing it, I would make that comparison. The writing was great, much like Cline’s other novel, but it didn’t seem to be as original an idea as his first book. Honestly, I may have liked this one more if it hadn’t been the second Cline I read. I had super high expectations and while this was good, it wasn’t great.

Because of the compressed time frame, I felt most of the characters were really flat. Even Zack didn’t develop too much. There was a lot made about his anger issues, but they seemed to fizzle out with little notice when the plot got going. This was definitely a plot-driven novel and the characters really took a back seat.

There wasn’t a singular character I felt any attachment to. I liked Lex, but only because she was fun and quirky. I didn’t care too much what happened to her. Zack’s mom was likable but didn’t have much of a role. Xavier was hard to figure out and seemed both insane and reliable which made him hard to trust. With how flat I felt Zack was, I didn’t attach too much to a character in this book.

Their experiences were too unique for me to feel very attached to anyone, either. I was never super into video games so I didn’t relate to that culture and I’ve obviously not been a part of an alien invasion effort, so that was hard to sympathize with, too.

Ernest Cline
Image via G4TV.com

I was most interested in the interplay between Zack and his father. I’m not sure what I thought of it, though. I figured it would either be ‘well, you’re still a total stranger’ where they’d be super skeptical of each other, or ‘long lost loving father!’ and they’d be inseparable. It was neither of those and I found it interesting to see when they started to trust one another.

This is minimal, but it really bothered me that Zack’s mom had another baby. How fertile is this woman that she gets pregnant when she’s not even trying after being with her husband for 2 hours? It was too convenient and not necessary to the plot of the book. I think it should have been left out.

I listened to the second half of this book after enjoying the beginning as an ebook. Wil Wheaton narrated the audio and I thought he did well. He put slight accents on for the other soldiers and it was enough to tell them apart without it being distracting. I’d heard he was really good at narrating Ready Player One but that was an ebook for me. I’m glad I finally got to hear it!

Xavier and Zack had to be brave to speak out. When they did, it was still hard and then had to take things into their own hands. The information that Xavier gained access to wasn’t supposed to be available to everyone but having it changed everything. I think Cline’s point was about freedom of information, but more about not being afraid to speak up when you need to. For Zack, it saved the world.

Writer’s Takeaway: Cline’s writing is great for people the age of his character but also for the generation before that. His inclusion of 80s and 90s references is always welcome for those who remember them, but not so overwhelming as to put off someone who doesn’t. That’s what readers loved about his first book and while not as strong here, they’re still fun.

This book was fun, but I had high expectations. 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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