Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (4/5)

10 Aug

My only other exposure to Ann Patchett had been nonfiction so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I liked the nonfiction, don’t get me wrong, but writers are very different when telling stories versus recounting them. It was a book club pick so I knew I was going to read it anyway!

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Other books by Ann Patchett reviewed on this blog:

Truth and Beauty (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

This book was a fast read for me. I was in the middle of it when it came time to leave for my Pacific Northwest vacation so I quickly got the book on CD, burned it to my phone, and let myself enjoy it while running in Seattle. The switch from reading a paper copy to listening to someone else read to me was a bit jarring at first, but I grew to really enjoy the story and how it was read to me. I liked the story, it didn’t bother me that it was a character-driven novel, and I thought the time jumps were well done. It’s a book where it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why you enjoyed it, but it’s easy to say that you loved it.

The characters were well-developed and I liked them. Well, not all of them, but a lot of them. These were people I could have a drink with, people who could explain their lives to me and I would be touched and believe them. These were real people and I applaud Patchett for creating them when they felt real enough to touch.

I liked Franny. She made mistakes like the rest of her siblings, but she also owned up to them. She was very much a mother figure, even to her older sister at times, and for sure to all the Cousins kids. I’m glad so much of the book focused on her and I think her relationship with her father was one of the best in the book. She was the bookends of this book: her christening started it and her visit to Bert ended it.

I think Albie’s experiences are very relatable. As kids, there’s a lot that intentionally goes over our heads. There are things parents don’t tell us and things we don’t know to ask about. I think Albie felt like this through much of his life. He knew that he was somehow involved in Cal’s death but didn’t understand what had happened and was too confused to ask.

Ann Patchett
Image via Alchetron

I loved the opening scene of the book. The first chapter set up the rest of the story and it made for a great read. Figuring out the adult characters before moving to the children was a great introduction to this book and a great way of feeling out how the adults were going to act the rest of the book. You got a great sense of Fix and an immediate dislike for Bert. Theresa was purposefully left out of the scene which is telling for later in life.

The ending bothered me. It was the first time I really thought about a relationship between Bert and Franny. He is her ex-step-father so visiting him as a way of getting away from your mother and husband seemed odd to me at first. But, I had to realize, that man raised her. Or rather, was a ‘Bert’ version of a father, meaning he was probably absent a lot of the time. It didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the book to me.

I only listened to the last 1/3 of this book on audio, having read the first part. The audiobook was narrated by Hope Davis and it took some adjusting for me only because I wasn’t ready for another voice to read me that story. It had been the voice in my head so it was a jarring change. After about a half hour, I adjusted fine and enjoyed the reading. Davis reads like she’s telling her best friend the story and this book did well in that style.

The Keatings and Cousins had to redefine family. Beverly and Bert were absent parents. Theresa was fighting to survive while Fix was desperate to be a father. The children had to raise each other and in the case of Albie, they failed for a long time. Later in life, the families are further complicated by distance, marriage, separation, and children so that some people seem to fall away and some fall into the fold. Franny experiences this with her latest stepfather’s family at the end, but she’s been through it as well.

Writer’s Takeaway: The only thing this book was lacking for me was some direction. It’s the story of a family, to be sure, but what happens to that family is unclear. They drift apart, but not all of them. Some of them come together. But others leave. And some are pushed out. It’s really unclear what the ending of this book wraps up. It’s beautifully written and I enjoyed the ride, I just wish I knew where I got off.

This book is a high precedent for Patchett’s fiction. I’m looking forward to others. 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:
“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett | Fictionophile
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett | the book stop
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett | Book Addiction

Book Review: A Son of the Circus by John Irving (2/5)

7 Aug

This book should have been perfect for me. It’s by John Irving and it’s about circuses, two things I love. Unfortunately, in Irving fashion, the book’s separate story lines didn’t start intersecting until halfway through (300 pages in for this book) and the Circus in the title was not a big focus of the book. Combine those with me taking a hiatus from reading it half way through, and this book was kind of disappointing to me.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Son of the Circus by John Irving

Other books by John Irving reviewed on this blog:

In One Person (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Born a Parsi in Bombay, sent to university and medical school in Vienna, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla is a 59-year-old orthopedic surgeon and a Canadian citizen who lives in Toronto. Periodically, the doctor returns to Bombay, where most of his patients are crippled children.

Once, 20 years ago, Dr. Daruwalla was the examining physician of two murder victims in Goa. Now, 20 years later, he will be reacquainted with the murderer.

I think there were some basic problems with this book that kept me from enjoying it. The first is how long it is. At 600+ pages, this wasn’t a quick read. The entire first half of the book is told in flash backs that Farrokh goes through during one day. The timeline will progress thirty minutes before we’re thrust back 30 years to John D’s childhood or the history of the Duckworth Club or something else that seems inconsequential to the plot, which is dragging along. In the second half of the book, some of these things start to come full circle, but many of them are never brought back up. Farrokh’s relationship with the Catholic Church is mentioned several times, but there’s no definitive conclusion. The central plot, which really begins in the last quarter of the book, is compelling and I thought Rahul was a great character. I wish side plots, even the circus involved one, had been left out. Irving tried to do far too much with this book and I think it failed as a result.

John Irving characters are hard to believe and there were several in this novel I didn’t believe. Nancy was a contradiction, both too nervous to do anything and very bold in how she attracted her husband. John D lacked a personality completely as the man never seemed to stop acting. I struggled to connect with any characters; perhaps Police Inspector Patel and Julia were the most understandable to me. Veronica Rose was hard to like (I doubt anyone reading this does) to the point where I didn’t believe her. This is usually my chief complaint about Irving novels, but I still read them anyway.

Farrokh was a good narrator for this story. He had a strong connection with all the main players: Rahul, John D, Martin Mills, and Vinod. Without switching narrators, we were given the story from several angles. I stand by my earlier complaint that there were too many plot lines, though. There could have easily been less about Nancy, Martin Mills, and even Inspector Dhar. Farrokh seemed to be a reasonable person, though, and recognized when there was something ridiculous going on in his life and react to it the way I would. I appreciated this with all of the radical events.

Police Inspector Patel seemed one of the most relatable characters in the story. He realized how ridiculous the people around him were and how his life was made more complicated by people’s insistence on following traditions and inability to do basic things. His constant frustration with his clerical staff was something I could appreciate. His love for Nancy was really admirable, too. Overall, I think he was the most likable character in the story.

John Irving
Image via the author’s website

My favorite plotline was Rahul. They mystery, murder, and the slow reveal of Rahul’s personality was fun to read and follow. The twists were good and it had a solid ending to it. I still wish this had been the only major plotline.

My least favorite plot line was John D and Martin Mills. I didn’t see how it contributed to the story at all. Martin was a caricature of a Jesuit and as a Catholic, I found most of the priests in this book a bit insulting. The story of the twins, them meeting, and all Martin’s shenanigans were completely pointless in the book and even the end of the twins’ stories didn’t contribute much to the book. I really wish this had been left completely out.

I struggled to find a continuous theme in this book. At first, I thought it would be Farrokh reflecting on his past mistakes but, half way through, the flashbacks stopped. Then I thought it would be about catching Rahul, but the two orphans were a big part of the plot. I was really confused what all of this had to do with each other besides Farrokh being involved in it all. His screenplays seemed to have something to do with it. He wanted to mature as a writer, to write about something that ‘mattered’ and wasn’t meant to upset people. Farrokh was growing into someone who was considerate and wanted to say something ‘real.’ To be honest, that’s all I got out of this one.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this could easily have been split into multiple books. Each would have been more impactful (and easier to fit in my carry-on luggage) than all of these plotlines combined into one. It’s important to have a book focus. While subplots can be fun and make the story more interesting, too many are distracting and need to be cut. This could have done with a lot of cutting.

Too much going on to really enjoy this one. Two out of Five Stars. As an Irving fan, this makes me sad. I ended up selling this book at a used book store for credit. I’ll post more about that tomorrow.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
A Son of the Circus by John Irving | Diddy’s Diary

Book Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (5/5)

31 Jul

I waited a long time to read this. I’ll continue to tell myself it’s so I wouldn’t have to wait too long for the fourth book to come out, but in reality, it’s because I didn’t want to bother with an audiobook on CD. It bugs me to have one just in the car. I have a short commute to work and I do most of my listening while running which means CD audiobooks take me a very long time to get through. I was finally ready to enjoy this one, though. And I’m so glad I did.

Cover image via Goodreads

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Other books by Galbraith reviewed on this blog:

The Cuckoo’s Calling
The Silkworm
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
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Summary from Goodreads:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

I felt the last book was really building to some relationship drama between Strike and Robin and this book did not disappoint! The killer involved was a great mystery as well. I was guessing the whole time who the guy could be and I was even questioning men like Wardle because I knew it would be someone we’d already met and I wanted to be ahead of Strike for once. I’d written the real killer off a long time before for similar reasons to Robin, but I really enjoyed figuring out what was going on.

The one thing that confuses me in the whole book is Robin and Matthew’s relationship. I don’t get why she keeps going back to him. Honestly, I don’t know if I could if my husband was as terrible as Matthew. Other than that, I loved the characters even more than in the last book and I can’t wait to see what Galbraith does with them from here. It’s going to be a very different dynamic in their relationship now.

I adore Robin. I love her even more now that she’s talked about his history a little more. She’s a very strong character and I feel like she’s finally learning how to be strong on her own because of her job with Strike. Again, if she hadn’t stuck with Matthew, I think I’d like her more, but I can see how she’d want to continue with the relationship. In all honesty, it was the easier decision. I hope that’s not why she did it, though.

I related to Robin more than I’d like to admit, but in a way that I think most married people can. I got cold feet for a bit during my engagement. There, I said it! I was 23 and getting married to someone I’d known since I was 14. I don’t think it’s unusual to second guess a life-changing decision for a minute before you make it and I know my husband and I had a few conversations that helped me feel reassured we were making the right decision. Though we had nothing as big as Robin and Matthew’s trust issues to deal with, yikes!

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

The investigation of the three men was great, but I really enjoyed the chapters from the killer’s point of view. It helped me guess along which was fun. One of the complaints I’ve had with this series is that you can’t try to figure out the murderer along with Strike because some things are kept from the reader. Having the chapters from his view helped me feel closer to the answer and once it was revealed, I felt like I should have figured it out! Not from Strike’s evidence but from something in one of those chapters. I thought this was a good addition to the book structure.

I’m repeating this a lot, but Robin staying with Matthew kind of bothered me. She’s strong and gutsy in work, but it doesn’t carry over into her personal life and it frustrates me. I wonder if this will start to develop going forward in the series. She seems a bit committed at this point, though!

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Robert Glenister, the same man who narrated the first two books in the series. I think he does a great job with the books. He easily slips into an American accent when needed and I think (though I’m no expert) he does different accents for the British characters depending on where they’re from. None of it seems oddly forced and I really enjoyed listening to him read this book!

Robin’s revelation about her past was a big part of her character development in this book. I liked what Galbraith was saying about Robin being seen as more than the victim of her circumstances. Knowing that Rowling is a feminist and rather outspoken, this was a consistent message with what I know of her. Robin didn’t talk about what happened to her because she was seen as a victim and some saw her as inviting what happened to her. I think that happens a lot with rape victims and I think Rowling addressed what Robin went through well.

Writer’s Takeaway: I can’t get over how much I liked the chapters from the killer’s point of view! It added just enough dramatic irony that I stayed more engaged than I otherwise would have. For these hard-to-solve mysteries, it was great. Especially because the clue that gave it all away was something I, as an American, would never have picked up on.

I enjoyed this story a lot and I’m now eagerly anticipating the fourth installment. 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:
Career of Evil by Rober Galbraith | A Captivating Thriller or a Huge Disappointment | Whimsy Pages
“Career of Evil – Cormoran Strike #3” by Robert Galbraith | Mike Finn’s Fiction

Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

17 Jul

I’d seen the play, but never read the screen play of this work. A few years ago, someone recommended this to me as an 1800s read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge. I’d already found something for the time period, but I added it to my TBR anyway. I needed a nice short audiobook recently and chose this one. At two hours, it was a great length. And the full cast narration was a delight.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Summary from Goodreads:

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest’s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

Strangely, my strongest recollection of this story was the cucumber sandwiches in the first act. I just remember the actor eating all of them and thinking it was hilarious. This whole play was really funny and it made me forget how terrible running can be for a little while. Listening also made me want to see the show again.

The characters are such awful exaggerations of society that it’s very easy to laugh at them. Only Jack seems to be somewhat collected and even he has times of being a bit ridiculous. I don’t think Wilde could have made fun of society with relatable or down-to-earth characters so it was a wonderful choice.

Algernon was my favorite character in the play. He was absolutely ridiculous and made me laugh in every scene he was in. At first, I thought he was terribly clever and out maneuvering Jack but I soon realized how vain he was, along with everyone else of course, and that his remarks were not witty but oblivious and narsacistic. I still loved him.

I didn’t relate to any of the characters, but I think you should all question me if I had. Not being able to relate to a character isn’t an issue for me in a comedy like this one. It’s hard to laugh at someone who reminds you of yourself.

I loved all the backhanded comments about things being in fashion. Thinks that ‘one must’ or ‘one must never’ do were great and made for many of the best lines in the play. Wilde had a great way of pointing out how ridiculous some of the customs of his society were and I loved hearing about it in this format.

As terrible as it sounds, I was disappointed that things worked out for everyone in the end. It wouldn’t have been very funny if things had gone poorly, but I think it would have been appropriate for them to flub a few things up in the end. These weren’t the smartest people, after all. But things working out the way they did was funny and I guess that’s what you’re going for as a comedy writer.

The full cast production was wonderful. This is a play with few enough characters that each voice was distinct enough I could tell them apart without having to be told who was speaking. It was fun to listen to it like a conversation. The narrator for stage direction barely spoke expect to announce arrivals and departures. I think this is the best way to listen to a play. I prefer it to the single-narrator version of The Tempest I listened to last year.

I liked Wilde’s way of talking about how ridiculous he found some of the practices of his society. He especially seemed harsh on marriage and family ties. It makes me want to read more into his life and see why he might have felt this way. I do remember reading he was arrested for homosexuality though he was married and maybe felt trapped in a marriage he had a poor opinion of. I’m just speculating but I can see how that might lead someone to have slighted feelings against societal pressures.

Writer’s Takeaway: What I really loved about this book was the witty one-liners. There’s a great list on Goodreads and a favorite was from Aunt Augusta: Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that. I enjoyed the quick chuckle and I think lines like this, frequency dependant on the genre, are always welcomed and can help lighten a heavy mood, even in a dark book.

I really enjoyed this read and recommend the full cast audiobook highly. 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:
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’: Bright, but Shallow | Washcult

Book Review: Abraham by Bruce Feiler (2/5)

11 Jul

This book has been on my shelf for some time. I read Feiler’s book Walking the Bible about four years ago and subsequently had a book club discussion of it and met Feiler himself. I decided to buy this book because I enjoyed Walking the Bible so much and unfortunately it has languished on my shelf ever since. I realized there was an audiobook copy of it narrated by Feiler and was able to enjoy that recently.

Cover image via Goodreads

Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler

Other books by Bruce Feiler reviewed on this blog:

Walking the Bible

Summary via Goodreads:

Both immediate and timeless, Abraham tells the powerful story of one man’s search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traveling through war zones, braving violence at religious sites, and seeking out faith leaders, Bruce Feiler uncovers the defining yet divisive role that Abraham plays for half the world’s believers. Provocative and uplifting, Abraham offers a thoughtful and inspiring vision of unity that redefines what we think about our neighbors, our future, and ourselves.

I was a little disappointed by this book only because I think Walking the Bible is far superior. While WtB had a journey and that plot dominated the Biblical exploration and enhanced it, I felt Abraham was more of a textbook with references to academics and readings that I hadn’t studied. Even though Feiler was in Jerusalem and other important landmarks, he didn’t write about the experience of being there. The audiobook copy I had contained 40 minutes of WtB at the end, which only reminded me how much more I enjoyed that book.

The many faces of Abraham was a big focus of Feiler’s writing. It made it hard to believe any single interpretation of him because each religion and faction believed their interpretation so vehemently. As a Christian, I’m inclined to believe the Christian interpretation, but that conflicts very strongly with the Jewish interpretations which are hard to reconcile. For a single man, he has a lot of lore and facts that contradict each other.

 

Feiler did a good job working his own disbelief and a bit of his bias into the story. He admits at the beginning to his Jewish upbringing and bias toward the Jewish Abraham. He begins with this man and sets him up as a basis for the Christian and Muslim man to be compared against. I liked that he was open about his own bias due to his upbringing and I appreciated that.

I enjoyed the parts that, like Walking the Bible, were told like Feiler’s journey through the Holy Land. I enjoyed hearing about his visit to the holy sites associated with Abraham. The description of soldiers and travel to these places was fascinating and almost hard to believe by someone who’s never visited the region.

Some of the historical reflection on interpretation textbooks and historical texts bogged the story down in my mind a bit. I felt there was more of this than his travels and it made the book a little slow for me. I was listening to it while cooking and my husband asked me if it was the Bible! I thought that was a good reflection of how little it sounded like a non-fiction book.

Feiler himself narrated the audiobook. I like when authors do this because I think it makes the book sound more ‘real,’ having inflection where it’s intended. I did notice Feiler’s New England accent on a few words which likely wouldn’t have been there with a professional narrator, but it made it more real to me. I think he has a good voice for narration.

Feiler’s purpose in this book was to bring the three monotheistic religions together with their single founding father, Abraham. I’m not sure he accomplished this goal. He found that Abraham was very different depending on who he was speaking with. Some things, such as the son he intended to sacrifice, conflict with each other. There are some things similar between each Abraham, but I don’t think Feiler was successful in identifying a man to unite three faiths, rather pointing out the discrepancies between them.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve read a fair amount of non-fiction and this format was one that didn’t work for me. I wanted to read more of a story of Abraham and how he changed but what I got instead was too much of a textbook, quoting scholars and old texts. I was really hoping this book would be more like Walking the Bible and I think that’s part of the reason I was disappointed in this book. It wasn’t what I expected based on my experience with the author.

This book was informative, but maybe overly so. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Abraham Study- week 3 “Birth” | Rev. Sharon’s Blog
Book Review: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths | Edge Induced Cohesion
‘Abraham’ by Bruce Feiler (Book Review) | Perfect Chaos

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (3/5)

10 Jul

This is a book I wasn’t overly excited to read but at the same time, I was really looking forward to. It’s a book I had the feeling I needed to read and couldn’t say explicitly why. It was just one I needed to read. I’m glad my book club picked it so I finally had a reason to.

Cover image via Goodreads

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Summary from Goodreads:

One of the most important & influential books written in the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerfully moving & penetrating examination of how we live, a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation, an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father & his young son. A story of love & fear–of growth, discovery & acceptance–that becomes a profound personal & philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching & transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence & the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.

There were many times I felt what I was reading was going over my head. I’m sure a reread would help me understand it better, but I’m not one for rereading books. I followed the trip and I followed Phaedrus’ history, it was the philosophy that I didn’t always follow. I found the history and story fascinating. I don’t think I could travel as far as Chris and Robert did. I’d get too bored and restless. I also found it fascinating how different Robert and Phaedrus were from one another. It was hard to believe they were the same physical person.

I think Robert was very fair in how he portrayed his family and friends. I’m going to assume Robert is the narrator we follow, though it’s never expressly stated. Some of the things he wrote about Chris, I would find embarrassing if my father published in a book. I wondered how Chris felt about it and if he ever ended up suffering from mental illness like Robert did. I wondered how John and Sylvia felt about how they were described. Their dislike for technology comes off as negative n Robert’s eyes but I don’t think it was really a bad thing. I hope they were able to see it that way because it would be terrible if it affected their friendship. I also think it would be interesting to know how Phaedrus’ friends reacted to the book. The man has the same name but remembers nothing about his past. How strange it would be to read something by him and have it sound completely different.

It was hard to sympathize with a single character in this book. We don’t get a lot about any of the major players. Robert doesn’t reveal much about himself except that he’s introspective. Phaedrus and Chris are described very detachedly so that creates a barrier for the reader. It’s hard to say I had a favorite amongst them.

Related to that, I found it hard to sympathize or empathize with any of them either. As much as this book wasn’t about motorcycle maintenance, that was one of the major things about Robert a reader could connect with. Since I’m not a gearhead, I didn’t form that connection and I felt a bit distanced from the characters.

Robert Pirsig and Chris
Image via Levity

I liked reading about Phaedrus best. His story was fascinating and I was very curious how it would end. I think it was paced well through the novel. When I’d get a little bored with the trip or with philosophy, it would pop up again and it kept me reading. I’m glad there was a good bit of it at the end that made the last part of the book fly by.

I’m not really one for philosophy so those parts of the book were slow for me. I followed the discussion about quality well enough, but the beginning part about classical and romantic thought was a bit over my head. I understood it on the surface but the more Pirsig got into it, the more confused I was and the slower I read. It was hard for me to get into a book that distracted me so much at the beginning and I think that’s why it took me so long to read a book that, on the whole, I enjoyed.

I’ve heard several people say this book has changed their outlook on life or the way they think about things. I did not have a major revelation like this. I think this book gave me a new definition of quality but other than that, I don’t think it will have a lasting impact on how I view the world. One of my biggest takeaways was how mental illness can change a person. Phaedrus is so different from Robert that they’re no longer the same person and I couldn’t view them in such a way. I thought that was really insightful and it made it hard for Robert because he still looked like Phaedrus but needed to be viewed as a different person.

Writer’s Takeaway: I don’t think I’ll ever be a non-fiction writer, but I think weaving the three plots together the way Pirsig did made the book move along well without dragging on any one plot. A book that focused fully one only one of those plots would have been hard to get through, but all three together was a delight.

I’m not sure I was the best audience for this book. 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:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig | Cellar Door
Robert Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Richard’s Notes

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

20 Jun

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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

13 Jun

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Harkaway
Image via Amazon.com

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

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

 

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

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

This book missed the mark for me. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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

12 Jun

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

My signed copy of the book.

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

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

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

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

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

A great laugh. I made my husband listen to one of the stories before we returned it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (4/5)

8 Jun

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

Cover image via Goodreads.com

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

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

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

Agatha Christie
Image via Biography.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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