Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullen (3/5)

7 Nov

McMullen taught creative writing at my university and I never took a class outside my major to learn from her. I figured that reading her book now might teach me something. That makes sense, right?

Cover image via Goodreads

When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullen

Summary from Goodreads:

Life as an O’Donnell is all twelve-year-old Addy knows, and life as an O’Donnell means trouble.
Tucked away in a gray patch of woods called No-Bob, the O’Donnell clan has nothing but a bad reputation. So when Addy’s mama abandons her on the afternoon of Mr. Frank Russell’s wedding celebration, nobody is very surprised. A reluctant Mr. Frank and his new wife take Addy in, and Addy does everything she can to prove that at least one O’Donnell has promise. But one day, Addy witnesses a terrible event that brings her old world crashing into the new.
As she finds herself being pulled back into No-Bob and the grips of her O’Donnell kin, Addy is faced with the biggest decision of her life. Can she somehow find the courage to do what’s right, even if it means betraying one of her own?

I haven’t read a middle-grade book in a while and it took me a little bit to get used to the writing in this category. It’s simplified from what you’d find in YA and there’s nothing wrong with that, just something to adjust to. I heard that this was the second book in a series and I think I may have missed out on some exposition because I read it first. I was a bit confused at the beginning about No-Bob and why the O’Donnell’s were so dispised. I was also a little confused about the relationships between the kids because they seemed to be fighting in one scene and friends in the next, but that’s very true of childhood in general so I shouldn’t have been so off-put. I thought the story touched on a lot of issues at the time and did it well. Overall, I didn’t have many complaints and it was a nice book to read during lunches because it moved quickly and was easy to jump in and out of.

There wasn’t a whole lot of character development in this one. Most of the characters were very one-sided with the exception of Addy. I didn’t have a problem with this because of the age target. Addy is a good character to show development. She becomes very strong over the course of the book and would be a good role model for girls reading this. She’s exposed to a lot of different opinions and types of people and learns for herself who is admirable and who isn’t. I thought this was well done over the course of the book and it got the slow burn it deserved.

Frank was a great character. He seemed a bit naive but he was a good husband and surrogate father. He was industrious and smart and showed Addy a lot of love she’d never had from a man before. She needed a father when she was taken in and there’s not a better man who could have done it.

Addy had to recognize racism and decide how she felt about it. I think that’s relatable for a lot of children growing up. I had a somewhat diverse community that I grew up in, but I was still part of a white majority. I remember learning about different races and recognizing that in my peers. Addy had a more abrupt lesson than I did but it’s a lesson everyone has to go through when growing up.

Margaret McMullen
Image via the University of Evansville

I liked the beginning of the book best; when Addy was learning from Frank about how to be more civilized. It was very sweet and the way she was acted around her new father made her grow on me. It made her a very likable character despite being very rough around the edges.

The time she spent living in the woods didn’t work for me. It felt skipped over and unimportant to the overall plot. I think there was a lot of good material in there and the book was strong enough without it.

Addy has to face a harsh decision between protecting her father and doing what’s right. She has been told how important blood and family are, but she doesn’t see that she’s being respected in the same way she’s being asked to respect others. It’s a tough call for her to make and I like that McMullen recognizes the struggle she has to make that decision. While blood is thicker than water, it’s still a liquid and sometimes needs to be washed away.

Writer’s Takeaway: Characters have to deal with tough issues. I’m glad I read this when I did because I’m writing about a character dealing with racism in my latest project. It’s interesting to see how McMullen handled it and think about what parts of that I’d like to emulate and which I want to be different from.

Overall, a solid book, but not a style I’m a huge fan 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:
Spotlight On: Margaret McMullan- University of Evansville Professor, Author | Women’s Connections at Bamberger

Book Review: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix (4/5)

24 Oct

When my book club leader picked this, she said she’d read another book by the author and thought it might be a comedic horror. I’m not sure if it delivered on the funny, but it was not one I wanted to listen to when I was home alone or running alone. I’m not a big fan of horror but this one was still enjoyable.

Cover image via Goodreads

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Summary from Goodreads:

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all.

Based on the description of this book, I was really unsure what to expect. Parts of it were very realistic and parts of it had strong fantasy elements. I thought Hendrix combined them well into a compelling story. The things I was afraid of while listening alone were fantastical and that made it easier to deal with. I’m more afraid of something that seems realistic than invented. The scariest part for me was when the general public seemed to be acting as one, a hive mind, trying to defeat Kris. Those moments were truly scary because I could see it happening.

Of course, a lot of the characterization wasn’t credible, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Kris, Terry, and Miranda were the only characters I thought I should believe in and I did. Kris’s determination came over time and her paranoia grew appropriately. Terry was a great character because he was mostly developed without appearing in person and I thought that was really well done. He was built up in our minds by those around him more than himself. He was almost a disappointment when he finally appeared on the pages. Miranda was a great foil. I liked that she’d bought into Koffin, but not as much as other characters and she seemed more real because of it.

Kris was easy to like and was my favorite character. You felt bad for her because it felt like she couldn’t catch a break. But then you realize how much things were actively working against her and you start to cheer for her. She was easy to get behind and I think made a novel that was somewhat unbelievable more believable and very engrossing.

I related to Kris at the beginning when I thought she was down on her luck. As things started to get supernatural, I stopped feeling like I could relate to her much and just enjoyed the story. Starting off in a relatable way was a good technique for Hendrix to use because it drew me in well.

Grady Hendrix
Image via Wikipedia

Kris’s escape from the rehab facility was my favorite part. It made me so uncomfortable to hear about her squeezing through tunnels and crawling through mud. I was driving in the dark when I listened to that part and I was squeeming the whole time and kept thinking that the writing was just superb. It was so vivid that it made me uncomfortable to hear about. Absolutely amazing.

There wasn’t a single part of this book I disliked, but the evil creatures throughout took away a lot of it for me. I liked the idea that humans are inherently bad or there’s a devil that makes them bad. The idea that there is a creature that drives this was a bit too much for me and I struggled with imagining them and honestly ignored them.

The audiobook narration by Carol Monda was superb. She gave Kris an amazingly determined voice and also came across as an underdog fighting for every chance she got. Her voices for other characters were very similar, but her voice was so perfect for Kris that it didn’t matter.

The story makes us question the cost of fame or whatever other desire we have. Kris struggles to understand what she’s lost and what she’s gained and it feels like there’s no easy answer. Is the truth she’s living with easier than the ignorance her bandmates have chosen? Is what Terry has worth what he’s lost?

Writer’s Takeaway: Hendrix wasn’t afraid to make me squirm. There were a lot of uncomfortable parts of this book, especially when Miranda was almost raped and when JD is killed. Those stuck with me for a long time after reading the book and could be trigger points for some readers. However, the point Hendrix was making about those acts being unjustly motivated and being done by people who had sold out made a point. These are not things decent humans do and they show the true evil of the world.

A solid read though not a genre I love. 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: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (4/5)

22 Oct

After a pitifully long amount of time between books one and two, I decided to plow ahead with book three in this trilogy. I was glad to find the audiobook but a bit shocked by how long it was. It got me through half marathon training, the half itself, and then some. I was glad to finally wrap this one up on a car trip so I can move on. However, I can’t stop thinking about the world Schwab created.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab

Other books by Schwab reviewed on this blog:

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)
A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

This book took up right where the second one left off which was one reason I wanted to jump right into it. While book one to book two had a time lag, this had none at all and could have easily been a single (very long) novel. It made me realize that the second book was a lot of character development and not a lot that was essential to the plot. Anyway, moving back to this one. This book was all action from chapter one and I appreciated that while I was running and listening. It did become a bit exhausting at times, but I enjoyed it overall. The character development here was great, especially Alucard. I felt the plot was a bit more drawn out than it needed to be, but it was still exciting so I didn’t care much.

Kell and Lila were well developed in this book. Their established personalities weren’t taken off course but we saw Kell grow and Lila soften which were needed. Rhy grew a lot, too. Arguably, he grew the most and I really liked his character progression. While some characters plateau in later books in a series, these didn’t and I liked how Schwab handled them.

Rhy was my favorite character. He’d been very immature in earlier books and it was great to see him mature so much without it feeling forced. He grew in his ‘career’ and in his relationships. Of any character, he was one who started to change in book two while the others stayed static and this book really brought him into his character.

While it was a very fantastical world with overly action-packed plots, the emotions in this book rang true to modern life. Kell and Lila are struggling with feelings they’ve never had before and dealing with changes they hadn’t anticipated seeing. Alucard is dealing with his past and trying to reconcile mixed emotions. Schwab did an amazing job of drawing relatable characters in her fictional world and I really enjoyed being a part of their story.

V.E. Schwab
Image via EW

Rhy’s plotline when he stayed back in Arnes was my favorite part of the book. He showed his bravery and maturity and dealt with very mixed emotions which must have been a huge challenge. While exploring the seas was fun, having someone stay in the castle where so much of the series had taken place kept the book rooted and I think it made it feel more consistent with the rest of the series.

As fun as it was, the adventure to the floating market wasn’t a part I particularly enjoyed. It gave the characters a way to get the items they needed to defeat their enemy, but it was a lot of time that I didn’t feel was particularly necessary for a book that was already long. I’m not sure how it could have been shortened, but I think it could have been.

The audiobook was narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer, the same narrators as the previous book. I thought they did a fabulous job yet again, especially Kramer who had so many characters to narrate. He gave the appropriate weight to the heavy parts of the book and was fun during the playful times. Granted, there weren’t many of those in this dark novel.

Forgiveness was a big theme in this novel. Especially for Alucard. He literally sacrifices some of his life to tell Rhy he’s sorry and explain to him why he left. He didn’t feel an apology was enough but Rhy was ready to forgive him. I think this dovetails with Rhy growing up. I’m not sure he would have been able to forgive in the second book and he wouldn’t have been able to at all in the first. I think their relationship shows the character development in this book wonderfully.

Writer’s Takeaway: The world-building Schwab did for these books is incredible and deserved to be explored in three books. I’m told there is another trilogy coming in this world and I’m so excited to see what else happens in it. The intricacies that Schwab developed about the way people in different worlds/countries look, talk, carry themselves, and act was amazingly well done and I really appreciated how deep into it the reader was able to go. I have a lot of respect for fantasy writers who are able to do this.

Overall, a very enjoyable book. 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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Review: A Conjuring of Light (V.E. Schwab) | Bookloves Review

Book Review: The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (3/5)

21 Oct

I seem to grab a Philippa Gregory book every year just to knock one off of the When Are You Reading? Challenge. No shame. She’s one of my favorite writers and it gives me a good reason to revisit her at least annually.

Cover image via Goodreads

The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #7)

Other books by Gregory reviewed on this blog:

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

Summary from Goodreads:

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.

Nothing’s short in a Gregory novel, even the description. That’s one of my chief complaints in this book. It was just too long and there was too much detail. It felt at times like Gregory didn’t want a single piece of her research to be missed from the book and at times it read more like a history text than a novel because of it. I’d love to see her go after something more fictional. Pole’s personality seems to be fabricated, but almost every move she makes seems straight out of history.

The people all seemed true to their historical selves and I appreciated that but it did feel like they were missing some level of life, the element that takes historical people off of a page and brings them to life. Jeffrey is the main exception, I thought he was very well drawn. I wish that the same vividness had been brought to all the characters.

Philippa Gregory
Image via Fantastic Fiction

Reginald was easily my favorite character early on but he faded away from the story a lot as it went on. He’s arguably the most historically important of Margaret’s children, but his major role in English history would come after her death and as this is her story, he doesn’t get his moment.

Margaret was not a character I related to. She felt entitled her entire life and dealt with setback after setback without moving forward which drove her to scheme and plot and plan. I’ve never felt the need to do anything similar. Her age was another reason I didn’t connect. Her children and their successes were so important to her and I had nothing to compare that to at this stage in my life.

The ending caught me off guard and I enjoyed the surprise it brought. It was a strong reminder of how surprising the reign of Henry VIII was for the whole country and for those who had grown up with his father. He’s so sensational and that’s why we know so much about him. Living with that sensational change probably wasn’t as exhilarating.

Many of Gregory’s books focus on similar people and I feel she’s portrayed them the same in each book. Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon are two that come to mind. I’ve seen these women before and know how they’ll be portrayed and it takes a lot of fun out of the book. I think the unknown elements of history that could have given us insights into their personalities and secrets could have been changed and made the story more fun.

Bianca Amato narrated the audio and I think she was a fine choice. She gave Margaret the airs I assume she must have had with her position and birth. She seems a good age to have told the story as well. We meet Margaret in her late 20s and leave her in her 60s with a large focus on her 40s so Amato’s mature and serious voice was a good fit for the story.

I’m not sure what I’d say the theme for this book is. Loyalty seemed to be a good one until the last third of the novel. Margaret’s loyalty seemed to be her undoing at the end of her life. She lived in a very volatile time and dealt with it as best she could while being herself as much as she could. Maybe survival is the best theme, but it wasn’t as successful as you’d think by me picking it as a theme.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s a balance between a story and it’s characters. I didn’t feel it was well struck here. The plot was far more central to the story than the people in it and I felt the book suffered because of it. I would have liked more of a personality out of Margaret and her family. This was too much of a history book for me.

Enjoyable but not her best work. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1500-1699 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
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The King’s Curse-Philippa Gregory: Truth is Stranger than Fiction | Elaine Donadio Writes
The King’s Curse – England – Philippa Gregory | the book trail

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (4/5)

3 Oct

My book club has been talking about reading this book for over a year so I’m glad we finally got to it. I bought a copy at a used book sale well before it appeared on our schedule and despite there being an audio available, I did read this one in print.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Summary from Goodreads:

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

I was reading this at my parents’ cottage and my mom wanted to talk about it despite me being on chapter two. She was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio so Vance’s story was one familiar to her, her family, and a lot of her friends growing up. So in a way, this book isn’t far removed from me. She recalled a large number of friends and neighbors who would go back to Kentucky every weekend to see family and fulfill their obligation to return home and share the prosperity they’d found. I don’t think this phenomenon is limited to central Ohio. A lot of Michigan has similar groups. There’s a suburb of Detroit that’s sometimes referred to as ‘Taylor-tucky’ and we’ll joke about how the further north you go in Michigan, the more you’d think you’re in the South. There was work in Detroit and the mines and farms of Northern Michigan that attracted people from Appalachia so I feel this is a problem throughout the Midwest.

I think Vance drew a very great picture of his family members, especially his grandma. It can be hard to show the true nature of a loved one and make sure the reader knows you love that person. Mamaw was the perfect blend. She was tough and strong but she showed her love clearly. She was a good focal point for the story. Vance’s mother was hard to love and I think he even struggled with his feelings around her so I wasn’t surprised when I ended the book disliking her.

Mamaw was my favorite person in this book. She really showed the struggles Vance was talking about while being a fierce advocate for her grandson and a big reason for his success. I loved how involved she was in her grandchildren’s lives and how she loved them. I wondered how she felt about her daughter messing up as often as she did and if she felt, as Papaw did, that she’d failed her. We never really hear.

Being from the Midwest, I know these people. I know the people who feel that they are at a disadvantage and the ‘man’ is out to get them though they never work. I know people who believe in Hillbilly Justice. I know the working towns with a major employer who leaves and devastates the town. This book was very close to home, more so for other members of my family than my own, but still close. I think Vance has pointed out a very real problem the Midwest is dealing with and speaks well to the true roots of the problem.

J.D. Vance
Image via Mondavi Center

It was eye-opening how Vance reflected on the people he’d grown up with and how they did not fare the same as him. When you hear a success story like his, you don’t always think about the people who didn’t make it, who weren’t as lucky. I’m glad he addressed this and talked about how his contemporaries could have been better assisted and helped to deal with the lot in life that they’d been given.

Nothing in this book dragged for me or was disinteresting. I wished there was more about Vance’s time in the military, but it wouldn’t have contributed to his storyline in any way so I understand why it was glossed over.

It’s becoming clearer that the US is in the midst of several crises that are culminating and not being addressed. In addition to racism, the Me Too movement, health care costs, opioids, and student debt, we’re seeing people incapable of achieving the American Dream as it’s been taught to us. No single leader will be able to tackle these issues, especially with the bipartisan design of American politics. We’re seeing business tackle these issues more and more. To be honest, I support this. It allows me to ‘vote’ for companies I believe in with my purchases when I feel like my political vote isn’t doing enough.

Writer’s Takeaway: Vance does a great job of combining personal experience with research and historical fact. The book reads more like a memoir than a sociology book about the Hillbillies. I liked the combination and how his story helps you connect with the issues. He uses his experience and that of his family to show how the problems perpetuate and why they exist. It was a very powerful combination.

This was a great read and I think it will make for a powerful book club discussion. 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: Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min (2/5)

24 Sep

This is one of the last book calendar recommendations I have left to go through. I decided to read it as an ebook even though I own it because I thought it would help me get through the book faster. It took me six months to read this book. I’m not happy with that at all, but at least I got through it. The time it took might have to do with how I felt about it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

Summary from Goodreads:

This is an evocation of the woman who married Chairman Mao and fought to succeed him. The unwanted daughter of a concubine, she refused to have her feet bound, ran away to join an opera troupe and eventually met Mao Zedong in the mountains of Yenan.

The storytelling in this book wasn’t my favorite. It bounced back and forth between first-person and third-person and the formatting in the ebook didn’t make it obvious when the change was taking place. It’s a little more formatted in the book, but still not very easy to understand. I didn’t like the switch back and forth and it would take me out of the story a lot. It was interesting to hear how Jiang Ching maneuvered herself to be where she was and how many lies she told about herself. I did like the details of how art played into Mao’s reign which is a side I hadn’t heard detailed as much before. I also hadn’t known the first lady was involved with it as Jiang Ching was.

Min pained very realistic images of Mao and Jiang Ching. Mao was a good leader but his paranoia and focus outside of leadership lead him astray. Jiang Ching tried very hard to use her talents and passions to guide the country which I felt was something someone in her position could do and do well. They were strong and weak people at the same time. Their rise from a cave to the highest position in the country was long and hard and they fought well for it. It made the reward sweeter and harder to adapt to. Part of me wished they were still in a cave at the end because they were so much happier there.

I didn’t like any of the characters. Jiang Ching, Mao, and Nah were the only three who appeared often enough and for long enough that I kept track of them. Nah was ungrateful and flippant. Jiang Ching and Mao were both too flawed and single-mindedly obsessed with power for me to like them. Maybe I could have respected them, but not liked them. All of the other people seemed to appear just as they were about to fail so I never got too attached to any of them.

I feel like Jiang Ching’s nervousness and paranoia could be described today as a little like imposter syndrome. She always felt like someone was going to come to her and say her time was over, she wasn’t supposed to be there and she needed to go back to the cave she came from. I’ve felt that at times, as I’m sure a lot of other people have. Maybe with friends who are more successful than you or at a job where you’re getting paid a lot. I know I’ve felt that way before and that was a part of Jiang Ching’s story I could relate to.

Anchee Min
Image via the author’s website

I found the story of Jiang Ching’s early romantic life to be the most interesting, but I didn’t like it a lot. The politics at the end dragged for me and I didn’t enjoy them, but the marriages and running away and acting of her early life was really interesting. It was crazy to me that someone with that much uncertainty and change in her life could settle into life as the first lady of China.

All of the conspiracy theories at the end were boring and repetitive to me. They all seemed the same and they all ended the same way. I lost interest and it made the end of the book drag for me and probably contributed to my long read time and why I disliked it.

China’s political system under Mao wasn’t sustainable and the book highlights the deep cracks that existed under his regime. I thought it was an interesting angle to take on the story, highlighting Mao’s wife, but her strong role in the country makes her a great choice to share this story. I don’t know much about that period of history in China and Jiang Ching’s perspective was a good one to take to see multiple sides of it.

Writer’s Takeaway: The perspective switches in this book really hurt my enjoyment of it. I wondered if the parts in first-person were from a diary at first, but I don’t think that was the case. I wish Min had picked one perspective and stuck with it, I may have enjoyed the story more. That is one of the main reasons I’m giving the book such a low rating

Overall, a bit cumbersome and too long-winded at the end. 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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Prepare for the Future by Studying the Past | HL Gibson, Author

Book Review: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie (3/5)

23 Sep

I added this to my TBR ages ago, when a girl at my writers’ group threw out a quick comment that she’d read it and liked it. I was still in my Goodreads phase where I added any book I heard of. That didn’t last long and is now much more under control. Nonetheless, this book remained on the list for six years and I’ve finally read it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie (aka R.A. Dick)

Summary from Goodreads:

Burdened by debt after her husband’s death, Lucy Muir insists on moving into the very cheap Gull Cottage in the quaint seaside village of Whitecliff, despite multiple warnings that the house is haunted. Upon discovering the rumors to be true, the young widow ends up forming a special companionship with the ghost of handsome former sea captain Daniel Gregg. Through the struggles of supporting her children, seeking out romance from the wrong places, and working to publish the captain’s story as a book, Blood and Swash, Lucy finds in her secret relationship with Captain Gregg a comfort and blossoming love she never could have predicted.

The summary seems odd to me because I never would have classified the relationship between Lucy and Captain Gregg as romantic. If anything, it was a love more similar to a father and daughter than lovers. I thought the feelings between them were really well developed, though of course any time you’re dealing with a ghost or the supernatural, things are bound to see a bit odd. I thought Leslie set up the premise of their relationship well and it was clear from the beginning why they agreed to enter into the relationship that they did. I liked how the children and Eva were never let in on the secret but how they almost interfered several times. I liked the restrictions Lucy put on Captain Gregg and the times he broke their agreement. Overall, it was a cute ghost story and I enjoyed it.

The one thing I didn’t like was the lack of character development in Lucy. While Cyril and Anna developed into adults and were shaped by their world, I didn’t feel that Lucy did anything of the sort. She seemed oddly stubborn with Captain Gregg at first and that never changed. She was very insistent at times but very malleable at others. Her character was just a bit too contrived for me and never felt true, more idealistic.

I liked Anna. She was a fun child and Lucy never encouraged her to be like her brother and be studious. She encouraged her to do what made her happy even when it was at odds with what Cyril was doing with his life. I thought it was fitting that Cyril would never rise too high and Anna would be married to a politician. It was a reversal of fortunes but they were both the happier for it.

Nothing in this book was very relatable for me. There was a lot of supernatural plot elements that I couldn’t relate to and the time period made it a little further removed from my experiences. I think most women can think of a time a man might have charmed them who shouldn’t have, but her brief tryst with Miles wasn’t very critical to the plot and didn’t make me feel much sympathy for her.

I thought the adventure of publishing the captain’s book was fun. I know publishing is different today, but her path seemed so easy it was almost frustrating! I laughed at her hearing feedback from her family without them knowing she’d published it and I thought it was funny how the publisher would never believe that she’d written the book. The whole thing was really funny and I liked how it played into her story with Captain Gregg.

The strained relationship with Eva seemed a bit unnecessary to me. Eva only came in to annoy Lucy and she never gave in to her demands after she moved into Gull Cottage. Eva was good for a few quick laughs, but she could have been left out. It feels odd to say something could have been left out of this short book!

Lucy learned that she was enough. She could raise children by herself and she could make money by herself. Yes, it took the help of a ghost, but she learned to trust herself until she didn’t need his help and guidance as much later in life. There weren’t a lot of independent women at the time this book was written so I’m sure Lucy was a welcome anomaly. I wonder if that’s why Leslie published under a pseudonym. I almost didn’t find the book because of that.

Writer’s Takeaway: For such a short book, it does seem to have had a lot of success. Both a movie and a TV show are a lot to get out of the slim volume. Keeping it short isn’t bad. And supernatural elements are never bad. I really wonder what made this book so successful because it doesn’t seem to have a lot of substance. I liked it, though, so it has a sort of charm that’s kind of hard to describe.

Overall fun but not too much to it. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Post:
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – R.A. Dick (Josephine Leslie) | Christina Wehner

Book Review: Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian (3/5)

17 Sep

I was excited to read a book set in Detroit. It seems every Detroit-based book takes place in the 60s or 70s when the city was going through a lot of change. I wonder when it will be considered a good setting again? I did appreciate all of the location references, though. It was very grounding.

Cover image via Goodreads

Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

Summary from Goodreads:

Set in early 1970s Detroit, a racially divided city still reeling from its violent riot of 1967, Beautiful Music is the story of one young man’s transformation through music. Danny Yzemski is a husky, pop radio–loving loner balancing a dysfunctional home life with the sudden harsh realities of freshman year at a high school marked by racial turbulence.

But after tragedy strikes the family, Danny’s mother becomes increasingly erratic and angry about the seismic cultural shifts unfolding in her city and the world. As she tries to hold it together with the help of Librium, highballs, and breakfast cereal, Danny finds his own reason to carry on: rock ‘n’ roll. In particular, the drum and guitar–heavy songs of local legends like the MC5 and Iggy Pop.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t love it either. I think it’s mostly due to being too young to appreciate the cultural references Zadoorian made. I don’t know classic rock well so it didn’t spike my nostalgia like it might for some. I’m also not a big music fan in general so that passion Danny had for music isn’t something I shared. I was more familiar with music in high school so I tried to channel that, but it was on no level like Danny. I think I just wasn’t the right audience for this book, despite being based in Detroit. I’ve read a lot of books focused on the racial tensions of the late 60s and 70s. This one didn’t teach me anything new.

Zadoorian built great characters in Danny and his mother. We learn about his mom’s mental health issues slowly through the book. It’s very clear she needs help but exactly what she’s suffering from becomes more and more obvious. While Danny’s dad is around, he’s shielded from it. But once he’s alone with her, there’s no sugar-coating the situation. Danny’s anxiety is a little less obvious though I suspect there was a hint of depression in there as well, the feeling he described as ‘the fade.’ I felt both of their emotions were really well-drawn and relatable.

Danny was a great main character. I rooted for him because in some ways he reminded me of myself as a kid. I liked that he was a little bit of an outsider and that he was really passionate. His love of music was very well drawn and I liked how resourceful he was. You wanted him to succeed and have clothes that weren’t stained pink and you wanted him to go to the concert because he’d worked so hard and he deserved to have a night of fun! I think there was something in his high school experience that everyone could relate to.

By the time I got to high school, I liked gym but I had the same dread of it in middle school that Danny displays. His dread of certain activities was very relatable for me. I dread certain things at work or around the house but I’ll push myself to do them just to get the experience and get past the fear. I understood what he meant by ‘the fade’ because I had a similar feeling in high school, I called it fog and it would settle in some times for a few days.

Michael Zadoorian
Image via Amazon

Danny’s friendship with John was my favorite part of the plot. I thought it was really well developed and John helped push Danny in ways he needed to be pushed. Without his father there to egg him forward, John kept him moving forward when he might otherwise have stopped. They needed each other and found each other at a good time.

I did not like the ending of this book. It didn’t feel like a lot of the plot lines were given a conclusive ending. I wanted a little bit more out of Danny and his mom’s relationship, Danny’s job, his friendship with John, and his job at the radio station. It all seemed to just stop abruptly. The letter at the end seemed a poor excuse for an ending and I just felt like Zadoorian stopped writing without finishing what he needed to.

The audiobook was narrated by Alexander Thompson. I liked his narration and I was glad that he pronounced Detroit locations correctly! (Pet peeve) His narration didn’t stand out to me as wonderful, but it didn’t distract me from the story at all which was very important to me. The voices he used for women weren’t demeaning in any way and none of the inflections he chose got on my nerves.

This book dealt with a lot of heavy issues. I think mental illness is the one that stuck with me the most. Danny and his mother are dealing with different types and degrees of mental illness but they can’t talk about it because they don’t have the words to deal with it. Danny’s mom needs a lot of help. She wants to be a good mother and I honestly believe she tried as hard as she could for as long as she could. There seem to be days when she’s great and a good parent. But it’s also clear that she struggles to be happy and that her husband has had to cover for her for years. Once her support system is gone, she has no one to lean on and falls over. Danny has to learn to prop her up and she has to learn to help herself stand up.

Writer’s Takeaway: Zadoorian was clearly writing about some passions he shared with his main character. The love of music and his passion for Detroit were really plain. It’s great when a passion clearly comes across in a book. As someone from Detroit, nothing about it felt false to me. I’m not sure if a reader from another area would appreciate the detail, but it rang true for me.

An enjoyable book, but without much closure that would have made it more enjoyable. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going (3/5)

16 Sep

I believe I got this when an old friend was cleaning off her bookshelves. It was one that I’d found on Goodreads and had shelved but thought I’d have to borrow from the library. It’s nice to own a book on craft, seeing as I don’t have many. I just wish it was one I believed in a little bit more.

Cover image via Goodreads

Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going

Summary from the back flap:

Writing & Selling the YA Novel offers a complete lesson plan for writing and publishing fiction for teens. Structured like a day of high school, awared-winning  young adult novel K.L. Going takes you through every stage of YA writing.

Learn how the YA genre has developed in History class. Toss around ideas during Gym. Create authentic teen characters in English class. Craft convincing plots during Lunch. Addit all up in Math as you learn about agents and contracts. Along the way you’ll find plenty of “homework” exercises to help you hone your skills- as well as input from actual teen readers.

At the end of your school day, you’ll have all the knowledge a  young adult author needs to write a book that speaks to teen readers- and get it published.

Going does have a lot of good advice in this book. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it if I hadn’t recently read Writing Fiction for Dummies because that book took the time to break down methods and strategies a lot better than Going did. She seemed to go over a lot of the writing process at a very high level, likely not wanting to give too much structure to a process every writer explores differently. I did enjoy the history of YA section toward the beginning and her exploration of how YA marketing and content is different at the end. I would recommend those sections to anyone who wants some specific YA knowledge and already knows a lot about writing. The rest of the book is still helpful, but other sources are better for the art of writing.

I thought Going struck a good balance between talking about her strategies and talking in general. She speaks about how she had to use swearing in one of her novels but how it makes sense for other authors to leave that element out. She speaks about creating her own characters and how other authors have done similar things. She spoke so much about Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War that I added it to my TBR.

Going did give a fair picture of the struggles of editing and as I’m going through that right now, I related to the struggle. It’s a long and tedious process. I didn’t feel she gave a lot of solid advice on how to approach that, but her portrayal of the long process was relatable.

K.L. Going
Image via the author’s website

I liked the chapter where she talked about what is and isn’t included in YA fiction and why. She focused on being realistic instead of surprising and including what is really there. In my novel, it’s 1920s Chicago. There will be smoking, drinking, and swearing. I felt weird about including some of that at first, but I realize not having it would be even more at odds with my setting so I need to embrace it.

I’ve already detailed that I felt the editing section could have used some more detail. She talked about professional editors which was new to me but didn’t go into a lot of detail on how to self-edit. Granted, there are full books on this and what Going could have covered in one chapter would have been a very brief overview, but it would have been something.

Going’s overall message was that teen fiction isn’t too different from adult fiction except for the age of the characters. Teens can handle the same topics and complexity as adult novels so there’s no reason to hold back on the content and themes. Granted, some topics might lend themselves better to adult characters and then might not make good teen novels, but I’m generalizing here.

Writer’s Takeaway: Going made two good points: write for an intelligent teen audience and don’t preach. Some writers want to write for teens because they think they have something to teach teenagers. No one wants to read a sermon so while books have a message, it’s probably best not to write with one in mind.

Overall, a helpful read, but not as much detail as I was hoping for. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4/5)

9 Sep

This was a book club pick that I was excited about. The book had a lot of hype and was part of the Oprah Book Club so it was widely read. As I like it, I knew nothing about the book going on and I think that made the beginning even more intense and thrilling for me. I really enjoyed the ride this story took me on.

Cover image via Goodreads

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Other books by Jones reviewed on this blog:

Silver Sparrow (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

Yay for short summaries that don’t give away the first plot point! I don’t think I can make the rest of this review as spoiler-free so I apologize. This book took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to involve the desolation of a marriage so soon out of the gate. I wasn’t expecting it to have so many amazing secondary character and I think that’s what really blew me away. I cared deeply about all of the people in this book and what happened to them.

The character’s emotions felt very real to me. They were in a complicated situation and their feelings were equally complicated. You can’t expect a newlywed to feel the same about her marriage after being away from her husband for five years. You can’t expect someone to accept you back into their lives the same way you left them. And you can’t expect parents to understand and approve of every decision you make. The complicated questions this book asked didn’t get easy answers from the characters and I appreciated that.

Big Roy was my favorite character. The way he raised Roy was commendable and the love he had for Olive was beautiful. It was obvious he loved Roy and Olive from his actions but especially from his behavior after Roy went to jail and at the funeral. What he said to Andre after he came back to collect Roy was perfect and he was doing a great job of trying to protect his son and a marriage he believed in. I had so much respect for Roy and I’d love to have him as a father.

I’ve never been in a similar relationship situation to these characters, but their feelings of helplessness were relatable. Roy did as much as he could and made the best of his situation as best he could but he was still helpless. He was the victim of circumstances and those circumstances affected everyone around him. These things happened to Roy, but they affected Celestial, Andre, Big Roy, Olive, and the Davenports. They were all even more helpless to what was happening to them and the effects of Roy’s bad luck.

Tayari Jones
Image via Wikipedia

The story of how Celestial and Roy got together stuck with me. It wasn’t anything overly special, but it was sweet and one you held onto. I’m glad it wasn’t overly showy or not mentioned because it showed a lot about them both. Celestial happened to be at the right place at the right time and something bad happened to her. Roy wanted to save her and was the big, showy gentleman he usually is and Celestial fell in love with that. They were perfectly themselves and, even ten years later when they’re having problems, you can see those two young people in the ones who are fighting to fix their marriage.

The ending almost seemed rushed to me. There was a lot of emotions flying once Andre, Roy, and Celestial were reunited and I was almost lost as to what was happening and how people’s opinions had flip-flopped. I wish it had been slowed down a little for people like me who take some time to process. I think the book being on audio didn’t help because it was harder to stop and go back and reread any part that happened quickly.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis. I liked the dual narrators for the two genders of speaking characters. Crisden did an amazing job of giving Andre and Roy different inflections and manors of speaking so that I almost thought it was three narrators for a moment. Davis gave a good voice to Celestial but I think Crisden’s performance overshadowed hers only because of the range he was able to demonstrate with two male characters.

The book discusses what a marriage is and also what we are entitled to. The marriage Roy and Celestial have faced all imaginable challenges and trials. Is it based on love, a promise, or something else? Roy had everything taken away from him unfairly. What does he deserve upon his release? Should he be able to go back to where he was? Does Celestial owe that to him because of what happened to him? What does their marriage deserve after such a test? I thought these questions were well-posed and made me question my assumptions about relationships.

Writer’s Takeaway: Hard questions make good novels and I think Jones hit this one out of the park. There’s no easy answer to what happens between Celestial and Roy when they face such an injustice. There’s nothing easy about their situation and no precedent to follow. A marriage is a living thing and its health and individual qualities have to be taken into account. The fact that this wasn’t cut and dry is what made it so good and I liked how Jones made me question my beliefs.

A great read and a welcome change from other books I’ve been reading lately. 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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