Tag Archives: Book Review

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

13 Mar

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

Cover Image via Goodreads

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

Other books by Bill Bryson reviewed on this blog:

Made In America

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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

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

6 Mar

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

Cover Image via Goodreads

Cover Image via Goodreads

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

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book made me laugh and was great on vacation. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Book Review: ‘You’re Not Doing It Right’ by Michael Ian Black | Bookpeople’s Blog
Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #21: You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black | Cannonball Read 5

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

23 Feb

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

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

Other books by Rowling reviewed on this blog:

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

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

J.K. Rowling Image via The Telegraph

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

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

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


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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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

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

20 Feb

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

Cover Image via Goodreads

Cover Image via Goodreads

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

My past post on Meeting Mitch Albom

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Mitch

Me and Mitch Albom, 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

This was a solid book that helped me see how strong my faith is. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom | Words Are My Craft
The first phone call from heaven by Mitch Albom ~ Book Review | Ebaarat
The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom | Reading_Rexy
Warner Brothers Lands Mitch Albom Novel ‘The First Phone Call from Heaven’ | Deadline

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (3/5)

16 Feb

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

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

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

Summary from Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindy Kaling Image via Paste Magazine

Mindy Kaling
Image via Paste Magazine

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

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


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

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

A fun and quick read by a funny woman. Three out of Five stars.


Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling | Book Spoils
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling | Literary and Lovely

Book Review: Away by Amy Bloom (3/5)

14 Feb

The page-a-day book themed calendar I had in 2013 has struck again! This calendar filled my Goodreads shelves when I fist started using the software and there are many on there to this day that I have yet to read. (Actually 6, I just checked.) It won me over saying only that it was set in the 1920s. It doesn’t take much prodding to get me to read if that’s the setting.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Away by Amy Bloom

Summary from Goodreads:

Panoramic in scope, Away is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine. When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York’s Lower East Side, to Seattle’s Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia.

Lillian’s story was epic, to say the least. What started as a young immigrant trying to make a living in New York turned to the story of a mistress and from there to a murderer to a convict and finally to a frontierswoman. She endured the hardships of every place she went to an extent that bordered on unbelievable. Each part of her journey could have been a short story that, strung together, was Lillian’s journey from Russia to New York to Alaska.

I enjoyed the side characters in this story and I think Bloom knew she created some great ones. Lillian endures and while that’s admirable, she’s very fluid, adapting to what’s around her at the time. It’s the people she’s adapting to that make the story interesting. The Burstein men are hiding secrets left and right and Lillian becomes an accomplice. Gumdrop wants to redefine her life and sees Lillian as a kindred spirit though they are so different. John Bishop is quiet and introspective and his fierce loyalty has already caused him one heartbreak. Each of these characters (and others I haven’t mentioned) were very different from each other and from Lillian. They marked her journey to Alaska and are what made it memorable.

Gumdrop was a favorite of mine. She seemed very bland at first and desperate. But as she reveals her story to Lillian, talking about her mother and child, she becomes a much deeper character. I loved the scene with her, Lillian, and Snooky. It was dark but really showed Gumdrop’s strength and all Lillian would do for Sophie. I adored that Bloom gave us short stories about what happened to the strongest side characters after Lillian leaves their lives. Gumdrop has the best story, in my opinion, and lives out the dream she always wanted.

I related best to Lillian when she was living in New York. While she wanted to work, she was also forced to act the perfect wife which I think a lot of modern women can relate to. She felt cooped up in the apartment waiting for Meyer and she would get upset when he’d come later than expected. She wanted to be respected and valued and I’m sure every woman has wanted this from someone in their life, either a father, boss, friend, teacher or romantic partner. Unfortunately, we still live in a society where some men want women in traditional roles and more and more women are finding them unfulfilling.

Amy Bloom Image via the author's website

Amy Bloom
Image via the author’s website

I found Lillian’s walk to Dawson most intriguing and a bit unbelievable. Maybe I didn’t catch it, but how could she have survived with no shelter in the cold in that part of Canada? Were there cabins each a day’s walk from each other? They weren’t all mentioned, to be sure, but there had to have been something to keep her going. Her food was explained and with snow around, water wouldn’t have been an issue, it’s the shelter that gets me. Anyway, it was sill my favorite part of the book. Her determination is evident and so strong. Each step, she knows it’s to find Sophie that she continues and while she’s excited, she also seems scared and rightfully so. I saw how strong Lillian was in this part.

The ending was my least favorite part and I’m going to talk about it here so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want it spoiled. I thought Lillian gave up too easily. It wasn’t like her to give up. She was so determined and spent so much time trying to get to Siberia just to give up, especially when someone who wanted to help her showed up. I get that she had almost no chance of finding Sophie, but she was so sure it could happen. Maybe they were both better off with the way things turned out, but I think Lillian would have kept pushing forward.

The audiobook was narrated by Barbara Rosenblat and I thought she did an amazing job. She gave Lillian an appropriate accent and portrayed the numerous side characters in great ways. Her voice was good for a sweeping narrative of America and Canada which follows a Russian Jewish immigrant. That’s got to be a niche market.

Lillian is driven by love for her daughter. That’s a very powerful force. She comes to respect her late husband less and less which is sad, but her love for Sophie never wavers. The things she did to get to Sophie from letting men take advantage of her to murder to unimaginable physical pain are incredible. That love drove this novel.

Writer’s Takeaway: As a reader, I hate when characters are dropped and I’m left wondering what happened to them. I felt Bloom gave her side characters good closure without dwelling on them. Gumdrop or Chinky or the Bursteins are wrapped up nicely, with just enough information to keep my wandering mind at bay. I liked this technique a lot.

A good read but a bit unbelievable and a bit disappointing in the end. 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:
Just my final thoughts on the ending of Amy Bloom’s ‘Away’ | The Northshore Book Club

Book Review: El misterio de la guia de ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie (4/5)

9 Feb

At my old job, I made friends with a Mexican engineer who was in the US on a work assignment. Right before he left, he gave me this book as a gift so I could read it and practice my Spanish. I gave him Of Mice and Men in return and I feel it was a fair trade. It’s been a few years that I’ve been hanging onto it but I’m glad I could make it my Spanish read for 2017.

Cover image via Amazon

Cover image via Amazon

El misterio de la guía de ferrocarriles (The A.B.C. Murders) by Agatha Christie

Summary from Goodreads:

There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card, he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

This was my first Christie novel and reading it in Spanish was a fun twist! I really enjoyed Poirot and Hastings though I kept getting feelings of Holmes and Watson. I don’t know either very well so it’s likely from watching Sherlock over my husband’s shoulder. I kept paying close attention, hoping I would pick up on the answer to the mystery, but when Poirot explained how he figured it out in the end, I realized I never could have figured it out from what I read. I was a little disappointed in that. I made an effort to read very carefully and slowly so I could absorb all the details. Oh well.

I’m sure there are people with minds like Poirot who would figure out cases like this, but it seems extraordinary to me. I’m more like Hastings, thinking I’m investigating something and in the end having no idea what I’m doing. People with that extraordinary ability should be in law enforcement and I’m guessing they are and that’s why I don’t know them. It did seem a bit over the top. But then again, a murder-solving character should, right?

Cust was a fun character. I really believed he was guilty because of how suspicious he acted but Poirot’s explanation of what happened to him made me feel bad for him. I like when an author can change how I perceive a character as quickly as Christie did with Cust. All of his emotions took on a very different light quickly.

I sympathized with Thora Grey. I felt she had a lot of assumptions thrust on her and that’s something I think a lot of women face regardless of how they look. Thora did her job well and Franklin assumed she would marry his brother, assuming Carmichael would fall in love with her. None of this was through any fault of her own and she was dedicated to continuing her job after Carmichael died. I felt she was unjustly punished and if I were her, I would have been much more upset than she was.

Agatha Christie Image via Biography.com

Agatha Christie
Image via Biography.com

I enjoyed the murder scene investigations. I thought the way Japp and Poirot looked at the scene were very telling of who knew what was going on and who didn’t. I would have been inclined to look at things like Japp did but when Poirot started asking questions, I could see his logic and the genius behind what he asked, particularly of Megan Barnard.

I was really disappointed that some of the evidence Poirot used to identify the murderer wasn’t in the text. I began to suspect that Cust was a red herring but I wanted to find the clues myself and I couldn’t do that with what Poirot used to solve the case.


I’m going to talk blatantly about the murderer now so if you want to read this book for yourself, I recommend skipping to the next paragraph. Franklin was so greedy that he developed an elaborate scheme to get his brother’s money and I think it speaks volumes to greed at the time this was written. 1936 was a global recession and I can only imagine that Franklin felt he would be more secure with his brother’s money and avoid any kind of downfall that might happen to a poor man. It was sad to me that he would resort to that level and says that he wasn’t close with his brother growing up. I know my brother and I weren’t particularly close, but I would never thinking of murdering him for his money!

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked that Poirot was Belgian. It was good that Christie considered his nationality in parts of the story where it was worth noting that he was a foreigner in the UK. It made him stand out amongst the British police and I think his round-about way of thinking and great detective work was partially due to him wanting to excel against a group he felt outside of. It was a small but very well thought-out detail that enriched the story.

I enjoyed the story but wished I’d had a better chance of guessing the ending. 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:
El Misterio De La Guía de Ferrocarriles | El Príncipe De Las Mil Historias

Book Review: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (2/5)

31 Jan

I think it was my cousin who said I would like this book. It was easily available on audio so I decided to give it a try once I finished some nice, long audiobooks and was looking for something shorter. I now know that my cousin hates me, so that’s refreshing. This book drove me crazy and I’m trying to be polite and think that listening to it rather than reading it made it worse than it would have been otherwise. I’m trying to be nice.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Summary from Goodreads:

In this vivid portrait of one day in a woman’s life, Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is much more than a perfect society hostess. As she readies her house, she is flooded with far-away remembrances. And, met with the realities of the present, Clarissa reexamines the choices she has made, hesitantly looking ahead to growing old.

I couldn’t stand the scream of consciousness in this book. I got so confused as to who was narrating and if what I was hearing was narration or thought and it was beyond frustrating as an audiobook. The only thing I really got out of the book is that everyone is very selfish except for Lucrezia. It made me want to smack Clarissa and punch Peter for being so full of themselves. Maybe they should have ended up together. They might not have noticed because they would have been so caught up in themselves that they wouldn’t bother to talk to the other. I was frustrated with most of the characters and I found some of them, like Dr. Holmes, unnecessary in the plot. I read that Clarissa’s story is supposed to parallel Septimus’ but I didn’t see that very well. I thought she might end up dead like he did but, alas, this isn’t The Awakening.

I hope most of these characters are an exaggeration of real people. Clarissa was so distraught over not being invited to a luncheon and others are so upset over not being invited to her dinner party. Richard seems to forget that he’s married at all and seems blown away by the idea he should show affection toward his wife. I hope these characters are a reflection of their time; when relationships between people were less familiar than the ones we see today. The thoughts that the characters scared was slightly scary only because some of them were so extreme.

Lucrezia was my favorite character only because she was the most logical person to me. Everyone was pining after someone else but I thought it more reasonable that she was pining after a healthy version of her husband and not a lost friend, lost love, or a version of herself she’d never achieve. She really cared for her husband and was doing all she could to keep him in his right mind and help him get better.

As much as I hated Clarissa, I could relate to her pining for her past and wanting to know how things could have been different if she’d made different choices. I think everyone thinks this way sometimes. If I’d chosen a different college or dated a different person in high school, would I have ended up where I am? Maybe not.

There wasn’t a part of the book that stuck out to me and that I enjoyed. A lot of the book ran together for me. On audio, it seemed like it wasn’t broken up by chapter or had any break between characters. It was seven hours of whining.

Clarissa was my least favorite of the narrators because she seemed the most self-absorbed and the most superficial. I could find moderately redeeming things in the other characters, but anything Clarissa talked about made me roll my eyes.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Juliet Stevenson. I don’t think Stevenson’s reading added anything to this book for me, but I don’t think it detracted from the book either. She seemed very whiny but the book called for that. My frustration was with the material so I won’t pretend that Stevenson had anything to do with how little I enjoyed this book.

If we’re all so obsessed with ourselves, we’ll never realize how much other people are obsessed with themselves. I struggle a bit with anxiety so as I write this, I feel hypocritical. As much as each character thought their problems were the biggest ones in the world and as much as they dwelt on their problems, other people had bigger issues and no one was helping anyone else. We’re all so obsessed with our own ‘dinner parties’ that we don’t stop and look around us and see other people struggling on their own with much bigger problems.

Writer’s Takeaway: Stream of consciousness is not something everyone enjoys but there are some people obsessed with this book. I, obviously, am not one of them. You’re never going to please every reader, so don’t try.

This was not a book for me and I don’t recommend it at all. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled the 1920-1939 time period in my 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:
Mrs Dalloway | The Novels of Virginia Woolf
The meaning of the omnibus in Mrs Dalloway | Blogging Woolf
Mrs Dalloway’s Party – Virginia Woolf (1973)  | Heavenali

Book Review: World Without End by Ken Follett (5/5)

30 Jan

My mom has always been a fan of Follett’s and I read his first book, The Pillars of the Earth, and loved it. I put this second book on my TBR but took my sweet time getting to it because I knew it would be long and it would take me a long time to get through it. It was a real struggle. I listened to it on eaudio and lost the hold, having to wait almost three months before I got it back and still did not finish it. I got through the last 8 hours with a book-on-CD edition that was equivalent to a passenger in my car for about a month. Per Goodreads, it took me over five months to read this book. And I loved every minutes of it!

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

World Without End by Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth #2)

Other books by Ken Follett reviewed on this blog:

Pillars of the Earth (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, but this sequel stands on its own. This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas— about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death.

I was a little skeptical that this book wouldn’t live up to the first one but man, was I worried about nothing. This book was incredible from the beginning and I loved every second of it. I cared about every character (maybe Ralph not so much) and I adored getting to know them and watching them grow up during the book. The length was daunting but I knew it also meant getting rich characters and a deep plot.

I loved the variety of characters Follett created. It was fun to have two clever young people as the main characters in the story. Watching them grow up and become a man and a woman in charge of their town was rewarding. But Follett has other characters who aren’t as smart and who balanced Merthin and Caris well. Gwenda and Wulfric seem like more grounded examples of people from the time and who made the book seem grounded in history despite Merthin and Caris feeling like people ahead of their time. Ralph helped root the story in a time when military prowess could change a man from an outlaw to an Earl. He was just the right amount of evil for this book.

It was easy to love Caris. She is very modern in how practical she is and how self-sufficient she can be. She loves Merthin, but there are things she finds more important than him and will put him aside to deal with. Her dedication to the hospital is commendable and her logic in a time of crisis makes her stand out. She was saying things that I, as a modern reader, wanted to say. Listening to other medical professionals made her smart, but figuring out what worked and what didn’t was where she excelled. It was like seeing how medical advancements were possible. She was really inspiring.

I related to Caris best. While Gwenda was a good character, she had a lot of terrible things happen to her that I had trouble relating to. Merthin was more of an engineering mind than I am and I’d hate to think I’m anything like Ralph. Caris was almost single-minded in her focus and I know that’s something I do from time to time. Her dedication to something reminded me of myself and how I’ll sometimes ignore my family or other obligations when I have something I’m focusing on.

Ken Follett Image via the author's website

Ken Follett
Image via the author’s website

The Black Death was a great antagonist in this book. Fighting against Philemon, Godwyn, and Ralph was bad, but the Black Death was the best fight in the book. It seemed almost convenient that our main characters were all immune to the disease and I almost wish at least one of them had died of it because it would have been a bit more believable. The fear Kingsbridge expressed at the third outbreak was very justified and I believed that they were willing to forgo so much financially for a chance of missing the plague completely.

All the parts of the book I disliked were about Ralph. He was so angry and mean that every time he narrated, I expected something terrible to happen. I started to expect it. What he did to Gwenda, Tillie, and Philippa was terrible and was made worse by how he justified his actions. He was an awful person but Follett gave him motivations that were believable which was the worst part.

John Lee narrated the audiobook and I was excited to hear his voice. He did an incredible job with Pillars and I knew he’d do a great job with this one. I only hope he does the final book as well. His voices for different characters were distinct without being annoying and they fit the characters well. Wulfric, for example, had a slower cadence to his voice which fit with him being a thoughtful person. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another book with ‘Lee’ and ‘Follett’ on the cover!

Follett had a lot to say about love. Caris and Merthin had to wait a long time before they could be husband and wife and even then, it would be interrupted. Caris was a nun for a large part of the book and it seemed she was going to put Merthin off indefinitely so she could pursue the hospital. But in the end, like in Pillars, love finds a way. Gwenda and Wulfric were married for most of the book but Gwenda was always jealous and thought Wulfric could be tempted away. She didn’t fully trust him around other women until the end when she finally realized how dedicated Wulfric was. It was touching to see all the fears her narration had put into my head squashed when she realized his dedication.

Writer’s Takeaway: Follett doesn’t let a plotline drop. Small things that happened along the way would come back into play. The very opening scene with the children and Sir/Brother Thomas in the woods played a crucial role in the end. Comments about what was being built or who was ill would come back and be important later. It’s best not to load a reader down with information that isn’t important to the scene and isn’t necessary later in the book. With a book over 1,000 pages long, Follett had to be sure every sentence mattered and he did.

I adored this book and recommend it very highly. You don’t have to read Pillars to enjoy this book, they could be read separately and be loved. A full Five out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the Pre-1500 time period for my 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:
World Without End (Ken Follett 2007) | The Discerning Writer
How deeply can a book influence you? | Francette’s Blog

Book Review: The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge (3/5)

26 Jan

I was contacted by Open Road Media and received a copy of this book. I read two other Bainbridge novels which I enjoyed (links below). I thought I might as well take the opportunity to receive a book I was likely to enjoy. This time I was slightly less vested in the characters and maybe that took away from it for me a bit.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

Other books by Bainbridge reviewed on this blog:

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (book club discussion)
Every Man for Himself (4/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

In this stunning novel, award-winning author Beryl Bainbridge offers a fictionalized account of the doomed Antarctic expedition led by Captain Scott in 1912. At once hair-raising and beautiful, here is an astonishing tale of misguided courage and human endurance. The Birthday Boys of the title are Scott and four members of his team, each of whom narrates a section of the book. As the story progresses the reader discovers that these men may not be reliable reporters. Their cocky optimism is both ghastly and dangerous. Brought up to despise professional expertise, their enterprise is lunatic, amateur and gentlemanly. Beryl Bainbridge makes it hauntingly clear: the men are fatally doomed in their bravery, the very stuff of heroes. Captain Scott’s poignant trek becomes, in this remarkable novel, a historical event which prefigures the terrible new world dawning in Europe. It was an inept rehearsal for the carnage of the first world war, the ultimate challenge for the arrogant generals who shared Scott’s skewed notion of courage that led men qualmlessly into harm’s way.

I thought this book was a great fictionalization of an important historical event, something Bainbridge does amazingly well. I knew nothing of the 1912 expedition and maybe that’s because I’m an American and our education focused on who got to the moon first because winning is most important in history, right? Moving past that political tirade, I think the biggest distraction in this novel was the changing points of view. Each person seemed to have a strong relationship with one or two other members and their account would focus on those people and seemed to ignore everyone else so when we switched to another head, I had a hard time remembering who the now-important side characters were. They seemed to have different personalities in different points of view which was interesting but confusing at the same time. It made it hard to remember the characters.

I thought it was really admirable how the men kept moving toward the pole and followed Captain Scott when things seemed so bad. It seems a dedication I’m not sure many people would show today to a cause that seemed so unreachable and defeated. I’m not sure how much of their bravery was fictionalized and how much was historically recorded but Bainbridge painted these men in a rosy light.

I liked the first section, narrated by Taff Evans, best. He was more relatable than the more senior members of the expedition and it made his account easier to read. I could also relate to leaving like Evans was leaving his wife and could relate to the sadness he felt. Though he was less senior, he had a lot more experience than some and his flashbacks and advice gave the novel a good start.

I sympathized most with Titus. At the end when he wanted to push on with everyone else but also wanted to die, I could relate to his feelings of being lost but determined. I think that determination is what keeps me competing in endurance sports. These men had a similar mentality. If someone can do it, why can’t I do it, too? They weren’t the first ones to make it to the pole but they were not going to turn back and not make it because of that.

Beryl Bainbridge Image via the British Council

Beryl Bainbridge
Image via the British Council

I enjoyed the detail of living in a camp at such cold temperatures. I think of camping in the summer and being so warm in my tent. I never would have thought of being as cold as these men were and the idea of a sleeping bag freezing seems ludicrous to me. It also blew me away how long the men were gone. This was 1910, there was no taking a plane over and jumping on a snowmobile to get to the pole. It was a very strenuous commitment that the men didn’t undertake lightly.

I was expecting an abrupt end from Bainbridge and while I think a lot of people will say they disliked that most, I’m going to say the nicknames and head-hopping together made it frustrating for me. Everyone had a different name for the same person and for a while, I thought there were 20 or so people on the expedition. I didn’t get that The Owner, Captain Scott, and Con were all the same people. That was really frustrating.


Humans can be bull-headed once we’ve set our minds to something. Like myself as an endurance athlete, these men weren’t going to give up on their goal no matter how bleak it looked. Human determination can be an amazing thing but it can also be deadly, as this book shows. I see this story as a cautionary tale not to be so focused on a goal that you ignore your humanity.

Writer’s Takeaway: Bainbridge’s style is very casual and I like that about her. It feels like Taff or Birdie is telling you the story or wrote it in his journal to be read later. Nothing sounds too explained or detailed, everything is very much how the men would describe it. I sometimes struggle with first person narration because I want to give details but I know my point of view character wouldn’t provide that detail. I think Bainbridge does this well.

Good and enjoyable but not my favorite of her work. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1900-1919 time period for my 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:
The Birthday Boys: Beryl Bainbridge | His Futile Preoccupations
The Birthday Boys (Beryl Bainbridge) | Random Reviews
The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge ** | Seattle Book Mama