Tag Archives: Family

Harry Potter Lessons: Family First

23 Apr

My apologies for such a long break between Harry Potter Lessons posts. I’ve been wanting to do one for a while now but was struggling with a topic. Family seems to be a really good option. There are a lot of examples of traditional and non-traditional families in the book that teach us a lot about how important it is to love our families.

Image via Youtube

Image via Youtube

Molly Weasley is the most obvious example and probably one of the best. She loves her family fiercely and fights to defend them multiple times. While she’s active in the Order of the Phoenix and believes in the cause, she’s reluctant to see her children join because they might be harmed. When Molly faces a boggart, her biggest fear is that her family members die. And I think we all remember the infamous line, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Only the best mom ever would say that! (Re-watching it on Youtube now made me cry!) She won’t take crap from anyone when it comes to standing up for her family, no matter the consequences to herself. She’s also a surrogate mother to Harry. She cares for him because she wants to, not because she has to. With seven children already, the last thing the Weasley’s need is another mouth to feed and head to shelter. But Molly knows Harry needs a family to watch over him and take care of him so, without thinking, she takes Harry in. I’m going to guess she was okay with him becoming a son-in-law down the line and I bet he has a better-than-average relationship with his in-laws.

Image via HelloGiggles

Image via HelloGiggles

Harry tells us multiple times that Sirius is the closest thing he has to family. My uncle is my Godfather and I can’t say I’m particularly closer to him than I am to my other uncles, but Harry and Sirius and family to each other. Both is alone in the world; Harry having been orphaned and Sirius disowned. When Sirius was in school, he says he went to the Potters in a similar way to how Harry goes to the Weasleys. We continue to hope throughout the series that Sirius will be cleared of charges and Harry will be able to live with him as if they were a proper family. Sirius and Harry are a great example of a non-traditional family that shares the love and commitment usually associated with a traditional nuclear family. I absolutely love the dynamic between the two characters and how much love they show.

Image via the Harry Potter Wiki

Image via the Harry Potter Wiki

Have you ever heard that alligator mothers care very fiercely for their young and are extremely maternal? Well, you should Google it. I think of Narcissa Malfoy like an alligator mother. She’s very similar to Molly in her fierce devotion to her family, especially her only son. She makes an unbreakable vow with Severus that forces him to protect Draco when he most needs it and defies one of the most powerful wizards in the world to his face for the long shot that it will help her son. Who else would be brave enough to lie to Voldemort about Harry Potter being dead? Only a loving mother alligator! I think Narcissa is a great way of showing that no matter what your morals or way of life, family has to come first because our families (traditional or not) are the most stable institution on which to base our loyalties.

Image from Twitter

Image from Twitter

My last example is another one that I absolutely love. Mr. Xenophilius Lovegood is arguably the most devoted father in the series. He lost his beloved wife and has only his daughter Luna left and he loves her fiercely. He’s made a wonderful impression on her because it’s very clear Luna looks up to her father and idolizes him. She’s copied a lot of his personality quirks and defends him to those who speak negatively of him. When the Death Eaters take Luna away from him, he’s desperate to get her back and goes as far as to betray the Order’s cause (though I recognize he is not a member) and try to turn Harry in to get Luna back. Yep, he’s willing to help Voldemort win if it means his daughter will be unharmed. Talk about devotion! You can fault him here, but it’s hard. If you had to choose to help something you morally opposed in order to save a child, would you do it? Xenophilius would! I think he’s an amazing character and I adore the relationship between him and Luna.

So there are my four favorite examples of family in the Harry Potter franchise. Petunia Dursley was a close fifth, but I tried to keep this to four. Who else would you include? Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

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


Book Club Reflection: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

30 Dec

This is quite long delay, but my work book club had a quick little discussion of Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Bean Trees that I want to share with you all. You can read the review I wrote of the book here. I gave this one a full five out of five.

The other ladies agreed with me that the book had a delightfully strong voice. A lot of Taylor’s personality came out in the way she spoke. We didn’t get to know Lou Ann as well because her portion was narrated in the third person. When we were first introduced to her character, one woman really wondered how they would come together, being so far apart geographically and having so little in common. Well, we came to find out very quickly.

We liked all of the characters, even the smaller characters. A favorite was Taylor’s mother. She was a strong woman to raise Taylor on her own and she was a good mother and still let Taylor be herself. It was sad that Taylor wanted to leave so badly, but it was good that her mother let her chase that dream.

We thought Lou Ann had a very non-traditional approach to family. She had a strained relationship with her mother, who had a bad relationship with her mother-in-law. However, Lou Ann loved her ex-husband’s family because they mutually disliked her ex-husband. It wasn’t really a surprise that her character would so easily accept Taylor and Turtle into her extended family.

Matti was a great character as well. She was very brave to do what she did and even braver to be so outspoken about it. She was a good person at heart and it was her warmheartedness that led to her breaking the law.

My very own Turtle, Jane.

My very own Turtle, Jane.

Turtle was a good name to give Turtle/April. We know Taylor gave it to her because she was grabby, but she was also in her own shell a lot of the time. (As a side note, not all turtles are afraid of everything all the time. This is my turtle, Jane. She’s very outgoing.) She was able to be pulled out of her shell gradually so that she wasn’t afraid all the time. But can you really blame the girl? I don’t.

One of the other women pointed out that Taylor was very passive aggressive, which I hadn’t noticed the first time through. When someone handed her a child, she didn’t object.  I’m not sure you can get more passive aggressive than that. There were other times when she didn’t fight back against what was happening to her; when she realized she loved Estevan, when she was initially uncomfortable with the relationship with Lou Ann, etc. What changed her was when she might lose Turtle. She couldn’t stand that thought.

We found it strange that there was no concern over money in the book. Lou Ann and Taylor are both making minimum wage (or there about) but don’t seem to worry about what they can buy or how they’ll pay rent. I make more than minimum wage and I still worry about that stuff! I wish I had their confidence.

One woman in our group made a comment about how much violence there was in the book and I hadn’t noticed it until she said something. It was all implied violence, none of it really happened in the plot of the novel. There was the death by tire explosion, the murders and kidnappings that chased Estevan and Esperanza out of their country, and there was Turtle’s implied abusive background. I liked that Kingsolver kept the violence in the background so it wasn’t a focus, but it was used to move the plot along.

We also found a lot of religious satire in the book. Jesus is Lord Used Tires was kind of funny in name, but the place itself was a haven for the refugees. They were some of the most religious people in the whole book. When Taylor saw the 1-800-THE-LORD phone number, she thought it was going to be somewhere she could turn to and get answers, but it turned out to be a fundraiser. The characters found religion in very unexpected places.

The event we talked about the most was the adoption scenes. Reading about Esperanza giving Turtle away was so hard to read because of what it put Esperanza through. It was a lot for Taylor to ask of her new friends. It was almost as if Esperanza was loosing her daughter twice. I asked if it might have been therapeutic, but we agreed it wasn’t. Turtle even looked like their daughter, which only makes things worse.

Ultimately, was the adoption the right thing to do? We think that there were a lot of other things Taylor should have tried first. There were relatives somewhere, even if the mother was dead. The woman who gave Turtle to Taylor could have been a surviving relative. Speaking of that, Taylor might have tried resisting the child in the beginning. If someone hands me their kid, I think I’d ask a few more questions. Mattie might have been helpful in locating her parents, she seemed to have some good connections. However, the adoption is what was best for Turtle. It gave Taylor a purpose, too, and the two of them were a great team.

The adoption was a big step for Taylor’s character. In the beginning, she resisted the non-nuclear family she was forming with Lou Ann, thinking that it somehow meant less because they weren’t related. But the non-nuclear families in this book were the strongest. Taylor left her mother behind, but not Taylor. Lou Ann’s ex-in-laws loved her more than their son. And the closest relationships were friendships.

The next book we’re reading together is Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, which I’ve just started. We’ll be talking about it in the new year.

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: The Compound by S.A. Bodeen (4/5). So this is what crazy billionaires do.

27 Oct

I found this book (yet again) on my book-a-day calendar in 2013. I was excited when I found an audio version of it and saw that it was written during NaNoWriMo! Well, the first draft of it was, but that means this is the brain child of a 30 day dash to the first 50,000 words. That’s so awesome.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Summary from Goodreads:

Eli and his family have lived in the underground Compound for six years. The world they knew is gone, and they’ve become accustomed to their new life. Accustomed, but not happy.

For Eli, no amount of luxury can stifle the dull routine of living in the same place, with only his two sisters, his father and mother, doing the same thing day after day after day.

As problems with their carefully planned existence threaten to destroy their sanctuary—and their sanity—Eli can’t help but wonder if he’d rather take his chances outside.

Eli’s father built the Compound to keep them safe. But are they safe—or sorry?

Wow. I was really sucked in to this one. Well, until the end. I found one thing really unbelievable there, which I’ll address later.  Other than that, I was really intrigued by this book. I thought the world Bodeen created was really detailed and I liked the small things she added in that helped me see the apocalyptic world through Eli’s eyes. This book really made me consider the value of living. If you are trapped in a compound for fifteen years with only your family and have to resort to some of the measures the Yanikakis family looked into, is life worth living?

I thought the characters were all very real except Rex. I didn’t understand is madness and it seemed a little out of left field. I know the author tried to explain it away by describing the turdunken scene, but that didn’t build the character enough for me. I still didn’t buy it. I liked Eli, and as he’s the narrator, it made me like the characters overall. I loved the fight between Lexi and Eli; I thought that was a great touch and it reminded me of myself and my brother.

Eli himself was my favorite character. I liked that he kept things from his dad when he thought he needed to, that’s very true to life of teenagers. I liked how he talked to his brother over IM and how he didn’t immediately believe that his dad had been lying to him and I really liked that he confronted his dad about it. He was forward when he needed to be and I liked that about him.

I sympathized most with the mother. She was stuck in a difficult place where she wanted to do what was best for her family and as much as she wanted to do things for herself, she couldn’t. Even when she didn’t agree with how she was being treated, she couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t relate to her pain, but I felt bad for her more than the others. Especially with how her husband treated her younger children. I don’t think I could have stood for that.

I liked Eli’s escape from the compound at the end the most. It was great to see him working with his younger brother and tricking his dad. It was cool to see him out-smarting and physically outmaneuvering a man with more paper-based intellect, but who wasn’t as well versed in real-life application.

S.A. Bodeen Image via Goodreads.com

S.A. Bodeen
Image via Goodreads.com

It seemed to me like the clues Eli followed were really vague and I doubted they were even actually connected. It reminded me of the scene from Men In Black where J is trying to find a clue and thinks each thing is pointing to something else. The statue is pointing to a pizza box that’s pointing to pointed lamp, etc. It was unbelievable and ultimately wrong. I expected Eli to be led down an errant path at well and when it turned out to be the right answer, I shook a metaphorical fist at the author. It seemed to be a convenient way to wrap up the book and it seemed like cheating. No me gusta.

As Eli is stuck in the compound with his family, family seems like the obvious theme to discuss here. The family was very fractioned in the compound, but as Eli says, they all have to work together to get out of it. The clues he followed relied on all of the siblings memories and knowledge. The ultimate sacrifice that their mother was willing to make of giving up her younger children for the older children was all about family. And the long-awaited reunion with Eddie and Gram was all about family. When the family finally worked together, they got out and could be together again.

Writer’s Takeaway: As I said, I thought the ending was a cheap way out for the author. I think if she’d taken more time, she could have developed a better ending. The details of the setting were so well done, but then the ending was rushed. She said in her closing authors note that she wanted to thank the NaNoWriMo staff and it made a little more sense to me. At the end of November, you sometimes need to wrap the story up quickly and get to the 50,000 mark. But the editing phase should have allowed her time to go back and add the needed pacing to the end of the book and make it more solid. I thought that was lacking.

An overall compelling and good novel that had a fatal flaw at the end. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills Washington for my Where 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 Compound: S.A. Bodeen | Jen Robinson’s Book Page

Book Review: The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (5/5). Life sucks and it has always sucked and will continue to suck.

22 Sep

This book was recommended to me twice by two people whose opinions I greatly trust. The first is my mother. She’ll recommend a book to me but I know she really really liked it when she buys a copy for my grandmother and gives it to her, especially when it’s not for a holiday. And that’s what this was: one of those “You have to read this right this second I’ll drive to Ohio to give it to you” recommendations. The second person was one of my supervisors at work. She’s always reading and when we talk about books, she’ll sometimes tell me the book she’s reading is worth picking up and I’m seldom disappointed. This one she offered to give me because she had two weeks left on her library rental period. I waited a month for my book club to pick it up but I almost wish I hadn’t.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Molly has been around the foster care system long enough to know how things work. She’s well aware that her foster-mother can get rid of her in a heartbeat if she’s not behaved and that stealing a book from the library and being sentenced to 50 hours of community service is not exactly model behavior. Luckily, her boyfriend, Jack is able to find her some work helping 92-year-old Vivian clean out her attic. Molly comes to learn that Vivian isn’t just some rich old lady living in a huge house. Her roots are much like Molly’s. When she was 8, Vivian rode the Orphan Train that took her away from New York City and deposited her in the Midwest with no family and no guarantees for her future.

I started out very skeptical of this book. The foster care system structure immediately made me think of The Language of Flowers, which isn’t a bad comparison, but gave me some preconceived ideas of how Molly was going to act. But she blew me away. Her relationship with Jack was a lot more than I was looking for in a high school relationship and I liked that. I also got a lot more out of Vivian than I was expecting in her older years. I though Kline was going to present her as a pure storyteller without giving her much action in her older age, but she went beyond my expectations. Everything about this book was so much better than I thought it would be.

I thought the characters were brought to life very well. Kline gave them the layers the people I know have; a set of necklaces with meaning, a dislike of technology, being quick to defend one’s mother. This added a lot to the story for me because the characters jumped right off the page.

Jack was my favorite character. He was so supportive of Molly and went out on a limb for her when she needed it. For a high school boyfriend, he was very devoted and when Molly moved in with Vivian, continued to be supportive of what Molly needed, even if that wasn’t ‘normal.’ He tried to help win over his mother in Molly’s favor, which I know can be a challenge to undergo. He was a great side character and I enjoyed him a lot in the book.

I related to Molly’s frustration because I felt very caged in for a good chunk of high school. I wanted to be on my own and allowed to make my own decisions. I wanted to make mistakes. Molly wanted the same things, but the people holding her back weren’t her parents and in the case of Dina, didn’t even want her around. I sympathized with her anger and her desire to feel like her own person.

Christina Baker Kline Image via the author's website

Christina Baker Kline
Image via the author’s website

I loved when Vivian and Luke found each other. I thought it was the sweetest moment and it was just when she needed it most. She shouldn’t have been out with the two girls she was with any way, and running into Dutchy was so perfect. I thought it was a little predictable that they would find each other again, but I liked how Kline put it in a location no one would ever expect. It was a good curve ball.

I found it hard to read the times where Dorothy/Vivian was treated badly by her foster parents. Seeing her treated like a slave to make ladies dresses was bad enough, but the rape scene with second foster-father was even worse. I worried something like that would happen because I was just beginning to like him as a character. It seemed like whenever there was someone good in Dorothy/Vivian’s life, something was about to go wrong.

The way Vivian and Molly define family was a very prominent theme for me. Molly had an attachment to her late father, but didn’t seem to set down roots with anyone except Jack until she became close to Vivian. Vivian was able to find a bit of a family connection wherever she went. First it was Fanny, then her teacher, and lastly the Dalys. It seemed natural for Vivian to accept Molly as family. For the first time in a long time, she was able to find someone who defined family the same way she did.

Writer’s Takeaway: Juxtaposing Molly and Vivian in a lot of the chapters helped make this book more accessible to a wide range of readers. Elderly readers would relate to Vivian, younger readers to Molly and Niamh. The wide age gap, though it leaves a big range of readers who don’t relate, created a good dynamic. Being between the two characters in age, I related more to Molly and a younger Vivian, but elderly Vivian reminded me of my grandma and I still adored her. I think the diversity of the characters was a strong point of the novel.

Great story, great pacing, great characters. A full Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
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Book Review: Orphan Train | Literary Hoarders

Book Club Reflection: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

21 Jul

I feel like I’m perpetually apologizing for how long it takes me to write these reflections but I love doing them. Not only do they get the most hits for my blog, it’s a good way for me to review the book one last time after my book review and put our discussions in a more logical order. Well, what’s logical to me at least.

We thought this was a slightly odd choice for a book club selection. There’s never as much to talk about for non-fiction books as there is for fiction titles. It’s hard to refute what someone does or says in non-fiction like you can in fiction. However, it’s a current bestseller, though we’re not exactly sure why. A lot of best sellers make you want to get up and tell everyone you see how life changing the book was and how you’re now inspired to do X or Z or how it’s changed your perspective on Y. But not this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting and well written. It was easy to digest in short segments, much like short magazine articles. However, I’m not raving about it. If someone asked me for a book recommendation now, this would not be it. I was kind of neutral on the book and most of our members were as well. There were a few fans, but they were not the majority.

One of the questions in the back of the book asked us to consider the reliability of Cahalan as a storyteller. In truth, she had to do as much research to write about her journey as she would have needed to do on an event she wasn’t alive for. Luckily she was in near to people who remembered the time, but her research skills are commendable.

Another question from the book asked why the division into three parts and fifty-three chapters was meaningful. One of our members suggested that the three parts were like the three parts of the brain Cahalan addresses, as detailed on page 42 of our copies (Chapter 8); Frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and the brain stem. We likened the short chapters to the articles Cahalan is used to writing and suspect that this is a comfort zone of writing for her.

This book made us all feel vulnerable; like we could become deathly ill tomorrow and never recover unless we’re lucky to have access to some of the country’s top doctors. And the scary thing is that this is true of everyone every day.

Cahalan was very lucky to find Dr. Najjar. Her first doctor denied there was anything wrong with her, but he did get her admitted to the hospital which helped her along her path. In Chapter 23, Dr. Segal, her first doctor in the hospital, tells Susannah’s family that she’s been assigned to Dr. Najjar. While the family is at first upset, we think this showed a lot of bravery on Dr. Siegal’s behalf. He was big enough to admit what he didn’t know. Instead of trying to treat Susannah even though it was above his expertise, he knew to pass her off. It’s hard to remember that doctors ‘practice,’ not ‘perform’ because medicine is an art, not yet a science. There are times when it’s wrong and while that’s unfortunate, it’s the ugly truth.

We were all struck with how supportive her friends and family were, especially her boyfriend Stephen. We thought it was great that co-workers and cousins were making big efforts to come see her. Stephen’s commitment to her was commendable. The two hadn’t been together for very long and he could have left and no one would have blamed him, but he stuck around. I suggested that it’s almost better that they hadn’t been together a long time. Susannah said she never felt completely like herself again after the illness. If Stephen had been with her for a long time before the illness, he might find that he feels distant from the ‘new’ Susannah but because they were not as close before, he can see the changes and recognize them but can still adjust to her new personality.

It bothered some of our members that Susannah’s parents decided not to tell their son about his sister’s condition. Some of us understood more than others. On one hand, you would want to know if your sibling was sick. You would want to be there for them and help out in any way you could. On the other hand, there wasn’t much more that her brother could have done. He was away at college and the only thing he could do was sit beside her bed, which would mean he’d miss enough classes to need to drop out of school.

My university didn’t give us Labor Day Weekend off (which is a Federal Holiday in September for my non-US readers). Their reason was simple; retention. They found that Freshman were more likely to drop out if they returned home so soon after classes started. If they had one ‘bad’ professor or fight with their roommate, it might be tempting to stay home and leave that awful college thing behind. But by staying on campus, students had to figure things out for themselves and were more likely to stay in school. I think this is kind of what the Cahalan’s were thinking by not telling their son. They wanted him to stay in school.

We wondered if Cahalan did make the 100% recovery she thinks she did. She says she was changed as a result of this disease. Is part of that change not having the full mental capacity she had before she got sick? Even though she feels she has made a 100% recover, she has a 20% chance of the disease reappearing. If it does, it could damage her further, but knowing what the disease is might be key to getting her the treatment she needs quickly in the event of a relapse. We doubt she’ll ever completely recover her brain function, but she’s recovered enough to happily live the life she had before. I can bet that Cahalan is happier to be alive and healthy each day much more than I am.

Our book club meets again next week! We’ll be discussion Will Schwalbe’s book, “The End Of Your Life Book Club.” I really need to get a jump on that title!

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Review: O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn (2/5). It wasn’t for me, unfortunately.

8 Jul

A while ago, I cut myself from registering for First Reads. I decided I had enough books to read that I didn’t need to get another. But then, of course, I had some spare time at work and decided to browse. What’s the harm, right? Well, let me tell you because I won one. It’s set in the late 1920s and if you know me, you know I’m a sucker for anything 20s. The worst part was that I really, really couldn’t get into it. I just couldn’t. I’ll elaborate later.

I received this book for free on Goodreads in exchange for a fair review.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

O, Africa! by Andre Lewis Conn

Brothers Micah and Izzy Grand are having the time of their lives making movies in the late 1920s. Their comedies have audiences in stitches and their star actor doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. However, their production company as a whole is on its way down. Their boss has an idea; go to Africa and get stock footage which they can sell to other companies and while they’re there, film another movie. Two birds with one stone, right? Well, in theory anyway.

In reality, Micah is in debt to a gangster who’s convinced him to pay off his debt by filming a second movie during their time in the DR Congo (Belgian Congo in the 20s). The natives of the village the boys visit are used as extras in their film and Izzy grows close to the prince.  [SPOILER ALERT!] In a twist, the prince kills one of the crew members and the team returns to New York with nothing to show. Izzy, distraught over the loss of his lover, returns to Africa, desperate to make things right and restore order to the village. Micah must traipse across the ocean after his brother, squandering the last dollars he has in hopes of helping his brother home.

This book really didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t sure how big of a release it would entail but I saw the book on the shelves of Barnes and Nobel last week so Conn must have made bank on this one. I didn’t find the humor that funny and it seemed a bit forced. I liked the plot for the first half, but the second half fell apart for me. Izzy was the only character I liked and he became my least favorite character: someone I couldn’t relate to. By the end, I liked Micah only because he was the only character who hadn’t gone off the deep end. Well, maybe Rose, Micah’s mistress, but she still didn’t do it for me.

I don’t think the characters were meant to be believable. As part of the Roaring Twenties, everyone was bigger than life and that goes double for the movie business. People had the disposable income to spend on movies and the men in the field were taking it to the bank. I think Micah ended up being the most believable throughout. At first, my attraction to Izzy was that I could relate to him because he was logical and even-headed. Then he went crazy at the end and I couldn’t figure out why. The secondary characters were a little easier to believe; Henry the silent film star and Rose, Micah’s black mistress (talk about a scandal in the 20s!).

If forced to pick, I’d say Rose ended up being my favorite of these two. I don’t agree with her morally, (having a relationship with a married man when she herself is married) but she was looking out for herself. When she wanted a baby to take care of, she knew where to go. When she needed protection, she had her brother to turn to and knew where to find a husband who would take care of her. She saw the bright and flashy life that Micah had and knew she wanted something less gaudy. She had an even head on her shoulders.

Andrew Lewis Conn. Image from RandomHouse.com

Andrew Lewis Conn. Image from RandomHouse.com

I related to Micah at the end. He knew he had to throw away his last dollars to go see his brother and bring him home. This is a very raw human emotion of love and family ties and it resonated with me on a primitive level. If my brother were in trouble, I would want to go help him, even if he was in primitive Africa. To me, this was the most ‘real’ thing Micah did.

My favorite part of the book was the opening scenes where the brothers are filming a movie with Henry Till and Babe Ruth. It was great to see a historical figure as memorable as Ruth make an appearance in the book. The writer pulled in some other well-known figures of the day later in, Charlie Chaplin being the one I remember. It helped root the book in the 20s.

Izzy’s return to Africa was my least favorite part. The things he was doing over there were too much for me to process: talking to a dead body, making movies out of clips of the dead king, not eating, living in a junk field. It was too much. I thought Izzy was a well-developed character until this point. I wish the book had ended sooner so I didn’t have to see him like that.

I felt a lot of the book was about the fragility of man. Micah’s comfortable life in New York is fragile and his relationships came to a head many times in the book. Izzy’s sanity is fragile and he deteriorates quickly. The villagers are easily influenced by their contact with the Western film-makers and it skewed their perception of reality. Ultimately there was a way to put each of these back together, but it was a lot of work and effort by all those involved.

Writer’s Takeaway: Oh boy. I think my lesson from this book was about how to incorporate humor into my work. I like when there is one character that can make me laugh consistently or when appropriate, but I felt Conn was using all of his characters as comic relief all too frequently and not in the appropriate times. It made all the characters seem like jokes and belittled their problems.

Not my favorite. 2 out of 5 stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: DR Congo’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Like this review? Let me know on Goodreads!

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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O, Africa by Andrew Lewis Conn | 52 books or bust

Book Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (3/5). Talk about a narrator that’s hard to like.

17 Jun

When one of the ladies in my book club recommended this to me, I was a bit hesitant but added it to my list anyway. When I saw it for 75% at a B&N closing sale, I had to pick it up. And then when the other bookie girls at work were looking for a book to read together, I volunteered my copy and they picked it. I’m glad I listened to that recommendation even though I was hesitant at first.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

 The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria is about to age out of the foster care system and frankly she couldn’t care less. She’s only ever loved two things in her whole life: Elizabeth and flowers. Since she lost Elizabeth, she clings to flowers as tightly as possible. Elizabeth taught Victoria that there is a language of flowers and that people can communicate with the flowers emotions as specific as misanthropy and secret love. Victoria finds herself a job in a flower shop to pay rent and be close to the flowers she loves. Her natural talent finds her in the flower market where she sees someone from her past who will profoundly change her.

And now the spoilers. The story bounces back and forth between Victoria at 18 and Victoria at 11 when she lived with Elizabeth. The story’s unwind simultaneously and we discover that Elizabeth almost adopted Victoria but didn’t feel she could give her the family that a child ‘should’ have. Elizabeth wants to reconcile with her sister, Catherine, and nephew, Grant, to give Victoria a family, but Catherine’s illness makes this impossible. Elizabeth feels at a loss and Victoria feels rejected. In rage, she burns Elizabeth’s vineyard and claims abuse. In modern-day, Victoria meets Grant who has continued to live in the language of flowers and growing the blooms on Catherine’s farm. The two connect over their shared past and become lovers quickly, but when Victoria discovers that she’s pregnant, she’s not sure she can face raising a family or spending her life with one person.

I was hesitant at first, but I enjoyed the book more as it went on, though I was disappointed by the ending. Thus the 3/5 rating. Victoria is very unmotivated and very misanthropic at the beginning when she shuts out the only person that’s ever taken care of her. When she’s offered help, she turns away from it preferring to rough it on her own. She grows to be a small part of a family eventually and becomes more likable. I thought the ending was too happy. For such a down book, it had a very upbeat ‘the world is smiles and rainbows’ ending. I didn’t buy it.

I’ve never intimately known someone who is a product of the foster system, so I’m not a good judge of how accurate Diffenbaugh’s portrayal of Victoria is. Diffenbaugh herself is a foster parent and I trust her judgement that Victoria is an accurate portrayal. My coworker and I started discussing the book a bit and she was expecting the book to mention sexual abuse at the hands of foster parents but Diffenbaugh stuck to verbal and physical abuse.

Grant was by far my favorite character. He was so loving toward Victoria even when she pushed him away. He loved his mother, too, in his own way while she was alive. He came off as such a good person, it was hard not to like him!

It was hard for me to relate to Victoria but I could find myself relating to Elizabeth. She wanted someone to love who would love her back unconditionally and I think that’s something a lot of people look for. I’ve known for a long time that I eventually wanted to get married so when I dated, I was looking for someone to love me back unconditionally and I’m lucky that I found him early in life. Unfortunately, Elizabeth took it a bit too far and wanted to develop a traditional family when one wasn’t needed, but I think her heart was in the right place.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I liked the flashback scenes to Victoria’s time with Elizabeth. It gave a really good background into her character and helped explain why she was acting the way she did in the present part of the book. I liked that the author told that story slowly because it kept me engrossed in the book and wanting to know more!

As I said above, the ending was really disappointing to me. Victoria’s story was so much about loss and abandonment that it felt wrong for it to have a happy ending. I felt it would have been more appropriate for her to have either Grant or the baby, but both seemed like a stretch. I don’t think her character was ready to handle both relationships and I think she would have snapped.

Overall, the book was about forgiveness. Elizabeth had forgiven Katherine but Katherine couldn’t forgive. Elizabeth forgave Victoria but Victoria couldn’t forgive her. Katherine’s loneliness killed her while Victoria was able to reconcile with Grant, her baby, and Elizabeth and have a happy ending. I don’t like how it was told, exactly, but it works.

Writer’s Takeaway: I loved how Diffenbaugh used the language of flowers to give the story guidance. The subject kept coming up in so many parts of the book and affected so many of the characters in different ways. It helped Renata’s customers find happiness, it helped Victoria establish a successful business. It helped Grant connect with Elizabeth. I loved how central it was to the book and that gave it a very ‘real’ feeling to me. Characters should be passionate about something the way I’m passionate about writing or my co-worker is passionate about golf. Victoria had a passion for flowers.

I enjoyed the meanings in the names. The daughter’s name Victoria who lost herself in a Victorian language of flowers. Grant even names their daughter after a flower (Hazel). It was subtle, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Slow start and slow end, but I enjoyed the middle. 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!

Like this review? How about ‘Likeing’ it on Goodreads?

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Book Review: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (3/5). Family lasts forever, no matter what.

19 May

I waited for eight months for the book-on-CD copy of this book. Yes, EIGHT MONTHS! By the time I got it, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me. I’m not sure why. I loved Hosseini’s other books, but this one let me down. Oh well. Read on to find out why.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The way two people’s lives can separate and come together is an amazing thing. The story follows siblings Abdullah and Pari through their lives though not often in a direct way. The two are separated when Pari is only three and is sold to a wealthy man whose wife is unable to have children. They raise her as if she were their own child and Pari is never told that she has a brother.

The book is told from the point of view of various people who interact with their complicated relationship. One character is the uncle who arranged for Pari to be sold to the wealthy family. Another is Adel, the son of a warlord who has claimed the land Abdullah and his family grew up on. Through these characters the reader watches the years pull Pari and Abdullah apart until they finally crash back together again.

My friend Leah, me, and a distracted Hosseini

My friend Leah, me, and a distracted Hosseini

I had mixed feelings on this book. I am a huge fan of Hosseini’s other works, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I heard him speak when I was in college and have this (terrible) picture of me with him. He is a really inspirational person and has done a lot of great charity work with the UN. So I wanted to like it. I mean I really wanted to. But it just didn’t happen for me. I liked the back-and-forth time period enough, but the switching points of view was a bit much. It felt more like a collection of short stories than a single novel to me and it was difficult to get into. I listed to this on audio and there were three narrators, including Hosseini. I found their accents distracting, to be honest. At least at first. It got easier by the third disc or so.

Hosseini writes amazing characters. I loved the way he wound cultures and countries together and showed us that no matter what a person’s upbringing is or what language they speak, they’re still a person and they still affect everyone around them. Idris impacts Roshi by not acting and Amra impacts her through actions. The decisions we make impact everyone and I think Hosseini did an amazing job showing this. When I met him, he seemed very ‘American’ to me. He talked about watching football on Sundays and yard work. I think this plays into his message that we still are ourselves no matter the setting and people around us. It doesn’t matter that Hosseini lives in the US and watches the NFL. He’s still an Afghan and loves his country.

My favorite was Markos, a doctor in Kabul. He rents and later owns the home where Pari’s adopted parents lived before the house was gifted to Pari’s uncle, Nabi. After Nabi dies, it’s Markos who finds Pari and tells her the truth about her parents. Markos has a back-story that really touched me. He grew up with an adopted sister with a serious deformity. Even though he was at first disgusted by it, he learns to love her and learn how beautiful she is. His faith in humanity and in her beauty inspires him to do a lot of things such as becoming a doctor and returning to visit his mother. I felt that he was more affected by the story of Abdullah and Pari than any other character.

I think the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters was part of what made this book less enjoyable to me than the others. The only character I felt any connection to was Idris and that’s because he lived in the US and experienced the ‘US bubble’ that we see around us every day. We think, ‘How terrible that people are starving in Africa and those in Haiti still don’t have homes. I need to go buy a $500 computer so you can’t have my $10.’ We’re all guilty of it. And this made me angry with myself more than I sympathized with Idris.

Khaled Hosseini (image via Vulture.com)

Khaled Hosseini (image via Vulture.com)

I loved following Pari’s life in Paris. I loved her as an independent woman and her struggle to relate to her mother. Nila was hard to understand and relate to as well and I’m glad (from a story point of view) that Pari and Nila struggled to get along. Nila was so selfish that she was hard to love. I hated more than anything that she lied to Pari about her adopted father’s condition and that she was adopted. Was it really too hard to say your adopted father is disabled and we adopted you? Any way. I loved Pari’s attitude and her drive to accomplish something so different than her mother. I found her really inspiring.

I thought Adel’s story was a little too far removed from the plot and it took me out of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of my favorite stories (after Markos) in the novel, but I saw it as too much of a stretch. Adel didn’t have siblings and his relation to Abdullah and Pari was through their younger half-brother, Iqbal. I don’t know, it seemed disjointed.

I just looked through the Wikipedia page (because it’s a reliable source) and saw that a reviewer from the New York Times said this book is about sibling relationships as told through several pairs of siblings. I did not pick up on that until now. There are a ton of examples: Pari/Abdullah, Parwana/Nabi, Idris/Timur, and Markos/Thalia. The more I think about this, the more I like it. All of these siblings have drastically different relationships with each other, but it remains true that they affect each other throughout their entire lives. Hosseini’s first two books focused on parent/child relationships and I liked the switch to siblings in this novel. He went for a very different narrative style but still kept the focus on family.

Writer’s Takeaway: Hosseini made a bold move by changing his writing style so much for this novel and I’m not sure if it paid off. On one side, I liked seeing so many different people from such different backgrounds but I think it diluted his message by muddling the story of Abdullah and Pari with so many other plot lines. It’s unfortunate that as authors we’re supposed to pick a style and stick with it and that those who want to change styles or genres many times have to use a pen name. I think it’s great that Hosseini attempted something different and I think it worked for the majority of people, but it didn’t work well for me.

I think I might have liked the physical book better than the audio on this one, but it was still enjoyable. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: Afghanistan’ on my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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


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Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth (3/5) A reminder not to change your narrator in the final book of a trilogy.

14 Mar

If you’ve been following, you saw me fly through Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I read Divergent and Insurgent not that long ago and on Saturday was able to finish Allegiant. I’m glad I read these so close together and didn’t have to wait for a release and I didn’t have to wait that long for this last book to disappoint me.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Tris and Tobias have made it outside the wall. Now they are being forced to come to terms with what is beyond their known world and it’s a big surprise for them to find they’ve been inside a genetics experiment their entire lives. According to the Genetics Bureau, scientists in the distant past tried to create people with preferred genetics, getting rid of genes that led people to violence or a low intellect. The experiments backfired and the genetically damaged (GDs) were created. The lack of a certain gene in their bodies amplified other negative qualities. Those with pure genes (GPs) started work to help eliminate passing on damaged genetics and large experiments were set up in formerly thriving cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis. Tris, Tobias, and their friends have just escaped from the most successful experiment in Chicago. However, the violence in the city is threatening the future of the experiment and the Bureau is thinking of resetting the experiment by erasing the memory of all of those inside. Tris and Tobias  are appalled to see that the lives of their families and friends can be manipulated by these men so easily and develop a plan to stop them.

The first thing that struck me about this book was that Roth decided to change her point of view from Tris to a shared POV between Tris and Tobias. This bothered me from the beginning and started me off in a bad place while reading this book. Because of the changed setting, I felt like this book was very separate from the first two. The enemy seemed to be very different and it was hard for me as a reader to learn all the new characters in the Bureau so quickly. This book seemed like a blur to me and not a lot of it stuck very well.

I like that Roth used this world to deal with deep issues. The first book spoke to me about family and love. The second dealt with censorship and standing up for what is right instead of what is easy. This final book spoke about not limiting your self and sacrifice and I think Roth addressed these in ways that are accessible to her YA audience. Kudos to her for that.

A lot of the book dealt with sacrifice. Tris feels that sacrificing herself for her family and faction is brave and since a Dauntless strives to be brave, she should make the sacrifice. She speaks with Tobias who reminds her the Abnigation only believed in self-sacrifice if it was the ultimate way to show someone who you loved them. Her self-sacrifice to Erudite in the previous book did not do this and she started to see that it was not brave. When someone is needed to sacrifice them self to stop David from resetting the experiment, she doesn’t volunteer and when Caleb does, she tries to reason with herself that it’s not revenge to see her brother die, but the only way he can show he loves her. I like how Roth defined self-sacrifice for this series because it made me think about why we give up the things we love and if it’s the right reason to do so.

When Tobias finds out that he is a GD, he instantly begins to doubt himself and try to limit his own abilities because he lets this label define him. Tris challenges him not to limit himself and though it takes him a while to see the truth, he is able to do this. I really like this message and I think it subtly addresses discrimination. I’m a woman but that label shouldn’t define me. Those of any minority that are told they are less because of who they were born to be shouldn’t listen. You have to stand on your own two feet and your own abilities to be who you are and never let someone define you. Tobias believed in himself before his genes were analyzed but when his own identity changed, he lost faith. Tris was his rock that helped him believe in himself.

I’m going to stop my comparison to The Hunger Games after reading Allegiant. While Katniss and Tris are both fighting against their governments to gain some freedom for their friends and family, I feel Katniss was more out for herself, trying to survive. She didn’t want to be the Mockingjay of the revolution and was always asking after her mom and sister. Tris, on the other hand, sacrifices herself and knows it will hurt the one person who is the closest to her for the good of the community. Tris is a lot more selfless, fitting of an Abnigation born.

Writer’s Takeaway: It was clear by the end why Roth decided to have multiple POV in this book, but it was really distracting for me. Having read the first two very soon before this one, I was used to Tris narrating everything and as soon as I got into Tobias’s head, I would be confused and checking the beginning of the paragraph to see who was talking. Their voices were too similar. I didn’t like such a drastic change in narrator so deep into the trilogy. What if Gale narrated half of Mockingjay? Yeah, not cool.

I thought Tris was very trusting of certain characters, Matthew in particular, which seemed out of character for her. In the first book, she was very slow to trust anyone, even Christina. If there was a character change that should have supported this, I didn’t see it.

Overall it was a fitting end to the story but the style of it retracted from my enjoyment. 3 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on

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Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith (3/5)

27 Feb

Yet another book club selection! I feel that most of the books I read are book club selections and I’m 100% okay with this. This wasn’t one of my favorites, but I’m still glad I read it.

I don’t think I was the target audience for this one, having never heard of Patti Smith or her music before I cracked the spine. That’s probably the biggest reason for my rating; I really wasn’t engaged in the topic.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Patti never though she would be the famous one of her friends. When she moved to New York and met Robert Mapplethorpe, she saw genius in his work and felt lucky to be a part of his journey. By meeting the right people, Smith was able to move from an unknown poet, to an unknown lyricist, to a highly influential singer/songwriter through the 1970s.

Smith and Mapplethorpe met when they were both developing their place in the art world; Smith looking for a way to express herself in words and Mapplethorpe in images. Together they weathered financial and professional hardships. As Mapplethorpe explored his sexuality, Smith was a supportive friend despite their romantic past. Both were struggling to discover who they were and who they wanted to be.

The book did stick with me for it’s lyrical prose, something only a poet can do. Smith’s background writing poetry made for some beautiful turns of phrase that I really enjoyed. The topic didn’t interest me and because I didn’t know anything about Patti Smith, I was as surprised as her when she got lucky breaks and found her way to the world of rock and roll. From the Johnny Depp review on the back cover, I was expecting something very raw, most likely involving a little bit of sex and drugs, but also a deep passion. I got all of that. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already a Patti Smith fan but if you are, I really think you must read her book.

Smith spoke a lot about family, but not in the traditional sense. Her family in New Jersey wasn’t what got her through her tough times. Yes, her sister did travel to Paris with her, but it was the people of the Hotel Chelsea and Robert who were there for her when she needed it and they were the ones she supported in their time of need. Smith’s adopted family was strong group and one would be lucky to find such a group of people to support one through the tough times in life. I think Smith was very fortunate to find the group she did when she did because it helped shape her and her art.

Friendship is another topic that Smith delves into deeply. Her friendship with Robert was atypical to say the least. They started out as lovers and when Robert discovered his sexuality, Smith never doubted that she still loved him, only in a different sense, more like family than a mate. The two relied on each other for company, love, support, and inspiration throughout the years they spent in New York, living together more often than not. Given the chance to show in a gallery, Smith chooses to do so only if allowed to show next to Robert. The pair work together naturally. When Robert is sick and Patti lives in Detroit, she doesn’t let the distance separate them and makes a great effort to visit and call him on a regular basis, supporting him through his illness.  That sort of friendship is rare and Smith treasured it like the gem that it is.

This memoir is unlike a lot of others I’ve read because it focuses on another person as much as the writer. Most memoir writers want to tell their own story, but Smith is concerned with telling her story only as far as it overlapped with Robert’s. More than anything, she wanted to have people remember him. In that sense, it almost reminds me of The Great Gatsby, where Nick tells Gatsby’s story instead of Gatsby telling his own. I really liked the medium.

Mapplethorpe ultimately died of AIDS in a time when the disease wasn’t fully understood and treatment was almost nonexistent. I loved the way that Smith portrayed the fall from grace her scene in New York took with the emergence of the disease and it’s destruction on Robert’s body. It made me think what Robert’s chances would have been today, with better knowledge about the spread and treatment of the disease. It’s sad that a pioneer like him had to succumb to something so cruel.

Writer’s Takeaway: Smith’s poetic prose was really moving. She was able to describe light and music in a way that I think many prose writers cannot and I think this is easily attributable to her being a poet and lyricist. I also liked the time of her life she chose to focus on and I think she did a good job of describing how she came to be in the position she found herself by the end.

Overall, a decent read, but not for me. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfilled the 1970-1989 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge and New York for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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