Tag Archives: Michigan Author

Book Review: Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell (4/5)

5 Jan

I heard of this book because the author was visiting a local bookstore but I hadn’t felt the motivation to read it. When it was picked for my book club, I was indifferent. I took this book with me to Phoenix and when I finished the book I was in the middle of the last morning there, I picked this up on the plane. I was easily 150 pages in before we landed and I was hooked. If (stupid) work hadn’t gotten in the way, I would have finished it sooner.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Joe Campbell

Summary from Goodreads:

After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo’s childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

I should know better than to read the back cover of a book before I start it. Knowing Margo’s father was going to die and her mother was going to disappear didn’t ruin the whole book, but it wasn’t the best thing to know before being a few chapters in. Oh well. I loved Margo. She was strong in a way most women aren’t. She was afraid to do what needed to be done, be that shooting a deer or sleeping with someone who would protect her. It wasn’t admirable but it was necessary. I’ll spoil the end here, but this needs to be said. I’m glad she didn’t stay with her mom. She was so much stronger and more interesting than her mother. She was smart to realize she needed to be a different kind of mother than her mom was to her.

Sometimes I thought Margo was a stretch, especially when she was with Michael. Her life with him was so different from what she had before or would have after and it was odd to me that she was so happy with him. I don’t think she would have married him even though she said she would. I thought the other side characters were wonderful, a very diverse mix that I could see living on the West side of Michigan. (Side note, I love that this took place in my home state!)

Smoke was my favorite character. He reminded me a bit of my grandpa, getting on in years but refusing to give into poor health and insisting he’s fine. I thought it was realistic that he was so cranky but in the end was the sweetest friend Margo could find. He was fiercely independent and at the same time was very giving. It must have been hard for Fishbone and Margo to watch him get sicker and sicker.

Some of Margo spoke to my primal instinct. There are times I’ve wished I could shoot someone who was bothering me or hurting someone I loved. I’ve wanted to run away from people I don’t like and I’ve wanted to say what I’m thinking to a man. I’ve also wanted to not wear makeup or fitted clothes and stay in a lake (or river) for hours. Alas, I never owned a boat. (Because that’s the only thing stopping me from becoming Margo and abandoning this blog, obviously.)

Image via the author's website

Bonnie Jo Campbell. Image via the author’s website

I liked the end. Margo seemed happiest living in Smoke’s boat. It was the most luxury she’d had in the book but it was also somewhere she was happy and in an environment where she could enjoy her life. It was the best of both worlds and it assured me that she could be a mother.

Her relationship with Michael seemed counter to Margo’s personality. No wonder she never unpacked all her stuff. Forcing her to get her GED and try out going to church was so different from the things that made her happy that it’s no wonder she had little trouble leaving. It might have cemented in her mind that she could live off the land, but I didn’t understand the point of that part of the book.


A lot of people tried to give Margo things that would make her ‘happy.’ The Murray’s had an idea of what would make her happy, Brian had another idea, then Michael, and then her mother. None of them were right. Margo kept running away because she wanted to make her own decisions and she ultimately got on best with Smoke because he didn’t try to force anything on her. Even Fishbone tried to get her to reconcile with her mother or have the baby in a hospital but she wouldn’t do either one. She had to make her own choices.

Writer’s Takeaway: I wish I could put into words what made Margo so likable. She was very terse but the words she said had a big impact on me. So many bad things happened to her but I never felt bad for her. She didn’t see herself as a victim so I never saw her as one. That was part of what was so strong about her.

The ending was a little abrupt for me, but I enjoyed this book on the whole. 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:
Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ‘Once Upon a River’ Sets Sale | Night Light Revue
Reader’s Journal: Once Upon a River | The Evening Reader


Q+A with Author Kristine Kruppa Plus Cover Reveal for 27 Days to Midnight

8 Mar

I’ve mentioned this on my Facebook page before, but I think it’s the first time I’m posting about it here. A little over a year ago, a mutual friend introduced me to Kristine saying, “You’re both writers, you should meet.” So thank you, Mike, for introducing me to a great local writer and friend. Her new book, 27 Days to Midnight, is coming out May 3rd. With the date fast approaching, today is her cover release! I asked Kristine to do me the favor of answering a few questions I had for her to share some advice and talk a bit about her book. If you want to ask her some questions of your own, she’ll be doing a Twitter Q&A from 8-9pm EST tonight. Be sure to follow @kskruppa and use #27Days to participate.

27 Days_HighRes

Everyone in Dahlia’s world knows when they’re going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren’s life, or her own. And time is running out.

Author Photo - Small

Author photo by Sunny Wong

Kristine Kruppa is a mechanical engineer, writer, and world traveler. Her days are spent designing cool new car parts, but her evenings are filled with writing and cats. She has traveled solo to seventeen countries on five continents. Her other hobbies include hunting for the perfect cup of coffee, exploring used book stores, and accidentally climbing mountains. To keep up with her adventures, follow Kristine on Twitter @kskruppa.

And, finally, my Q&A with Kristine about her writing.

Sam: When did you start writing? Do you remember the first thing you wrote?
Kristine: I don’t remember when I started writing; it’s just something I’ve always done. As a kid, I wrote and illustrated little picture books. I think the earliest one involved a cat detective tracking down a pizza thief. After my family bought a computer–somewhere between sixth and seventh grade–I fell into the habit of waking up early, slipping downstairs, and typing away while the house was quiet. I broke countless staplers trying to wrestle the stacks of pages into something resembling a book.

Sam: How do you stay focused on your writing with life going on around you?
Kristine: This is something I struggle with. I try to set aside a little time every day to write, but this doesn’t always happen. Instead, I end up hauling my laptop to cafés on the weekend for a few hours of coffee and words. To stop myself from getting distracted by the internet or other people, I set a timer. I write for twenty minutes straight. Then I break for ten minutes of watching cat videos and chowing down on cookies before going back to writing. It’s easier to focus if I break up long sessions into small chunks. And it stops me from wandering off-track!

Sam: What advice would you give to writers who want the same success you’re enjoying?
Kristine: Finish your stories. Around the halfway point, I’m always tempted to set aside a novel-in-progress. Usually, it’s because I have a new story idea, something shiny and exciting that seems far better than the messy draft in front of me. I have to force myself to work on the draft for a while. Within a few chapters, the magic always comes back and I’m able to finish it. While it may be appealing to drop everything for a new idea, this technique will work against you in the long run. You can’t publish half a book!

Sam: Why did you decide to go into engineering? Would you ever consider leaving your day job for a writing career?
Kristine: I’d always been good at math and science, so engineering seemed the natural choice. I originally wanted to be a civil engineer, working on bridges or roads (or roller coasters!). But I switched to mechanical engineering when I realized I could do a wider variety of things with it. I don’t think I would ever give up my day job for a writing career (the stable salary funds my crazy vacations), but I’d certainly switch to part-time work if my writing really takes off.

Sam: Why have you decided to travel so extensively? Does what you see abroad show up in your work?
Kristine: I travel because I love it. Seeing the world, meeting new people, discovering different places and cultures…there’s nothing like it. Plus, travel gives me excellent writing material! Many of the settings in my stories are based on real places. The cliff town from 27 Days to Midnight was inspired by the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Dahlia’s hometown is reminiscent of Paris. And the marketplace in Janmasthala is similar to markets I’ve wandered in Peru and Southeast Asia (besides the mechanical tortoises, of course!).

Tune into her author chat/interview tonight to find out anything else  you want to know about the upcoming release. 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: Bird Box by Josh Malerman (5/5)

12 Oct

It’s been a long time since I found a book I couldn’t put down. Even some of the books I’ve read recently that have gotten 5 stars weren’t so engrossing I couldn’t put them down. Bird Box was a welcome surprise. I actually turned down pizza and cornhole to finish this book. Yeah, that’s right. I had twenty pages left, how could I stop then?

Bird Box

Cover image via Goodreads

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Summary from Goodreads:

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

I was skeptical at first. I’ve read a lot of books that jump forward and backward in time and have been annoyed by it. So I started out with a bitter taste in my mouth but that quickly went away. The past story is rushing to catch up with the present story and it helped the books pace a lot for me. You see the beginning of the creatures and you see how bad it got and the whole time you’re asking yourself, “How could it get this bad? And where did everyone go?” Well, I’m not going to ruin that for you because it all comes rushing out at the end in a wonderful mass of story. I know that doesn’t make sense. Just read this darn book, okay?

I liked Malorie and the other housemates. There were resourceful and found ways to do what they needed to in order to survive. I was surprised not all of them were as cynical as Don. I found him very believable. He was scared, rightfully so, and wanted to protect himself. The others seemed more giving and trusting ad I’m truthfully not sure I could have been so welcoming.

Tom was my favorite character. Maybe because he was Malorie’s favorite, she got me to like him, but he was a good leader for the house. He helped them establish a way to live in the house without daily fear, but he was also determined to make things better for the all. He was progressive but not overly so. He was worried about ending up like George and trying something too dangerous.

The idea of being afraid of something unknown is universal. It might be a blind date or a new job or your first day of college, but most humans have felt that sense of unease or fear when something is going to happen that you’ve never experienced before. I related to that feeling in the characters though situations I’ve been in were less deadly. It’s a feeling no one likes and no one is really comfortable with and I think that’s a great element of horror to use in a book such as this.

Image via Twitter

Josh Malerman. Image via Twitter

I don’t want to give too many details about my favorite part of the book because it comes right at the end as Malorie is about to find what she’s been searching for. She was so brave in that scene and reading about her overcoming something so frightening was encouraging and helped me see her strength as a character and a mother.

There’s one basic part of this story that bothered me. How did people know it was looking at something that caused the madness? This theory seemed to have been established very early on in the world and I didn’t get it. Why not an airborne virus? How did they know it was seeing something? This kept bugging me the whole time and I never felt it was properly answered, especially because people didn’t know if there were really creatures at all for a long time.

I also wondered why her children were referred to as Boy and Girl for so long when they obviously had names in her mind. They didn’t know their own names. I felt that was very removed of mother and children. It made me sad.

And the title. I know what the Bird Box was, but I’m not sure it deserved the title. Just a personal opinion.

Fear of the unknown is almost universal. I’m sure there are people who don’t fear new situations, but there are those like myself who are uneasy at a facing something for the first time, be it a person or a situation. For years, Malorie let her fear control her. She let the unseen creatures and her lack of knowledge about them and what they could do keep her hidden. Overcoming that fear can be terrifying and we might need something to motivate us to do it. For Malorie, it was her children who kept her focused and determined. It was for them that she overcame her fear. Being a mother kept her alive.

Writer’s Takeaway: I enjoy the short chapters. In suspenseful books, it helps keep the book moving well. It also serves well for jumping forward and backward in time like Malerman was doing. I’m a fan of this part. I think he did a good job of building an antagonist that we were afraid of without knowing anything about. That can be hard to do, but the fear was real in me. I was camping when I read this and I was snuggling deeper into my sleeping bag, terrified those in the tent near me were going to come over and kill me. It was great!

Couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t put it down. Loved it, 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:
Debut Book of the Month: May- Bird Box by Josh Malerman | twenty7
Bird Box by Josh Malerman | Kate Conroy
Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman | Bibliophile Gathering
Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman | The Savvy Reader