Archive for September, 2015

This is a dark story of a kidnapped girl told from the point of view of her five year old son. As such, there are difficult moments in this book, but nothing too graphic. The mother protects her son well, and so we are protected from most of it. Most of the worst bits are hints in the background that Jack doesn’t understand, but we as readers do.

Here’s the blurb:

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

There are three main parts: first we see Jack and Ma’s life in the room, then the dramatic escape, and last the recovery process.

The psychology behind it all is what interested me the most. Jack calls all the things in Room by name. They’re his friends. He believes that’s all there is to the world. That beyond Room’s walls there’s nothing else. His refusal to believe otherwise, while understandable was shocking.

Jack and Ma have a loving relationship, but a slightly unhealthy one. Note: I am not talking about her still breastfeeding him. Children are physically designed to breastfeed until around five. It’s the early weaning we have in first world countries that is unnatural. They also spend all their time together, which again is not unhealthy (though it would be more healthy for him to interact with other people as well).

The unhealthy aspect of their relationship was that in the past she had obviously suffered a lot and reacted to herself negatively. Jack’s picked up on this, and while he loves her, he sometimes thinks of her as stupid and calls her that. She agrees with him.

I won’t mention details of the second part, but it was very harrowing. The first part is slow, but rich. We’re trying to orientate ourselves with their lives. The second part is pure tension.

Then comes the recovery process. I can’t express how glad I am that the author devoted such a big chunk of the book to this. Often it gets forgotten, but adjusting back to the real world and recovering is a big deal for both characters.

Their recovery is not a straight line. Jack has to cope with so many new things. Can you imagine never having worn shoes, or walked on grass, or been everywhere but one room? Places smell. People smell. Things are noisy. People are confusing.

The author has clearly thought through the things that would happen to Jack. No one understands his speech, because of course he’s never spoken to anyone apart from his mother. He doesn’t understand a lot of phrases. He doesn’t understand a lot of things in the world we take for granted, like how everyone is so worried about time. He interacts with another child for a second, and instantly he thinks they’re his best friend and he loves them.

This is not an action packed book, but there’s plenty going on as Jack faces his new challenges. It’s a neat, emotional journey and definitely deserves the awards and nominations it received. In the end things aren’t perfect. Neither Jack nor Ma are one hundred percent Ok. They might never be. But they’re better than they were, and they’re making plans for the future.

I’m so happy the author didn’t try to go for a picture perfect ending. They still have a long journey ahead of them, and I’m glad the author understands the material enough to acknowledge that.

Emotional book, interesting pov, and well researched. Watching Jack slowly get to grips with the outside world after that tiny room is like taking a deep breath of fresh air. The whole energy of the writing changes. Five stars from me.

For more reviews of this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7937843-room

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Yup, still making my way through Stephen King. It’s taking a while, but I’m enjoying it.

Skeleton Crew is a collection. One novella, and twenty-one short stories. I think this is my favorite short story collection of his I’ve read. Not every short story is five stars, some are just OK, others are amazing.

The star of the book for me was the novella: The Mist. You may have watched the film based on it. This is about a father and son trapped with a group of people in a grocery store when a mysterious mist closes around them. And of course, since this is Stephen King, it’s no ordinary mist. There are things inside it, and they aren’t friendly.

One thing I really loved about this is we never find out for sure what caused the mist. There are several very strong hints, but the mystery is soon tossed aside to focus on what’s important: how to survive. There are strange monsters here, but the majority of this book is about surviving the even stranger monsters human beings turn into when they’re frightened and desperate.

There are so many good short stories in the bunch, it’s hard to pick favorites, but here goes nothing:

The Reach: This is the story you turn to after The Mist leaves you feeling desolate and hopeless. It’s about an old woman who’s never left the tiny island she lives on. For Stephen King this is really rather a sweet story. Sure there’s death (it’s Stephen King), but it’s the kind of death made up of old friends, and arms ready to fold you up and comfort you. More of a literary short story than a horror. A nice contrast to the heebie jeebies the rest of the book has in spades.

The Jaunt: Rather a straight forward short story with some neat imagined science, and an ultra creepy twist ending.

Nona: Creepy, creepy. About a boy, a girl he meets, and the horrible things that happen as consequence of meeting her. With a twist.

The Word Processor of the Gods: A decent ‘monkey paw’ type story with a happy ending! Bookmark this one to read after some of the many others with far from happy endings.

Survivor Type: One of the most disgusting and horrific short stories of his I’ve read. It’s (slight) plausibility makes it all the more scary. This will stick with you. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

Gramma: starts slow, but mega creepy ending.

The Monkey: Not as scary as some of the others, but still worthy of this list.

The Raft: If I’m going to be inserted into a story (I’m hoping for a superhero story that lets me have awesome powers) this one is at the bottom of my list. No thank you. No way. I will not be going on that raft. In short: SCARY.

The rest of the stories were decent, but the milkman stories? I have no clue what’s going on in those ones. Am I missing something?

Anyways, good collection filled with a lot of gems. It’s worth reading for The Mist alone, but short stories like The Jaunt make it doubly worth it.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13440.Skeleton_Crew

This is the fourth book in the series.

Here’s my review of the first book: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/book-review-we…hrones-5-stars/

Here’s my review of the second: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/book-review-we…martin-5-stars/

And here’s the third: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/book-review-we…fire-3-5-stars/

Another five star book. This series continues to amaze me by how much I need to read ‘just one more page.’

Now, a warning. We don’t get all the pov characters in this book, and there’s quite a bit of overlap with the events of the next book. While G R R Martin was writing book four he found it much too long. So he decided to split it up, showing most of the story from half the povs, then in book five showing the story from the rest of the povs, along with more to the story.

Some people say they’d have preferred it kept chronologically and split down the middle, but I understand why he did it that way. There wasn’t a good stopping point around the middle. It would’ve made for a unfulfilled and very confusing story, skipping from pov to countless pov, and not arriving anywhere. I think this was the best call.

A lot of the less interesting povs are in this one, plus we get some new povs from Theon’s uncles. I don’t like them as much as the established characters, but they do tell an important side of the story. And I don’t really know them. Maybe they’ll develop, or the herd will be thinned and we’ll lose some more povs.

We do get a lot of Jaime who goes through even more development. He’s changed a lot in a short time. I enjoyed his story a lot, particularly when he falls out with Cersei. I never liked her.

Arya continues her ‘becoming a badass’ training. She doesn’t really do a lot, but I can see that this is going to give her some cool skills for the future.

We spent a lot of time in Dorne where interesting things seem to be setting up, but not much really huge is happening.

Brienne goes on her quest to find Sansa. She encounters heaps of trouble. It’s always interesting to be in her head. She has a different view of the world from our other povs, being a maiden knight determined to prove herself.

I loved every moment reading this book, and wanted the next one the moment I put his one down. So five stars. Given a bit of distance from it, I think this is a lower five stars than the past books. Still very enjoyable, but not as brilliant as the last book.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13497.A_Feast_for_Crows

This one should interest writers out there. I’ve made my way through a number of writing books and courses in my time, but this is something special. Best of all it’s based on a blog post the writer put up. So if you want to get a taste of the kind of thing in this book and see if you like it, go to: http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html

The blog post is about 2.5 pages, while the book is around 70 pages, so there’s a lot of extra material in the book. It covers the same kind of things: ways in which you can write faster and better. It’s well written with a fun, engaging style. It’s one of those books you’ll zoom through the first time, then go back and get more out of it.

The best thing about this book is the tactics are simple. You can read, then minutes later be putting them into action. I can’t say for sure that my word-count has changed, but I’ve used her tactics in every writing session since reading the book.

If you’re a new writer, then you could do worse than reading this book. You’ll still need more material to help work on your craft and editing, but really, you’d need to no matter how long you’d been writing. You never stop working on craft. This is a very streamlined book, and I think a newbie reading this could get a great structure on which to build with various other craft books.

If you’ve been writing as long, or longer than I have, you’ll find yourself recognizing tactics in this book as ones you already use. I still think you’ll get a lot out of this. Aaron has this great way of stating things that should be obvious that you’ve never thought to do. Like measuring your words per hour to see what times and places you work best. Or being excited about what you’re writing. After all if you don’t enjoy writing it, why would anyone enjoy reading it?

Neat book. One that I’m going to read many times over. I give it four stars.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16080676-2k-to-10k

This is another of the ‘how to become successful at a skill’ books. If you liked Outliers,  Mindset, or Bounce, you’ll love this one. In Outliers (life changing book) Gladwell talks about how it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert at a skill.

It’s worth noting here that I say world-class expert, and practice. Like chinese whispers, that original sentence has changed a lot. I’ve heard people say they don’t think it’s worth learning a skill because they don’t have 10,000 hours (or ten years) to become good at something. Others not only think you have to put in ALL that time to show any aptitude at a skill, every minute of that practice needs to be bone breaking, high concentration work.

I’m taking this time to remind readers that success is not a binary. You don’t either have it, or not. Success at a skill is a long line from ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ to ‘world class expert.’ Every minute of practice takes you further along that line. And ‘good’ doesn’t take the full 10,000 hours. It takes a lot less. The exact amount of hours depends on how good you want to be.

As for every minute of practice being back-breaking work, that’s not true either. 10,000 hours is the estimated time of total practice it takes to be world-class expert. Some of that is going to be back-breaking, but not all of it. If all of it was high intensity focused practice you’d reach world-class expert in less hours. You’d also be more likely to burn out faster, so there’s a balance.

A quick and easy check to see if your practice is worth it is to ask whether you’re challenging yourself. If you’re a writer, are you improving your craft, reading books and thinking about them critically, trying new things? If you’re a singer are you singing the same songs you’ve sang a dozen times, or are you trying new ones, new ranges, following your teacher’s feedback, listening critically to other singers? And so on.

Now that’s cleared up, let’s go onto this book.

This book spends a lot of time talking about deep practice, and deliberate practice. It’s approached from all areas from music to sports. This is the kind of practice you want to aim for. It helps you get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time. Everyone wants that.

It also looks in-depth at myelin and the scientific mechanisms behind learning. I’m a very visual person, so I loved being able to ‘see’ what was happening when I attempt to learn a skill, and why struggling is so important.

A five-star book with valuable information to add to skill building. This is one of those books that should be read by all teachers and parents, and anyone who wants to become good at something (which is everyone).

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5771014-the-talent-code