Posts Categorized: reviews

How to DIY MFA

July 12, 2016 Book Review, reviews 1

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

How to DIY MFADIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira
Published by Writer's Digest Books on July 8th 2016
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 294
Source: complimentary review copy, purchased
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

In 7th grade Mrs. McNeary introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle. Although we were surly middle schoolers, Mrs. McNeary read A Wrinkle in Time to us every afternoon. By the time the third day rolled around I had already been to the school library to check out A Wrinkle in Time. By the fourth day, I had the book finished and had checked out A Wind in the Door, Book 2 in the Time Quintet Series. I remember thinking that if I could write like anyone, I wanted to tell stories just like Ms. L’Engle. I also wanted to be a pilot, Navy Seal, and marine biologist, but writer was always at the top of my list.

Fast forward to adulthood where I never quite made it to pilot school, the Navy didn’t want me, and marine biology was only a passing interest because of A Ring of Endless Light. . .my absolute favorite L’Engle novel. Somehow I fell into the non-profit world, children’s advocacy, and writing grant proposals. I didn’t consider myself a writer though. Most grant proposals are dry and technical – where’s the imagination in that?

While trying to find other readers to talk with about books I fell into book blogging. I thought that writing reviews and sharing my world was not real writing. Where’s the imagination in talking books? In order to be a real writer I would have to get my MFA. or so I thought.

Then I came across Gabriela Pereira’s site DIYMFA.com

All of the sudden I realized, wait, I am a writer. I may not be Pulitzer-Prize-worthy, but I’ve been a writer for years! Can you imagine the elation and relief I felt?

So when I read that the entire DIY MFA method was being published in a book I knew I had to get it. As much of a resource as the site has been, the book, I knew, would be chock-full of wisdom. I pre-ordered the book even though I had access to the advanced reader’s copy. After reading the first few chapters I quickly figured out that this book was going to be a much-used and much-loved writing resource, along with my copy of On Writing, Bird by Bird, and Writing Down the Bones.

[Tweet “From writer’s voice to writing workshops the book @DIYMFA is sure to be a favorite resource.”]

Gabriela lays out the foundation of writing in a methodical and easily-understood manner. The book is sectioned into the 3-part mission of DIY MFA: “write with focus, read with purpose, build your community.” From there the book is pared down into bite-sized chapters with clear actionable steps/homework. For example, in the Read with Purpose portion we learn to “Read Like a Writer,” and the four types of books a writer should utilize {also known as “the four C’s”}: “competitive titles, contextual books, contemporary books, and classics.”

Gabriela is a big fan of acronyms and tips which further helps to cement the tools learned. For example, the term ‘habits’ becomes:

H = Honor Your Reality

A = Add Constraints

B = Block Time and Batch Tasks

I = Iterate

T = Ten Percent Rule

S = Set the Mood

Gabriela is candid and practical throughout the book. There is no shortcut to becoming a good writer. Practicing is repeated over and over, or actually, what I came to term as Gabriela’s favorite word ~ “iterate, iterate, iterate.” That was my only issue with the book – why say iterate when practice works just as well?

If you have any desire to improve your writing, whether as a blogger or a long-time writer, pick up this book. It is sure to become your favorite writing resource – I know it is now mine!

Side Note: There’s countless worksheets and cheat sheets and even a private online resource for those who purchase the book. And while I would highly recommend purchasing the book, there are still plenty of free resources at DIYMFA.com

Gabriela also hosts a podcast with fantastic guests and resources! Learn more here.

Connect with Gabriela Website | Twitter | Facebook

What writing books/memoirs/resources have you read and/or use?

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four-half-stars

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Learning to Survive and Thrive with The Tumbling Turner Sisters

June 28, 2016 Book Review, Giveaway, reviews 6

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Learning to Survive and Thrive with The Tumbling Turner SistersThe Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay
Published by Gallery Books on June 14th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads

 

What an incredibly researched historical novel! I felt completely immersed in the time period {1920s}! Vaudeville was at its height {kind of a prequel to tv show ‘America’s Got Talent’}.   When the novel opens we meet the Turners and learn how they’re  barely getting by. Dependent on Mr. Turner’s income, losing the source from a stupid mistake makes figuring out how to survive critical.

So what does the mom to four beautiful daughters do? She comes up with the idea to put her daughters on the stage as a vaudeville act in order to make enough money for the family to eat and pay rent. When the girls’ act becomes a hit their lives are forever changed.

What I loved

→The history and detail. Learning what vaudeville was {comedy, gymnastics, music, dancing} and wasn’t {burlesque} fascinated me and had me looking up old videos and photographs. There are even a few of the theaters that hosted vaudeville still open and operating today!

→The quotes at the beginning of each chapter from famous vaudeville players. “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” ~Will Rogers, actor, singer, comedian, and social commentator

→How the characters and theaters came to life through the descriptive passages “Even from inside the suitcase, I sensed the audience’s anticipation. They cheered for Nell’s cartwheels, but the volume rose when Gert entered with her handsprings. By the time I rolled out onto the proscenium, the audience was like a pack of hungry dogs, ready to devour any scraps of entertainment we threw them. Gert’s arm jiggles sent them into paroxysms, and the human rolling ball, with skirts flapping up as they spun, caused a wild round of boot stomping.”

→The humor! The dialogue between the four sisters was seamless and filled with funny moments!

→The breadth of topics approached from poverty and mental illness to racism and women’s rights, The Tumbling Turner Sisters touches on it all with skill and grace.

[Tweet “Learning how to survive and thrive in The Tumbling Turner Sisters”]

and the Not So Much

I would be remiss if I neglected to share a couple of things that frustrated me in reading this novel. For example ~

The mother. Granted her character was supposed to be a strong Italian woman, but she was a bit over the top for me. At times I wondered why she even had children. Her actions were so non-mothering! AND she took henpecking her husband to an entirely new level. Did women really act that way?

While not that big of a deal, I did have to flip back to the beginning of the chapters several times to see who was narrating. While normally I love multiple points of view in books, in The Tumbling Turner Sisters it was somewhat difficult to tell the sisters apart. Narrated from Winnie and Gert’s pov, the sisters’ characters were too similar to distinguish at times.

Caution. Some aspects were difficult to read though true to the time period. There is one passage in particular that uses cringe-worthy terminology. I appreciate that the author approached sensitive subjects head on but do want to warn you sections may make you uncomfortable.

Recommended for

Readers who loved Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Goodreads also recommends Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, but I think Juliette Fay’s novel is closer to a Karen White novel such as On Folly Beach. The laugh-out-loud humor and fleshed out characters are comparable.

Juliette Fay: Website :: Facebook :: Twitter

With many thanks to Wunderkind PR and Gallery Books, I’ve got a copy of The Tumbling Turner Sisters to give away! Ends Monday, July 4th at 11:59 pm. U.S. entries only please.

[promosimple id=”9dda”]

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Thoughts on Before the Fall

June 17, 2016 Book Review, reviews 7

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Thoughts on Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 400
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads
four-stars

 

Before the Fall has been packaged as the summer blockbuster and I can certainly see why. A private plane slips off the radar only 16 minutes into its flight between Martha’s Vineyard and New York. Eleven people are on board but only two survive: a painter, Scott Burroughs and JJ, the 4 year old son of David Bateman, creator of the number one 24-hour news station {pretty much patterned after Fox News}.

The story begins with the crash along with Scott’s miraculous survival and rescue of JJ. Told in alternate chapters we get a behind the scenes look at the lives of those who were on board the fatal crash. We also get to see the aftermath with the news media and various government agencies involved in the investigation. It’s both fascinating and terrifying. What the news media {especially David Bateman’s own company} does to Scott and anyone surrounding him is a testament to culture today. Even how the various government entities choose to handle the investigation is scary – most are compassionate and matter-of-fact but the few that are not….woe to those in the warpath.

This author is brilliant in portraying ‘real’ people. His characters are so involved and believable. The characters’  actions leading up to the plane crash go far beyond stereotypes. Part of the joy in reading Before the Fall was for that very reason – Noah Hawley created totally believable characters with a back story, emotional depth and unique traits.

There are two issues I had with the book that kept me from giving it a solid 5 stars. The first being when we are seeing Rachel’s ‘before the crash’ chapter. Rachel is the 10 year old daughter of David Bateman and Maggie. Precocious, brilliant and a sweetheart, but her chapter drifted more into her mom’s thoughts rather than Rachel’s. Perhaps I misread the chapter, but it just didn’t quite sit well with me.

The other issue was in the last few pages. Survivor Scott is giving an interview and some of the things he says doesn’t make sense to me. It’s impossible to be more specific without going into spoilers.

[Tweet “Believable characters + a look at society’s obsession with news makes this the summer book to read”]

After reading Before the Fall and seeing what a brilliant storyteller Noah Hawley is, I plan to read the rest of his previous novels. And maybe even turn the television on to watch some Fargo! Read it. Before the Fall is so worth the hype!

Before the Fall is a She Reads Summer Selection. To see what other members are saying visit She Reads here.

Many thanks to She Reads and Grand Central Publishing for providing a free copy to review. All opinions are my own.

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four-stars

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Mini-Views of the Detective Helen Grace Series

June 3, 2016 Book Review, reviews 6

m. j. arlidge series

 

Eeny Meeny begins with a most horrifying murder – a young couple is kidnapped, left in an abandoned empty diving pool with no way out and given a gun with a single bullet. The instructions left with the couple state that only one will make it out alive, the choice is theirs – to live, one of them must die.

It is quite possibly the creepiest, most terrifying concept for a thriller I’ve ever read.

Detective Helen Grace is on the case, along with her dedicated team. Helen has a tragic history that has left her with numerous scars, both on the inside and the outside. Her job is her life; no real friends and no family to speak of. Not only does Helen have to deal with a horrifying murder investigation, she’s got one reporter breathing down her neck and causing all kinds of trouble. {reminded me of a few news journalists I’ve seen on tv. . .}

The plot is fast paced, never a dull moment, even when there’s alleged down time. DI Helen Grace’s character is slowly revealed through her actions. The red herrings are spot on and reminiscent of Agatha Christie.

Towards the grand finale a couple of issues arose – all of a sudden Helen has a breakthrough but for the reader, it feels rushed, almost contrived. Don’t get me wrong, the denouement totally works, it just happened without warning. While the revelation of the killer is shocking, the confrontation is rushed. ugh! I want to talk to someone about this book!!! If you’ve read it and want to commiserate, please send me a tweet! Would love to discuss!

As a series beginning, Eeny Meeny introduces a writer of immense potential in the thriller genre.

side questions ~ for those familiar with the police in the UK – do the police typically only carry batons? then check out guns as necessary?

AND, if you’ve read this one – what happened to Louise?!?


[Tweet “Must-read new thriller series from U.K. author!”]

Pop Goes the Weasel is #2 in the DI Helen Grace series. {did I mention I read all 4 U.S. versions over Memorial Day weekend?!?} In this one, married men are turning up dead and with missing body parts. Said body part is then delivered to the home or office of the deceased {lovely, right!}.

Once again, Helen Grace and her team are on the case. It’s been a few months since the fall out from the serial killer in Eeny Meeny, and the team is slowly returning to normal. Helen has a new boss that butts heads with her every chance she gets. The dogged reporter from Eeny Meeny is back to once again wreak havoc on the investigation.

It’s fascinating to read a series back-to-back. The progression of writing skill is apparent. Arlidge continues to develop Helen’s character and that of her team through slow revelations and conflicts. While there has been a rash of books published in recent years that focus on psychological suspense, Arlidge’s Helen Grace series takes us back to the true thriller and police procedural. Pop Goes the Weasel is even better than Eeny Meeny and I wasn’t sure that was possible!

One caveat, it is important to read Eeny Meeny first as there are spoilers from the first book in Pop Goes the Weasel.  Reading this series is not for the faint of heart, but there are also no gratuitous gory violent scenes. The violence included is necessary for the development of the plot. If you enjoy a good who-done-it though, then definitely pick this series up!

Stay tuned for reviews of The Doll’s House and Liar Liar {to be released in the U.S. on June 7th}.

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three-stars

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Thoughts on Flight Patterns

May 24, 2016 Book Review, reviews 4

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Thoughts on Flight PatternsFlight Patterns by Karen White
Published by NAL on May 24th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Southern
Pages: 416
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads

 

I’ve been a fan of Karen White’s books since Falling Home and After the Rain. She’s one of those authors that it doesn’t matter what the book is about, I’m going to buy it. My absolute favorite book of Karen White’s is On Folly Beach ~ that one was like immersing myself in dream, buying a used bookstore & living at the beach…

So about Flight Patterns. I’m not sure what went wrong with this one, but for me, I simply could not buy into the premise, the characters or even the setting. And setting is typically this author’s strong point!

What I did not love

  • Maisy. She was angry at the world, spiteful and simply not a nice person. It seemed like the author was trying to make a point with Maisy’s character and how our parents can affect us even into adulthood. I did not see any real growth in her character throughout the book. Even in the end she felt flat and one-dimensional to me – an angry, bitter person.
  • The progression of the book seemed stilted. It’s like the author threw every contrived scenario at the characters in order to create emotional drama and impact but instead, it didn’t flow with White’s typical immersive storytelling skill.
  • The novel felt too long and drawn out. We were told many, many times how Birdie was mentally unstable and Maisie was ‘justifiably’ angry and Georgia was responsible for everything.

[Tweet “The good and the bad with #flightpatterns”]

What I did enjoy

  • Becky, Maisy’s daughter. Such a sweetly drawn character who stole the show for me.
  • Many of the bee facts – fascinating!

When a hive is invaded by a wasp, the bees cluster around the intruder and fan their wings to make it 117 degrees, knowing that wasps cannot survive temperatures above 116. This is the ultimate act of survival, as the bees will die if the temperature reaches 118 degrees.

  • Nuggets of life truths sprinkled throughout the book:

When you let your hurt from the past control you, you are tied to it forever. You will never change your life until you learn to let go the things that once hurt you.

Because no one can hurt us as much as those we love the most.

Sometimes all we need to do to forgive our parents is to understand their own childhoods.

I”d honestly recommend one of Karen White’s earlier books over this one, especially On Folly Beach…have I mentioned how much I love that book?!?

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