Reviews-A-Plenty

Hi folks, so I’ve been keeping up with my creative goal to read a book a week! Thought I’d better catch you up on the wonderful things I’ve been reading.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber | Scarlett’s grandmother has told her and her sister Tella stories about Caraval since they were young– an audience-participation game that is like a magical carnival. Scarlett has always longed to go, but getting tickets now— less than two weeks before her marriage to a mysterious count she has never met– is not the ideal timing. At Caraval, Tella goes missing, and the game revolves around the sisters. Julian, the young sailor who brought the girls to Caraval, is shrouded in mystery too, and Scarlett can’t tell who is friend or foe, or whether the game is really just a game.

It’s intense, has gorgeous imagery, and keeps you guessing the entire time. I am happy to say that I did not figure the ending out ahead of time!! This is a must read, folks.

cursed-childHarry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany | I think I went into this screenplay with reasonable expectations. I waited quite a while to read it because I knew that it was not going to be like “the 8th Harry Potter book,” as some stores touted. First, it’s a screenplay, not a novel; I knew I couldn’t expect the same thing. Because I went into it with realistic expectations, I loved it!

The story picks up about nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts took place; Harry’s youngest son Albus is headed to Hogwarts for the first time, and it is hard living in your father’s shadow, especially when your father is Harry Potter. Albus isn’t like his dad, and they butt heads, which leads Albus and his friend Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son!) on an adventure that gets worse and worse and worse … until it all comes together in J.K. Rowling fashion. I loved getting to revisit the characters. The important thing, I think, is not to treat it as the 8th book but as what it is: the script for a play that takes you back to the wizarding world for one more adventure.

poem-she-didnt-writeThe Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis | This one was staggering. I absolutely adored it. It was like e.e. cummings had become a female spoken word artist. The rhythms were impossible to miss, even without hearing them, and I was exposed to a new vocabulary. I thought it the poem topics were really brave, and there were quite a few that she approached from such a stunningly unique perspective. The title poem, in particular, was mind-blowing. I will be purchasing her other books.

chinoiserieChinoiserie by Karen Rigby | This was the 2011 winner of the Sawtooth Poetry Award– and well deserved. Beautiful writing, rich imagery, the poems took me to other places, something I always love. I was happy to let this collection sink into my bones.

Review [via Insta]: Best Thought, Worst Thought by Don Paterson

This has been on my radar a while. Starting tonight.

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#BestThoughtWorstThought by Don Paterson

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#BestThoughtWorstThought Man, I need a new phone with a better camera. I shouldn't even be allowed on insta.

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#BestThoughtWorstThought

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#BestThoughtWorstThought

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All that to say, read it! Paterson’s aphorisms are a cross between poetry and personal essay, and I gobbled it up.

Review: When You are Happy by Eileen Spinelli

when you are happy.jpgEveryone needs a copy of this book in his or her home.

I’m a fan of Eileen’s husband Jerry (Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Maniac Magee, among many others). In a recent interview with Shelf Awareness, Jerry answered one question like this:

Book you are an evangelist for:

When You Are Happy by Eileen Spinelli. Yeah, I know, she’s my wife. But this 32-page picture book hits my trifecta: language, illustrations, message. Never before has so much humanity been packed into so few pages.

I thought, I need that.

I was right. This is what I posted on Instagram in the moments after finishing it.

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Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Series Review: The Heirs of Watson Island (No Spoilers!)

Last weekend I finished Illusion, the third book of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy by Martina Boone. This book, of course, builds on its two predecessors, so– in order to avoid spoilers– I just want to share with you what this series is about and the things I like about it.

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

Barrie Watson is a girl who, newly orphaned, moves to South Carolina to live with her Aunt Pru. There, she finds family secrets she never knew; magic that is hard to understand; and a super-cute boy who knows what she wants better than she knows herself.

heirs-trilogy

What I liked:

Eight. My gosh, dream boy. Eight Beaufort is sweet and thoughtful and gorgeous and funny and smart. Love him to pieces.

Barrie. She’s sassy and brilliant and refuses to be trampled on. My kinda girl!

The writing. It’s gorgeous. English is Martina Boone’s second language, and yet she has total mastery of it. The descriptions are to die for.

The south. Southern culture infiltrates every part of this book– but in a totally natural, not-at-all-distracting way.

The cultures. The book has stories and legends from diverse backgrounds, and they make the series so rich. I really appreciate that Boone did her research, and she even includes additional details in the pages after the books end.

Also interesting to note, the second book was my favorite one of the series– which is really unusual for me! Usually the second book in a series is my least favorite, as it often seems to just be a bridge. But Persuasion was my favorite!

Have you read this series? What did you think?

 

A Weekend of Poetry

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of lounging in my bed and reading three (!!!) collections of poetry. They were all wonderful, and all very different from one another.

Ultra-Cabin by Kimberly Lambright is described as post-ironic, a clever collection that showcases her total command of vocabulary. Fascinating and provocative.

Yes Thorn by Amy Munson is full of beautiful, thoughtful poetry that reminds me why the mysterious calls to me. Really unique rhythms to these poems, incredible depth of subject matter.

The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins features the poet’s trademark humor, which is always used in thought-provoking ways.

Bottom line: I need poetry. I’d forgotten how much.

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A Handful of Book Reviews

I’ve been traveling for work, and that means plenty of time for audiobooks, hooray! Here’s what I’ve recently read:


Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo | This is the sequel to Six of Crows, which I thoroughly adored. It was great to be back with Kaz, Inej, and the gang as they sought revenge and justice after the events of the first book. The characters are just so layered and complicated, something I admire and appreciate. This novel was a little harder for me to get into than its predecessor, probably because the heist didn’t seem apparent to me at first. Another difficult thing was having so many narrators to the audiobook. There were at least six, and while I LOVED some of them, there was one I couldn’t stand. And they all pronounced things differently, which, in a fantasy novel with unique names of people and locations, was especially confusing. All told, I did love it though and think Bardugo is brilliant. I am plot’s antihero, and I so admire writers who master it


Kids of Appetite by David Arnold | I absolutely adored Arnold’s debut novel Mosquitoland. I’d honestly never encountered a character voice as unique as Mim’s. Then I was on a panel with the author and he is just a lovely, hilarious, amazing person, which permanently made me a fan. Kids of Appetite was great, somehow both tremendously ambitious but also simple and straightforward. How Arnold managed the paradox, I’m not quite sure, but he did it well. This is the story of a boy named Vic who falls into step with a group of misfits and together they set out to accomplish Vic’s late father’s final wishes. There is mystery, romance, and GREAT imagery. The novel covers just one week, but it’s not unrealistic to see just how much Vic’s life changes in that short time. Very well done


Tell the Truth Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta | My favorite author, all time, hands down, as regular blog readers know. This is her first book in four years, so I was pretty much salivating for it. Although Marchetta most often writes YA, this novel was an adult crime novel. Let’s be honest: adult crime novels are not really in my wheelhouse. But Marchetta is, so there was no doubt I’d read it. It. Was. Masterful. Of course it was, she is the queen! At its core, this was still a novel about family, her trademark. And it was perfectly executed and I love the characters and it made my head spin and inspired me and intimidated me. And OH how relevant it is for right now. The story is about a British inspector named Bish (Bashir), whose teen daughter was on a bus when it was bombed in France. His daughter is shaken but unhurt, and all fingers immediately point to a girl on the bus whose grandfather was accused of terrorism. Bish gets pulled into that family’s life as he attempts to figure out who was really behind the bombing. The characters, you guys. I’m so in love. I would honestly read this woman’s grocery lists.

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

smallvictories1221-2A few things I know:

  1. I love Anne Lamott.
  2. She is an incredible writer and person.
  3. She loves God in her own irreverent way.
  4. I learn from her in everything of hers I read.

 

What this book is about:

“I have gotten lost all of my life, maybe more than most, and been found every time.”

 

My recommendation:

Read it. And then read everything else she’s ever written. Enjoy.

Resistance: The War of Art

war-of-art4I had in the past attempted to read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, but I’d been waylaid, I think due to the way he talks about mental illness in the book.

But this time I pressed through, and I really enjoyed it! I listened to the audio book on a long trip for work, and it only took about three hours from beginning to end. I probably could have read it even faster with the book in my hand.

The War of Art is about Resistance. It’s about anything that stops us from getting our creative work done– and about how to overcome it. Pressfield makes an extensive list of things that play into resistance: procrastination, of course, but also sex, trouble, drama, victimhood, self-doubt, fear, criticism, love, stardom. He’s not afraid to add things to the list that you and I would rather keep off it. This was pretty eye-opening for me.

war-of-art

In the second part of the book, he talks about “becoming a pro”– how to overcome Resistance. To be a professional, we need to show up, be prepared, be patient, ask for help, accept no excuses, among other things.

A quick excerpt:

In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There’s a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Crops is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.

This is invaluable for an artist.

Wow. Pressfield goes on to say:

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

Tell us how you really feel, Steven. 😉

But, honestly, this resonated with me. Writing is a mix of joy and misery; publication too. But what am I supposed to do? Ignore my calling? No. I need to become a pro.

war-of-art3

In the last part of his book, Pressfield talks about muses and angels– he takes the book to a whole other plane, reflecting on how the artist isn’t really in charge anyway. I’m sure he loses a lot of readers here, but not this girl. As a person of faith, I already believe something similar.

All told, this was a fast read and well worth it. In the days since finishing it, I’ve been able to recognize areas of Resistance in my life and to deal with them accordingly. Great, thoughtful book.

Review (& Thoughts On) The Art of Slow Writing by Louise deSalvo

slow writingSo, this book is called The Art of Slow Writing, but the truth is that I read it very slowly. It’s taken me months to finish this book, not because it wasn’t good (it was!) but because I’ve been so busy and overwhelmed, plus it has content I wanted to take in over time.

I really enjoyed this book– it was a constant reminder to let art run its course, to let books reveal themselves in their own time, to embrace the uncertainty of the writing life, and how important persistence is to she who wants to be an author.

 

 

Loved this:

uncertainty writing

I’m writing slowly right now. But that doesn’t mean I’m not working hard. I spent last Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday doing research, hammering out details, brainstorming, plotting, and finishing up my VERY LONG AND DETAILED synopsis, which is now up to thirteen pages, double-spaced. I could NOT have created this synopsis early on. I needed to spend over a year with this story and let ideas build and build before I could pull this blueprint together.

But now that it IS together, I have a map from the beginning to the end of my novel. I have 60K words written already, but SO MUCH editing to do … plus I’m imagining about another 20K left to write.

This page from deSalvo’s book is Where I Am At:

slow writing quote

It is one thing to amass 50 or 60 thousand words of prose. It’s an entirely different beast to shape those words into a book. I learned so much while writing Lights All Around— and learned even MORE writing Truest— but there is still so much to learn. Every new book is a new mountain. Climbing one mountain does not mean I know how to climb all mountains.

It’s fulfilling work, but it is most definitely WORK.