Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #11: This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley has written some 25 books and an equal number of short stories. His Devil in a Blue Dress was turned into a great noir-ish film starring Denzel Washington, and several others of his novels are or will be movies as well. His inner-city tales are described as “crime fiction,” but go well beyond the genre—they talk about white on black racism, black on black racism, social, political, cultural and class inequality, how we hold ourselves back, how we are held back, and more. I love his books, and the more philosophical he waxes (one of my favorite characters is named Socrates!), the more I love them. So when I learned that he had written a book entitled “This Year You Write Your Novel,”  I felt that one of my favorite authors was speaking directly to this frustrated  wannabe.

This slim volume is written in Mosley’s easy non-lecturing manner, and contains a lot of good basic advice and some real gems that set it apart. His first, last and most important lesson is that in order to write … you must write. Every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Whether it is stream-of-consciousness, snatches of plot ideas, character sketches, a chapter-by-chapter outline of your story, or a first draft from first page to last, you must put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and write. Mosley devotes chapters to how to build the armature that will support your novel, including point-of-view and dialogue, plot and character development, and even reluctantly offers a writing exercise or two. He talks about re-writing, how—or whether—to workshop your novel, how to find an agent, how to get published.

But Mosley then offers some profound insights, which I feel reflect the secret of his own success. He talks about the study of poetry as a way to learn both economy and elegance in writing prose. He talks about the understanding of music as language, of finding your novel’s internal rhythm and tapping into it. If you’ve ever read a Mosley novel, you’ll know just what he means. His spare language packs a wallop, and the drum beat is also just beneath the surface, if you listen for it. He talks about letting go of preconceptions of success or failure, of breaking through one’s own self-constraints and finding the subconscious other “you” which has its own thoughts and means of expression.

And he offers a piece of advice which, for me, sums up the essence of a good story: “The reader,” writes Mosley, “is always looking for two things in the novel:  themselves and transcendence.”

Thank you, Mr. Mosley. Now to put pen to paper ….

Leanna Moxley’s #cbr5 review #2: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

 

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The Sense of an Ending is only a few hundred pages long, a quick read that often refuses to delve deeply into scene or description. Instead, the book relays information the same way it would actually be remembered years later: as a story the narrator has crafted about his own life, a hazy story, missing details, second-guessed and puzzled over. It is a fast read, but not a light one. The seemingly slight words on the pages are more than a little troubling, and I left the book with a strong sense of being unsettled, jostled out of my narrative assumptions. Life is a story we tell ourselves, but life itself is not a story. Read more on my blog.

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #06 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I’ve read this book before. I will read this book again, probably many times. Writing an overly positive review without sounding too schmucky is hard, so I’ll keep this one pretty short. If you haven’t read Eggers before, I highly encourage you too. His style really sticks with you, be it fiction or non. His most recent book (A Hologram for the King) came out last summer and was on plenty 2012 top ten lists. This book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG), is still my favorite. And I admit, I’ve read pretty much everything he’s ever written. I’ve bought books based solely on the fact that he has written the forward. So, recognize my slight obsession, and on the one hand, take this glowing review with a grain of salt. On the other hand, READ THIS NOW.

Check out the rest here, benmitchelllewis.com, but be aware, I realllly like Eggers.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #16: The Traitor’s Wife

A prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter, I didn’t enjoy this novel nearly as much. Might work differently for other readers, but it felt off.

Originally published as The Wolves of Andover, this novel is a prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter. The heretic of the previous novel’s title is the wife in this story, and it makes sense that they changed the title to reinforce the connection between the novels. While I quite enjoyed The Heretic’s Daughter, and how it explored life in a small community during colonial times, this novel was oddly structured. Kathleen Kent is descended from Martha Carrier, one of the women to die during the Salem Witch Trials, and this novel attempts to give more of her back story. The novel itself is fiction though inspired by family and local legends, including the question of Thomas Carrier’s possible role as executioner of King Charles for Oliver Cromwell. The problem seems to be that Kent decided that the courtship between Martha and Thomas wasn’t enough for a full novel, and added in a story of political intrigue. While she is probably correct in believing that the actual courtship couldn’t have been expanded more, personally I think there would have been other ways to approach this, focusing on colonial life, even if it had simply been telling the story from a few more perspectives such as Patience, Martha’s cousin, or Daniel, Patience’s husband, for example.

Read the rest here.

Janel’s #CBR5 Review 3 – Preemie Parents by Tami Gaines

Tami Gaines addresses the emotional aspect of being a preemie parent and delivers a positive message of hope and action. She is truly an authority on this subject as she has lived the experience firsthand. Both her children were preemies (she gave birth to twins after only 25 weeks (her daughter spent 3-1/2 months in the neonatal intensive care unit, her son spent over 18 months). Preemie Parents is an inspiring, personal guide that will help parents of preemies learn valuable lessons in coping and becoming effective advocates for their children.

I found this book looking for a preemies book that would share experiences with raising premature children. At first, I found Tami’s story interesting, but as I read more and more of the book I just felt sad for her. Tami’s story is extreme and not like the average preemie story.

This book could be a one part of any education for a new parent of a preemie just starting their NICU journey, but it shouldn’t be the only story they read. For me at our stage of our journey, I didn’t learn too much that I already knew. Some of her advice would not be realistic for every parent of a preemie. Overall this book didn’t satisfy the need I was trying to fulfill.

Janel’s #CBR5 Review 2 Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

ImageMindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers. Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

 

 

 

As I am just jumping into this e-book world, one of my friends suggested that I read this memoir for some lighter side reading on my iPad. I have watched Mindy on The Office, but I didn’t know much more about her.

I enjoyed this book and read it over a few early morning while rocking my daughter to sleep. The book is part storytelling part stream of consciousness that pulls the reader in. If you read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, then you would like this book as well.

kmc1138’s #CBR5 Review #3: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Image I was at first very disappointed by how much I had to try to read “The Casual Vacancy.” I expected to want to devour it in one weekend, like I had done all of the author’s novels (despite their volume). But for the first two thirds of the book, I found myself plodding through only a chapter or two every other night.

I can’t wholeheartedly fault J.K. Rowling for my issues. I have always had a problem with any fiction that largely features a cast of characters that I neither like nor find relatable; the characters can be brilliantly written into a plot of labyrinthine intrigues, but if I don’t like ‘em, it’s over. And it took a great while for me to find reasons to be invested in these characters, but once I did the novel became a marathon to the finish.

The book tells of the residents of a small town in England and reminds me a lot of 90’s era Robert Altman. It’s only through reading the connections between characters that the purpose of the novel is revealed, rather than by the actions of those characters. As someone who grew up in a town with a population of approximately 380 people (seriously), I can tell you with no exaggeration that the overseas setting sets no limits as to experience. I knew these characters growing up, and I didn’t really like them then, either. Pagford, just like my home town, is a place where not only does everyone know each other, everyone has very definitive opinions on each other as well. The children in the novel were the first to become sympathetic – at first, I couldn’t really find my reason to care for them. But they quickly grew on me as, just as it seems in real life sometimes, the children were the first to want to rise above their shortcomings. The adults either didn’t realize they were a problem or felt that their own miseries were naught but a cause to share unhappiness and discomfort.

All of this changed in the last third of the book. Loose connections became a game of tight cause and effect, and characters, as they often do in the face of tragedy, came to revelations with their own inadequacies and talked to one another instead of stewing in their own tepid hate. The climax of the book made all of the footwork through the first chapters absolutely worth it.

A note on villains, and perhaps a spoiler, so read with caution: Sometimes a villain stays a “favorite” because we secretly like him. Maybe we identify with him, or maybe we secretly wish we could take away a small part of him into our own lives. Rarely is a villain a “favorite” simply because of his utter lack of sympathetic traits, but Shirley Mollison is exactly that villain for me. She remained despicable to her very last narrative passage, and I absolutely love Rowling for not giving her one hint of a redemption, especially when it would have been so easy to give the character a moment of apologetic insight. Shirley Mollison is a grand villain in non-fantasy literature.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #14: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

World War II novel about an interracial couple and how they deal with the Japanese internment camps, their family’s reactions and the war in general. Not bad, but the characters were somewhat generic – it would have been much better if I had truly cared about the characters. Still, it included some interesting pieces of information, and I love to read about anything WWII related.

reginadelmar’s #CBRV review #6 Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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I liked this book for a number of reasons: it is a British mystery adventure that includes fantasy, morality, humor and a blind single-toothed pug. It’s British in a good way: think Sherlock (Cumberbatch version) rather than fusty Julian Fellowes. Surprisingly Harkaway is the son of John LeCarre. Both write thrillers, but they exist in different worlds. In Angelmaker there is no hint of John Smiley’s control and calculation, it’s chaos, magic, improbable and loads of fun.

Joe Spork is the son of gangster who is straight as an arrow.  He’s chosen to follow his grandfather’s craft of clockworks and automata mechanic rather than carry off heists and burglaries like his dad. He’s made it past thirty-five years of age, battles an unwelcome cat, and is romantically unattached. So how does Joe end up making this call?

“Billy’s dead, Mercer.  I’ve just found him.”

“Dead like slipped on a boar of soap or like Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead piping?”

“Very much the latter.”

The mischief-maker who started the clock running is Edie, a 90-year old retired secret agent, who by her own account has gone “postal.” Fed up with the state of the world, she has decided to make a difference. “A mysterious difference, whose precise nature she did not understand, but whose originator swore would rock the world and unravel the darkness of a thousand years.”

While home base is London, history takes us back to the land of the Opium Khan, introduces a  French mathematician, a village in Cornwall that fell into the sea, and an underground London that is not the Tube. Add in a cult of “Ruskinites” gone crazy, government agents, a train, a sub, golden bees and the story takes off.

Harkaway has a brilliant sense of humor and fun, writing in a chewy delicious way.  This chewiness made me slow down to enjoy the details of the characters, and read some of the funny bits out loud to my husband. A definite thumbs up!