This will be my last book and book review for 2013. I definitely don’t have time to read and review another one, and I’m already looking forward to Cannonball Read 6 and the books I’ll be reading next year.
“I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or someone would just tell me what’s wrong with me. Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all go away. And disappear. I know that’s wrong because it’s my responsibility, and I know that things get worse before they get better because that’s what my psychiatrist says, but this is a worse that feels too big.” (139)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky was a book I would not have read if it weren’t for my new book club. I saw the movie, which was all right, but I was distracted by Hermione and I didn’t love it. I also rarely read a book after having seen the movie. The visuals from the movie are too strong and interfere with my imagination. But it’s a short book, so I figured I could suck it up for my friends. And I liked it! Much more than the movie. Charlie’s insight and inner thoughts came across much more clearly for me in writing than on the screen. Not that the movie did a bad job, it just has its limits. I still wish I’d read the book before seeing the movie, but I’m glad I read it.
I’ve had The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself (2007) by Susan Bell on my to-read list ever since I decided to try NaNoWriMo about seven months ago. I can’t remember how I originally found The Artful Edit, but I quickly decided to postpone reading it until after I had actually written something to edit. And that’s how I came to be reading it in December.
Susan Bell taught a New York’s New School graduate writing class in self-editing, and I think the idea for the book came from that class. Bell separates the book into five separate chapters: one about stepping away from your work to gain perspective; one focused on macro-editing; the next on micro-editing; a “master class” delving into editing for different artists (i.e. photography); and finally a brief history on editing and how it’s changed throughout the years. Although this book was more school learnin’ than entertainment, I found it generally interesting and helpful. The chapters end with a quick summation of the suggestions discussed in the chapter, and I think I’ll keep those for further reference. The last chapter dragged, and was more challenging to push through, although Bell still managed to relate it back to our own works.
Unlike No Plot? No Problem!, which got me started on the whole NaNoWriMo adventure, The Artful Edit is a little more intimidating. Instead of encouraging laypeople that anyone can do it, Bell dissects great literary texts and quotes and discusses countless famous authors (only some of whom I actually knew). I definitely got the sense that this book was for “real” writers. Part of me felt desperately out of my league. However, Bell also had a number of famous authors describe their own editing processes, which turned out to be quite varied. Not only was this fascinating, but it was freeing to see that what works depends on who you are and how you work.
One of the main teaching elements of The Artful Edit was the use of The Great Gatsby. Bell liberally used quotes from earlier versions with comparisons to the final draft, as well as some enlightening correspondence between Fitzgerald and his editor to illustrate various aspects of writing and editing. The examples were helpful as illustrations, but it was also fascinating to see the building of something so famous. I’m certainly not looking to write a great classic: an understandable story that I let some of my friends read would count as a major accomplishment, but it was inspiring to see how much difference editing can make in a text. I haven’t even looked at my first draft since the end of November, but reading this book has me excited to get back into it.
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I picked up Suddenly You (2001) by Lisa Kleypas because I was still craving some romance after finishing Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed an Earl. It’s not that I disliked I Kissed an Earl, but I kept waiting for a comforting kind of intimacy that I never found. Apparently I have very specific needs for my romance. Thus, with my romance craving unfulfilled, I tried another one.
After reviewing, The Runaway Duke by Julie Anne Long, Mrs. Julien recommended that I move on to Long’s Pennyroyal Green Series. Dutifully following her expert opinion, I picked up I Kissed an Earl (2010)–one of the middle books of the series–I think. I chose this one primarily because it was immediately available on Kindle from my library.
Violet Redmond is beautiful, smart, spoiled, and bored. She is used to attention and getting whatever she wants. She is also very loyal and loving to her family. So when she discovers that her missing brother might actually be rampaging the seas as the notorious pirate Le Chat, she springs into action to find him and protect him.
Violet’s plan involves sneaking onto the ship of the man ordered by the king to capture Le Chat–the recently appointed Earl of Ardmay. With naivety and optimism, Violet believes she can find her brother and figure out what’s going on before the Earl–thereby saving her brother from a hangman’s noose. Although I found this rather unbelievable, it did get Violet and the Earl on the same ship with cross purposes, guaranteeing some strife and betrayal.
I had mixed feelings about this book, so it might be easiest if I split it up into likes and dislikes.
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It seems that most of the books I read these days are inspired by other Cannonballers. I first heard of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012) by Rachel Joyce from Cannonball Read, and it was the positive reviews that made me want to read it. And I did like it, but it’s difficult to sum up my feelings for this one. On the one hand, I’d just read an English family drama before starting on Fry, and I was ready for something different. I often felt impatient while Harold continued walking…and walking. But Harold’s struggles have stayed with me. I was not too surprised when I read at the end of the book that Rachel Joyce had written this while she was coming to terms with her own father’s death from cancer. It was poignant and real. If I’d been in a more introspective mood rather than yearning for adventure stories, I may have even liked it more.
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“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Life After Life (2013) by Kate Atkinson is another book that I heard about through Cannonball. The reviews were positive enough to draw me in, although the premise reminded me of Groundhog Day and I worried how the book would work without becoming tedious. I shouldn’t have worried. The above quote isn’t an accurate depiction of what occurs, and I found a surprisingly thought-provoking and moving story instead.
Ursula Todd was born in a village in England in 1910. She immediately dies, choked by the umbilical cord. And she is born again. This continues throughout the book as different versions and variations of Ursula’s life are examined through her coming of age and two world wars.
I should know by now not to start reading any romance novels if I want to get anything done–especially good ones. I picked up The Runaway Duke (2004) by Julie Anne Long this morning and now it’s evening. I haven’t done anything useful all day, but I’m done with the novel. Sometimes I think I need days just for decompressing and stress relief. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
So, this is the second book I’ve read by Julie Anne Long and I think I like her combination of likable characters, adventure, danger, and mystery. Sometimes the coincidences bringing everything together were laughable, but since I was being entertained, I didn’t mind.
I was going to wait until I could get Allegiant (2013), the third book in the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth from the library. I’d really gotten into the first book (Divergent), and only kind of liked the second one (Insurgent), so I wasn’t in a huge rush to finish up the series. However, some of my friends started up a new book club, and I wasn’t able to wait.
Allegiant picks up right where Insurgent left off. Unfortunately, Insurgent didn’t exactly enthrall me, so I had trouble recollecting both the plot and most of the secondary characters. Roth apparently doesn’t like to recap, so almost all of the secondary characters remained pretty meaningless to me.
I’m struggling with a review here, partly because I’m exhausted, and partly because I just don’t feel strongly about this one. I was disappointed. I liked the first book, but the second and third just didn’t do it for me. But I also didn’t really dislike it, either, so I just don’t have much to say. As far as young adult, dystopian trilogies go, I’d have to vote for The Hunger Games.
Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell is her third book and the third one by her that I’ve read. In fact, Rowell is on my list of “read everything she writes, no matter what the topic.” Rowell’s latest book centers around Cath, a young woman from Omaha, Nebraska, leaving her father and home for the first time to attend college in Lincoln. Cath is a strong introvert, also dealing with social anxiety and self esteem problems. Any new situations are challenging, so the upheavel in her life that college represents is very difficult for her. Cath’s twin sister, Wren, is also starting college, but instead of sustaining their comforting pairing, Wren wants to break out and meet new people. Cath’s life is centered around writing fan fiction for a young adult fantasy series, and it is this that she uses to avoid dealing with her real life. The book follows Cath through her first year of college. Like Rowell’s other books, this was a nice, sweet story, with realistic, likable people dealing with their own personal challenges. Cath deals with some heavy problems, including her relationship with her mother and mental illness in her family, but the main focus on the story is Cath growing into her life.
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I had, of course, heard of In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote, and I think I’ve seen at least parts of Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite all this, reading an entire book on a series of grisly murders never really appealed to me. It wasn’t until I saw In Cold Blood up at the top of a list of favorite non-fiction books on Goodreads, a list that was full of other books that I’d read and loved, that I figured I should see what I’ve been missing.
In Cold Blood tells the true and detailed story of two men who met in jail, got out on parole, and killed a family (the parents and two younger teenagers) at a rural farm in a small town in Kansas. Capote hits all sides of this crime. You learn all about the victims, the murderers, the hunt for the two men after the fact, the killers’ run from the law, the trial, their ultimate punishment, and how all of this affected the people living in Holcomb, Kansas.