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Writing Bliss

"If they do not write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves." -C.S. Lewis

Month

August 2015

Book Review: The Listener by Shira Nayman

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This is an older title, published in 2009.  I just wanted to mention that because the books I’ve been reviewing recently are newer.  Since I started working for the library, however, I’m grabbing books off the shelf left and right regardless of publication date.  I’m still trying to find old books that still ring with readability!
But unfortunately, this was not one of those books.  This was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. I’m a sucker for good cover art and this one won me over. I’m usually one of those people who, after a chapter two, if I’m not drawn in, I call it quits. There was a pull about this book that I couldn’t let go because I kept hoping it would get better. I think the biggest flaw in this book was that it was written by a psychologist as opposed to a literary author/novelist. I understand that because this book took place in a mental institution post-WWII there would be some psychiatric language but this book was just downright disorienting! The author would end scenes mid-conversation, she left a whole host of questions unanswered, and it was just maddening to read the thoughts of this doctor who clearly was insane himself. The drama of his personal life did not draw me in at all, and I never felt attached to any of the characters, with the exception of perhaps Bertram because of his wartime experiences. But overall I thought this book had flat characters, a dull story line, and was very poorly written.

Book Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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It shocks me that this was a debut novel because had I not known that, I would have assumed this book was written by a veteran bestseller author. Swyler has a language all her own and a sharp eye for literary detail. I listened to the audiobook instead of reading a physical copy so that may be why I was so in tune with her descriptions. In an audiobook you’re forced to hear every word as opposed to accidentally skipping occasional lines when reading. There are such vivid descriptions in this story that on several occasions I actually felt transported into the world of Simon Watson and Amos and Evangeline. I loved how the narration went back a forth between the modern world and the world of 18th century traveling circuses. The two stories blended together beautifully and ended very appropriately together.

I think my favorite part of this book was the main theme of the importance of family. The fact that all the characters in Simon’s story were in some way connected to the characters from the 1770’s storyline was very poignant. It drew along the lines of fate entwining in the most unexpected places. It was ironic, and fitting, that Amos, the main character of the 1774 story had no family and that the circus became his family and that his story led into Simon’s story where the characters all stem from the circus people.

The second most important theme in this book was the importance of paper. As a librarian, I cherish this lesson. Once written on paper things seem to be finalized, and they become real. Reality is something neither Simon nor Enola wanted to face in this story but as a necessity to life they had to. The important thing is they didn’t have to do it alone. It took going through trials together to understand and appreciate one another.

I think my only complaint about the book was the flatness of some of the characters. Simon did become interesting to me toward the end, but his complacency was extremely irritating at times! I think there was a small part of me that wanted to see more of his relationship with Alice. I’ve always been a fan of childhood sweethearts (even if their romance did not blossom until adulthood). I did, however love the switch in the voice of the narrator at the very end. Instead of narrating from Simon’s perspective, it switched to third person and it just seemed to fit.

I recommend this book to book lovers especially. We can all understand the connection we make with certain books, especially very old ones. I also recommend it for anyone who has made sacrifices for family and understands the instinct to put blood before all else.

The Researching Reader

The Researching Reader

Do you find yourself researching as you read? This is something I just discovered myself doing recently. In an attempt to broaden my vocabulary, I will look up any word that I have the slightest question about its meaning. Because of my Latin background, sometimes I can deduce or guess a word’s meaning but to know for sure I look it up. Not only do I look it up, I write it down so I can go back to it later. Certain words stick out to me and I may use them later in my won writing.

I also found myself looking up other things such as events or people. Also, I look up various other items. For example, today when I was reading, two characters began discussing the painting Las Meninas by Velázquez. Since I am not familiar with fine art, I had never seen the painting before so in order to familiarize myself with the conversation and at least be aware of the subject of their discussion, I Googled the painting. Was this a necessary action? Maybe not, but as a reader I was now more informed than if I had just indulged in the conversation blindly without the slightest idea of the image being discussed.

There have also been times when I doubt an author’s research in writing historical fiction. Sometimes I have been proved wrong by my search, other times I have been right, discredited the author, and my trust in them was shattered (thankfully, this has not happened often).

How often do you, as a reader, research what you’re reading?

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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This is the story of Isabelle and Vianne, two sisters living in France during the time of the Nazi occupation. The two could not be more different from one another and that storyline is one that has been done before. The women have also had a tumultuous relationship with their father since the passing of their mother; another repeated narrative effect. What sets this book apart from other novels that have done the same thing is the way in which author Kristin Hannah weaves them all together.

Beginning the novel, and scattered intermittently throughout, is narration that takes place in 1995 by an unknown elderly women. As the story goes on, with narration from both Vianne and Isabelle from 1939 through 1944, the reader still has no idea who the woman of 1995 is. Which sister survived to tell the completed tale? Hannah has a remarkable ability to evoke raw emotions from her readers. I had to stop myself from crying on several occasions because I was at work! I think the best part of this book was its touch of humanity. Amid all the turmoil and heartache there is love, which sounds like a literary cliché, but it so refreshingly true. If every reader looks into their own life, can it not be said that they grow closer to people in times of strife?

Bottom line it, this was one of the best stories I’ve read in years. This book evoked every single emotion my body could muster. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to absolutely murder someone when I got so angry I could only see red. This book is fiction, yes. The characters are made up but the events in this story are true and were all too real for millions of people in occupied France during World War II. Everyone should read this book and see the evil that humanity is capable of and know that it could happen again unless we learn to LOVE. The ultimate theme in this book was love and how powerful it is. Kristin Hannah created such vivid and believable characters in Isabelle and Vianne. She captured the heart of what it means to be sisters and the meaning of courage and sacrifice. I recommend this beautifully written and almost poetic story to anyone, regardless of what genre you normally read. This book is relevant to everyone and I cannot say anything negative about it at all. Just read it.

Where I’ve Been, Where I’ve Wanted to Be

As part of my new job with a local library, I am required to complete a few online courses and I chose (shocker, I know) WRITING CLASSES!! Frequently, I plan to share some of my assignments with you for feedback and exposure. Today’s assignment is about writing with the senses. As writers our job is to transport our readers to experience the sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and tastes of our story. Our job for this assignment was to choose two places: one place we’ve been to, and the other someplace foreign we wish could visit. I hope you enjoy and I hope that I can transport you somewhere other than in front of your computer screen. Can you tell by the writing where I’ve been, and where I’ve wanted to go?

Nightly Concert at LP Field on Sunday, June 10 during the 2011 CMA Music Festival in Downtown Nashville.

Anyone who has been to Nashville, and even those who have not, can tell you it’s called Music City for a reason. With famous country artists plastered on billboards, cowboy boots on every bar sign, and the smell of fried chicken filling every street, it is hard to mistake it for any other city in America. There is, however, one time of the year that is the most exciting time to be in Nashville. The second week in June of every year, Music City is the host to the biggest country music festival in the nation; the CMA Music Festival. We’re talking thousands of country music fans descending upon the city listening to dozens of famous country music stars and small-town hopeful bands on multiple stages. The huge convention center is open and fans can meet their favorite artists, enter contests, buy merchandise, and participate in the silent auction. Restaurants and hotels are full to the brim of traveling tourists from all parts of the world, bars offer wicked drink specials, and LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, turns into a concert party every night with four or five A-list performers. Nashville is a city on fire most days of the year, but for four days in June, Music City hosts country music’s biggest party.

The first time I attended the CMA Music Festival, I met some friends outside the Country Music Hall of Fame and this is the perfect place to introduce someone to Nashville. It is in the heart of the city and is surrounded by the convention center, multiple stages, food vendors, and across the street is the bridge taking fans to LP Field and the parking lots. There is such a bustle of excitement downtown, especially the day before the festival actually starts. The city is loud from bands and crowds of people in the street but it is not an unbearable loud. The bars smell of beer and fried chicken; the scent of which seeps into the streets and mingles with the odor of cigarette and cigar smoke. Nashville is so vivid this time of year you can practically taste everything you smell. You taste the fried foods, the beer, and cigars as if you were consuming them yourself.

Amid all the hubbub and noise, there is incredible sense of community during CMA Fest. When you stand in line in the convention centers to meet artists, you meet the most amazing and friendly people who have the same passion for country music and are just there to have a good time. You make friends with the people in line and you look out for one another. One year, my friends and I were standing in the back of LP Field listening to the nightly concert and beside us stood a young man with Down Syndrome and his aging mother. He was having the time of his life but we could tell that his mother was having a hard time standing up for that extended period of time. My friend leaned over and encouraged her to go sit behind us on one of the benches and that he would keep an eye on her son. She did so, thanked us profusely, and enjoyed the concert from a comfortable distance while her son danced and sang safely within her eyesight. This is the type of comradery that takes place in Nashville. It’s just that kind of a friendly town.

The best place to be during CMA Fest is at LP Field for the nightly concerts. Although the tickets for this event are fairly pricey, they pale in comparison to the cost one would spend individually at concert for each artist who performs. The NFL stadium holds nearly 60,000 people and when the party gets started in this facility, this place starts rocking! There was just an amazing moment one year when Lee Greenwood performed his famous song “Proud to be an American,” and the entire stadium of tens of thousands of people joined together to sing with him. It sent chills down my spine. When an artist has a famous ballad or religious themed song, many people will pull out lighters and cell phones and the whole stadium lights up in the darkness singing along. These are the moments that, despite being aired a few months later for the whole world to see on public television, cannot be duplicated or even properly explained. You just have to be there.

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Nothing can compares to Paris in springtime. Paris is nice all year round, but something about spring makes the city come alive like no other time of the year. While walking through the heart of Paris, you can smell the freshly baked baguettes as the local bakeries attempt to meet the demand of both local Parisians and the tourists. I was a bit surprised at how many bakeries were in the very center of town and how strong the bread scent was; I found it rather stereotypical. The occasional smell of pipe tobacco can be found from the old men sitting outside the pubs and drinking ale. Unexpectedly, the locals favor the same spots as the tourists and the two dwell together in a beautiful harmony. Despite the buzz of being a major city, there are tons of plants throughout the city. Walk down any side street and you’re bound to go past a restaurant or a bookshop that is littered with flowers and shrubs in gorgeous planter boxes. Their fragrance mingles with the smell of the fresh food and it is just intoxicating. The smells may well be the best part of a trip to Paris.

All roads lead to the Arc de Triomphe; at least that’s how it feels when you visit the famous monument. It is surrounded by a circle to which all major roads in and out of the city connect. While you’re there you can’t help but feel a cool spring breeze brush across your face since it has easy access to you with no buildings too close to block it, and the wind is assisted by the speed of the cars going by. These same cars are filling the air with the sounds of their horns and the occasional brake squeals. Sometimes when you’re standing there, looking at the history of one of the world’s most beloved cities, you feel like you’re in an international airport. Dozens of touring families who are not fortunate to call Paris home are taking pictures of one another, speaking in their native tongues, adding an aura of appreciation to the historical structure. I made a point to approach the Arc and gently place my hand on the cold stone which was constructed so long ago. I can almost feel the weight of history on it as I hear the tour guide explain its significance in a heavily French accented English.

There is no better way to see Paris and all that it has to offer than being in the Eiffel Tower. The hours long wait is totally worth the final result. You can literally see the entire city. Your eyes cannot fake the pleasure they receive while on the observation decks of the Eiffel Tower. A friend who was studying in Paris at the time had met us for this visit because despite being in the city for a year, she had not yet visited the Tower. Being in that visual spot with someone who knows the city makes it all the more special. They can point out things that we would never have thought to look for; the street she lived on, her favorite restaurant, our hotel. It is even more remarkable once you are up that high, when you consider that this monument has survived multiple wars, air raids, bombs, terrorism, and the test of time. You earn a whole new level of respect for such an awe-inspiring sight, from the ground and from above.

Book Review: One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

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I liked this book less than I did Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train but I still enjoyed it. I think my biggest complaint against the book would be the perspective and timeline jump. As I mentioned in my review of The Girl on the Train, Chick Suspense as a genre tends to jump around in the narrative. At least with the previously mentioned titles, the author clearly marks her chapters with a name so you know whose perspective you’re reading and a date so you know where in the timeline you stand. This book, however, did not do that. Seskis just jumps around from one person to the next and not in chronological order. It can be very disorienting at times and while that may have been her point to do so, I did not see the literary purpose in such a technique.

I did, however, really enjoy her twist at the end which to me was better than the twist in Gone Girl. Of course the whole point of the book is to make the reader guess what Emily’s big secret is and why she left a seemingly perfect life. The author did something unexpected for me in creating her female character. She gave her lead character an identical twin. The surprising circumstances of their birth leads to the girls being complete and polar opposites of one another which becomes a crucial element to the story. I found both women sympathetic. Unlike Rachel in The Girl on the Train who brings her problems upon herself, the women in this story are victims of fate and circumstance, something to which everyone can relate. Everyone faces tragedy in their life and everyone responds to it differently so in that sense, Seskis made her characters’ actions not only believable, but also understandable.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads and the only thing that kept it from receiving full marks was the jump in perspective and time. It was just too confusing at times, but I really enjoyed the story and the characters. I highly recommend it as a pleasure read to anyone looking to take up some spare time. I think, however, that because in the obscure timeline and point of view shift that this book would make a decent film adaptation. Just a thought.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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I really liked this book. Despite the fact that this type of book seems to be at its height of popularity right now, I found it refreshing that Hawkins took a fresh spin on things. This type of book is of the genre I like to refer to as “Chick Suspense.” I derived it from the known informal genre, “Chick Lit.” Of course your average Chick Lit contains a female lead character with a series of events that usually have her crossing paths with a man with whom she may conflictingly become romantically entangled while discussing her life problems with her female best friend, or a sister, all coming to the standard conclusion of a general happy ending. Chick Suspense is a completely separate genre from this. I don’t particularly like Chick Lit, but the few Chick Suspense titles I have read have truly intrigued me. This genre features a female main character and these types of books usually follow a similar jumpy timeline. The author changes perspectives frequently and may go back in time and then suddenly bring the reader back to main story. At first I found this confusing but I eventually got used to it. I like the use of this form in order to create the suspense; just when you get really involved in a certain part of the story, it shifts to something else.

The Girl on the Train is one of many in this genre and it joins Gone Girl on the bestsellers list. I enjoyed Gone Girl because I never saw the twist coming. I never saw the supertwist coming that took place in the last few chapters of the book. I enjoyed The Girl on the Train despite being able to accurately predict the end, which normally would irritate me. For some reason this story still kept me fully invested even after I reached the point where I was pretty sure how it would end. I had this indescribable urge to see the story through to the end. I never felt particularly sympathetic to Rachel, the main character, because of her heavy drinking problem. I have family members who suffer from the same addiction so I am the last person to judge her but there were times when I was angry with her for her habit. So many of her problems could have been eliminated if she just put the bottle down! That kind of frustration was what attracted me to the book, however. I was clearly attracted to the main character enough to wish that she would do better for herself.

I loved the concept of an outsider looking in. Here is this seemingly unaware girl just riding on the train to work every day and she makes up the lives of the people she sees in their homes doing mundane, every-day tasks. It’s funny because whenever I ride the train, be it when I used to live near DC or when I visit friends in New York, I often think the same thing. When I see two people on their terrace during a week day, I wonder what they do for a living. When I see a young person wandering the streets I wonder what they’re up to. And, yes, when I pass a deserted field or a run-down mill or a closed brick building that looks like it could be haunted, I wonder if there’s a dead body hidden in there. It’s the writer in me I guess. Either way, her scenario is not far-fetched to those of us who are aware of our surrounding everywhere we go, even riding on a train.

Overall, I enjoyed to sense of realism this book offered and I liked the authenticity with which the author penned her story. I like that I was both attracted to and repulsed by some of her characters. I also enjoyed to pace with which she told the story; I was always waiting for more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who liked Gone Girl, and I also recommend it even it is outside the genre you typically read from. As anyone who follows my blog knows I am usually a fantasy girl, but I really enjoyed this book and it was a worthwhile read.

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