Sunday, June 28, 2009

Unforgettable Story of Forgetting

Whew! I completed the second week of my consulting gig and believe me, I am tired. I'd forgotten what a set schedule can do to a person. I mean, who gets up before 11am?

Oh, right. I do now.

Anyway, I finished reading a fantastic novel this week titled, The Story of Forgetting.

Told from two perspectives that are at once nearly polar and intimately linked, this astounding debut captures an air of the fantastical while presenting one family's heartfelt battle with Alzheimer's. Seth Waller is a 15-year-old Austin, Tex., science nerd determined to discover the reason behind his mother's recent mental breakdown. Abel Haggard, living on his family farm just past the Dallas suburbs, is an aging recluse roiled by memories of his one true love: Mae, his brother Paul's wife. The two had a torrid affair while Paul served in Korea, forcing Mae to conceal the paternity of her baby when she became pregnant. Both Seth and Abel speak of a fantasy land named Isidora, which exists outside of our physical world, but which becomes a common thread in piecing this delicately woven story together. Each character is a product of a different time and place, but as Seth delves deeper into his scientific investigation and Abel's troubled life is further revealed, the two stories meet in an emotional and memorable climax. Block displays an innate gift for developing believable characters each with his own distinct voice. The result is a story that's compulsive and transporting.

Though sometimes highly scientific, the story, with its tense subject matter and character interactions, moved at a terrific pace. I remained riveted from the first page onward. The interjections of Isidora, a fairytale passed down through generations, flowed along the main plot like a bubbling stream winding through a meadow.

From a writing perspective, the technique was clean and effective. I felt like I knew the characters and empathized with them at every step.

A word of caution – this book is not for a young audience. There are mature themes as well as lengthy descriptions of a disease that kills mental function at an early age.

Side Note:
This is author Stephan Merrill Block's debut novel. Amazing.

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Music and Writing

Hello, fellow wordsmiths!

I've been thinking about the process of writing. Everyone's approach is different. For me, I like to lock myself away and listen to music while creating or editing. Time and responsibilities fall away, leaving only me and the words to drift along in harmony.

How do you write? Does music help you?

Last week, my friend and I debated the influence of lyrics on prose. As much as I can tell, lyrics don't tend to bleed into my passages as much as they inspire a certain feeling or mood, but I can see how distracting words sung in succession might be. We both decided that listening to movie soundtracks was a good compromise. With that in mind, I've recently discovered a few inspirational soundtracks that have helped me with the Elementalist Series. They are:


Revolutionary Road

The International

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Bram Stoker's Dracula

I'm always looking for more music suggestions. Please send some recommendations my way. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Deliverance Dane

Now that I have a day job, my rate of finishing books has stalled a bit (as has my blog post cadence). The days of reading at my leisure between episodes of "I Love Lucy" and "Oprah" have been replaced by moments of hastily plowing through passages during lunch breaks and before bed. Welcome to the real world, me.

Enough with the pity party. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane intrigued me and I looked forward to our daily rendezvous.

Plot: Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest—to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge. As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials in the 1690s and a modern woman’s story of mystery, intrigue and revelation.

Review: I was hooked from the very beginning. The Salem witch trials have always fascinated me so I started the book wanting to completely lose myself in the story.

The pace slowed toward the middle and since I'm not one who obsesses upon academia, some of the tension between Connie and Professor Chilton seemed dry. Also, Connie’s love interest, Sam, didn't come alive for me. The chemistry between them was like flat Diet Coke.

However, the story exploded toward the end when all of the clues came together and Connie discovered her history. As the pace picked up with the 1690's timeline, the 1990's story also quickened. The Deliverance Dane plotline (1690's) amazed me and made me not able to put the book down.

Side Note: Katherine Howe, the author, is related to Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and also Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

“Pulp Faction” Book

As you may have guessed, I’m an avid reader. I started Family Plots: Love, Death & Tax Evasion at the dentist office last Friday morning and finished it a few hours later. It was that good.

*WARNING* This book will make you cry.
Set in the San Francisco Bay Area (sigh), Mary weaves a tale full of intrigue and suspense in a fabric laced with joy and sorrow. Part fact and part fiction, she calls her creation the first of a new genre: Pulp Faction.

Plot: Family Plots is a fresh and funny autobiographical novel about a young mother trying against all odds to create a normal family life with her new husband, a criminal attorney, who-it turns out-is committing a few crimes of his own. The novel offers readers a wry, unsentimental account of a marriage barreling toward calamity. In an attempt to find romance, family, and financial stability, its struggling heroine stumbles into a world of pseudonyms, fake weddings, and hidden bank accounts. Events that land many of the players into the family cemetery plot also reveal unexpected secrets and stashes that manage, in small ways, to transform a tale of seeming tragedy into one of surprising healing and redemption.

Side Note: Mary Patrick Kavanaugh was kind enough to attend my critique group a few weeks ago with the purpose of showing us the ins-and-outs of marketing and self-publishing our works. A dynamic speaker, she has now impressed me with her written voice.

Grade: A

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not-so-good Summer Read

On my way home from San Francisco, I picked up the latest issue of Real Simple magazine and read an article recommending new books for summer. Naturally, I logged into Amazon and loaded my cart with lots of fun titles, including The Scenic Route. Yes, I am an easy sale.

Plot: Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate. Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent—as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged friends, of dead ducks and Alma Mahler. Her narrative is a tapestry of remembrances and regrets...and her secret shame: a small, cowardly sin of omission. Yet when the opportunity arises for Sylvia and Henry to do something small but brave, the refrain "if only" returns to haunt her, leaving Sylvia with one more story of love lived and lost.

Review: My journey on The Scenic Route stalled midway. After only getting through the first 150 pages, I put it down and walked away. I really did try to read it. Honest. It went with me to the doctor’s office. I brought it with me to the gym. I even attempted to read it every night before bed. Like a bad motor, I couldn’t get the darn pages to turn over.

My reasons for stopping:
1 – It read like a patched-up memoir complete with ugly words and jumping timelines.
2 – The protagonist wasn’t relatable.
3 – There were tons of word repetitions. It was like rolling a vacuum forward, backing up, and going over the same spot again. I’m not sure if that’s just her style, but seeing the same words, even the same sentences, repeated in succession bothered me. I love when authors find new ways to explain things, adding depth by increasing emphasis, but this was plain annoying.
4 – The story didn’t move even though the characters traveled all over Europe. I was bored.

Grade: D

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I Won!

Thanks to Marybeth Poppins' spectacular gnome-naming contest, I am now the proud owner of Gnorris the Wee Little Garden Gnome. *cheers and applause*
Things are looking up. :)