Book Review: Word Painting Revised Edition the Fine Art of Writing Descriptively, by Rebecca McClanahan

For November, and NaNoWriMo month for many of my fellow writers, I thought it would be appropriate to review a book that covers an important part of writing craft – description. There aren’t many books out there about this topic and indeed it would be a challenge to cover the subject in a way that didn’t sound just a little bit crazy. This book does an admirable job.

About the book:

In ten chapters McClanahan discusses different ways to approach the art of turning mundane descriptions into word paintings that grab the reader’s attention and helps feel part of the world they’re reading about. She explores using the different senses, how descrioption can help the reader understand character and setting, and using figurative language and metaphor. The book is thorough, insightful, and includes plenty of examples to help teach.

My review:

For me, the book was an excellent reminder of how much power lies in the perfect description. An evocative piece of description has the power to transport the reader to another place and time where they feel they are living within the pages and seeing and feeling the story through the eyes of the characters. A poor piece of description can do the opposite, pull the reader out of the story, confuse them, and make it hard to understand what is going on in the story.

Perhaps the most useful advice gleaned from the book is the importance of anchoring description deeply into the point of view of the person experiencing it. If the character is a baker, we want to feel the grit of the flour that has collected on the backs of his hands and reminisce of better times as we smell the comforting aroma of fresh bread.

Another thing that McClanahan does well is find hundreds of different examples to help solidify what she is trying to teach. Some of these are remarkable pieces of description that indeed transported me into the world of the scene. When I read them, it made me want to be able to do the same with my own writing.

Recommendations:

I recommend this to writers who feel they have the basics covered and are looking for a way to improve. This book is wonderful to help see different angles that can be taken in a passage of description and helps break writers out of old familiar patterns. It also shows how description doesn’t have to be long to be powerful.

I would not recommend this to brand new writers. While it’s full of important information, it’s also overwhelming with just how many possibilities there are in any given line of description. The best time to read this would be when a writer feels they have established their voice and are looking for ways to improve and deepen it.

I give this book 3 stars.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to AmazonGoodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn

Happy October everyone! It’s the first Wednesday of the month which means it’s book review day. Today’s pick: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. This book came out in 2001 and I first read it back in college. It made a deep enough impression on me that I recently recommended it for a book group and reread it a few weeks ago.

About the story:

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning it’s composed of letters from one character to another. Ella lives on the fictional island of Nollop, located off the coastline of South Carolina and named after Nevin Nollop who has been immortalized by his creation of a phrase using all 26 letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

What’s unique about this island is that due to poor infrastructure, they are isolated from the modern world. There aren’t computers, internet, email, or even telephone service, although those on the island know all these things exist. To communicate long distance, they are limited to letters and the occasional telegraph. Because of this, they’ve developed a love and passion for the written word and a unusual eloquence.

When letters begin falling off the memorial statue to Nevin Nollop, the island Council deems that it is a divine mandate from Nollop himself and they must stop using those letters in everyday speech and the written word. This also means those letters drop out of use for the remainder of the book. With each loss, the island falls deeper and deeper into totalitarianism as the Council works to eliminate those who would use the illegal letters.

Ella finds herself fighting to save her friends and family from being banished off of the island, a task that grows more complicated with new letter’s loss.

My review:

As a lover of artful use of language, this book delights on so many levels. Ella tries so hard to maintain her eloquence and love of language, even as each letter is taken away. The resulting linguistic gymnastics are impressive to say the least. It made me wonder if I could do the same. I tried it with the letter “m” thinking it would be easy. In a 15 minute sample where I tried my best to be careful, three “m”s still managed to find their way in.

There is also the element of satire about an overreaching government seeking punitive punishments for violators of the new rules as well as what happens when a society must adapt to censorship. For me, this felt almost Orwellian and brought back of not-so-fond memories of the discomfort of being forced to read 1984 in school, mixed with a touch of Lord of the Flies. However, Dunn encapsulates this satire inside the story of those trying to live the new rules and because their story shines stronger than the satire, it makes it much more palatable.

By the end of the story when only handful of letters are left, the text becomes almost unintelligible. Letters are swapped out for phonetic matches and to understand what’s being said, the reader almost has to say the syllables out loud. For me, it brilliantly demonstrated the frustrations of the main characters as they struggle to communicate.

In all, I found the book delightful and both a fun and profound read.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to those who love a good play on words and appreciate vocabulary and wordsmithing, as well as those who love seeing how a society can go wrong. Those who love word puzzles will also get a kick out of seeing how each character manages to avoid using banned letters. It’s also a charming story of making the best of a hard situation that doesn’t dwell on the ugliness that could be found there.

I would not recommend this book for those who want an easy read. It is not. From the deeply vocab-u-tastic wordiness at the beginning, to the almost alien constructed language nearing the end, this book is challenging. I also would recommend those who are sensitive to political misuse of power to steer clear as this book might be triggering.

I give Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea 4.5 stars.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

Book Review: Book Thief, by Marcus Zuzak

Asking an author which book is their favorite is a complicated question. There are books that keep us on the edge of our seats, or tease us with amazingly constructed story lines. There are those that fill us with a sense of wonder and those that light a creative spark. There are those which are tender and beautiful and make us cry.

Then, there are those books that have such a uniqueness to them they don’t quite fit anywhere else. That’s where the Book Thief falls for me. It balances tender with tension and beautiful prose with a touch of snark.

And it ranks in the top five books I’ve ever read.

About the story:

This is a holocaust book. But – don’t despair. The purpose of the book isn’t to showcase the horrors of that time period, but rather to give voice to a girl who lived it and how the books she stole made it possible to survive. What’s interesting and makes this book very different is that it’s told through the eyes of a rather unusual narrator – death.

Liesel Meminger steals her first book at the graveside service for her brother and carries it with her to her new home and foster parents, the Hubermann’s. Death has been watching her, as he does all people he finds interesting, and chooses to share the different scenes he’s witnessed of her life through the eternal lens of his own experience. The book is what seals her love for her foster father, Hans, as he uses it to help her cope with the nightmares that haunt her and teaches her from it.

It is this book and these late night teaching sessions that starts the embers glowing of what will turn into a fire within Liesel for the written word. All the while, World War II is tearing the country apart. The Hubermann’s must protect the son of a family friend by hiding him in their basement at great personal risk.

Liesel takes special interest in him and shares the one thing she has, her love of words. First, by sharing with him what the day is like outside, then by sneaking him newspapers, then by reading and writing their own books together.

I won’t ruin the ending for you by telling what happens, suffice it to say that it is a survival story, and Liesel survives.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to anyone who loves expert level wordsmithing. The lyric nature of the prose is gorgeous and surprising in all the right ways. Also, it’s a strong historical fiction as well and portrays Nazi Germany in a very realistic and unsensational manner. Because of it’s unique narrator and style, it should also appeal to those who appreciate non conventional stories.

I would not recommend this for people who prefer clear and direct language in their stories. This book borders on poetry at times and often veils the truth with metaphor, or pulls back into the point of view of death and away from Liesel’s experience. It’s also a long book, so it might be harder work to get through because of how language is used.

I give Marcus Zuzak’s The Book Thief 5 stars.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to AmazonGoodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!


Free? Did someone say free? For this week only (Sept 3-7, 2019) you can grab the ebook of Stonebearer’s Betrayal for FREE in preparation for the release of the second book in the series coming in the next 6 months. Squee!

Here’s a handy link!


Holy Smokes, FanX is this week! If you are coming to the the conference, come find me at the following panels on Thursday:

Book Review: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

There are those books that are just interesting and fun to read and there are those books where you feel something magical has happened. The Name of the Wind is the latter. I read this book a few years ago, but because it’s summer and I’m behind on my normal reading, this was the perfect time to finally review it. 

The story:

As the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Name of the Wind introduces us to the famous Kvothe, who is trying his best not to attract attention by taking a fake name and serving as a small town innkeeper. When Kvothe rescues a traveling scribe known as Chronicler and is recognized, the scribe asks to record his real story and his unfortunate rise to fame. As with many popular main characters, Kvothe’s life is full of hardship and misfortune. Lucky for him, these misfortunes tend to open doors, often in the most unexpected places. 

The story that’s recorded covers his childhood with a traveling performer troupe, his lost days as a beggar and pickpocket, his desperate attempt to get into the University where he can track down information, the many different ways he works to get enough money to attend the school, and all the many problems he encounters along the way. And trust me, there are plenty of those.

My Review:

I’m a sucker for any fantasy book. But, when I can find a book with an unusual magic system, a well-formed world, and beautiful language, it’s a rare treat. The Name of the Wind has all three. Perhaps Rothfuss’s greatest strength is his ability to transform his ideas into evocative fluid images. You can’t help but feel pulled into his world. 

Another strength is in the construction of the story itself. Instead of the standard narrative tale starting with a character discovering a great need, this book starts at the end and then carefully gives the readers the pieces of Kvothe’s story through a scribe. From the first page, the reader is presented with questions that need to be answered. Part of the joy in reading it is piecing together the clues to see how everything fits together.

The last point that I loved, but some readers might be squeamish about, is that Rothfuss does not shy away from including physical injuries and their care afterwards. Poor Kvothe has many enemies who really like to hurt him. With inexperienced writers this can often be a pitfall, but Rothfuss weaves it in as a natural result of danger and adventure and it really works. 

Recommendations:

This is a fantasy that is better suited for older readers, I’d recommend it for readers no younger than sixteen because of the beautiful language and puzzle-like nature of the story itself which might be too abstract for younger readers. For those who love a unique magic system, beautiful writing, and plenty of danger, this is a good pick.

For readers who prefer knowing clearly what is going on from the beginning, and not having to wait, often several books, for the answers, this book might prove frustrating. 

I give it a 5 out of 5


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

Book Review: Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

The beautiful Spanish Edition cover of Elantris

Growing up, I always had a book tucked away with me in my school bag, or violin case, or carry on, or simply stuck under an arm. The epic saga of the Wheel of Time filled in the gaps between classes at high school and during longer orchestra breaks when the second violins had to go fend for themselves.

While Robert Jordan’s vision of the Wheel of Time world and its characters is still a masterpiece in my mind – the tone of the story itself grew darker with each giant book to the point where it became harder to see if anyone would have a happy ending. Like the rest of the fans of the series, Jordan’s early death caused me a great deal of worry. Would whoever took the reins and finished the story be able to do it justice?

Knowing what I know now, I shouldn’t have worried. When Sanderson took up the story, he captured the story and its characters and breathed life and hope back into them. Readers could imagine the satisfying ending they’d been wishing for and then he delivered it.

But, this post isn’t about Wheel of Time. It’s about Brandon Sanderson’s first published book, Elantris.

The Story:

Elantris was once a city of magic and those with incredible power lived there. When the cataclysmic event of the Reod happened, the city and its inhabitants became cursed. The gates of Elantris were closed to the outside world. The inhabitants of the city couldn’t die or heal and were doomed to suffer continuous pain from any injury for the rest of their days.

When Prince Raoden shows signs of the curse, he’s thrown into the now closed city and is doomed to suffer with those living there. He’s not willing to accept that, however, and immediately goes about trying to make things better for those condemned in Elantris. While he does this he discovers vital clues that will help him solve the mystery of why the magic stopped working.

Against him are the gangs in Elantris who gang up on any new comer to steal what meager provisions they might carry and a high ranking priest mandated to convert the country to the Derethi religion. With him is the resourceful and determined Princess Sarene with whom which he was destined to wed if not for the curse.

My Review:

I love a strong fantasy with magic that feels real and makes sense, so this book already had a lot going in its favor before I even opened it. Prince Raoden is the kind of character that you want to root for. He genuinely wants to make things better despite his own problems and is willing to work. He knows how to organize people and inspire them to his cause. The situation he’s thrown into is a hard one. It would be way too easy to fall into despair, but he refuses. Of all that happens in the book, his character is what makes the story successful.

There is a fair amount of political maneuvering in the book and for the most part it serves its purpose, which is to raise the stakes for our heroes. But for me, it also ground the action to a halt.

That said, I loved how the big problem was solved (no spoilers!) and thought that the solution itself was nothing short of ingenious.

Recommendations:

This is a solid fantasy book that will clearly hold a lot of appeal with fantasy readers. I would recommend it for readers 12 and up for descriptions of injury and political intrigue. There is no offensive language or overly romantic situations. While this would be a good starter book for those who would like to familiarize themselves with the fantasy genre, I wouldn’t consider it a typical example of a fantasy novel.

I’d still give it five stars. 🙂


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to AmazonGoodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!


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Book Review: Mort, by Terry Pratchett

While I try my best to branch out and read new authors as often as I can, sometimes it’s important to pick up a bit of indulgence reading. Terry Pratchett is one of my very favorites. His books are the equivalent of Cheetos and Jelly Bellies, intensely flavorful and full of surprises.

Mort is no different. This book was originally published in 1987 and is the fourth in the Diskworld universe series where the world is indeed flat and supported in its journey through the universe balanced on the back of four elephants which in turn stand on an immense giant turtle. If that doesn’t give you a good feel for Pratchett’s gigantic sense of humor and intellect, I don’t know what will.

The Story:

The main character, Mort, short for Mortimer but also meaning “death” in French, starts out as an awkward knobbly kneed youth and proceeds to, ironically enough, become Death’s apprentice. Death has become tired of his job and sees this as a wonderful opportunity to finally learn what life is all about. Mort, being the awkward youth that he is is tasked to collect the souls of those who have died and in the process accidentally breaks the nature of reality and time.

In order to heal the rift he has created, Mort must find a way to align reality to accept his big mistake – a process that involves finding a wizard specially suited for the job. Naturally this can’t be easy. Nothing in a Pratchett book is. Every twist and turn reveals different aspects of wonderfully complex characters and an equally complex world.

My Review:

I adore Prachett’s writing style. He creates the most unexpected and delightful descriptions and then blends them into a story that flows with such ease that I can’t help but sit back in awe. He does for fantasy what Douglas Adams did for science fiction – take a normally very serious genre and fill it with wonder and humor.

The story of Mort itself is just enough unpredictable that even this seasoned story expert was kept on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what would happen next. For me, this is a real perk. With most books, even the best written ones, the story is usually straight forward enough that I can guess what’s going to happen and that’s gets boring. With Mort, that expectation gets thrown out the window in the first chapter and a world of wonderful possibilities present themselves, each equally plausible.

Many books like to explore the ideals, especially when it comes to characters. There is usually a hero, a villain, and a variety of mentors, sidekicks, and romantic interests who cross the stage of the story. Prachett has never been slave to this convention. His strength lies in making all characters as flawed and strange as possible – the more unique the better. My favorite? Death. I love that he wants to explore the world and is so helplessly naive and charming as he learns what it means to live. The whole idea just tickles me the right way.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to those who normally don’t enjoy fantasy, but want an introduction. The Diskworld books don’t need to be read in any particular order, but for those who need a plan of attack, I’d recommend the Diskworld Wiki to help explain the different families of books. I’d also recommend it to fans of Douglas Adams, those who like clever prose, and anyone with a pulse and a sense of excitement and adventure.

I would not recommend this book to the following – people who can’t smile, appreciate a good joke, or don’t get puns and sarcasm.

I rate this 5/5 stars for making me giggle and share random passages at my family. They still don’t know what hit them.

***

Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

***

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Book of the Month: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night-circusIt can be dangerous picking books from a list and hoping that they live up to the hype. The Night Circus has appeared over and over on book lover Pinterest boards so I decided it would be worth seeing what the big deal was about. I’m glad to say that this is a book that delivers.

Not too long ago I wrote a post discussing what Magical Realism meant. The Night Circus is a terrific example of magical realism. The story takes place in an ahistorical Victorian London and follows the lives of two young magical proteges. These magicians can perform actual magic and not just feats of illusion. These proteges and their masters create the Night Circus – Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams. A reality defying collection of curiosities that is only open from dusk to dawn.

The circus itself is surreal enough to make for intriguing reading. Among the expected acrobatic acts and contortionists there are tents that are full of the impossible. One is a garden created entirely from ice. Another, a cloud maze where you can fall from incredible heights without the fear of being hurt.

The story weaves it’s way through the lives of two magical proteges. Through the years, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H. have been locked in a rivalry to prove who is the better, more powerful magician.  Their students, Celia Bowen and Marcos Alisdair are the pawns in a dangerous competition in which they have been groomed their whole lives to play. Except, they are never given the rules of the competition. They must push to find what must be done and are never sure what the next step must be.

My review:

It’s not often when a book takes me by surprise. The Night Circus has an otherworldly quality that makes for perfect escapist reading. I was transported into this alternate world where magic is indeed real and palpable and filled with wonder. The story itself is fresh and full of ideas and creativity that haven’t been seen before, which is a feat in itself seeing how most stories I read are beaten dead from over use.

The best part of the book is the circus itself, the wonder and the thrills contained therein continually change and evolve to captivate and delight both reader and the characters that walk the pages.

I recommend this to anyone who likes magical realism, Cirque du Soleil, and surrealism. For those of you who like their fiction to keep both feel solidly on the ground, this might be a touch cerebral for you.

Like book reviews? Here are a few of my others:

Book of the Month: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

200px-Inkheart_bookThis month’s read is the YA fantasy Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke.  I’ve been wanting to read this book for years and was happy that I finally got around to doing it.  Watching and enjoying the movie might have played a small part as well.

Inkheart is one of those books that feels like it’s been around for a long while, although it’s only been around since 2003 for the German edition and 2005 for the English edition.

On an interesting side note, I tweeted about Inkheart and received a cute note from Cornelia Funke herself!

A super brief, spoiler free,  overview of the book:

The story is about a twelve-year-old girl named Meggie, and her father Mortimer, who everyone including Meggie calls Mo. Mo is a book binder with a secret rare gift of being able to read fictional characters and objects out of their books and into the real world. However, he didn’t discover that this had a great cost, for every person or item that leaves the book, something from the real world must return.

When Meggie was very young, Mo read several unsavory characters into the world by accident. These included the devious and unscrupulous Capricorn whose morals are essentially nonexistent, and Dustfinger a fire-eater and juggler who desperately wishes to return to his story. The cost? Meggie’s mother disappears into the book.

The book of Inkheart revolves around Mo and Meggie’s dealings with Capricorn and Dustfinger and Mo’s efforts to “read” his beloved wife back into the real world. There’s adventure, romance, magic, and danger.

My Review:

The book’s strongest points are its characters and its evocative writing. Funke captures different moments in the story using lovely metaphors and surprising analogies.  If you loved the use of language in Zuzak’s, Book Thief, then you would enjoy the writing style of Inkheart.

The characters are brilliant and perhaps the most intriguing bunch of people assembled to make a story that I’ve stumbled across.  They are each well written where it feels as if they jump to life off of the page (and in a way, that’s precisely what they do!) The villain Capricorn is a vile and repulsive storybook villain with no true redeemable qualities. Some might consider him an overly stereotyped villain, but you must remember that he is an actual storybook character and with that in mind he is written perfectly.

The lead character, Meggie, is a lover of books and stories, just like her father.  She is young, and makes mistakes, some of which cause huge problems. To her, it is almost as if her storybook world has come alive around her and she is both fascinated and terrified. She quickly learns that her actions and decisions have real consequences and she must be brave to do what she must.

Her father, Mo is a bookbinder who has been into action by external forces.  He wants nothing more than his wife back and a  peaceful life surrounded by piles and piles of beautiful books that he can share with his daughter.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves a well written story that takes them to new places.

To read more about Inkheart, check out these links: