Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mary Ann reviews On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Genre: non-fiction, how-to
Publisher: Scribner
# of Pages: 291, 2010 paperback edition

Book blurb:
Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his near-fatal accident in 1999--and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly, and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it--fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

First of all, please understand that I have never been a fan of Stephen King's books. The excerpts I've read left me with too many disturbing images to want to read on. Everyone likes a little creepy suspense now and then, but his books were a little too intense for my tastes. I'm not a fan of non-fiction either, but I've read a lot of posts and reviews that recommended this book so highly, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

Surprise, I really enjoyed reading this book and here's why:
1-This is going to be a lengthy review because I FELT a lot of things.
2-The first 100 pages or so are autobiographical. King gives us a glimpse into his childhood; encouragement from his mom, his start into writing, some of his earliest jobs, and anecdotes along the way.
3-Aside from the distraction of his vulgar language, the author is down to earth. By the end of the book I felt we were on a first name basis.
4-I enjoyed the story of how he met his wife, what a good fit they are, that they stuck together through their struggles AND successes. I love that they continue together. I especially loved the way he humbly attributes everything to his wife. His deep love and appreciation for her is very evident throughout the book.
5-I really appreciated what he shared about his accident. That must've been both torture and therapy to force himself to live through that again for our benefit. I'm sure he held the most private things back, but he left enough detail to enable me to feel some of what he went through. He describes his wife's tender care, and later, his struggles to re-learn walking again, and the frustration of re-learning writing again. He was very open and honest, but not whiny.
6-I liked his down-to-earth attitude regarding writing. "Writing did not save my life--Dr. Brown and my wife's loving care did that--but it has continued to do what it always has done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place (hard to imagine, with the scary stuff he writes). Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life as well."
7-He is the master of the metaphor. His book is full of them, and they're not tired clich├ęs. I like the idea of the toolbox and what type of tools I should keep ready to go at the top. I'm going to diagram my toolbox and list all the tools I need, and this book will be there with them.

This part, I'm not sure about. Plotting--Mr. King prefers the big pot of stew method, that is, he thinks about a "what if" question--the situation, adds a variety of characters and lets them simmer. The characters show him how they work their way out of the situation and he is there only as eyewitness and scribe.

I have to admit, the feeling when my story and characters take on their own lives and surprise me with what they do next is exhilarating. It's difficult to describe that to a non-writer, But, I have found that as a new writer I need more structure or my characters run amuck.

I take exception to the following quote: "While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad one, and equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help to make a good writer out of a merely competent writer."

If we can't progress from stage to stage, no matter where we begin, what's the point? As a new writer, one who has had to start from ground zero late in life, I feel that I fall into the bad writer box. Does that mean that no matter what I read or practice that I'm doomed to forever be a bad writer? I was not born with this gift, but I've always felt that I could obtain it with enough hard work and practice.

I am positive about this next part--I did not appreciate the profanity. To me it felt like a constant barrage. Profanity is not just offensive, it's painful. I felt assaulted. That's why I prefer middle grade and young adult genres.

First of all, in the forward he talks about how much he cares about the language, and that "no one asks about the language any more". Then King shows us the first article he wrote and that the editor lined through all of the unnecessary words. I can't imagine any words more unnecessary than profanity.

Next, he tells me what his mother thought of profanity. She called it "the language of the ignorant". He explains that writers must be true to the character, and I agree when it comes to dialog and being in the head of a very course character. That is exactly why I chose to write MG and YA. That sort of character and language is not required in those genres. I do enjoy mystery and suspense, but there's more than one way to spin a tale of suspense.

So, Mr. King, I propose that your use of profanity is conflicting and less than honest, I do not believe that is the real you talking. Maybe it was before your accident, but I believe your character is much deeper now. He is the man who wrote about your accident (pp- 253-270), very poignant and hardly a cuss word.

Now to all out there who share similar values with me, and recommended this book without even the slightest hint about content, I would've appreciated a head's up. But even when I read it for myself, I continued to wade through it to find that golden nugget of wisdom. It was worth a couple of days of crap to feel everything I felt, but I know I would not be able to tolerate it for long. Either I'd have to throw it out or let it rub off on me. And by the end I started to get used to it.

I'm glad I read it, but I won't read it again. I'll stick to my notes, thanks.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mary Ann reviews Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Genre: non-fiction, how-to
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
# of pages: 227

Book Blurb:
This book is a set of tools: literary crowbars, chisels, mallets, pliers, and tongs. Use them to pry, chip, yank, and sift good characters out of the place where they live in your imagination.

Award-winning author Orson Scott Card explains in depth the techniques of inventing, developing, and presenting characters, plus handling viewpoint in novels and short stories. With specific examples, he spells out your narrative options--the choices you'll make in creating fictional people so "real" that your readers will feel they know them like members of their own families.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. It is well thought out, well organized, and helped me understand definitions of character types and especially viewpoint. He went so far as to graph out the different points of view. Since I am a visualize learner this helped me better sort out POV.

He uses a lot of great examples to demonstrate his points.

However, some of what he discusses sound like personal opinion, and not all of his writing samples held true to the points he tried to make. He just thought they did. I'm not the expert though, but it felt a little like he was saying that we should just take his word for it because he is who he is--a little presumptuous.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. I still learned a great deal, and I intend on keeping this book in my toolbox. Practice makes perfect.

I give it **** 4 Stars

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Amy reviews The Quantum Breach by Denver Acey

The Quantum Breach by Denver Acey

Genre:  LDS Fiction
Content: Some violence
Publisher: Cedar Fort, Inc.
Release date:  2014
Number of Pages:  256

Book Summary/Teaser:
Quantum Breach (previously titled Mormon Hacker) is a story about Tanner Zane, an upstanding Mormon with a secret criminal past -- extensive computer hacking. When kidnappers force him to breach a top-security government facility, Tanner engages in an intense game of intellectual cat-and-mouse with his captors. This thrilling tale will change the way you reveal information online!

My Opinion:
Want to realize how vulnerable you are to identity thieves?  This book shows you just how easy it is for cyber criminals to get the information they are looking for!  But it's not an information download type of book - it's actually a very interesting fictional story.  Acey does a great job with the different characters in the book, he makes them memorable and real without spending pages and pages on descriptions.  I thought the "hacking" parts were very exciting - I found myself almost wishing I knew how to do it!  You don't have to be a technological genius to understand what is going on though (good thing for me!).  He portrays how complicated it is, but with simple explanations that make sense to regular people.  The story has some exciting twists to it that made it a really fun read.  There are a few things that I think work out a little too nicely - who gets a two month sabbatical from work after only seven years?  Really.  All in all, I enjoyed the book!

Rating: ****
You can find it on Amazon:

Denver Acey Bio:

Few people understand the terrifying, yet realistic threat of computer hacking like Denver Acey. Denver has spent his entire professional career in the information technology industry where he has witnessed and even thwarted actual cybercrime. From his top-secret job working for the US government to securing computer networks at Fortune 500 companies, Denver is personally familiar with hackers and their unscrupulous activities.

But over the years, Denver has become increasingly frustrated with Hollywood's inaccurate portrayal of cybercrime. Hackers are more intelligent and more sophisticated than simple teenagers, who guzzle down Mountain Dew while playing video games. Cybercrime is a billion-dollar business that encompasses organized crime and foreign governments. For these elite hackers, the fruits of success are iconic trademarks, innovative patents, and government secrets.

Because of his unique background, Denver decided to write a book to dispel hacking myths while highlighting the tenacity of cybercriminals. Utilizing actual computer hacking concepts and scenarios that he has experienced firsthand, Denver illustrates  -- in a simple way for even the non-techie to understand -- how vulnerable we all are to cybercrime.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mary Ann reviews Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland

Genre: non-fiction, how-to
Content: There are some graphic examples.

# of pages: 2013 Kindle edition 233 pages

Book blurb:
Bestselling author David Farland has taught dozens of writers who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).

In this book, Dave teaches how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership, giving it the potential to become a bestseller. The secrets found in his unconventional approach will help you understand why so many of his authors go on to prominence.

This is one of the best how-to books on writing I have read so far. I'd call it the definitive book on outlining. The entire work of writing is mapped out for me.

I have to admit, though, I felt overwhelmed by all of the details that need to be tended to when writing. I wondered, what in the world was I thinking? How will I ever remember to do all of those things? My outlines have been woefully inadequate, and I can see how doing as the author suggests will help my writing in the long run. It's like outlines have their own rough drafts. Each time you revise your outline you fill in a little more detail.

It's all in the prep work--like painting a room. If you go to the trouble to wash the walls, mud in all of the holes, and sand off the rough spots, the painting itself will go quicker, smoother, and your finished product will be higher quality.

And, yes--I am guilty of all of those "new author" errors, but now I know how to fix them. I learn by repetition and by graphing things out. Nursing school teaches in algorhythms. So I'm going to scribble out a chart to remind me how all of the pieces fit.

Definitely *****5 Stars

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Movie Review of Miss Potter

This movie was a simple delight. It provides a charming glimpse into the life of Beatrix Potter, children's author and illustrator.

Miss Potter was born to a family of privilege which meant she, and her brother Bertram, were raised by nannies. They were left to entertain themselves a good deal of the time.

They chased bunnies in the garden at their summer home in the lake district. They watched birds, ducks, squirrels, frogs, hedgehogs, and mice.

Beatrix's father gave her a set of drawing pencils, and she began drawing the wildlife around her. They collected animals in cages so she could continue drawing. The animals became her only friends.

There are so many good things about this movie. One is that it is so visually pleasing as well as telling a delightful story. The lush English countryside rolls out before you like a blanket. I could easily see myself there at the Hilltop Farm. Another visual treat is Beatrix's drawings come to life on the page with some unexpected animation. We get to see her drawings just the way she saw them.

This is a wonderful family movie for older children. Younger children, and men, will most likely be bored. Still, I'd give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Amy reviews The Hitler Dilemma by Carolyn Twede Frank

The Hitler Dilemma: A Mormon Boy in the German Army by Carolyn Twede Frank
Genre:  Non Fiction
Content: Some mature themes
Publisher: Covenant Communications
Release date: June 2014
Number of Pages:  174

Book Summary/Teaser:
“We’re Nazis, Max. Everybody in Germany is Nazi—if they want to be safe.” Papa pulled up a chair and sat down, crumpling the newspaper in his hand. “We don’t have to think like them, son, but we’ve got to act like them—at least on the outside. Try to remember that. Okay?” Saarbr├╝cken, Germany—1938 Change is in the air in Max Adams’s small village: The censorship of classic literature, the elimination of math and science courses, the addition of extra physical education classes. Along with thousands of other young men, he is forced into the Hitler Youth and is being groomed to become the next generation of Nazi soldiers. But as a faithful Latter-day Saint, how can Max serve the villain who destroyed his younger brother in his effort to create a Master Race—a man who is bent on tearing apart not only a single nation, but also the entire world? From the horrors of battle and the sorrow of separation from family to the privations of a prisoner of war, Carolyn Twede Frank’s groundbreaking novel The Hitler Dilemma is a poignant chronicle of one remarkable young man’s struggle to reconcile his sense of duty with his staunch opposition to the evil tyrant destroying the country he loves.
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Show lessShow moreShow lessMy Opinion:

I loved it!  Honestly, from beginning to end I found it fascinating and thought provoking.  I found myself feeling the emotions of the main character and struggling alongside him.  I have read many different World War II books, and it's amazing that they each have something different to offer.   Carolyn Frank did an amazing job telling Max Adam's story, a story that definitely needs to be shared!  Read it, you won't regret it!
Rating: *****

You can find it on Amazon:
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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mary Ann Reviews The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter

Anyone else out there remember Beatrix Potter? Or am I showing my age?
This great book contains the complete works of Beatrix Potter, 19 of her very own fairy tales with her delightfully intricate illustrations.
I was familiar with Peter Rabbit, but totally unaware of all of the bunnies, mice, kittens, puppies, pigs, ducks, chipmunks, and squirrel characters in jackets and bonnets.
They learn wisdom from natural consequences like--"If you go into Mr. McGregor's garden, Mrs. McGregor may turn you into pie." Or, "If you're not patient and faithfully sit on your eggs, you're liable to lose them to the dogs," like Jemima Puddle Duck. Don't you totally love that name?
I envy authors who can illustrate their own stories. Beatrix and her brother Bertram, grew up lonely in a very wealthy family. They snuck woodland creatures into the house to study and draw them.
Beatrix Potter was born in London, 1866, and later raised on an estate in Scotland. A lot of her stories were written as gifts to family and friends.
Return to the woodland and share these classic stories from a simpler era, with your kids and grandkids.