Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Black Dwarf and 19th Century Literature

I reviewed The Black Dwarf by Sir Walter Scott this week. You can read the review here.

I thought it was a good story, but not a great one. I may try some of Scott's other works, so I can compare. Scott wrote a companion book to this one entitled Old Mortality which received better reviews. That might be a good choice.

There are coincidences in the plot and an ending that's a little too pat, but strong characters are the most important aspect of any novel and this book has a great one. In the introduction Scott explains that Elshie is based on a real man, David Ritchie, who "...was the son of a labourer in the slate-quarries of Stobo, and must have been born in the misshapen form which he exhibited, though he sometimes imputed it to ill-usage when in infancy."

My daughter is a huge fan of 19th century literature and has influence my taste. It's fun to step back into another era, which must be why Jane Austen is so popular.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Summerland and writing to a formula

Summerland by Michael Chabon is the book I reviewed this week. Click here to see the review.

Books that have target audiences of children from 9 to 12 always seem to be a bit formulaic and this one was no exception. There were mystical creatures, baseball games, and gooey, gross smelling things encountered along a journey to save the main character's father. The important things came through: Jennifer T. Rideout's empathy for Taffy, Ethan's love for his father, Thor Wignutt's feelings about being different, and others. But they weren't emphasized enough for my taste. Instead there always seemed to be another odd creature or another game of baseball.

I don't think writing to a formula is bad unless the human element isn't there. In the case of Summerland (and most other tween books I've read) the human element is a kid element. For this reason I gave the book a good rating (four stars) and wrote about the story's influences rather than the story itself.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Wink of an Eye and Thoughts on revising

I just reviewed Wink of an Eye by Lynn Chandler-Willis and was taken by how careful her writing is. (Click here to see my review.)

I took a workshop with J.A. Jance, another mystery author, about a half a year ago. Jance is very prolific, but I was struck by her response to a question I raised about rewriting. She writes a chapter then will revise it while working on the next chapter. Once she finishes that second chapter, she will never go back to the first. She keeps to that pattern as she writes and said she'd never finish her books if she kept going back. I like Jance's books. They are exciting and kept my attention, but Wink of an Eye includes more foreshadowing and never seems to leave questions unanswered.

Although my gut reaction to the issue of rewriting is that authors should do it until the work is perfect, that response is simplistic. The body of work produced by a writer is important and, given that assumption, how many books a writer produces is a factor. Comparing a prolific writer with a careful, exact writer is a bit like comparing a film with a TV series. There are qualities they share, but differences as well.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Time Traveler's Wife

Judging by the reviews of The Time Traveler's Wife, this is a book that is either loved or hated. My own review is available by clicking here: The Time Traveler's Wife. My reaction is mixed, but overall I fall in the "loved it" column. The idea behind it is worthy of five stars, especially the way Henry is so much older than Clare at times and not at others. To fall in love with someone when she's a child and have a relationship when she's an adult is romantic, but also a little creepy. It's been done before (for example: The Thorn Birds), but this book's time shifts cause the age differences to keep shifting as well. It is definitely a book to keep thinking about after finishing the read.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye for Now and Someone

The holiday season has kept me away from posting for a couple of weeks, so this time I'm sending out links to two book reviews.

The first, Goodbye for Now, is what I would call a science fiction, because the plot is based on the main character having programming abilities that are beyond the reach of today's programmers. But it is still realistic enough to be believable. At times it is fun, but at other times it is very serious. Laurie Frankel talks about grief in ways that would apply to anyone who has experienced a loss. People need to remember, even when the sensation is painful. Sometimes the memories can be addicting.

The second book review I've included in this post is for Alice McDermott's Someone. This book is beautifully written and does an excellent job of portraying the life of an ordinary woman in Brooklyn, NY. I loved the atmosphere and the poetry of the words. There are interesting relationships and interesting things that happen along the way as Marie lives her life, but the plot doesn't seem important to the writer.

These two books are as different as day and night, but I enjoyed them both.

Hope everyone has a great 2015!