Ordinary Grace- A Review

51T9oIbeddL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’m so grateful for this book. I received Ordinary Grace as a Christmas gift, and I’ll admit that I was skeptical to read it at first. It’s been a REALLY long time since I’ve read a book that rocked my world, and I didn’t want to waste any more time reading something that I would abandon midway.

Ordinary Grace, written by William Kent Krueger, is set in New Bremen, Minnesota in the Summer of 1961. For 13 year-old Frank Drum, the son of a Methodist minister, it’s a summer filled with lies, secrets, and death. When tragedy hits home Frank is thrown from the innocence of youth into an adult world he needs to somehow navigate on his own.

The story is told from Frank’s perspective as an adult decades later. I was worried that the story would be “preachy,” considering that one of the main characters is a minister. There is some talk about God, but Krueger definitely wasn’t heavy-handed. The balance was actually quite nice, since the characters actually do quite a bit of struggling with their faith throughout the course of the novel.

I was sucked into the story from the first chapter. Krueger’s language is beautiful, the story was evenly paced, and the characters and their conflicts were well developed. I actually hugged the book when I finished it, sad that it all had to come to an end. I haven’t done that since Harry Potter.

This is the book I’ve been recommending everyone in my life to read. Now I’m recommending it to you.

On Resurrecting Characters

If you got excited at the thought of me writing zombie fiction, then I’m sorry to disappoint (I’m still too completely terrified of all zombie-related things).

When I was 17 I wrote a young adult novel. I was young and stupid and I’m not afraid to admit it now. I naively thought that this was the book, the one that was going to jettison me to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Then I woke up at 21 and realized that it was 53,000 words of utter disaster. My main character was telling the story in first person, yet she had an omniscient look into the other character’s lives. There were plot holes and loose threads all over the place. I overused adjectives, told instead of showing, and (gasp) used an awful mirror cliche to describe a character. This draft will never, ever, see the light of day. My husband has been given explicit instructions to burn this original manuscript should I get hit by a bus tomorrow.

Still, I held onto this embarrassment of a manuscript. I’d bonded with my characters, and despite how terrible the writing was, they seemed like cool people. I couldn’t bring myself to just throw the story in the recycling bin, so I tossed it in my rejection drawer (yes, this is a real thing) with my other failed pieces.

While I never looked at it again, I never stopped thinking about that manuscript. It was the first novel I ever finished. I’ve attempted other novels since, but they never quite held my interest the same way that first one did.

More recently, my characters have been ceaselessly haunting me day and night. They keep begging me to give them a second chance. My main character, Liz, won’t let me sleep at night until I’ve added more dimension to her twisted personality.

I’ve decided I need to give them one more chance. I’m not going to attempt to rework what’s already been written. I’m going to take my time to really get to know the shadows of characters I had created as a teenager and try to get to know them as an adult. I’m going to create a brand new plot, one that these characters deserve to be a part of.

I’ve grown so much as a writer since I first realized that this was the path for me. I’ve read books on writing, taken classes, practiced, and found myself some amazing mentors. I hope I never stop learning despite how many accomplishments I achieve. Hopefully this time around, I can find a story that I won’t be ashamed to show the world.



Time To Break

In the past, I would feel guilty for taking time for myself. I’ve admitted that numerous times on this blog. No more.

I haven’t written anything in months, aside from my blog posts. Even my journal is collecting dust. I haven’t picked up a book to read since my last review either, and I’m content with all of this.

I love teaching, but it can be a  draining career sometimes. Now that school is out, I need time to decompress. Since creativity can take many forms, I’ve been spending a majority of time at my craft table. At the moment, I have my washing machine running with clothes that I’m dyeing, there’s a pile of beads to my left, and there are a dozen tabs open on my computer with project ideas. I consider this a productive day, one where I won’t base my success on a word count.

The Dream Lover: A Review

Up this week: The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg.

I received an uncorrected proof of this book through the publisher. I am not being compensated in any way for this review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

22716467I was hoping that this time around, I’d fall in love with the book I was reviewing. The Dream Lover, a novel based on the scandalous life of the 19th century writer George Sand, seemed promising. Even better was the idea that I would be reading a novel based on an actual person. I’d read the book Frog Music by Emma Donohue recently and really loved it, and that was a novel based on a person too.

The story started out interesting enough, with Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin leaving her husband and children behind to pursue a life of literature in Paris with her writer lover. She adopts the pseudonym “George” to publish her first novel, which brings her instant fame.

Berg uses beautiful, poetic lines and quote-worthy phrases that immerse readers into the feeling that Berg is trying to evoke. I teared up when a character in the book died because the scene was so vivid and well written.

I didn’t finish the book though. Frankly, I got pretty bored.

Each chapter switched back and forth between the past and present, which left me disoriented. I might have had an easier time coping with this if I had a paperback copy of the book, but I only had an ebook to work with. It was hard for me to keep track of what was happening during each time period unless I was reading for hours at a time.

I also think that the ratio for showing vs. telling was a bit skewed towards telling. I would have liked to have been thrown into the middle of the action instead of being told that the character got this job or left on a trip to visit that person. The telling made the story seem more redundant.

This is not the worst book I’ve ever read. I would suggest, however, that those who want to attempt it obtain a hard copy of it in order to make the transitions easier to follow.

Quitting on a Bad Book?

Is it ever okay to give up on a book?

I ask because lately, it seems like I can’t find a book that I want to actually finish reading. Besides the Percy Jackson series, I mean. I’m flying through those with an eagerness that I’ve been missing for a long time.

Maybe I’m just becoming a snobby curmudgeon as I age. But seriously, I’m in the middle of 9 books right now and don’t have the desire to pick up and finish any of them. Some of these are books on bestselling lists and titles that many of my bookish friends are raving about. The others are galley copies of books that also received a lot of hype. They range from YA novels to literary fiction to nonfiction.

Great writing is tough, I get it. It’s why I don’t have a novel of my own on the bookstore shelves yet. I applaud each and every author for their efforts and would have to be a complete idiot to say I could do better. Is it just that the wrong books are finding me? Do I need to go through a phase where I pull back from modern fiction and only read the classics? Should I stick only to the authors I trust for awhile?

Do I need to struggle through the story no matter what? I hated Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when I first started reading. I had to get 200 pages deep before the story captivated me. All of the writing advice I’ve ever received said to start out strong and fast paced. Is this the exception, or the rule?

I realize this is mostly rambling and that I’ll still probably read whatever book is thrown at me, but still. It’s frustrating. Am I an awful human being for giving up, possibly too quickly, or do I need to whip out the “life is too short” cliche?