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.

 

 

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.

Seeker: A Review

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448 pages. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Release Date: February 10, 2015

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.

I always worry when new books are compared to bestsellers with a cult-like following. After all, shouldn’t writers strive to find their own voices and be proud of them? So when I saw a blurb comparing Arwen Elys Dayton’s newest book Seeker to Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, I had the sinking sensation that a lot of readers would be disappointed by the literary world’s version of false advertisement. Comparisons like these tend to make readers form preconceived notions about what they’re about to read.

I start reading each and every book with an open mind and try to review accordingly. Unfortunately, there were too many flaws for me to overlook, and as a result I’ve stopped reading Seeker midway.

The story started out strong and captivating. I wanted to know more about the three young warriors and their quest to become seekers. The problem is, I was halfway through the book and still didn’t know what a seeker was. Or what time period the story was set in. And while the characters started off strong, they became more shallow and unbelievable with every new page. Their relationships to one another felt forced. As I read farther, things just stopped fitting together. There were too many unanswered questions, and while I’d like to believe that the ending ties up some loose ends, I was too frustrated to try and get there.

I loved the concept of Seeker, but this just didn’t work for me.

 

The Case for Paperbacks

I love my local library. This past Summer, I spent every Friday afternoon there slowly browsing the shelves. I would check out a stack of books each visit and have them all read in time for the following week’s trip.

Then I had to join the real world, and my weekly library visits (and my free time) disappeared completely. I took to downloading audiobooks from my library’s digital collection so that I could “read” while cleaning and cooking or doing other mindless tasks. For the most part, audiobooks have been nothing but a positive experience. I’m so happy that I listened to Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch on audiobook, because hearing the different voices, fluent foreign languages, and accents really brought the stories to life. David Sedaris has become my trusted companion on long car rides.

The most recent audiobook I’ve listened to is Frog Music by Emma Donoghue, and it was almost a book that I was going to call it quits on. I was bored, confused, and frustrated with how slow the narrator was reading. Its only saving grace was the fact that I had some free time this past weekend to make a much desired trip to the library, and that the colorful hardcover spine of the book jumped out at me from its shelf. I decided to give it one more shot.

I began reading the paper version of the book from the place I left off in the audiobook. I’m glad that I gave the book a second chance, because I found the story to be much more enthralling in print. I finished the story in two days because I searched for every opportunity to read it, whereas it had taken almost two months to get through the first 3 hours of the audiobook.

I thought initially that the audio version confused me because I was too distracted while listening. With the print version in hand, I realized I was confused because the audio gave no indication of flashbacks. In print, the jumps in time are clearly marked, which made transitions seamless.

While it seems standard these days that every printed book eventually receives an audio version, I think this does a disservice to some books. Certain things are lost when you don’t have the text in front of you, especially in the case where time is manipulated. I wonder how many people have given up on a book because the audiobook ruined the story for them?