Sunday, June 11, 2017

New Boy

New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare) by Tracy Chevalier is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, taking place over a single day in a 1970s schoolyard. The main characters are eleven-year-old students in suburban Washington, DC. I wanted to like this book since Othello is one of my favorite plays, but sadly, this version just doesn't work.

The main fault is the age of the characters--I was an eleven-year-old in the seventies, and maybe I was just sheltered, but the sexual nature of many scenes--mainly through the thoughts of the characters--just doesn't seem at all plausible for the time period. Many times, the thoughts of the characters are way too 'knowing' for that age, and not just regarding the sexual themes. The concept of having kids as the characters would have been more effective with a cast just a little older: upper middle school or high school. This created a huge stumbling block for me that just made me feel icky when reading certain parts to think of the characters as being young kids.

Many aspects of the book seemed spot-on, such as the underlying inequalities based on race, sex, and status. I also liked the clever transformation from Shakespeares version of the names and certain props. Unfortunately, there are too many things I dislike about this version to recommend it.

The publisher provided a review copy of New Boy.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

This Life I Live


This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever is Rory Feek's compelling memoir that chronicles not only discusses his love story with Joey, but also his life journey and how his experiences shaped the man he is now.

Rory is a wonderful storyteller, and his honesty and bluntness make this book an intimate experience for readers. Even the smallest things in the book speak so loudly--there are so many aspects of Rory's story of redemption that readers can relate to. Throughout his trials and successes, he shows how God's plan for his life was there all along and he shares his testimony of God's grace.

With short chapters that serve as snapshots of moments in his life, Rory's story covers his childhood, his time in the military, his beginnings in the music industry, and his brief time with Joey on this earth. It is a loving tribute to a wife who had a huge influence on her husband. Many details that Rory already chronicles on his blog are left out of the book, but This Life I Live is a complete story on its own.

This Life I Live is sad and tragic, yet Rory's storytelling ability and his testimony leave readers with a sense of hope. He is an inspiration for many reasons, but especially because he demonstrates how even with a lifetime of hard knocks and bad decisions, it is never too late to turn things around and open yourself up to God's voice. Rory surely is an example of this.

The publisher provided a review copy of This Life I Live.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories by Celeste Fletcher McHale is a wonderfully told story with a unique twist on the typical romance storyline. Jacey survived a horrible Mississippi flood, while meeting the love of her life (Colin), and is now dealing with amnesia and PTSD. A year after the flood, she meets back up with her soulmate in a most unexpected way. He is the minister at her best friend's wedding.

The southern setting and precocious characters are described beautifully. Jacey's friendship with Georgia and Willow is beautifully portrayed, with Georgia's blunt honesty keeping Jacey in check. Her loyal friendship is such a big part of the story, and I enjoyed getting to know Georgia just as much as Jacey.

McHale does an excellent job of writing Jacey's PTSD experiences, pulling the reader into each moment with Jacey. The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories flows along so nicely, I got immersed in the story right away as if I were watching a movie. The relationship between Jacey and Colin unfolds in a compelling way, but it does not take over the story. There is a nice balance between this relationship and time spent with other parts of Jacey's life.

Well worth spending time with, The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories is a sure bet for summer reading.

The publisher provided a review copy of The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Story Cure

The Story Cure: A Book Doctor's Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir by Dinty W. Moore is a fun and useful guide to getting your story right. This unique handbook focuses on the integral aspects of story, including plot, setting, and character, but really deals more with the details that make a story good:

“…how well we understand it, how well we tell it, and how well we enable it to come alive in the reader’s mind” (p. 2).

Using the theme of a diagnosis and cure, Moore’s conversational style and humorous, friendly tone encourage writers to dig in and create. The prompts and worksheets are helpful in getting organized and getting past writer’s block, but they are also fun and much different from the average writing prompt. (I am gathering lots of ideas to share with my summer workshop students.)

“IS YOUR WRITING OUT OF TOUCH? Fine, that happens, but perhaps what you need to do is immediately step away from the keyboard and go touch some things. I mean this literally. Remind yourself of the tactile world you inhabit” (p. 92).

I like the format of this guide and the way Moore uses examples from popular authors to prescribe improvements and fixes to common hurdles, such as:

lack of inspiration
flat plot
weak characterization
invisible setting
silent voice
wobbly structure      
too many words      
too few words

It would be an awesome experience to be a student in one of Dinty Moore’s classes if his book is any indication. 

The publisher provided a review copy of The Story Cure.