Thursday, December 26, 2013

Books I Read This Month - December 2013

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because I enjoy being unique. I like knowing the things I write have come from me and not some random internet source. Though sometimes it can be hard to know if what you're writing is genuinely from you or if you think it's from you but it actually came from somewhere else unconsciously. I read so much that my thoughts and writings are essentially an amalgamation of my experiences and the books I've read. For instance, in the month of December, I did a bit of reading:

The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison

This novel begins with twenty-something Stella helping her grandmother, who is going downhill with dementia. After her death, Stella searches for her long-lost aunt and fins her an alcoholic living in a trailer park. The two women are both struggling through some difficult psychological and emotional issues, and they learn by attempting to help each other that they can only really work to help themselves. This book is depressing, very angsty, and takes some mental effort to get through, but the payoff is well worth it. The writing style is gorgeous and leaves you with a sad but overall reassuring feeling.

Let the Dark Flower Blossom by Nora Labiner

Strange and mysterious, this novel is a unique twist on the writer's experience of life, tracing the days of a writer and his twin sister during a relationship with their college friend and past his murder. The style is odd and winding but beautifully renders emotions through single-sentence paragraphs and evocative word choice. It often has the appearance of poetry but is definitely prose, detailing the inner life of this writer as he dives into his sister's and friend's minds, discerning the motives behind murder. This is a literary mystery with a confusing but surprising ending.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

This collection of short stories is set in Michigan (my home state) and follows a handful of characters through some rough and raw experiences. There are meth addicts, domestic violence victims, and people living in poverty in these pages, each possessing their own degree of likability. Some are hard to understand because of their inconsiderate decisions, others are hard to pity be of their self-destructiveness. Overall, though, each character reveals something subtle about the human condition.

Brief Encounters with the Enemy by Said Sayrafiezadeh

Each of these short stories has a similar plot line and writing style, leaving each one feeling not quite unique from the collection. However, this sameness is necessary to reveal the themes of the book, more a novel in short stories than a short story collection. The inhabitants of a city, usually lower-class men in their twenties or thirties, tackle the mundaneness of 9 to 5 life, the predictability of relationships, and the blindness of war. The writing is bleak and straightforward which, in the case of the themes, is perfect for the stories. It's tough to get through and emotionally harrowing, and this book left me with residual emotional anxiety from the reminder that my life is not all that different from the young people in these stories. It's very affecting and depressing, not suggested for the lighthearted. Needless to say, the writing style is effective.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

IWSG - MFA Program Applications

Good day all. Today is an Insecure Writers' Support Group Day, and boy am I stressing.

I'm applying this month to a handful of MFA in Creative Writing programs, in the hopes of starting one next fall. In the process of gathering and organizing, I have to choose two or three of my best short stories to send to these fairly prestigious schools. But is my best really my best? Are these few stories really representative of my potential?

Choosing the best of my writing is nerve-wracking because I know that if I do not get into a program, it is due to the writing sample: that's the part of the application they give the most weight. It is a writing program, after all. If I choose the wrong piece, the program may see it as representative of my writing ability and reject me; if I choose something that I'm not fully confident in, my fear will likely be apparent in each word of the story. The thing is, I'm not fully confident about any of my writing. But, I do know that these two or three stories are not everything I've written; they're just acting as representations of my writing on the whole. If I am rejected, it's not a rejection of me as a writer, it's a rejection based on my application. I'll write many brilliant stories afterward, whether I get into an MFA program or not. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Books I Read This Month - October 2013

No Animals We Could Name by Ted Sanders

This is a collection of short stories by the winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize. Overall, this is a spectacular collection. My favorites would have to be the three-part story, "Airbag," and the story, "Putting the Lizard to Sleep." When I first started reading, I was incredibly annoyed at the passive voice in the first and second stories. However, halfway through the second one, "Flouder," I got an idea for a short story that would work perfectly with the slow pace and extended moments of passive voice, so it's not all bad, apparently. Excellent voice and unique observations make this collection a great read for literary-minded readers and writers.

Saints and Sinners by Edna O'Brien

I have been reading a lot of short stories to help hone my own craft and to prepare for an MFA Creative Writing program, so I read this collection this month as well. I'll be honest, I wasn't too fond of this one. The characters were great and relatable, and sad in their human way, which is the goal of literary fiction, but sometimes the prose seemed a bit drab, though perhaps it was just in comparison to the book I read just before it.

The House at the End of Hope Street by

This book is girly, romancey, supernaturally, light and fluffy, and generally not very ... me. But somehow I found it charming and could not put it down. This is likely because of the strong main character, who I could relate to quite a lot. Problems I had with it: written in the present tense, except for flashbacks, character perspective changes pretty much every page, overdone use of dead literary figures as the main characters support and inspiration. But somehow, I really don't know how, I enjoyed it.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Spectacular. Gorgeous. I can't rave enough. It's not that there were any amazing themes that really resonated with me (which is the reason why I usually feel this passionate about a good book), but I cannot count the number of times I got caught up in Karen Russell's prose. Beautiful writing style, absolutely original premises, fully fleshed-out and rich characters, settings, and worlds, and syntax to die for. Every other page, I found myself thinking, "I wish I could write like this ... I want to write like this."

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Vanished Knight: The War of Six Crowns by M. Gerrick (Review and Interview)

"She’d never been to a boarding school before, but it was a school just the same as all the others. Except that here the students wore black and blue uniforms—a good reminder as any of the pain they could inflict if she let them."

Book Blurb: 
 
Since the death of her parents, Callan Blair has been shunted from one foster family to another, her dangerous secret forcing the move each time. Her latest foster family quickly ships her off to an exclusive boarding school in the Cumbrian countryside. While her foster-brother James makes it his mission to get Callan expelled, a nearby ancient castle holds the secret doorway to another land...

When Callan is forced through the doorway, she finds herself in the magical continent of Tardith, where she’s shocked to learn her schoolmates Gawain and Darrion are respected soldiers in service to the king of Nordaine, one of Tardith's realms. More than that, the two are potential heirs to the Black Knight—Nordaine's crown prince.

But when the Black Knight fails to return from a mysterious trip, the realm teeters on the brink of war. Darrion and Gawain set out to find him, while Callan discovers there is more to her family history than she thought. The elves are claiming she is their princess.

Now with Darrion growing ever more antagonistic and her friendship with Gawain blossoming, Callan must decide whether to stay in Nordaine—where her secret grows ever more threatening—or go to the elves and uncover the truth about her family before war sets the realms afire.

Review: 

With her sad, resigned cynicism and her muted self-consciousness, Callan Blair makes for an immediately likable protagonist who is easy to root for in this interesting, mysterious portal-fantasy novel, The Vanished Knight by M. Gerrick (pen name of Misha Gericke, who blogs here).

Gericke (or Gerrick, if you prefer) does an excellent job with characterization. Some characters start off at the beginning of the book acting a bit like archetypes—such as James, Callen's foster brother who is both attractive and arrogant in his upper-class snobbery, and Phipps, the castle guard who threatens expulsion to all who disobey even the smallest of rules. But, as it turns out, these archetypes are actually only the outer layers to the characters, which peel away as the adventure progresses and they reveal more of their true selves.

Callan's character is very well-developed, as she has both flaws and positive traits, both fears and desires. Her backstory and her life outside the fantasy realm are realistic, making the transition through the portal more accessible and believable.

Descriptions of action are dynamic and engaging, tracing the flowing moves of sword fights. The pacing of this novel is excellent and remains exciting page after page. The mystery behind who Callan's real parents are, where the Black Knight disappeared to, and who will be chosen as the next king keep the suspense going. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel!  

Now, how about an interview with the author, Misha Gericke?
 
Writers often use the mantra "Write what you know." This usually turns into characters as manifestations of the author's traits. How much of Callan is you? 

Hahaha oooh this is tricky. I see her as a person of her own, but in fact, I guess you can say that each of the characters have an aspect of my personality. Which is interesting, given how much they clash.

As for Callan, the most obvious bit to her that comes from my own experience is living with constant nightmares. I get night terrors, the intensity and frequency of which vary. But at the time I was rewriting the book (which is when her dreams started to feature) I was pretty much getting at least one night terror per night, every night, for months. It became a rather important part of the story, but when I was improvising it during the rewrite, I guess I was channeling my own feelings and fears onto the page. The nature of her dreams differ from mine, though.  

Tell us about the world of Tardith. How did it develop in your mind? 

Well... After the first inspiration came, I started thinking of the world I wanted to write about. And I wanted to be different, so I made the "world" a continent, and made the setting into four countries.

In a sense, I approached these four countries the same way I approach characterization. So I assumed (in my special special little mind) that Tardith and its countries existed. I also knew there'd need to be some sort of conflict between them, coming out of their history. (The same way I believe character conflicts need to come from their motivation.)

While I drafted, I started realizing that one country (Icaimerith) was the aggressor, one (Ladrien) was the scrappy Jack Russel that had been fighting Icaimerith off for centuries, one (Alfen Cairn) was actually in Icaimerith's sights and its king knows it, and one (Nordaine) despises, or at least ridicules the other three. Nordaine could counter-balance Icaimerith, but... well... due to one long and nasty history, they're simply not bothered to.

But then, of course, the war's coming, and suddenly Nordaine might just have to step up after all.

What is your writing process like? Do you plan ahead or just write as you go?

Mostly, I just write, discovering as I go, but making sure that everything I've learned before adds to the present discovery, or else the story wouldn't make sense. Usually, it's like a thinking game, where I contemplate what I know, and then see where I can take that knowledge within the overall story.

What has been the most challenging part of your writing and publishing journey so far? What's been the easiest? :)

Time-wise, drafting the story that would become The Vanished Knight and The Heir's Choice was the hardest. Took me about five years just to get that done.

Emotionally, querying was the hardest. The book simply wasn't standard fantasy fare. Still isn't, even if it might seem so. So I received a ton of rejections without, I feel, the agents even bothering to read anything I sent in except for the query.

Easiest was editing it. I spent so long locking up my inner editor that she had a field day when I unleashed her on my manuscript.

The Vanished Knight is the first in the series. Can you give away any fun teasers as to what's in store? :)

In the The Heir's Choice, Callan's the only person who can save Alfen Cairn  (and if you've read The Vanished Knight, you could probably figure out why she wants to). Problem is, she owes Nordaine for saving her life, and they need her to act against Alfen Cairn's interests...  

Author Bio:

M. Gerrick (AKA Misha Gericke) has basically created stories since before she could write. Many of those stories grew up with her and can be seen in her current projects. She lives close to Cape Town, with a view over False Bay and Table Mountain. If you’d like to contact her, feel free to mail her at warofsixcrowns(AT)gmail(DOT)com, Circle her on Google Plus, or follow her on Twitter. If you'd like to see her writer-side (beware, it's pretty insane), please feel free to check out her blog. You can also add The Vanished Knight on Goodreads.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Get Your Non On

I'm not usually one to read non-fiction books much, but these recent and forthcoming titles fascinated me, and I just have to share them with you. :) I hope you find something here that interests you!

Lincoln and Reconstruction by John C. Rodrigue

Beyond the God Particle by Leon Lederman

Gaddafi's Harem:The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya by Annick Cojean

The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment by Kenneth Worthy

A God Torn to Pieces: The Nietzsche Case, Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture by Giuseppe Fornari

The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga by Sylvain Tesson

Ender's Game: Inside the World of an Epic Adventure by Jed Alger

Goodbye to All That:Writers on Loving and Leaving New York edited by Sari Botton

Infotheism/God's Information: Strengthening the Dialogue between Religions by Ozer Ucuran Ciller

The Ultimate Book of Imposters: Over 100 True Stories of the Greatest Phonies and Frauds by Ian Graham

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Difference by John R. Hibbing, etc.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Prodigal by Michael Hurley

With a prologue that can stand alone as a striking, atmospheric short story on its own, The Prodigal is an eloquently written debut novel of island life. Overall, the story and writing style are enchanting, and the characters are all wonderfully drawn and mostly relatable and likable. As the title implies, the book is an allegory of the prodigal son story, though The Prodigal is a ship, so the reference is not entirely perfect, but this does not detract from the story at all.

Adrian Sharpe is a lawyer—and a very good one—who has charmed his way to the top with his clever and sneaky ways of getting out trouble. He and two of his coworkers take a vacation on the island of Ocracoke, where Adrian encounters a handful of unusual locals who leave him both confused and intrigued. After he returns home, he learns of a medical malpractice case that he had completely forgotten about and which starts that day. This scenario does not seem that realistic, but Hurley pulls it off excellently with his gorgeous writing style, gift for description, and a creation of a distinct tone and atmosphere. The section detailing the trial also is quite long, and though it is a very enjoyable read while reading it, after finishing that section, it seems like the amount of detail did not necessarily serve a purpose. However, upon further inspection, it becomes apparent that most every paragraph does at least something to further develop and reveal Adrian's character. He has both flaws and positive qualities, which make him a someone readers will want both to root for and to hope for personal growth and change.

After the trial and an unfortunate series of events, Adrian is offered the opportunity to return to Ocracoke Island. Each character there has their own personality and background that tie into the story nicely and influence that plot. On the island, Adrian seems to move into the backdrop of the plot as other, more interesting characters come forward—and Adrian also seems to stick out to the reader (but not to the characters) like a sore thumb on the island. The eclectic nature of the population of the island keeps the story engaging, even when it pushes the level of realism. Perhaps it is this edge-of-realistic atmosphere that contributes to the magic of the writing. Hurley has incredible skill in creating a mystical and mysterious tone, especially at the start of the book. The small town community atmosphere is also well-developed, especially in scenes that take place in the bar. A large portion of the book, in the final third, takes place on the boat, The Prodigal, as Adrian and his friends are racing against the main antagonist; once again, here, the descriptions of the setting and of the relationships between the characters are gorgeously wrought, but some of the events aren't entirely realistic. And, once again (again), Hurley pulls it off wonderfully with his romantic-sounding prose.

One thing that bothered me was the level of nudity in the book. I was in no way offended by it (though maybe conservative readers would be) but it did make me roll my eyes sometimes, when it seemed unnecessary. "Really? She's naked again? Why?" Sometimes it made sense, but it seemed that every other page had someone not wearing any clothing for little to no reason.

I would love to read more about the two lovers in the prologue, honestly, and I was disappointed that Hurley didn't fully flesh out their story. Overall, though, The Prodigal is a beautiful read. It is one I would feel compelled to recommend to romance fans and maybe historical fiction fans (even though it takes place in present day, it has a sort of historical fiction feel to it), albeit with a disclaimer about the nudity—but this shouldn't stop anyone from reading.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Crash

Today is September 22nd, the day Oceanic flight 815 crashed on the island. Happy LOST plane crash day!


Peace, Aimee

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Peace Day 2013


In 1999, Jeremy Gilley founded the film project Peace One Day to document his efforts in creating an annual day of ceasefire and nonviolence with a fixed calendar date. In 2001, Peace One Day achieved its objective when the United Nations unanimously adopted the International Day of Peace 21 September.

Since Peace Day 2007, 4.5 million children in Afghanistan have been vaccinated against polio, and the Taliban signed a ceasefire agreement that allows UNICEF to enter the country on the 21st of September. According the UN, there was a 70% reduction in violence on the day. Peace One Day’s goal for 2012 is to see a reduction in violence across the whole world. If it is possible in Afghanistan, it’s possible anywhere.

In 2011 and 2012, I hosted blogfests to celebrate International World Peace Day, but this year, unfortunately, I simply did not have the time to prepare. It's quite a lame excuse, not having time for peace, but, alas, that is what happened. Life catches up with you, and things slip by. Important things.Things like remembering the violence and war and disease that have scarred our planet throughout history, like empathizing with the poor, ill, and oppression people across the globe, like noticing the signs of domestic abuse in those around us, like reaching out to friends we have wronged and asking them for forgiveness. This is what Peace Day is all about: stepping back and joining with humanity in an effort to love everyone, regardless of nationality, race, religion, gender, age, politics, or language. 

This year, I am obviously not hosting a blogfest, but I have instead compiled a list of eight books, some very new, some very old, that promote peace and peaceful thinking. There are some novels, some memoirs, some nonfiction, but I have read and adored them all. With some, it may not be apparent at first how it relates to peace, but I promise, each book on this list is a gem and offers deep insight into what it means to be human and how understanding this teaches us how to treat one another. I hope you can find one or two books on this list to peruse and enjoy, and I hope you find comfort in knowing that others have read the same book and contemplated it, finding a new perspective on humanity through it, just the same as you. 

Thank you, and peace, Aimee.

1. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

2. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

3. Order without Power: An Introduction to Anarchism by Normand Baillargeon

4. What Is the What by Dave Eggers

5. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

6. Making History by Stephen Fry

7. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

IWSG - Time and Time Again

The semester has started—my last year before attaining my Bachelor's degree (yes, I'm that young). I am seriously looking forward to grad school, whether that be an MFA program or a regular Master's program in English. Depends on where I get in. But meanwhile, I write.

Except, during the semester, I have less time to write. How original. I feel like this is what most of my IWSG posts have been about during the semester. But this year, I am incorporating as much of my writing life into my studies, and as much of my studies into my writing life.

For instance, I have to write a thirty-page thesis paper about any topic I choose relating to literature. As three of my top twenty favorite books involve time travel, and one of the novels I am working on writing involves time travel, I have added to one of the contenders for my senior thesis to be the effect of time travel in contemporary fiction and its implications of the human condition. I'm pumped.

And meanwhile, I write.

Peace, Aimee

P.S. Read this amazingly comprehensive blog by author Sebastian Cole discussing step-by-step the process of writing, editing, querying, and publishing. I'd even go so far as to say that this should be every writer's go-to guide (though obviously there are some rules you can bend here and there depending on your situation). 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Books I Read This Month - August 2013

Apparently I went on a science fiction and historical kick this month, with four books that each take place in the past, two of them with science fiction elements, and all with some real events. Must just have been the mood I was in.

Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

A physicist has a plan to dig a hundreds-of-miles wide equilateral triangle into the Sahara desert to attract Martians by lighting it on fire as a signal on the night that Mars is closest to Earth. Fascinating premise, and I was super excited to read this book. The jargon and scientific language slowed down the plot a bit, but I am educated in science enough understand it completely. The characters are so dynamic, well-defined, and interesting.  A great read for those who enjoy sci-fi rather than historical fiction.

The Movement of the Stars by Amy Brill

A twenty-something girl who has grown up in a Quaker community in the 1800s has a dream of discovering a new comet and has no interest in getting married, as her family wishes her to do. But then she meets a foreign sailor who she begins teaching navigation skills, and she falls in love. I didn’t think the sailor character was very believable, and though he was a very sweet guy, I wasn’t entirely sure what she saw in him—or what he saw in her. Though the characters and premise were not original or quite deep enough for my liking, I did enjoy the writing style of this book.

Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith

Extremely thorough and rich detail—so much the plot was too slow for my tastes, but also so much that a vivid image of the setting could be immediately conjured, almost dreamlike—made this book a deep, fantastic read. The level of detail could sometimes make the story boring, but I generally found myself caught up in the imagery. It’s a story set partly in turn-of-the-century Chicago, partly in some Pacific islands, where a museum item collector sailed to bring back native islanders for a museum exhibition. I would highly recommend this read for those with the time, intellect, and attention-span to make it through.

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Half of this book is a historical account of Christopher Columbus’ life, and the other half is the account of a distant future community where a machine can peek into the past and observe. But one girl believes she can develop the technology to actually travel back and change Columbus’ mind about his journey across the ocean in order to divert the corruption of Christianity—and even more terrifying, she believes that someone has already done this before. I loved the plot, though the historical story line wasn’t all that engaging, and, to be honest, the conversation taking place in the future story line wasn’t all that exciting either. Maybe it was just the premise that kept me reading, wanting to know how the plot would resolve.

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

IWSG - Short Stories and the Dreaded Grad School Application

There are certainly a number of writerly things to be insecure about, but I am suffering from one such ailment that plagues those in academia: grad school applications.

No, I have not gotten to the actual applying part of the process, but I'm in the picking of the schools to which I am going to apply process, which means looking at their admissions requirements. I am planning on going down either one of two paths, and will be applying to a few of each side of the divide: PhD in English Literature and MFA in Creative Writing. All are competitive programs. All have intimidating and successful alumni. And all require some form of a writing sample in the application. I am super confident with my essay, which has the potential to get me into a fairly decent PhD program. But my true love is fiction, and it seems that none of my short stories are good enough to qualify as an MFA application piece. I've been hammering away at my keyboard, perhaps even more than I usually do, to try to shape up at least two stories that can represent my best work so far.

...And that's all I can say about this matter, except that it feels like my entire life and future depends on two short stories. Which, in a way, it most certainly does. I just need a bit of writer fairy dust. Wish me luck!

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Books I’ve Read in the Past Seven Months

Since the beginning of 2013, I have had pretty much zero time to read. I moved. I work full time. I’m in college full time. I write. I have people with whom I enjoy speaking on a semi-daily basis. I also need to sleep sometimes. In the absence of free time in which I could pick up a book in which to immerse myself, I found myself surrounded by books—hundreds every day (due both to my job and to my large collection at home)—all of which were calling out to me, yearning for my attention. So, as you can imagine, when the semester ended in May, I devoted myself to my long-lost friends and reacquainted myself with the language that I’d thought had slipped away from me for good. But of course, it hadn’t. Those precious books had been there for me all along, supporting me from a distance with their elusive metaphors and sing-song voices.

Here are the results—the books I’ve read in the past seven months (January 1, 2013 through July 31, 2013), NOT including anything I’ve read for work or school:

A Light-Hearted Look at Murder by Mark Watson

This was an offbeat, sad, and quirky reintroduction to reading after a long, busy break. I was expecting, based on the premise, that this would be a hilarious book, but it was actually quite depressing. It’s about a girl who begins writing letters to a man in prison through a companionship program, but since his letters come in German, she must rely on the translations provided by her lazy roommate. In the letters, this man describes his years in college, when he acted as a Hitler impersonator and dated a seven foot tall girl. His voice in the letters is deep and engaging, but the story is full of sadness, and the ending is especially unsatisfying emotionally—though not narratively.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

When his avid reader mother is diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live, editor Will Schwalbe begins sharing his thoughts on books he’s read when he accompanies her on trips to treatment appointments. Their meetings turn into a book club of sorts, and they read various books they’ve wanted to read their whole lives, as well as rereading favorites and foraying into new genres. As they both confront Schwalbe’s mother’s imminent death, this memoir unfolds into a touching ode to her life. More about his mother than about the books they read, The End of Your Life Book Club is a definite tearjerker, but also a must read for writers and anyone who’s ever had a mother. After reading it, I gave it to mine for Mother’s Day.

The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis

I’d heard so many wonderful things about this book that I decided to read it, despite it being young adult, which I do not read very often. Sort of a story within a story, this book follows a teenage girl as she develops a relationship with a drug dealer who is caring for his young sister after their mother has disappeared. I had the notion that I would love this book based on the first chapter, but the more I read, the more I despised the narrator, this teenage girl. Young adult is a genre populated with weak female leads, and it is a genre that needs them the most. This drug dealer, while hurting deeply, did some terrible things to this girl, unforgiveable even in his sympathetic situation—and the narrator stayed with him. That really upset me and ruined the book for me, I have to say. Her actions were meant to be seen as forgiving and compassionate, but she just seemed needy and submissive to his abuse. The characters were extremely well developed, and the writing was, no doubt, absolutely beautiful, but I found it hard to stick with some of the characters’ actions and to understand their motivations.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

The end of humanity is approaching. After a nuclear war that wiped out most of the planet, only Australia is left, and the inhabitants know that the radiation is wafting their way. With only a few weeks before they will die, this small community inquires about how and when it will happen while simultaneously hoping it will not. Kind of a slow progression toward their deaths, and hugely sad, this book is not for those who want a tightly wrapped ending. A focus on the present moment and the hope derived from that type of life manifests here. It’s a whisper instead of a bang sort of deal.

Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich

Every time I think, “I should probably read some young adult fiction. This one looks good,” I always feel I’ve made the wrong decision. Maybe young adult is simply not my thing, and I should finally recognize that and stop trying so hard to enjoy it. With this one, I felt the wealthy, snobby Elliot was too archetypal, as was the quiet, smart narrator. I’m sure there are a few middle-school kids who would love it, though.

The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson

I read Linda Olsson’s previous two books and loved them, but this one was slightly too pretentious for me. The main characters are too introspective and self-absorbed, even when they seem to try to be helping other people. Gorgeous prose at times, though, certainly.

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link

I read this memoir because I know the author’s family, and I work for the book review company she co-founded, ForeWord Reviews (Shameless plug. But seriously,book lovers should probably visit. You know, if you want to.). While the premise does not seem all that engaging (newly divorced woman struggles through raising three teenage boys on a farm), Mardi Jo Link is such an astoundingly great writer that she drives her story forward with crazily badass strength. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and a tear jerker at the same time. Highly recommended.

Island by Aldous Huxley

More an exposition on spirituality than a novel, this is quite different from A Brave New World, the only other of Huxley’s works I’ve read. A man crashes on an island to discover a group of people who have lived separated from civilization (by choice) for decades. Curiosity ensues. I recommend it for people with a dozen hours to use reading spiritual texts or novels of the like who wish for a change of pace. A slow pace, but one that takes you through a story that will reveal wise insights into the way we behave.

Doctor Who: Shroud of Sorrow by Tommy Donbavand

Because I’m a major nerd, I saw this book and absolutely had to read it. It was pretty awesome. I’m definitely going to read more of the Doctor Who books as I see them.

The Carriage House by Louisa Hall

The father of three young women has a stroke, and his long-time sort of girlfriend moves into his house to care for her—while his dementia suffering wife is still living there. The three daughters come home as well, and they lobby against the neighbors when they decide to tear down the carriage house that is on their property after some lines have changed. The girls (the oldest a young mother, the middle child a architecture student contemplating getting back with her ex, and the youngest still in high school) each tell their own side of the story, the author using perfect narrative distance in a third-person point of view. There is humor, there is sadness, and there is truth in these characters—they are whole people. As I was reading this, I was thinking, “This is the type of book I want to write.”

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee

This reminded me of a less gory, less emotional, more community-centered version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A fisherwoman visits her family on the Tasmanian coast, where the body of a tourist washes up on the shore, reminding residents of the disappearance of a teenage girl the previous year. The characterization in the novel is marvelous. Poppy Gee gets so deep into each character’s head you feel you can understand what they will do next and why. This does not make the plot predictable though; you’ve got to continue reading to find out who-dun-it (also easy to figure out) and to see where the relationships between the characters will lead. I don’t really recommend it if you find the plot interesting, but for writers, this is a must-read for skills in characterization and narrative distance.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

A genius plot with characters who, while not entirely likable, drive the story forward with their intricate and diverse motivations. It captures a realistic picture of the relationship between highbrow academia and inner city dignity. The characters are all relatable and vividly real, though they are all extremely difficult to like, likely because they’re so real.

Best New American Voices 2010

In an effort to read more short stories (and write them) in preparation for applying to MFA programs this fall, I read this collection of stories from the top MFA programs, hoping some of the talent would rub off on me—or that I could recognize myself in them. These are all fantastic stories, some of them I could see myself writing, some of them not really fitting of my preferences, and others I wish I had written. This is probably the most important book I’ve read all year so far.

The Incurables by Mark Brazaitis

This collection of short stories I had the impression by the cover and the author’s credentials would be absolutely amazing, but I was vaguely disappointed. The author captured the mental states of a handful of characters from a town in Ohio with imagination, but I wasn’t extremely impressed. Great intent and decent hand at the craft, but this book just wasn’t for me.

So there you go. The books I read in the past seven months.

Peace, Aimee

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Books Are Keeping Me Busy

As they should be, seeing as I'm supposedly a self-proclaimed writer and all.

Speaking of which, read this excellent article from TIME about how reading literature improves our ability to empathize with others.

I'll be getting back into the blogging swing of things slowly and surely, though work and college and writing and life certainly hold more sway over my whims that does this book blog. Be prepared to hear about some excellent (and not so excellent) books from me with my up-coming end-of-July "Books I've Read in the Past Seven Months" (which equates to about my previously normal month's worth of reading due to my being extremely swamped in other matters), followed by my further "Books I've Read This Month" posts at the end of each following month, IWSG posts the first Wednesday of every month, and as many reviews as I can get to scattered throughout. Don't expect more than that, though, as my writing is, of course, the thing to which I devote every free second of my free time.

Free time. Good joke.

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

IWSG - Long Time No See

I have not, with the exception of posting two reviews, been active in the blogosphere for approximately two months. With full-time responsibilities at work, at school (working toward a degree), and at, I don't know, a social life, I simply have not had the time—not even half an hour to write a blog post or accept an addition book for review.

And yet, I do not, as I often do, feel disassociated from my writing. In fact, I feel closer to the characters, the words, and the atmosphere than ever before. While I do not have enough time to make significant progress on anything, I do feel that my passion is closer to my every day life than it has ever been before. Though I hardly have the opportunity to sit down and crank out a page or two on any given day, I do certainly feel like a writer—or that I'm inching closer to the writer lifestyle which has always been my goal.

So I wouldn't say I'm feeling insecure about my writing, though I am definitely feeling that tug, the yanking in my chest, my heart going "We need this. Get those hands on that keyboard or your life will be a waste." And I'm proud to say that I'm not scared anymore about not being able to achieve my goals. I can see a writing future for me ahead, even if it's not an amazingly successful one. As long as I'm writing—fame and fortune or not—then I'm living.

Peace, Aimee

Sunday, February 17, 2013

White Cedar Press by Eric Burnett Timar

After working as an editor for a small yet prestigious publishing house in New York for four years, Tim Craire receives a request from the publisher to edit and prepare for publication a novel featuring Huckleberry Finn as a slave trader. A few more reimaginings of literary classics get Tim thinking that White Cedar Press is attempting to start a new, quirky trend, but soon he fears the worst: the head honcho is starting to go a bit mad, and he will likely take the press down with him.

From New York to New Zealand to Miami, Tim begrudgingly follows his boss’s wishes, conversing with authors regarding their work, questioning coworkers, and attempting to piece together the implications of White Cedar Press’s turn for the worse—implications for both the company and for Tim’s own future.

Though the young editor is simultaneously working on writing his own fantasy novel and struggling through a complicated relationship, his loyalty remains with White Cedar Press, even through its usual transformation. Tim continues to obey his orders and work on these humorous, borderline-offensive projects, though he feels like the odd one out as his colleagues jump aboard the press’s changing bandwagon. Questioning authority (aloud) is not Tim’s strong suit. Tim often feels as though he’s the only one driving the right way down a one-way street, but, as it turns out, some of the odd books begin to sell decently well. Perhaps their creativity is what grabs an audience.

White Cedar Press is a well-written and delightful—though not revolutionary—comment on the current publishing climate. Like the future of the publishing industry, the novel’s ending is a bit vague, leaving the reader wishing it to be a bit more defined. The humor and frustration along the way to this end, however, makes for an entertaining read. Readers with knowledge of the publishing industry will get more out of the book than those without. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Social Media Just for Writers by Frances Caballo (Part Two)

Last Tuesday, I was a part of the book tour for Social Media Just for Writers by Frances Caballo and announced a giveaway of the book. The winner is…

Lara!

Congratulations, Lara. I will be emailing you shortly. Now, here is my review of Social Media Just for Writers, which I would have posted on Tuesday had I not been ridiculously bogged down with other responsibilities: 

From Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest and more, the options for networking and gaining readers are more plentiful than most writers believe. By comparing the significant social media vehicles to writers and artists who would have loved the tools had they lived in the modern age, Frances Caballo outlines the best online marketing skills needed to reach a wider readership. This guide is an invaluable source that takes writers through a simple step-by-step process—led by writer and communications marketer with over 23 years of experience—to develop their knowledge of social media and to promote their books using the internet.

For each media vehicle she outlines (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, blogs, and offline marketing) Caballo provides an in-depth step-by-step process that details how to set up a profile, develop a following, and maintain a presence. The approachability of the guide is excellent even for those writers who are unfamiliar with social media. Screenshots and hints and tips are easy to follow, while lists of applications for all media forms will aid writers in organizing their posting schedules and analyzing the number of followers and hits their sites get, to help them gauge the success of their marketing—and to help them decipher how they can improve. 

Not only does Caballo explain how to use social media successfully in order to promote a book, but she also explores why these media vehicles are useful for writers and why they work the way they do. If a writer were to follow Caballo’s word to the tee, they could easily master the basics of social media marketing by the time they finished reading the book. Online marketing is essential for writers hoping to promote their book, and Caballo’s Social Media Just for Writers is an invaluable source to teach those writers the ins and outs of the process. There is nothing else like it out there that I know of—highly recommended. 

Learn more about the book on Frances Caballo's website, or by visiting her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Social Media Just for Writers by Frances Caballo

From Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest and more, the options for networking and gaining readers are more plentiful than most writers believe. By comparing the significant social media vehicles to writers and artists who would have loved the tools had they lived in the modern age, Frances Caballo outlines the best online marketing skills needed to reach a wider readership. This guide is an invaluable source that takes writers through a simple step-by-step process—led by writer and communications marketer with over 23 years of experience—to develop their knowledge of social media and to promote their books using the internet.

As a part of this book tour/review, I will be hosting a giveaway! Everyone who comments on this post will be put into a drawing for a copy of Social Media Just for Writers. I will announce the winner on Monday 28 January 2013. 

Learn more about the book on Frances Caballo's website, or by visiting her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Books Released This Month - January 2013

Fear of Beauty by Susan Froetschel
Fiction
15 January 2013
An Afghan women searches for her son's murderer while a US soldier attempts to escape the effects of a rough childhood, each learning the extent of cultural differences.

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas
Historical Fiction
10 January 2013
During WWII, a newlywed couple leaves Wales for the first time in their lives to live at a missionary post in India.

The Day My Brain Exploded by Ashok Rajamani
Memoir
22 January 2013
The memoir of a young man's journey through the recovery from a brain aneurism.




Wednesday, January 2, 2013

IWSG - This Year


This is the year. That's what I tell myself every year. But this year I've decided to be more realistic. I will write, of course, but I will not pressure myself to finish the novel. This may not be the year I finish the novel and work towards its publication, but it is the year that I take myself and my abilities seriously. That's my writing (and living) resolution: be more honest with myself and others.

What about you?

Peace, Aimee