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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Inspired by Criticism, but will it change my book reviews?

There's always something scary about submitting a story for critique. Last month I submitted a scene from Subtraction to our local critique group. Subtraction is the novel I'm supposed to be writing while I set up blogposts and book reviews instead. It had kind of stalled at 45,000 words. I knew how it was going to end. I even knew how to get there. But something was missing and I didn't know what.

Since I couldn't give our critique group 45,000 words to critique, I gave them 2,500 from near the end of chapter one. They...
  • liked the writing style - I hadn't put my name to it, but several members said they knew it was mine.
  • recognized the symbols, but thought something else was a symbol that wasn't meant to be; note to self, if repetition implies symbol, be careful what you repeat.
  • disliked a character's name; Becky doesn't work for a hard-smoking film-noir landlady.
  • thought I switched pov too much - maybe just two povs in a scene - I was experimenting, and this feedback definitely helps.
  • hoped one of the characters was introduced earlier - she was.
  • hoped they'd learn more about her later - she kind of disappears, but... that's what was missing! She shouldn't disappear! And now I know exactly what to work on.
So, with thanks to my critique group, I will now get back to adding and subtracting words. But first, please find a coffee mug, fill it with an appropriate brew, and enjoy these book reviews:

I'm going to start with a serious, and seriously good little book, Dance with Jesus, from Grief to Grace, by Susan B. Mead. I had no idea what to expect with this book. It's written for those who are mourning, and I'm not, but the title intrigued me, and the book really drew me in. The scenes start with simple, just slightly unsettling recollections from the author's life. The questions start with simple, just slightly thought-provoking questions about the reader's life. And the whole leads up to grief, loss and hope, beautifully described, beautifully guided, and achingly honest. Drink some well-balanced 3-star coffee and enjoy this beautifully balanced, inspiring read.

Next is a sweet middle-grade novel which also deals with grief (among other things). Picture Imperfect, by Susan Thogerson Maas, presents a twelve-year-old girl with the chance to win a wonderful camera. Meanwhile she's sharing her bedroom with a somewhat unwelcome aunt, her cat keeps escaping, and her beloved grandmother's struggling to keep up. Enjoy this bright,lively tale with some bright lively two-star coffee, and share it with your pre-teen.

Finding His Home, by Adam Walton, starts in junior high school too, with a cruel prank gone wrong. But this one is written for older readers, and the protagonist's life continues to fall apart in dark and frightening ways. Wracked with anger at God and disbelief, the protagonist goes from success to failure to despair, and it's hard to see how any hope can be found. But it's an oddly absorbing, thought-provoking, and even, maybe, inspiring tale, dark and intense, best enjoyed with a dark, intense 5-star coffee.

Grief is important in Forgiving Maximo Rothman, by A. J. Sidransky as well. It's a truly beautiful novel, spanning geography and cultures, as a Jewish detective investigates a brutal crime against an elderly Jewish man. Different shades of faith, different traditions, different wounded pasts, and different memories of fathers all collide in a tale that brings past and present worlds vividly to life, while never losing sight of its characters or its mystery. Enjoy a rich, elegant 4-star with this truly elegant tale.

The Reluctant Midwife, by Patricia Harman, is set in America during the Depression. The displaced here are young men working in camps, a middle-aged woman down on her luck, and a middle-aged doctor who seems to have lost his mind after losing his wife. There's mystery, perhaps; plenty of well-researched history; enjoyable characters and relationships; and hope for the future. It all plays out appealingly and any fans of Call the Midwife will love the medical scenes. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Anywhere but Here, the Starborn Ascension #1, by Jason D. Morrow, is a tale of the future set in a similarly bleak, unforgiving world. But this time the bleakness is caused by a virus. Some people have turned into flesh-eating monsters. Others rebuilt their societies in walled towns. And still others find they have unexpected powers. The story's told with pleasing immediacy in the voices of teen protagonists. It's filled with twists and turns, build to unexpected revelations, and sets the stage for more while still being a pleasing, satisfying read. Enjoy with some bold, dark, intense 5-star coffee.

Then there's Written in Ruberah, by P. Christina Greenaway, science fiction set in present day Cornwall, with roots in the very distant, very mythical, mystical past. It's a sometimes awkward mix, with past lives, sacred futures, crystals and memories, plus rich Cornish food and some American french fries, and more. Bold, dark and intense in places, enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

Finally, on a totally different note, here are Maya and Filippo in the very real world of Hawaii, learning the real meaning of Aloha through bright lively pictures, pleasing text, and a neat little story. Maya and Filippo show Aloha is highly recommended for the tinies in your life; enjoy it with some bright, lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

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