Friday, May 31, 2013

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Synopsis: Connie, a doctorate candidate at Harvard, is asked by her mother to take care of the sale of her grandmother's abandoned home near Salem. Strangely, she cannot refuse the request from her free spirited, hippie mother and decides to spend the summer in the house. While looking amongst the bookshelves for something to read, she finds a strange gold key within a family Bible with the name "Deliverance Dane" written on it. Intrigued, she uses her family history to fuel the doctoral thesis and finds a family secret that had leads all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials.

Review: This book was quite delightful from start to finish. It is rare to find a fictional story based on the Salem Witch Trials that is original and not full of unrealistic hokum. Since Katherine Howe is also studying the topic of which she has written about, she brings a certain logical elegance that I appreciated very much. The characters in the story were also very believable and made the story read as real life instead of fantasy, which is something else that I enjoyed very much. If there had been a great deal of individuals riding broomsticks through the sky on a moonlit night, I don't think that I would have been able to finish the book.

Sometimes I thought the transitions between Salem around the 1680's and Cambridge, Massachusetts 1991 were not as smooth as they could be, which was slightly distracting for me. There was also quite a bit of historical information that was given throughout the book, but being someone who enjoys that sort of thing, I did not feel it was a hindrance to my overall enjoyment of the book. If you are person that does not like too many details, this might bother you and make the book a little bit slower of a read.

I also liked how she had several post scripts at the end of the book. The first was an explanation of how she combined fact and fiction in the book along with her own personal ties to the Salem Witch Trial. She also has included a little section on questions to help with book club topics of discussion, which I thought were all thought provoking and interesting. The last is her acknowledgments and all of the individuals that helped her to create this book.

Overall, this was a very nice read and anyone who enjoys realistic historical fiction combined with a modern day mystery will enjoy this book immensely.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book was purchased from a local bookstore; I was not asked to write a review on it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I happened upon this book while at my local bookstore and I was surprised that I had never come across this book before. Naturally I bought it, which was probably one of the best decisions of my life. It has rekindled my desire to write and even, to start reading again on a regular basis.

Stephen King separates this book into three different sections. The first section encompasses the memoir of his life and writing experiences from early childhood on. It was really interesting to see how he became a writer and to see snippets of his childhood. The stories in there made me laugh and broke my heart on several occasions. One of the most poignant memories he writes about is his near fatal car accident in the "Post Script" chapter of his book. I remembered it vaguely when it happened, since I was in college and living it up at the time, but had no idea how serious it was. I was stunned and extremely happy that he survived it and continued writing.

The next section is all about your "Toolbox". King describes the type of writing tools you should have and how they should be organized in your "toolbox". I think a great quote from this section is as follows:

     "I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work" (Page 114).

This spoke to me because I seem to always find an excuse that it is too difficult to write what I want, which allows me to never follow through and stop writing that particular story completely. Maybe all I really needed was to find that right writing tool that would have revealed the true beauty of what I wanted to say, allowing an amazing story to be told. After reading this chapter, I have taken his advice on an additional book to own and believe that I am on my way to obtaining all the "tools" that I need and will have my "toolbox" organized in such a way that writing will come much more easily for me than it does now.

The third and final section of the book is titled "On Writing". In this section King talks about everything related to writing. Are you are having issues with story development? You can find answers to that here. You want to know about revising and how to do it; you can find all that here as well. This section will also talk about agents and getting published. There is so much good advice in this section it is hard to choose only one thing that really spoke to me. However, something that I had overlooked was the fact that I should try to get published on the small scale through magazines first. Writing shorter pieces to get published in magazines will definitely help me in determining what the public is willing to read and what publishers are truly looking for. Something else that stuck with me was when King talked about "you have to sometimes kill your Darlings". No one ever likes to cut out passages in your pieces that you think are terribly clever, but it is sometimes necessary to make the piece stronger and better.

Overall, I think what I liked the most about this book was the language. It felt like I was sitting with Stephen King in his den drinking a cup of delicious tea while reminiscing like a couple of old friends. The prose in this book is just extraordinary and spoke to you instead of at you. It made you want to be a part of the conversation taking place, which is something that is not easy for most writers to accomplish with their readers. If you are a writer, especially a fiction writer, this is one book you should not pass up reading. I urge you to read this and have your own personal conversation with Stephen King. You won't regret it.

Rating: 5 out 5 stars

This book was personally purchased at a local bookstore; I was not asked to do a review on it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberly

My first literary love was Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", so when I saw this book on the shelf of my local bookstore I was intrigued by the premise that it would combine two loves of mine: murder and Jane Austen.

The book starts about six years after the end of "Pride and Prejudice" with Elizabeth and Darcy  getting ready for the Lady Anne's Ball. However, the night before, an out-of-control carriage carrying a hysterical Lydia plunges them into a scandalous murder mystery that exposes some secrets the estate of Pemberly had been trying to keep for many years.

All of the characters from Jane Austen's novel are present and well represented making it easy to picture them, but I had a difficult time losing myself in the story. For the first part of the book I was expecting the elegant writing style of Austen that would enrapture you the whole way through. What I found was that the prose was similar, but I was painfully aware that it was not Austen who had written the book and it took me a very long time to become invested in the storyline.

About halfway through the novel I had to look at the book for what it was, a mystery set at Pemberly with all my beloved characters from "Pride and Prejudice". After I did this, I found that the book was rather enjoyable, but seemed to be a slow read due to all the historical setting description given by James. If a third of that had been cut out, I believe that it would have been a much faster read.

As an aspiring writer, I feel that the last fifty or so pages are a great example of how skilled a writer PD James really is. It was full of intrigue, suspense, and gave a clear picture of what she was trying to write. Because of my love of Jane Austen, I think that the odds were already against James in my mind, for who could ever come close to writing like Austen? Keeping that in mind, I will definitely need to read another novel written by James in the future because I do think that she is a very interesting and thoughtful writer.

Rating: 3 Stars out of five for Jane Austen enthusiast like myself

Book was purchased by myself at a local bookstore; I was not asked to review this book.