Author: Tara Westover
Review by: Judy Bobrow
Every once in a while, a true story surfaces about how someone overcomes the desperate obstacles brought about by child abuse and neglect to become a person of integrity and substance. The evidence of their survival flies in the face of everything we know about the impact of early life experience on who we become. One question is, “what is it that allows a person to rise above a terrible childhood? Is it something innate – some chemistry – like cream rising to the top? The second question is, “how do they do it?” In Tara Westover’s “Educated,” the “what is it?” remains a mystery. But the “how do they do it?” is laid out step-by-step through 323 pages of a gripping, often disturbing memoir.
Westover is one of seven children growing up in the mountains of Idaho. Her parents are survivalist who believe that the medical and educational establishments are not to be trusted. Only three of her siblings have birth certificates. Accidents and illnesses are treated at home by Westover’s mother, who is a midwife and herbalist. She also is responsible for the children’s formal education, which includes only rudimentary reading, writing and arithmetic. Historical events are never addressed so do not exist in the lives of the children.
“I had been educated in the rhythms of the mountains,” says Westover in the prologue to her book, “rhythms in which change was never fundamental, only cyclical. The same sun appeared each morning, swept over the valley and dropped behind the peak. The snows that fell in winter always melted in the spring. Our lives were a cycle - the cycle of the day, the cycle of the seasons - circles of perpetual change that, when complete, meant nothing had changed at all. I believed my family was a part of this immortal pattern, that we were in some sense, eternal. But eternity belonged only to the mountain.”
In equally beautiful prose, Westover takes us through her childhood: her desperate struggle to survive, to learn about the world outside of the mountain, to think for herself, and ultimately to balance love of family and comfort in the life she creates for herself. Sometimes painfully and sometimes exhilarating, Westover shows us how it is possible to become “Educated” despite all odds. JB
When I started my writing journey, I had no idea what would be involved. For any of you who have been doing this a while, you know exactly what I mean. For those of you who are just starting out, it is my hope that my posts can help give you insight, direction or at the very least a laugh or two.
Early on in the process, and just after I purchased my very first smart phone, I stumbled across some writing podcasts that I have found extremely helpful. I tend to listen to them during the non-writing times in my life: driving in the car, folding laundry, even while I am getting ready in the morning. I would like to share the ones I have received the most value from and highly recommend you check them out!
Sell More Books Show - Bryan and Jim give great insight on the current trends and high-lights from other shows, articles and posts in the industry. Their show is typically about an hour, but is set up in a way that squeezes a lot of information in a very short time. I have gotten a lot out of listening to this podcast as pertains to marketing, publishing, other authors/podcasts/websites to check out, and the ever-changing Amazon environment.
#Twitter Smarter - Madalyn Sklar packs a ton of great tips on optimizing your use of Twitter in her 10 minute segments! She has her finger on the pulse of everything Twitter, and explains things in simple terms so even a newbie can gain a better understanding of the tools available. I have gotten some great direction from this show, and have found some tools that I would have never known existed without listening to her podcast.
The Creative Penn - I can't say enough about Joanna Penn's podcast! I am so glad I found it, I have learned so much from her and her amazing guests! She has an uplifting personality, has been in the business long enough to talk about the changes in the industry and make educated predictions for the future of Indie Publishing. She has published both Fiction and Non-Fiction, which makes her a well-rounded host and her guests have been truly inspirational. Her podcasts do run closer to an hour, but they are filled with a wealth of information you won't want to miss! She lives in the UK, so for authors planning on selling in overseas markets, you will definitely want to give her a listen!
The Science of Social Media - Buffer really squeezes a lot of information on marketing tips and things to check out in less than 15 minutes. They have suggested multiple books, websites and tools which helped me understand how marketing works, and have directed me to the best social media tools to consider in my overall marketing plan. This podcast covers everything marketing, but the concepts are easily converted to my needs as an author. They also have an amazing scheduling tool that is well worth checking out!
If you are looking to level up your author business, I highly recommend checking these podcasts out. And, if you have a podcast that you listen to (or host) that you feel is particularly helpful for writing, publishing, marketing for Indie or Traditional authors, please leave it in the comments below. I would love to check out what you are listening to!
Happy writing! - DH
Author: Linda Grischy
Genre: How-to, Non-Fiction
Published: May 28, 2014
Are you currently a landlord or considering rental property for extra income? If so, you'll want to read this book -- Avoid making costly mistakes! Learn the easy way: through the mishaps of Real Landlords. This book is fun and entertaining yet packed with useful insight!
For more on the author, click here!
In his book, How Fiction Works (1), James Woods gives a name to a technique I’ve been aware of, but never seen discussed. He calls it “free indirect speech,” used to show what a character is thinking. He demonstrates it this way:
“He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy,” he thought, “almost sick.” He wondered what to say.
That is direct, quoted speech.The most common technique, he says, is the “indirect speech:”
He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy, he thought. Almost sick. He wondered what to say.
“Free” indirect speech he demonstrates with this version:
He looked over at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, almost sick. What the hell should he say?
On page 14 of the book Woods does a wonderful analysis of a passage from Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, which shows James using the “free indirect style” to show Maisie’s understanding of the adult world around her. Woods points out all the different voices in Maisie’s head: the things she believes adults have said, as she understands it.
Woods points out the opportunities the free indirect style offers for irony, when the author and the reader know more than the character does. I find a wonderful example in Hilary Mantel’s Fludd. In this paragraph the author tells us what the architect was thinking when he designed a supposedly “medieval” church.
The Church was in fact less than a hundred years old; it had been built when the Irish came to Fetherhoughton to work in the three cotton mills. But someone had briefed its architect to make it look as if it had always stood there. In those poor, troubled days it was an understandable wish, and the architect had a sense of history; it was a Shakespearean sense of history, with a grant contempt of the pitfalls of anachronism. Last Wednesday and the Battle of Bosworth are all one; the past is the past, and Mrs. O’Toole, buried last Wednesday, is neck and neck with King Richard in the hurtle to eternity… (2)
As I find more and more examples I remember something from discourse analysis/text linguistics, which study how text coheres, what holds a paragraph together and defines it as a paragraph.One example is the following:
Tom and Sam decided to go to a movie so Tom and Sam went down town and Tom and Sam bought tickets and then Tom and Sam went into the theater.
Sounds like you keep starting over and over, so the text linguists point out that the use of a pronoun subordinates the rest of the paragraph to the sentence with the proper names, and so gives the paragraph structure and coherence:
Tom and Sam decided to go to a movie so they went down town and they bought tickets and then they went into the theater.
Which still has too many pronouns, but it isn’t so distracting as the repeated proper names in the first version. It does sound like a complete paragraph.
If we take out all the pronouns it begins to sound like “free indirect speech.”
Tom and Sam decided to go to a movie, so went down town and bought tickets and then went into the theater.
I’m interested in how leaving out the pronouns binds the paragraph more tightly. It changes the density of the prose.
He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy, he thought. Almost sick. He wondered what to say.
When we take out the “he thoughts” we also subordinate that sentence within the paragraph, just as the pronouns serve to subordinate the sentences in the paragraph about Tom and Same. And it gives that “chunk” of prose a tighter, more cohesive structure. And it happens when we leave out the repeated pronoun subject:
He looked over at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, most sick. What the hell should he say?
This prose is efficient, as well as vigorous. - SQ
1) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
2) Henry Holt and Company, 1989, p.16.
Genre: Narrative History
Review by: Judy Bobrow
Upon returning from a recent trip to Israel I sat down with My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, to try to unravel the complexities of this extraordinary country. Four hundred and nineteen pages later, I am still under the spell of the fascinating examination of the country, its geography, its people, its religions, its politics, and above all, its challenges.
Written by a leading Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, My Promised Land begins with the story of Shavit’s great grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, a British subject of independent means, who leads a group of twenty-one Zionist pilgrims to Palestine in 1897. Their goal is to evaluate Palestine as a possible homeland for the Jewish people as they are becoming more and more unwelcome in Europe. Shavit takes us on the flat-bottomed steamer on which the pilgrims are traveling, the Oxus, to learn about this group of pilgrims¾what they find and what future they envision.
From this point on, Shavit continues the story through the 20th century and on to the present. We follow events leading up to the founding of the state of Israel and the aftermath. Through the telling of true stories about the pioneers who came, and their descendants, we learn about their struggle to turn the harsh, barren land into farms, orchards, tech centers, nuclear capabilities and cosmopolitan cities. He balances all of that with stories about those left behind in the cloud of fast moving progress those who lost their homes and their land the occupiers and the occupied.
Shavit’s compelling narrative, at times heart warming and at others, heart wrenching, offers no solutions. What it does offer is a kind of blueprint for sorting out the history and the conflict that threatens any hope for peace, not only in the Middle East, but also in the world. It is essential reading for every American. - JB
Genre: Non-Fiction, Marketing
Review by: D.A. Henneman
Fabulous! Wish I would have found this book months ago! The 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge is one of the best investments I have made for my business to date. It walked me through each day’s “assignment,” explaining not only what I should be doing, but why. Rachel’s voice is easy to read and supportive, but holds a high level of expectation. In order to be a success, you must do the work…I was all in!
What I found most helpful as a beginner is that she explained her points with visuals, and provided links to all of the references she made. I highly recommend following the links on time appropriate topics, they give you amazing insight! I was happy to see that I had many of the tools in place she suggested, but still gained a ton of direction to bring my author platform to the next level. This is a great reference for any writer’s toolbox, and would be effective for anyone conducting business online. I highly recommend the challenge for anyone just starting out. You won’t regret taking it!
An intriguing piece of art is engaging both today and tomorrow. We might notice something new or feel slightly different with each viewing. Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling is like art to me. Every time I read this book it satisfies my appetite for extending my writing craft.
I first read this book early in my writing journey—not when I dabbled in the craft, but when I could call myself a writer without bursting into awkward laughter. I remember paging through the chapters and finding things that spoke directly to my WIP. I found inspiration around every corner of this book and you can tell by looking at it. I wrote all over this book. I know that some of you may find that offensive, but get over it, I like to occasionally talk back to my books (and yes, I dog ear the pages too).
The second time I looked through this book, it was to find discussion questions for The Muse Crew’s writing meetings. Each chapter ends with questions that make you dig deep into the concepts at hand. Answering these questions as they relate to what you’re writing is the perfect activity to extend your skills at any stage in the writing process.
The third time I picked up this book was a few weeks ago. It is in my pile of go-to books so I went to it. I wondered if this book had anything to teach me three novels later. Honestly, I doubted it. If I enjoyed it as a newbie, then by now I must be beyond such things. Wrong. So wrong (and not the first or last time I might add). With my lens of writing experience, I saw the pages in a new light and they still had things to teach me. I could relate to the strategies more deeply because I’ve used many of them. Also, it helps to think about your current WIP and consider how it can be strengthened. This book helps with that. In other words, reading it again was no let down, in fact, I feel like I learned even more.
Did you notice that I haven’t given any of the specific strategies or tips from the book? Well, that’s because there is too much! If this is a topic that you find interesting or relevant, then I suggest buy the book. You will not be disappointed. You might even learn something.
Review of Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right
By: Bill Bryson
Reviewed by: Judy Bobrow
Amazon is great! I love shopping there for books and many other things. And I will be forever grateful to the online giant for making it possible for me to complete the daunting task of publishing my family history, “Carrying On.” But one thing Amazon cannot do for me is replace the joy of book browsing for treasures in a bricks and mortar bookstore.
Case in point: On a recent trip to Portland Oregon, I had the pleasure of book browsing for treasures with my 10-year-old granddaughter, Eliana Grace, at Powell’s Books (also known as Powell’s City of Books). After checking out her stack of books she announced: “I want to live in this store.” And while Eliana was finding her treasures, I found one of my own: “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right,” by Bill Bryson, author of “A Walk in the Woods,” and “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
As a young copy editor in 1983, while on the staff of The London Times, Bryson began collecting troublesome usage questions he encountered every day in his work. And from those questions “The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words” was born. The book I found at Powell’s Books, in Bryson’s words, “is not so much a new edition of an old book as a new edition of an old author.” But whatever its name or genesis, the book is a treasure for anyone writing, editing or reading. In it, Bryson tackles, in his words, “the merry confusion of quirks and irregularities (in English) that often seem willfully at odds with logic and common sense.”
Leaf through this little book (only 232 pages including an appendix for punctuation questions), and you will find explanations for many of the “quirks and irregularities” those of us in the writing business constantly puzzle over. There are explanations addressing the differences between who and whom; which and that; sometime and some time; abbreviations, contractions and acronyms; and a long section on number. Here are a few brief examples of Bryson’s explanations to whet your appetite:
behalf: A useful distinction exists between on behalf of and in behalf of. The first means acting as a representative, as when a lawyer enters a plea on behalf of a client, and often denotes a formal relationship. In behalf of indicates a closer or more sympathetic role and means active as a friend or defender. “I spoke on your behalf’” means that I represented you when you were absent. “I spoke in your behalf” means that I supported you or defended you.
connote, denote: Denote means simply to convey information. Connote describes additional aspects that follow from what is denoted. My frown as I approach the house might denote to an interested onlooker that I am unhappy, but connote that I have just spotted the large new dent on the rear passenger door of the family car.
navel, navel: The first pertains to a navy and its possessions or operations, the second to belly buttons and like-shaped objects. The oranges are navel.
needless to say: is a harmless enough expression, but it often draws attention to the fact that you really didn’t need to say it.
prophecy, prophesy: The first is the noun, the second the verb. Thus: “I prophesy war; that is my prophecy.
Bryson says that while all of these distinctions help to make the language we use clear to those listening to it or reading it, they are not made in the interest of “making words conform to an arbitrary pattern.” They are simply “a compilation of suggestions, observations and even treasured prejudices.” For anyone interested in words and their meanings, this book is a treasure to be used as a reference, and to read just for fun. Keeping it on my desk is a constant reminder that the goal in my editing work is to make usage choices that are based on bringing clarity to the works of fiction and non-fiction that I am responsible for.
A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction
By: Benjamin Sobieck
Review by: D.A. Henneman
For anyone not familiar with weapons, but is writing a story that includes them, this guide is for you! The topics are formatted for quick reference, and allows for the author to get the information they need and get right back to writing. Each chapter includes photos and describes the advantages and disadvantages of each type of weapon in easy to read language.
I especially liked that the author included writing examples, inaccurate vs. accurate, giving a clear idea of what to avoid when describing a scene. I recommend this handy resource for any writer that plans on including weapons in their plot. For any information that was not covered in the guide, the author recommends contacting him at CrimeFictionBook.com with questions.
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