Book review: On Writing

Hello friends,

I just finished listening to the audiobook of “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King.  I had read the book years ago and enjoyed it, and since I am going through a bit of a writing struggle, I thought it might be helpful to revisit it.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I’ve never read any of King’s fiction, as I’m not fond of the horror genre, but I’m always willing to listen to the voice of experience.  In this book, King narrates the story of his life, interweaving memorable incidents with his writing adventures.  As a child, he was drawn to science fiction and scary stories, so those are the stories he set out to write.

I found the book meaningful and useful as he addressed the struggles of writing, especially with a full-time teaching job, and the inevitable rejections a writer must be willing to face.  I also appreciated his advice to read a lot – he contends that a successful writer needs to also be a voracious reader.

Upon finishing the book, I watched some YouTube interviews.  He’s an interesting man, and surprisingly endearing.  I felt a kinship with him when he stated something I’ve always believed – that anything we have in this world is “on loan.”  We enter this life without anything, and we leave it the same way.  The things and people we call “ours” we don’t get to keep, but to enjoy for the time we are here.

It’s a useful idea for keeping perspective.

Blessings,

Annette

Book review: The Book of Useless Information

Dear friends,

I just finished this one, which was my bedside book for a few weeks:

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This book is filled with “fun facts” about lots of different topics: food, animals, geography.  As I read it, I thought it would really appeal to fans of Jeopardy!  It’s a great book to carry in your bag, or keep in the bathroom, so you can just read a page or two to pass the time.  Here are some pages from inside the book, to give you a taste of what’s in store:

Inside book

This book would make a great gift for Father’s Day, or for anyone who likes “nerdy” information (I count myself there)!

Cheers –

Winnie and the Professor

The perils of “Booktube”

Hello friends,

I enjoy watching Youtube videos about reading and books.  Do you?

Creators of such videos refer to themselves as “booktubers,” and post videos with themes like reviews, hauls, current reads, DNFs (“did not finish”) and TBRs (“to be read”), along with various other features such as anticipated new releases, unhauls, and reading marathon vlogs.  For book lovers, these videos can be fun and informational.  I learn about a lot of new releases and popular books from watching these videos.

Some of my favorite booktubers are:  Books with Emily Fox, Lauren and the Books, Jean Bookish Thoughts, Peruse Project, and Chelsea Palmer (there are many others).  Booktube leans heavily toward the YA (“young adult”) genre, but these particular creators tend to read more widely.

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While I enjoy these videos, I find that watching too many can “mess with my head.”  Many booktubers post monthly hauls of 20 or more books, which they never seem to get around to reading (and ultimately unhaul).  Many post ambitious TBRs that are impossible to finish.  Some talk about feeling guilty about not reading more, or post stats of how many pages they read during the month.

All of these things seem to take the joy out of reading.

This is why I don’t believe in huge hauls (I plan to show a few books at a time), and why I don’t believe in TBRs (every book I own is a TBR).  When I finish a book, I consider whether it deserves a permanent place on my shelf, or if I will pass it along to someone else who would enjoy it.  I have a large “pass along pile,” which will ultimately be given to my university’s book sale when it comes around each spring.  I believe that books should have a life – either through re-reading (we are a different person each time we approach the same text), or by sharing with someone else.

I also feel like a strict and lengthy TBR list doesn’t allow for whims.  Sometimes I feel like reading something light and fluffy (usually after I’ve read something dense and difficult).  Or I learn of a brand-new release that I’m willing to buy in hardcover because I know I will love it, and I want to read it right away.  Or something comes across on Kindle Unlimited that looks like fun, so everything else gets pushed back.

Reading should bring you joy.  Booktube videos are fun to watch.  But if you ever start to feel guilty, or inadequate, or caught up in comparison with these voracious readers, it might be time to step back.

Do it for fun.  Do it for you.

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

Book haul # 1

Dear friends,

I’ve acquired a TON (probably literally) of books over the past months, including a few dozen at a library sale this weekend.  I thought I’d show them to you a few at a time.  As you know, I read a lot of backlist titles, as well as new releases.  While I occasionally buy a new release in hardback if it’s something I’ve really been looking forward to, I acquire most of my books in other ways:

  • Borrow from the library
  • Lent from friends
  • Purchased at sales
  • Purchased at retail, in paperback format
  • “Shop my shelves” (and storage boxes)
  • Listen on audiobook and/or read on Kindle

Let’s look at my first little haul:

  1.  Daisy Jones and the Six.  I flew through this one, and my review’s already up.  I had received an “ARC” (advance reader copy) of this one months ago, but never got around to it till now.  The story of a 1970s band similar to Fleetwood Mac – their rise to fame and fall from popularity.
  2. City of Girls.  This one just came out June 4 and I can’t WAIT to read it!  New York showgirls in the 1940s.
  3. Sawkill Girls.  Borrowed from the Library, and I need to finish it as it’s due very soon.  A Young Adult “YA” title, I don’t know much about it other than it’s a mystery about girls who go missing on Sawkill Island.
  4. Our Lady of the Prairie.  Lent to me by a coworker.  Written by a colleague at my university, who was pleased when I told her I was reading it.
  5. The Clockmaker’s Daughter.  I bought this in hardback when it first came out, and it’s just been released in paperback … need to get to it!  I understand it switches back and forth along two (or more?) timelines.

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A side note: I don’t believe in doing “TBRs” (“To be read”) lists, because I like to have the freedom to choose what appeals to me in the moment.  I believe that we have a relationship with our books, and that reading should never feel like a chore.  Also, when I finish a book, I pass it on if possible, so it will continue to have a life.  I might give it to a friend, or to charity.  Only a few take up permanent residence on my shelves, and those are the ones that have spoken to me on the deepest level.

I am also re-listening to the Harry Potter books on Audible.  I read the originals so long ago that I’ve forgotten a lot, plus the movies have muddied my memories a bit.  By revisiting them now, I can really see the books-to-movies changes.  Mind you, I’m not touchy about such changes – I understand that it’s a different task to tell a story visually than to tell it in writing.  I just find it interesting.  I’m halfway through Chamber of Secrets now, and I’m wondering about something:

How did Dobby intercept the letters from Ron and Hermione?  Considering how the owls in the first book were able to track Harry down wherever he might be, I can’t see how this would happen, and I don’t see it being addressed in the story.  Plot hole?

Happy reading everyone!

Winnie and the Professor

Book review: Daisy Jones and the Six

Dear friends,

Like so many others, I enjoyed this book immensely, though not quite as much as Reid’s previous book, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

If you’ve read other reviews of this book, you know that Daisy Jones and the Six (the band) is loosely based on Fleetwood Mac, and the relationships among its members.  The story in this book takes place years after the band broke up, with each member telling the story as they remember it – and their memories sometimes contradict one another.

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Which parts did I like?  The interview format felt like a conversation, which filled the characters with life.  Each of them felt real, struggling with the desire to express themselves creatively, in the midst of complicated relationships with the rest of the band members.  Each character also had ethical dilemmas about choosing to put themselves first at times.  Do you do what’s best for your own career, or for the longevity of the band?  The romantic relationships and sexual tension between band members helped make it a page-turner.

Which parts did I dislike?  It may make me sound like a lazy reader, but … too many characters.  In addition to Daisy and the other six band members, we have various record producers, sound engineers, tour managers, etc. adding their two cents to the story, and each of these characters has a name and backstory.  Each of them have their own lines in the interview transcript.  I became confused at times about who was who.  In the end I decided it didn’t matter, and when a non-band member was “speaking,” I just classified them as a peripheral person.

Verdict?  It’s a fun, page-turning read that captures a moment in time, a rock band at the height of their popularity, along with the events that caused them to eventually fall from the charts.  A brief epilogue tells the reader what each of these characters is doing “today.”  And the song titles and lyrics felt real.

Recommended.

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

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Book review: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties

Dear friends,

I recently finished this book on Kindle:

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Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties tells the story of Maggie, a woman in her fifties who finds her life in crisis.  Her husband suddenly walks out, and as she faces the world as a separated, soon-to-be divorced woman, she realizes that she has lost her sense of identity.  She has been a wife and mother for so long, she hasn’t really had a strong sense of who she is and what she wants since she was in her thirties (hence the title).  Maggie knows she must pull herself together and create a new life – but how?

As she casts about for new friends and a new vocation, she makes a lot of mistakes, but her confidence grows.  Her divorce is finalized, and she works on closing that chapter of her life by attending a support group for new divorcees and making future plans.  She befriends a man who could be a potential love interest, but is she ready?  And when her ex-husband makes contact again, will she long for her former life?

The book was just ok for me … this is not a reflection on the author or her work (the story was nicely written), but I didn’t identify with the subject matter very much.  Maggie and her husband/ex-husband were both having their own version of a mid-life identity crisis, which I haven’t dealt with.  I tried listening to the audio book first, and found that I didn’t care for the narrator – she read the story in a defensive, slightly snarky tone that I found at odds with Maggie’s uncertainty and sadness (it felt like the narrator was indignant on Maggie’s behalf).  But I thought the story was pretty good, so I read the Kindle version instead.

I would recommend this one if you identify with the subject matter.

Blessings,

Annette

Book Review: The First Lady

Dear friends,

I recently finished reading James Patterson’s “The First Lady”:

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I’m not normally a big fan of the thriller / crime genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and I anticipate I’ll read more James Patterson books in the future.

The chapters are short, the font is reasonably clear and large (paperback edition), and it’s a large “floppy” paperback that’s easy to hold and read.  (These things are important to someone who’s nearsighted and likes to read in bed).  Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, so you want to keep racing ahead to see what will happen.

Not to give away too much, but the story takes place in Washington, D.C., and is peopled by highly-placed government officials.  When the First Lady goes missing, a mystery ensues – was she kidnapped?  Is she in hiding?  Where did she go, and why is she gone?  And who is at fault – terrorists, someone with a personal grudge, those close to the First Lady, or perhaps even the President himself?

This would make a good beach read – fast paced and exciting.

Happy reading!

Winnie and the Professor

Image may contain: Annette Hamel, smiling, cat and eyeglasses

 

 

Life update

Dear friends,

I spent most of this week working on my book manuscript.

Why?  So many reasons.  Because I can write, because this stuff matters, because I have a contract, because the publisher keeps sending me reminders.  Mostly because I want my students to be able to connect theory with a well-lived life.

It’s a huge privilege to have something to say, and an outlet through which to say it.  That fact is not lost on me.

We WILL get this published for fall.  Yes.

Blessings,

Annette

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Book review: Tell Me Three Things

Dear friends,

Here’s a cute and fluffy Young-Adult story that will make you smile:

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Tell Me Three Things is the story of Jessie, a high school student.  Her mom has recently passed away, her dad has remarried, and she finds herself living in a new town under the roof of a stepmother she doesn’t understand, and a stepbrother she doesn’t like.  On top of all these life changes, she is trying to get used to a new school with its usual contingent of “mean girls.”

It’s tough being friendless, but one day Jessie receives a message online from someone calling himself “Somebody/Nobody” (thereafter referred to as “S/N.”)  S/N reveals himself to be a boy from her school, but wants to remain anonymous.  He says he’s writing because he knows she’s new and struggling to fit in, and he wanted to reach out and offer friendship and advice – if there’s anything Jessie wants to know about the social landscape at school, S/N would be happy to tell her.

At first Jessie is skeptical (could S/N be one of the “mean girls” playing a trick on her?), but her feelings of loneliness and isolation eventually drive her to respond.  In time, Jessie and S/N begin playing a game of “tell me three things” – you tell me three things about yourself, and I’ll tell you three things about me.  Sometimes these things are trivial (favorite foods or music), and sometimes they’re deeply personal.

Jessie spends most of the story trying to guess the identity of S/N, as there are a number of likely candidates.  Eventually they meet in person, so Jessie (and you, the reader) discover who he really is.

I figured out S/N’s identity pretty early, but it was still fun to see his relationship with Jessie unfold through their back-and-forth messages, and to see her try to solve the mystery.

Cute and fun, recommended for a light and enjoyable read.

Blessings,

Annette

Book review: One Day in December

Dear friends,

This book surprised me.  At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but in the end, I couldn’t put it down.

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The story begins with the incident pictured on the cover of the book.  One day in December, Laurie is riding a bus home from her London job.  She’s tired, and just wants to get home to the flat she shares with her old college roommate, Sarah, and open a bottle of wine.  Then something amazing happens.  She looks out the window, and sees a man waiting at a bus stop … their eyes meet … it’s love at first sight … but he doesn’t get on the bus, the bus moves on, and Laurie thinks she will never find him again.

She spends the next year looking for “bus boy” in restaurants, bars, on the street – London’s a big city, but surely she’ll run into him somewhere!  Eventually, she does, when he shows up at a house party as somebody else’s date.  He’s a nice guy, but Laurie falls into a spiral of confusion – does he remember her? is he in love with someone else?  Is she recalling a moment that didn’t really happen?

We follow a decade of Laurie’s life, as Jack (“bus boy”) enters her social circle, and their lives become intertwined.  They become close friends, but they’re never single at the same time, and Laurie’s memory of that first sight of Jack is always hanging in the air between them.

I was skeptical in the beginning because I don’t like the “love at first sight” trope, and it seemed like the story was going to be predictable – but it wasn’t.  Laurie’s romantic ideas about Jack come back down to earth once she gets to really know him.

The story vacillates between Laurie’s point of view and Jack’s (each is the narrator of alternating chapters), so the reader becomes familiar with each one’s thought processes.  The author writes men and women equally well, and I could really hear each character’s voice distinctively.

I don’t want to spoil the ending.  It’s what you think – and it’s not.  Jack and Laurie’s story ends up being very real, very complicated, and full of conflicting emotion.  Both characters grow a lot through their time together.

It’s a winner!  Highly recommended.

Happy reading!
Annette