Posts tagged ‘Nonfiction’

March 15th, 2011

Hooked by Les Edgerton; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One And Never Lets Them Go

Author: Les Edgerton

Published: April 12, 2007 by Writer’s Digest Books

Number of Pages: 256

Rating: 4/5

Quote:

Breaking rules doesn’t make one original – pick out any juvenile delinquent loitering on the street corner and you’ll see what I mean. Working within the rules and delivering original and creative stories is what makes one original.

And successful.

Synopsis:

Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It’s just that simple. Hooked provides readers with a detailed understanding of what a beginning must include (setup, backstory, the inciting incident, etc.); instruction on how to successfully develop the story problem; tips on how to correct common beginning mistakes; exclusive insider advice from agents, acquiring book editors, and literary journal editors; and much more. [From Goodreads]

Review:

I picked up Hooked when I was on a writing-related-books rampage at Borders a few months ago. Among the others I chose to buy that day, Hooked , with its less, well, boring cover and Edgerton’s humorous, lighthearted voice, stood apart.

Writing good (not decent or standard or acceptable) beginnings was something I’d been thinking about. I know that I judge every book’s first sentence (and often the first paragraph) critically. Hand me something like Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, and I won’t be able to resist buying and finishing the book, even if the first page is the best part in the entire thing.

I wanted a beginning like that. The sort of hook that readers wouldn’t snap at, nibble, or bite, but one they’d swallow. And that’s precisely what Hooked‘s all about.

Edgerton immediately dives into listing the basic components of a good beginning (and how they’ve evolved, particularly over the last 150 years), such as the inciting incident, story-worthy-problem, surface problem, etcetera. He makes a point of addressing the alpha and omega of misused story components, backstory and setup.

He does a fantastic job of highlighting the pros and cons of every aspect of a beginning. Arguably, there are advantages to every facet of a story, but whether their disadvantages outweigh them is the determiner. At no point does he call an approach stupid or an idea ridiculous, but instead warns against the dangers of particular ways of approaching things.

It’s not a secret that I struggle getting through nonfiction, though I do gravitate toward those with the topic of writing. While Hooked is, sadly, definitely nonfiction, Edgerton’s voice and style were exactly what the book needed to make it not only informative but genuinely interesting. He continually approached things with a lighthearted tone. I felt that he was offering advice or lending a hand as opposed to instructing or preaching. The fact that he could transform a potentially dry piece of material into something interesting proved that he can, indeed, write, which made learning from him all the more enjoyable. I had faith that I was in the hands of someone who knows what he’s talking about.

I’ve learned loads from this book and found answers to particular questions of mine in regard to The Lemonites. Edgerton repeatedly stressed the necessity of the writer having a concise idea of the protagonist’s story-worthy problem – the problem that encapsulates the whole of the story or the underlying issue that is really within the character and is not resolved until the very, very end. As my friend Miranda Kenneally can testify, this is a concept I’ve been struggling with every since I started thinking seriously about The Lemonites and what it needs to become great. The examples and guidance Edgerton supplies have helped me wrap my mind around the idea and continue to craft Pepto’s character into the sort that has a story-worthy problem that can actually carry the story to the end.

The aforementioned examples were my very, very favorite aspect of Hooked. There were multiple examples from actual written work for just about everything! I loved learning about a concept and then immediately seeing it at work. It allowed me to keep the idea in the back of my mind while reading the excerpt so that I could identify where it came into play and its effect on me. I know this is the second time I’ve brought her up, but Miranda does the same thing when I come to her with a problem or we’re in the middle of a conversation on writing. Using examples from written work and assessing a technique’s effectiveness was the best way for me to learn. It was this part of the book that made it a truly valuable experience for me.

Essentially, Hooked is a remarkably enjoyable book with a great author’s voice that manages to be hugely informative and inspiring.

June 3rd, 2010

The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional by Philip Yaffe; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional

Author: Philip Yaffe

Published: February 1, 2010 by INDI Publishing Group

Number of Pages: 275

Rating: 3/5

Quote:

People are fond of putting writing into categories – e.g. business writing, academic, commercial, political, scientific – as if they were fundamentally different from each other. They aren’t.

Good writing is good writing, whatever the context.

Review:

I was at a loss as to how to write this book review. How do you write a review of a book on writing like a professional without feeling an incredible worry that you won’t write like a professional? Consequently, to save myself from a load of stress, I’m simply going to post the official review I sent to the author (and thank you, Philip, for sending me a copy!):

Philip Yaffe’s The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional so clearly teaches the fundamental necessities of professional writing and speaking in an intelligible way that anyone could understand. He strips the layers off one by one and addresses every minuscule question he poses. Though I cannot honestly say I loved the book, I respect its depth and conciseness. The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional is a fantastic book for those who find themselves stumbling when confronted with those dastardly symbols we call words.

A few notes:

  • I was surprised by how interesting I found this book. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader. However, when writing is a subject, I’m game.
  • The book seemed too long to me. A near three hundred page book of this content became slightly tedious. I did read every appendix, though, and that added to the length of my read.
  • It’s evident that Mr. Yaffe understands and deeply cares about this subject, and it was wonderful to read with his enthusiasm seeping through the pages.

In blog news: I’m sorry I haven’t posted much this week. My last year of Middle School is wrapping up, and my teachers have decided to bombard us with work. I’m going to try to stockpile reviews and other posts to compensate for times like this. Ideally, I’ll have a post about chemistry ready for tomorrow!

I was incredibly pleased to see the wonderful response my last post received. It’s wonderful to speak your mind and not frighten people. I even got a positive tweet from an author!

I’ve been struggling to come up with decent post topics, and figured, why rely solely on my imagination? If you have any ideas or questions for posts, send me an email!

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January 3rd, 2010

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Traveling with Pomegranates

Authors: Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Published: 2009 by Viking Press

Number of Pages: 282

Rating: 3/5

Quote:

FROM BACK COVER:

“I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough.”

“I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer. As we descend the stairway, I tell Mom that since we have only two more nights in France, we should go all out on the meals. No more hamburgers. Bring on the baguettes. The cheese plate. Steak au poivre. Champagne.

“Then, after a few moments of wondering, I come out and ask her, ‘What did you pray for back on the kneeler?’” 

“ ‘You,’ she answers.”

Review:

Okay, bear with me people; I read this book awhile ago.

As anyone close to me knows, I was and still am completely in love with The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ll go into that further when I read it over again.

Consequently, when a new book with her name slapped on the front cover appeared, I lunged for it. I was intrigued by the thought of her having a daughter – not just a daughter, but a daughter who wrote. And, apparently, writes well!

Traveling with Pomegranates is a mother-daughter story and takes place over the years during which both are thrust into new stages in their lives. Sue is turning 50 and Ann is graduating from college. Suddenly, they both are changing, their situations are changing, and they both must learn to understand themselves and understand the new differences in each other. (Wow, I really wish I could figure out how to rephrase that last sentence. Ick.)

First of all, can we all agree that the cover this book is beautiful? Honestly, anyone’s eyes would be drawn to its sweet simplicity, and it’s a wonderful representation of the book as a whole. The book is thought-provoking yet calming. It is ideal when you are looking for a momentary escape from reality, and will likely leave you with some valuable knowledge.

The book had a few clear main focuses, such as the mother-daughter relationship and the spiritual and personal discoveries made by both, but there were many backgrounds that greatly affected the feel of and mark left by the book.

For example, the different settings, from Greece to Paris to South Carolina, were all influential, and the happenings at all led step-by-step to the eventual denouement. It was certainly one of the few books with complete closure, which is a recommendation in and of itself. As a reader, I was completely satisfied with the connections made by the Ann and Sue, and the feelings and conclusions that evolved from events.

The chapters alternate between Sue’s and Ann’s point of view (all is written in present-tense), which allows readers to get the full story. You could literally draw a venn diagram in relation to this book. Certain things directly affected both, such as their relationship; daughter worrying about mother’s blood pressure, and mother letting go of certain claims on her daughter as her daughter grows. Then, we see Ann as she develops a relationship with Scott and as she deals with the troubles of finding a career, and we accompany Sue on her journey to write a novel (The Secret Life of Bees). (By the way, the way she went about writing said novel was quite interesting.)

Honestly, though, one of the most crucial aspects of the book (other than their relationship in general) are their spiritual discoveries over the time recorded in the book. Sue Monk Kidd’s connection with, respect and love for, and interest in the Black Madonna evolves, and, if you’ve read The Secret Life of Bees, you’ve seen that her faith has affected her and her writings immensely.

Ann also makes some discoveries similar to, yet different from her mother’s and watches as her mother slowly becomes more engrossed in reevaluating her life and adjusting herself to the coming years.

Overall, the book was a touching, amusing, and heart-felt one. I enjoyed it far more than a few of the nonfiction books I’ve read. It is certainly, however, a book you must be open-minded about and is an extremely difficult book to speak of, since I can guess it has a great many different effects on everyone.

I will be honest, and say that I probably won’t reread the book, unless, of course, I want some information on attractions in Greece.

Go ahead and read it and see what you think. I’d be interested to know.