Sunday, September 21, 2014

read: Million Dollar Outlines (4 stars)

Million Dollar OutlinesMillion Dollar Outlines by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great, easy-to-read guide to putting together novel length stories. It's not just a how-to, it's also a so-what and why. I think I now have a better understanding of the elements needed to create compelling stories, along with some good tips on how to make it happen.

The specific tool I was looking for was Farland's "story puzzle" device I heard mentioned on a recent episode of the "Writing Excuses" podcast. The way it was mentioned, I thought it might be at the very beginning and the rest of the book would just add depth. Farland knew better. He spends the first third of the book helping the reader understand how stories work, the next third sifting through the pieces needed to create a good story, and the last third offering some tools to make it happen. But still no "story puzzle".

Finally, there in the appendix "Exercises To Increase Productivity" it looks like I've found the story puzzle exercise and I will try to use it on my next book.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

read: Red Moon (3 stars)

Red MoonRed Moon by Benjamin Percy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really sorry I did not finish this book. The core idea is an interesting one. The prose itself is actually quite good. I thought for sure I would just roar right through to the end.

The problem, alas, is that despite the presence of lycans (werewolves) there is no roaring here. There is violence, which often happens off-screen. There is political intrigue. There is war, which happens off-screen until halfway through the book. There is terrorism, which is also mostly off-screen after the prologue and until halfway through the book. If things started happening at the halfway point, why did I give up there? It's because I didn't care anymore.

I sort of cared about the teenage protagonists (there are two) for about the first quarter of the book. It was interesting getting to know them and their predicaments in the topsy-turvy world the author created where werewolves are real, have been around for centuries, and are due to a brain disease similar to mad cow. At least these teens were orders of magnitude more tolerable and interesting than the annoying vampires in Twilight.

I think the basic problem is that the story never became the one I thought it would be. There were too many viewpoints and diversions to add complications to the plot and not enough plot. I thought this was a thriller, but it also wanted to be about teenage romance, politics, and social justice. What I bought was a horror novel; what I got was an urban fantasy. What I wanted was more action and plot as exemplified by the opening. What I got was too much description and dialog and beating around the bush.

Kudos to the author for writing something that could be seen as the more literate alternative to Twilight (which I also did not finish, because every page was cringe-inducing). I would recommend this to fans of urban fantasy and teen angst. I had to give up on it and move on.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

read: Bossypants (3 stars)

BossypantsWith most celebrities, you either like them or you don't. And with most celebrities, your opinion of them will probably carry over into your reaction to whatever memoir/autobiography/anecdotes they write. I mostly like Tina Fey, so I mostly liked her memoir/autobiography/anecdotes Bossypants, even though it's never clear exactly which of these she has written.

At first I thought this might be an autobiography. I'm sure that's what many people will think it is. But it's soon obvious that Tina's humorous takes and lack of depth, as well as lack of the perspective of age, do not allow this to be an autobiography. For the most part, then, this is a memoir. Except it's not really structured as a memoir either. It's more like a collection of anecdotes reflecting on life topics that happen to cover segments of the author's life from girlhood until now. They will give you a glimpse of who Tina is and how she got here. But because she rarely lets a paragraph go by without trying to give it a humorous spin, you won't really get too close to the real Tina.

There is plenty of humor here. If you like her sense of humor, you will laugh (or at least smirk). There is a bit of memoir here. You will gain a bit of understanding for how she got into show business and gained success. There are a lot of anecdotes here. She does, as you would expect, drop a lot of names. You will get a pretty good idea of how Tina Fey believes she sees the world at this point in time. If you are a fan, you should enjoy this book. I listened to the audiobook version, read (and riffed) by Tina, and this added another dimension to the experience.

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Review backlog

Here is a short explanation of the avalanche of book reviews that are about to appear here for anyone that might actually be following this blog (or happening upon it in the future).

Normally I try to post my book 'reviews' as soon as I finish with a book, which means the posting date gives an indication (for me, at least) of when I read it. But I have been a bad blogger of late and have not been keeping up with the books I've been finishing. Since I will be playing catch up on reviews for about ten books from this Spring and Summer, I am just going to post them as I write them, and not post-date (or is that pre-date) them to their 'proper' position in the timeline.

Here we go...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

read: Manhood for Amateurs (5 stars)

Manhood for AmateursManhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am pretty stunned at how strongly these essays resonated with me. Some not so much, but most. I guess I should not have been that surprised. I like most of his writing I have sampled and he has an admittedly geek sensibility. I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes his writing, as well as those with sci-fi or comic book or even authorly tendencies.

It was a treat hearing him read the audio book to me.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

read: Mockingjay (4 stars)

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story picks up literally in the ashes of the previous one. All is lost, yet there is some hope. The first thing Katniss Everdeen must decide is if she still wants to be the Mockingjay. Only this time it will be most explicitly for those rebelling against President Snow and the Capitol.

Once again the story keeps moving, though at not quite the breakneck pace of the previous volumes. There are plenty of interesting puzzles to solve, motives to puzzle over, and battles to fight, both literal and figurative. Four stars for the interesting characters and settings and the palpable senses of mission and paranoia. A star knocked off for the muddled mess of plot and the growing implausibilities. A star added back on for bringing the saga to a satisfying conclusion. If you enjoyed the first two books, you will have to read this one.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

read: What's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway (4 stars)

What's So Funny?: My Hilarious LifeWhat's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I already knew Tim Conway is a very funny man. This book demonstrates that he's also very sweet and kind and down to earth. I didn't know he came from such humble beginnings. I'm glad all of the happy accidents in his life that led him to being a performer happened to him, and it's clear he is, too. The prose is a bit on the choppy and chatty side. But all that does is enhance the feeling that Tim is telling you everything in the first person (even though he had the help of a ghost-writer). Fans of Tim (or McHale's Navy, or The Carol Burnett Show) will enjoy this book.

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