Tag Archives: Fiction

Book Buzz: The Handmaid’s Tale

Book Buzz: the Handmaid's Tale

If you’re like me, you have an ever-expanding list of books TBR (to be read). I do read a lot, but there are many classics heretofore unread, and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was one I regrettably had not gotten to.

Book Buzz: the Handmaid's Tale

The buzz is already out about the Hulu version coming out next week, starring Elisabeth Moss in the leading role. The reviews are glowing. Critics are wowed by the script, the performances and the stunning visual effects. I can’t wait to watch, but I really wanted to read the book first.

Only one problem. I’ve got at least half a dozen review books in my queue. Also, it’s a busy time right now, with holidays and birthdays and family obligations. My reading time is limited.

But thanks to Audible, and these lovely April days, my problem was solved. I’ve listened to the audiobook version during my daily walks and I’m all caught up. Narrated by Claire Danes, it is a riveting novel, especially relevant now.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale?

It is quite a stunning piece of work, as most readers of Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel will agree.

It is the year 2195. The Handmaid’s Tale recounts “the new normal” in the Republic of Gilead, the totalitarian state that exists in what was formerly the USA. A fundamentalist Christian faction has assumed power and stripped women of their rights. In response to a precipitous drop in birth rates, the new government imprisons women who are determined to still be fertile and forces them to work as handmaids, AKA breeding surrogates. Their freedom and their access to the outside is taken away. Their names are changed; their identities are erased.

Offred, the protagonist, once had a husband, a child, and a normal life. When the drumbeats got louder, she and her family tried to cross the border into safety, but she was captured. She clings to hope that she will be reunited with them someday, but her memories of life “before” are slipping away.

With themes of gender oppression, authoritarian leadership and religious politics, some might draw parallels to our current political reality. Read this excerpt and tell me it isn’t chilling:

“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen,” Offred said. “When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

Will these themes hit too close for comfort? For me, yes. Part of the shock is learning about Offred’s life before the regime came into power. It was so normal, so mundane, just like our lives. And then it’s not. That’s all I will say about that.

Audible always delivers, and as an added benefit, there are extra goodies in this recording. I enjoyed hearing the exclusive content written by Margaret Atwood at the end because it deepened my understanding of the book. The novel extends beyond the original final line, “Are there any questions?,” by adding the questions and answers that the people at that Symposium, occurring in 2195, might ask.

Do you use Audible? You can try it out for a month by going to Audible’s free trial site and have access to hundreds of titles.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.

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Book Buzz: My Husband’s Wife

Book Buzz: My Husband's Wife

Book Buzz: My Husband's WifeIn the spirit of dark psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Couple Next Door comes the debut novel, My Husband’s Wife, the story of two women and one man caught up in a web of dependence and betrayal.

My Husband’s Wife

Author Jane Corry has written My Husband’s Wife from two perspectives.  One of the narrators is Lily, a young insecure lawyer, newly married to Ed. The other narrator is Carla, a lonely and manipulative nine year-old when the story opens. Lily and Ed live in the same apartment building in London as Carla and her single mother, an Italian immigrant trying to eke out a living.

Lily has doubts about her husband’s fidelity from the get go, convinced he is still seeing an ex-girlfriend. Lily herself is conflicted about her true feelings for Ed, and is emotionally drawn to a client that she is defending in a murder case.

Carla is an outcast at school and yearns for stability in her life, which her distracted other can’t provide. She ends up spending time with Lily and Ed while her mother is at work. Ed, an artist, is captivated by Carla’s Mediterranean beauty and likes to draw sketches of her while she visits. He completes a series of drawings that he calls “The Italian Girl.”

Sound creepy? It is.

A jump of 16 years in the timeline brings us to Carla as a young woman, now studying to be a lawyer herself.  Lily at midlife is at the peak of her career as a criminal attorney. She has achieved success, but ghosts from her past continue to haunt her.

Gradually, we learn about the murky backstories of both major and minor characters. The story is replete with entanglements and betrayals, lies and surprises. All that good stuff that makes a book a page turner.

Readers have responded enthusiastically to these complex, brooding thrillers — recently pegged “grip lit” — that feature flawed and unreliable female narrators. They make for a fun read, and they translate well to the big screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see trailers for My Husband’s Wife in the future.

By the way, the intriguing title will make total sense by the end of the book.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of My Husband’s Wife. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of My Husband’s Wife from Viking for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Space Between Sisters

The ingredients for a pleasurable summer read are all found in The Space Between Sisters, Mary McNear’s latest novel in her Butternut Lake series.

Book Buzz; The Space Between Sisters

Take a scenic and charming lake community, add in two sisters and two eligible bachelors, combine with the allure of summertime, sprinkle in a bit of nostalgia and a few secrets, finish off with a dash of whimsy with a cat named Sasquatch, and voila.

The Space Between Sisters

Poppy and Win have the same parents but couldn’t be more different. Now adults, Poppy is impetuous and flighty and Win, a widow, is organized and steady. They haven’t lived together in 13 years, but one day Poppy appears on the doorstep of the Win’s lakeside cottage in Butternut Lake — jobless, out of money, and having nowhere to go.

The cottage, once owned by their grandparents, had been their summertime destination when they were children. The sisters both have fond memories of idyllic summers spent in Butternut Lake. When the grandparents died, Win — the more responsible sister– inherits the cottage, and she decides to live there year-round.

Poppy and Win were close as children, relying on each other perhaps more than most siblings do. Their household was chaotic. The parents were negligent and for large chunks of time the girls were on their own, even at a young age. They yearned for a stable home environment but the parents were unable to provide it.

Now adults, the love is still there. But it’s complicated.

Living together for the first time in many years, the sisters still love each other but find new tensions in their relationship. Win is frustrated with Poppy’s lack of initiative and her messiness. Poppy is irritated by Win’s OCD type of organization. At the same time, they are trying to reframe their broken lives: Win, reeling from the death of her husband, and Poppy, struggling with a painful secret she has been harboring for years.

But the bonds of sisterhood prove more durable than the adversity each has faced. Poppy and Win realize they are both ready to find closure with the past. Willing to move on, to accept what is and put it behind them, they find strength in the ties that bind them. In doing so, they find that they have much more in common than they once thought.

This is a breezy, easy read that definitely meets the requirements for a great beach book (even if you’re not at the beach). And if you haven’t read the three prior books in the Butternut Lake series, no worries. The Space Between Sisters is fine as a standalone.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Space Between Sisters. Please leave a comment below and enter the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

I received a copy of The Space Between Sisters from William Morrow for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Writing a Book Made Simpler in 1-2-3

This book writing stuff. It’s really hard.

My novel has been a work in progress for a good year and a half, and I wish I could say it was almost done. I realized, however, during three days of writing workshops at the Philadelphia Writers Conference that I have much to do before calling it a day.

Book writing isn’t just the writing.

A key part is the planning, the structuring. There are mechanics to novel writing that can not be ignored. Each character, for example, must have a story arc comprised of the situation, the spark and the conclusion. A character must have a goal and obstacles that must be overcome to reach that goal. And once that is established, the character’s arc must intersect with the other characters’ arcs.

Dialogue needs a context and a subtext. Dialogue must be authentic but not mundane. It can be reported or condensed, and it needs to propel the action.

I could have done this differently.

There is another way, a better way, that writer and editor Stuart Horwitz presents in his new book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love it, the third book in his Book Architecture Trilogy.

Writing: Finish Your Book in Three Drafts

Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence, RI (www.bookarchitecture.com) whose clients have reached the bestseller list in both fiction and nonfiction.

I was fortunate to meet Horwitz at last year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference, and his keynote was one of the highlights for me, so much so that I approached him after his presentation to tell him how much I enjoyed it. Not only is Horwitz a smart guy, he is down to earth and has a great sense of humor. As a writer, he totally gets the frustrations we writers experience with endless revisions. He’s been there himself.

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts gives writers, fiction and non-fiction alike, a practical way to get through the revision process with minimal consternation. Horwitz proposes that a book can be completed in three drafts:

  • The messy draft: which is all about getting it down.
  • The method draft: which is all about making sense.
  • The polished draft: which is all about making it good.

“I think about the people who don’t publish their books, and too often it’s not because they lack the writing skills. It’s because they got lost along the way. One draft isn’t going to cut it, but neither is twenty,” Horwitz says. “All you need is three drafts, and the tools to know where you are in the process.”

What’s more, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is interactive. The book is nicknamed “3D” because it contains nine stop-motion videos that bring the concepts to life through the use of action figures, and nine PDFs for when you want more detailed information and instructions about topics such as “How to Find Your Theme,” “The Five Definitions of Scene,” and “How to Construct Your Book Proposal.”

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is available in both print and digital editions from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

I’m taking a look at my novel through a different lens now, and it is so worth the extra time.

 

I received a copy of Finish Your Book in Three Drafts for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

It is November 30. And that  means …

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants!

You made it!

Before I go any further, let me set the record straight for anyone not familiar with the term NaNoWriMo.

Here is what it is not.

It is not the ghost of Robin Williams invoking Mork from Ork language.

It is not baby talk for I Don’t Want To.

It is not a term of endearment for a grandmother.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which thousands of determined writers attempt to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November.

To all my writer friends partaking in the challenge this year, I hope you found it to be rewarding. It is no easy task to write that much in one month.

I know from whence I speak since I was a NaNoWriMo participant last year and hit my 50,000 words. It took a lot of time … and a lot of discipline.

But in the process, I realized that you don’t have to hit 50,000 words to be successful. Even 1,000 should count as a success.

If you wrote more in November than you have in any other month, give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulations!

Last year, the day after I completed NaNoWriMo, I shared 10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers based on my experience. But as the days unfolded into weeks, I felt a little lost now that the structure of the writing challenge had ended and I was once again on my own.

With NaNoWriMo now over, what’s the next step? When I was in your place last year, I asked for advice. Of course, you will decide what works best for you. But here are some tips that were shared with me.

And whether or not you participated in NaNoWriMo, these are good tips for all writers.

NaNoWriMo is over. Walk away.

Put your manuscript to bed for a bit of hibernation. You’ve written a lot and you’ve been consumed for a month. You can’t be objective about it right now. Walk away and let it marinate for a couple of weeks or even longer. In the meantime …

Work on a different project.

Don’t let your writing chops languish while your manuscript does. Keep the energy going with something else.

Start to craft an elevator speech.

This will be important down the road as you pitch your book to agents and publishers. The value of doing it now is it helps you evaluate the components of your story. Is the plot strong enough? Are the characters multi-faceted? Does their motivation make sense?

Work on a second draft but understand this won’t be your last draft.

The cognoscenti advise NaNoWriMo-ers to write, not edit, and hopefully this is what you have done. The idea is to let the 50,000 words flow without worrying about how good they are. I was fairly appalled at how bad my first draft was and I think many NaNoWriMo’ers feel the same. That’s OK. Your second draft will be better, but not as good as the third.

Broaden your characters.

You may have done character development before you even started to write. That is what is recommended. I did not do that. My characters threw some curve balls my way and that helped me better define their personalities. I think even if you have planned out the wazoo, your characters will still evolve over the course of writing.

Think as a reader.

As you go through the editing process, try to think as a reader, not a writer. Do your chapters end with a cliffhanger or at least an incentive for you to continue reading? Is there enough action, pathos, drama or mystery? Is there extraneous jibber jabber that can go away?

Keep writing.

Don’t stop now! You won the race but the marathon is not over yet. The speed at which you progress is up to you, but don’t give up. A year later, my manuscript is now at 70,000 words. I am still on the second draft.

Talk about your work.

I haven’t shared my manuscript with anyone except for an editor yet, but I do talk about it if people ask. I can gauge the general interest in my story with their response. It also keeps me accountable.

So writers, carry on. You should be proud of your effort and commitment. Good luck with the next phase of your writing!

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