03 Aug

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle

Posted in Book Reviews

Argyle weaves several elements together to make a thoroughly engaging story.  I was taken in by the depth of emotion and dark turns in the plot, and I found it difficult to put this book down.

The language is lyrical and beautiful, but not overly fluffy as to distract from the story.  While the story is set in a medieval, magical kingdom filled with knights and peasants, Argyle doesn’t get bogged down with trying to make the characters sound “of the period.”  Instead, the dialogue flows effortlessly and the prose practically disappears in front of the reader’s eyes, leaving us engrossed in the characters and the story.

I enjoyed the dark twists to the fairytale as well.  Argyle doesn’t hold back, but lets the reader see the full extent of darkness and evil in her characters.  In fact, even our beloved protagonist, Cinderella, is not immune from the darkness as we discover throughout the story.  It was this darkness that drew me into the story and made it ring true in a way that fairy tales often do not.

Perhaps the most deftly developed aspect of the story is the relationship between Cinderella and her prince, Rowland.  While Cinderella is convinced that their relationship is based purely on magic, we see a depth of love develop between the couple that makes this marriage very real.  Unlike the “happily ever after” vision of a perfect Prince Charming, Rowland has his flaws, the biggest of which is that he is not the handsome stranger who haunts Cinderella’s dreams.  As she discovers, however, the gentle, steady love that forms her marriage is far more precious than the passion she thought she wanted.

The one aspect of the story that did not ring quite as true to me was the stranger in Cinderella’s dreams.  When he turns out to be a magical being, it becomes hard for the reader to hope that Cinderella to choose him over Rowland, though I imagine this may have been the author’s design.  Yet, in a world where all the other beings have some sort of darkness in them, I wanted to see darkness in this stranger as well, some glint of evil that would push the story that one last step.

I found this to be a deeply engaging book, one which I read in practically one sitting.  The bittersweet ending left me nothing short of breathless.  My response: “Yes! *sigh* More?”  And that’s precisely what a reader’s response to any ending should be.

For more information about Cinders, visit Michelle Davidson Argyle’s website.


26 Jul

The Essentials

Posted in Book Reviews, Writing, Writing Exercises

The way I see it, there are three basic types of writing books.  You have books on craft, books of writing exercises and prompts, and books about the writing life.  A well-balanced writing library should probably represent all three types.  Yet, not all writing books are created equal and as someone with limited shelf-space at my disposal, I’ve had to pick and choose which writing books I add to my collection.  That’s when I came up with this list of The Essentials.  If I had to pick only one or two books in each category, these are the books I would choose.


 If you must own only one book on the craft of fiction, I would recommend Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction.  This book gives you the basics on character, plot, dialogue and description.  There are many books on craft that are similar, but I’m partial to this one because each chapter is written by a different author.  This means that as a reader you gain a variety of perspectives and approaches to writing, rather than just one author’s view.

Similarly, if poetry is your preference, the book on craft that I would  recommend is Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius which I reviewed previously on this site.  This book explains the craft of poetry without losing the beauty of it as well.  In addition, the writing is so fluid and engaging that we don’t even realize we’re learning about craft.  This is the sort of book you could read cover-to-cover, like a novel.

Writing Exercises

There are lots of great books with writing exercises and prompts, some of which I’ve already reviewed on this blog.  I find, though that if I were forced to choose only one, it would be The 3am Epiphany by Brian Kiteley.  While there are many other books that offer interesting exercises, this one is my favorite because the prompts not only get you writing, but they force you to consider elements of craft as well.  In fact, you could learn as much about craft from this book as you would from the craft books listed above.  There is also a sequel to this book called The 4am Breakthrough, but considering that there are 201 exercises in The 3am Epiphany, I suspect this book alone could keep a writer busy for a very long time.

Writing Life

This category was the most difficult one for me to limit my choices, but I have managed to trim down my selections to two books.  The first, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, is one of my favorite books ever.  This book gives a warm and honest view of the writing life as experienced by Lamott.   

Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is my other favorite in this category.  Though a little more didactic than Bird by Bird at times, this book guides writers through all aspects of their writing life.  Topics range from writing in restaurants to writing marathons to fighting tofu.

In the end, The Essentials may vary from one writer to another.  If I had to limit my writing library to five books, these would be the ones I would choose.  What books do you consider your Essentials?


28 Jun

Verse Novel #1: Love That Dog

Posted in Book Reviews, Literature, Poetry

This week, I read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech as the first of the verse novels for the Verse Novel Challenge.

In this story, the protagonist Jack resists his teacher’s assignment to write poems in a weekly journal.  As he responds to his teachers comments and the poems he reads in class, we learn more about Jack, his dog Sky and his story.  What I especially liked about this book was how we only hear Jack’s voice and his side of the dialogue with his teacher, but from his responses, we can infer what the teacher is saying.  In taking this approach (rather than giving us also the teacher’s voice) Creech puts the reader in Jack’s shoes and allows us to become fully absorbed in the story.

I’m not usually one to gush, but this book was so good I read it in one sitting.  OK, I’ll admit, it’s also a really short book, so it’s not as though “one sitting” was really a stretch.  (It was more like the dead time between two meetings.)  Still, even if I had had some appointment to run off to, it would have been hard to tear myself away.

I wish I had read this book sooner and included it in my literature thesis because it’s a perfect example of the form of a book following function.  In particular, the experience of reading the book makes us feel as though we are Jack, reading the poems in class (which Creech wisely includes in the back of the book for the reader’s reference) and talking to the teacher through poems.

And you can’t beat that first poem:

September 13

I don’t want to
because boys
don’t write poetry.

Girls do.


14 Jun


Posted in Book Reviews

At BEA I got my hands on an advance copy of Girl Parts by John M. Cusick which I finished reading this weekend.

The premise is interesting: two boys who are on opposite ends of the popularity spectrum end up having their lives intersect because of a robotic companion named Rose.  David is popular and wealthy while Charlie’s family is “off the grid” both literally and not.  Although Rose starts out as David’s companion (prescribed by the school psychologist as a cure for “dissociative disorder”) an unexpected discovery forces her to turn to Charlie for friendship.

The basic idea of the story is fun (it reminded me a little of the movie Weird Science), but this isn’t just a story about a robotic sex doll come to life.  Cusick turns that idea on its head with Rose giving David an electric shock every time his behavior does not comply with her Intimacy Clock.

My Take:
The book is very funny and entertaining, though the execution feels a little bit disjointed.  While the first half focuses primarily on David, Charlie essentially dominates the second half.  I expected, however, that a story about two such opposites would somehow show them interacting a bit more.  While their lives do intersect throughout the story, it tends to be in rather peripheral ways.  This means that the thread that holds the story together is the robotic companion, Rose.

In particular, I feel David’s character is a bit more flat and static than Charlie’s, which means that the first part of the book is not nearly as engrossing as the second.  While David’s character changes little, if at all, throughout the novel, Charlie does change.  For this reason, once the story shifts to Charlie, however, the plot picks up dramatically.  In addition, because Rose’s character becomes less robotic and more human as the book progresses, the relationship between Rose and Charlie is far more complex and interesting than her relationship with David.  By the time she meets Charlie, Rose’s character has also started to grow and change.

That said, one of the early chapters where Charlie goes on a first-date-from-hell is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Also, I encourage readers to stick through the David chapters because the pay-off once Rose meets Charlie is worth the wait.

A Note on Craft:
In addition to the Charlie chapters being very satisfying to read, this book is an excellent example in terms of craft, in particluar Point of View.  These days it’s rare to find a contemporary teen book written in omniscient POV, as this one is.  You can find it in middle grade novels, like DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux or the Lemony Snicket books, though these examples differ from Girl Parts in that they have a strong narratorial presence.  Cusick’s choice of POV, on the other hand, is more akin to Eva Ibbotson’s style where the narrator is virtually invisible and slips in and out of each character’s viewpoint so seamlessly, you hardly notice it.  Overall, both because of the Charlie chapters and the POV aspect of craft, this book is definitely worth the read.

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