Archive | February, 2014

Challenge Update, February

28 Feb

It’s the last day of the month again, and time to update you all on how my challenges are going so far. You can check out my reading challenges any time on my challenge page.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

5/13
This is my own challenge to read a book from 13 different time periods. You can read about it here. My timeline is starting to fill in nicely. I’ve got a few plans for filling in the remaining periods, but I’m lost on what to read for the 1890-1909 period. I already read The Devil in the White City and don’t know of anything else from that period. Any suggestions on a book from the 1890s? I’ll consider all suggestions. Of the books I’m reading now, I’ll fulfill one more time period, 1700-1799.

Where Are You Reading? Challenge

6/50 (+2)
Hosted by Sheila. In the challenge to read a book from every state, I made a big climb from 2 to 6 over the past month so I’m feeling better about this one. Still, I don’t think I’ll fill in the whole map. Of the books I’m reading now, only one will give me a new state. I guess I need to find a little more variety!

Goodreads Challenge

8/35
I’m 3 ahead of schedule! This is about to take a big jump, too, because I’m close to finishing two of my books. I’m glad I’m ahead of pace and I’m not even trying too hard. I might have to up my goal if this keeps going so well. Even with the longer books, I’m still destroying the goal.

How are your challenges going? I hope you’re not too far of pace just yet! If you want any more information about the challenges I’m doing or you’d like to join me, leave a comment and check out the links. There’s also information in my Challenges tab.

Until next time, write on.

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Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith (3/5)

27 Feb

Yet another book club selection! I feel that most of the books I read are book club selections and I’m 100% okay with this. This wasn’t one of my favorites, but I’m still glad I read it.

I don’t think I was the target audience for this one, having never heard of Patti Smith or her music before I cracked the spine. That’s probably the biggest reason for my rating; I really wasn’t engaged in the topic.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Patti never though she would be the famous one of her friends. When she moved to New York and met Robert Mapplethorpe, she saw genius in his work and felt lucky to be a part of his journey. By meeting the right people, Smith was able to move from an unknown poet, to an unknown lyricist, to a highly influential singer/songwriter through the 1970s.

Smith and Mapplethorpe met when they were both developing their place in the art world; Smith looking for a way to express herself in words and Mapplethorpe in images. Together they weathered financial and professional hardships. As Mapplethorpe explored his sexuality, Smith was a supportive friend despite their romantic past. Both were struggling to discover who they were and who they wanted to be.

The book did stick with me for it’s lyrical prose, something only a poet can do. Smith’s background writing poetry made for some beautiful turns of phrase that I really enjoyed. The topic didn’t interest me and because I didn’t know anything about Patti Smith, I was as surprised as her when she got lucky breaks and found her way to the world of rock and roll. From the Johnny Depp review on the back cover, I was expecting something very raw, most likely involving a little bit of sex and drugs, but also a deep passion. I got all of that. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already a Patti Smith fan but if you are, I really think you must read her book.

Smith spoke a lot about family, but not in the traditional sense. Her family in New Jersey wasn’t what got her through her tough times. Yes, her sister did travel to Paris with her, but it was the people of the Hotel Chelsea and Robert who were there for her when she needed it and they were the ones she supported in their time of need. Smith’s adopted family was strong group and one would be lucky to find such a group of people to support one through the tough times in life. I think Smith was very fortunate to find the group she did when she did because it helped shape her and her art.

Friendship is another topic that Smith delves into deeply. Her friendship with Robert was atypical to say the least. They started out as lovers and when Robert discovered his sexuality, Smith never doubted that she still loved him, only in a different sense, more like family than a mate. The two relied on each other for company, love, support, and inspiration throughout the years they spent in New York, living together more often than not. Given the chance to show in a gallery, Smith chooses to do so only if allowed to show next to Robert. The pair work together naturally. When Robert is sick and Patti lives in Detroit, she doesn’t let the distance separate them and makes a great effort to visit and call him on a regular basis, supporting him through his illness.  That sort of friendship is rare and Smith treasured it like the gem that it is.

This memoir is unlike a lot of others I’ve read because it focuses on another person as much as the writer. Most memoir writers want to tell their own story, but Smith is concerned with telling her story only as far as it overlapped with Robert’s. More than anything, she wanted to have people remember him. In that sense, it almost reminds me of The Great Gatsby, where Nick tells Gatsby’s story instead of Gatsby telling his own. I really liked the medium.

Mapplethorpe ultimately died of AIDS in a time when the disease wasn’t fully understood and treatment was almost nonexistent. I loved the way that Smith portrayed the fall from grace her scene in New York took with the emergence of the disease and it’s destruction on Robert’s body. It made me think what Robert’s chances would have been today, with better knowledge about the spread and treatment of the disease. It’s sad that a pioneer like him had to succumb to something so cruel.

Writer’s Takeaway: Smith’s poetic prose was really moving. She was able to describe light and music in a way that I think many prose writers cannot and I think this is easily attributable to her being a poet and lyricist. I also liked the time of her life she chose to focus on and I think she did a good job of describing how she came to be in the position she found herself by the end.

Overall, a decent read, but not for me. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfilled the 1970-1989 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge and New York for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Just Kids | EmilyBooks
Just Kids by Patti Smith | Friends of Atticus

WWW Wednesday, 26-Feb-2014

26 Feb

I’ve decided to start participating in a weekly post on Wednesdays, WWW Wednesdays hosted by MizB on Should be Reading.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m a girl who can’t read only one book at a time, so get ready for a list. In print, I have two books, Insurgent by Veronica Roth which I started last night and Harry Potter y la Orden del Fénix by J.K. Rowling which I’ve been working on for over a year. I was a Spanish major in college so I like to practice reading in Spanish when I can. It’s good to read something I’m already familiar with in English so I learn new words. It’s been slow going because I always prioritize other books. On my phone, I’m reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver which I’m in love with. His narrator is such a wonderfully developed woman and I adore reading about her. I’m listening to a book on my phone as well, which is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This is for my book club and comes highly recommended by my friend Katherine. Finally, the audiobook in my car is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’m almost done with the behemoth and I’ll be glad when it’s over, but I’m too far in to give up!

Recently finished: Just Kids by Patti Smith. Review will be up tomorrow!

Reading Next: I’ve wanted to read Canada by Richard Ford for a long time now. I finally bought a copy and should have the time to delve into it in the next month or so. I’m excited!

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

Where Do You Find Critique Partners?

25 Feb

One of the librarians stopped me on my way to book club yesterday to tell me the library was going to start a literary critique group in April. Finally! She’s been pushing for this for a while and I’ve told her I’ll support it when she finally got the red tape torn down. Now it finally seems that it’s happening!

This got me thinking about good critiques and how helpful they can be for writers. I’m fortunate enough to have my own little critique group, my Novel Girls friends. We get together about twice a month to go over each other’s work. Our next meeting is tonight and I’m so excited because I’m sharing the second-to-last section of my first novel. We’re so close to the end!

I’ve found a few other critique groups that have been instrumental in my growth as a writer. Both of them I found from the website Meetup. If you’re not familiar with this website, I recommend checking it out. Meetup is not just for writing, it’s for people with all sorts of interests to find others in their areas with those interests and join together to share experiences. I’ve used it for hiking, book clubs, and, of course, writing. Some groups are focused on critique, others on workshops and still others on writing together. I think all of these are useful because they introduce you to other writers. I met my Novel Girls in a prompt-writing group, the same one where I met an alpha reader.

In my strive to edit, I’m always looking for new ways to find critique partners. How have you found critique partners? Are there forums in which you’ve met people who have helped you make your writing better? Have you had success with Meetup? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think, I love hearing from you!

Until next time, write on.

Preparing for Book Club

24 Feb

When it comes to this blog, I always think a lot about a book before I post a review or reflection. But for my book club, I don’t really prepare anything at all.

I usually read the book 2-3 weeks in advance, but I always read the book. The problem comes in remembering the details of something I read so far in advance. For my meeting tonight, we will discuss Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I devoured and finished four days after it was distributed last month.

I’ll always say to myself that I’ll go back and read my review of the book, but I’ll be honest, I never really spend the time to do that. There are others in my book clubs that finish the book the day of the meeting, some who even re-read it, and a handful who do extra research about the topic or author to share with the group. It makes me feel lazy!

Reader, can you make me feel better? What do you do to prepare for a book club meeting? Do you even do as much as me and write a review? Please leave a comment and let me know, I love to hear from you!

Until next time, write on.

Lots of adjectives and confusing sentences? There’s an app for that.

21 Feb

It seems there’s an app for everything these days and concise writing is just throwing its weight into the pile. But there are apps that are worth our time. It might be a good translation app, or a favorite game (Flappy Bird), but there are apps we hold dear.

And here’s a new one. You’re welcome.

It’s called the Hemingway app and it’s for your desktop, not your phone. I heard about it over on Gus Sanchez’s blog where he talked about it yesterday. The app takes a sample of your writing and calls out some elements of it that need your attention. The name implies it will make your writing more like Hemingway, but I feel it just makes it stronger in general.

It calls out five things: sentences that are ‘hard to read,’ sentences that are ‘very hard to read,’ adverbs, words that can be simplified, and use of the passive voice. If you’re getting excited already, click over to the Hemingway App and follow along.

Sentences that are’ hard to read’ and ‘very hard to read’ are based on the reading level needed to understand the sentence structure. ‘Hard’ requires a college-level reading ability and ‘very hard’ requires post-college level skills. If you’re like me and writing for young adults, it’s best to stick with simplifying these.

If Hemingway and Stephen King tell us to avoid adverbs at all costs, we should consider that this argument has merit. All your ‘-ly’ words are called out, giving you the chance to strengthen your verbs. My favorite feature is that it gives you a threshold to stay under based on your word count. Genius! Words that can be simplified are highlighted and paired with suggestions for a replacement. Passive voice again gives you a threshold and supplies the active form of the verb.

I’m in love with this. What a great tool! I’ve even put this blog post through it so I hope you think I’m using some powerful language.

My final grade: 7/10, Good. 2 sentences are ‘hard to read,’ 0 are ‘very hard to read,’ 0 adverbs, 3 words could be simplified (it’s the word ‘very’ all three times), and five uses of passive voice with a threshold of five. Can you find my two ‘hard to read’ sentences?

Is this helpful to you? Will you use this tool to clean up your writing? Let me know what you think in a comment, I love to hear from you!

Until next time, write on.

Waiting for Godot… I mean LitMag Responses

20 Feb

I find waiting for LitMag responses very nerve-wracking and stressful. I want to check my status on Submittable hourly, but I know it’s not going to change. I have two pieces sitting in their queue, one since January 22 and the other since the 29th. I caved yesterday and checked them again, the first time in a week.

No movement.

And rightfully so. The response time for both pieces is not over yet so I can’t bug the editors or even glare menacingly at my computer screen. It’s expected, it’s accepted, it’s how things are. But it still frustrates me.

I don’t like to have a piece out to multiple places, even if they allow simultaneous submissions. It’s a personal thing, I don’t know if I can explain it well. However, the long turnaround times make it difficult to get anything published and many magazines don’t accept simultaneous. My personal preferences aside, this makes things more complicated.

I’ve promised myself to get something published this year so these pieces will keep making the rounds if the two magazines they’re at now don’t accept them. I’m hoping to get them to at least four or five magazines (if they’re not accepted first!) by the end of the year.

Does this review process frustrate you, Reader? If you’ve worked for a LitMag, is the lengthy turnaround time necessary? What are the editors doing in the meantime?

Please leave a comment, I love to hear from you. While you’re at it, feel free to click over to my Facebook Fan Page and follow me there. Post updates go there automatically and I like to post some book-nerd things there for your enjoyment.

Until next time, write on.

Book Club Selections

19 Feb

I joined my two book clubs a little over a year ago and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve met some wonderful women and men who share my passion for reading and can get into some heated discussions over books, something I absolutely love.

Both of my book clubs have always been great about taking member suggestions for reads. We vote on what we’d like to read, but if ultimately boils down to what the library can afford to buy for us and what’s available in paperback. We have to publish our schedule about six months in advance as well. This rules out a lot of last minute changes and recent bestsellers (unless they went to paperback quickly). Because I read outside of the clubs, this has never bothered me.

The one thing I’ve mused on before is the books I was introduced to because of my book clubs that I never would have touched otherwise. There were some I loved (Room by Emma Donoghue) and others I was not as much of a fan of (The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman). But in any case, I still tried them.

Save one. I skipped in November for NaNoWriMo and because the book we were reading was a 900 page biography of Lyndon Johnson. I’ve never been much of one for presidential biographies and I skipped it for the timing/length/topic.

Have you ever skipped a book club selection because it didn’t interest you? What will cause you to skip a selection, if you ever have?

I know there’s ones I was thinking of skipping and I was glad I didn’t (reading The River of Doubt on my honeymoon for example) so I always wonder about the one I did.

Let me know your thoughts in a comment, I love to hear from you! And if you haven’t, please add me on Goodreads!

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth (4/5)

18 Feb

I know this book wasn’t due on my To-Read list, but I was able to get my hands on a copy without waiting on the library list for two months so I read it. I wanted to make sure I read it before the movie comes out next month. You can probably expect a movie freak-out when that happens.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior lives in a world where people are divided by the values they hold most dear. Beatrice’s faction values selflessness and giving but she sometimes feels at odds with this. Lucky for Beatrice, everyone gets a chance to choose for themselves at age 16 if they want to join a different faction. It means leaving her family, but Beatrice decides to change factions and joins the Dauntless, those that value bravery. She enters the faction and begins a rigorous initiation where her physical and mental strength is tested by her initiator, Four. Tris does well, succeeding in mental bravery and begins to associate herself more and more with the brave around her. She develops a fondness for Four and for a few of her fellow initiates. The day after her final initiation, things start to go south.

I wasn’t sure what I would think of this book when I started. I’ve been a fan of some YA series and critical of others. This book reminded e a lot of The Hunger Games because of the dystopian future setting and female protagonist. However, I felt that Tris’s government fight had a lot more depth behind it than Katniss’s. The government system oppressing Tris had a lot more layers to it than Panem.

This book was a really fast read. I started it Monday evening and finished it Friday at lunch. With how busy I was last week, that’s really surprising to me. The first few chapters or so had me thinking a lot about what I was reading, thinking that the language was a bit simple and that the character development was a bit shallow. After about seventy pages or so, I wasn’t thinking of this at all and was enjoying the ride. As I’ve said, very engaging.

The copy I read had a bunch of bonus material in the back, including interviews with Roth. She said that she thought of the Dauntless training while studying exposure therapy for phobia patients and that the world developed around that. Another interview she had said that anyone’s utopian world is another’s dystopian nightmare. Those in Candor where happy to speak openly and be honest, while for an Abnegation that would be grueling. Roth is showing us that there is a different idea for everyone and we have to become happy enough with what we’re dealt.

I write a while ago about how dystopian worlds can reflect what we see is wrong in our society now. In applying this to Divergent, I’d say that Roth is commenting about how those in power have a singular outlook on the priorities of our world and how the minority do not believe in those same ideals and will start to riot. I think she’s also saying that it’s hard to change the hand you’re dealt in life, even when presented the opportunity to do so. I also think she’s trying to say that prejudices and hatred can stem from our ideals as much as from socioeconomic categories. I personally think this is a much more educated way of being, if we must be prejudiced at all. Ideals define a person better than skin or nationality anyway.

Tris’s biggest choice in the book is what faction she will join. I don’t think teens today are given the ability to change who they are the way teens of Tris’s world are. For Tris and her brother, they could, in one day, alter the rest of their lives. They would have to leave their families and endure a hard initiation, but they could take control and change things for themselves. I think teens today feel very stuck in a path that their parents have set out for them. The children of doctors and lawyers feel pressured to measure up to their parent’s success while those whose parents are waitresses and baristas feel that that’s what their future holds. I like the lack of economic barriers in Tris’s world but I think there’s still a lot of pressure to follow in one’s parents footsteps.

Writers’ Takeaways: I felt that the minor characters were a bit underdeveloped, but in a trilogy, that wasn’t surprising. I felt that I knew Tris very well and Four pretty well. However, Caleb and Tris’s friends from Dauntless were not as flushed out. I look forward to reading on and seeing what else I can find out about them in the next two books.

Overall, this was a highly entertaining read and I really liked it. I can’t wait to read Insurgent. Four out of five stars.

Until  next time, write on.

This book counted for the time period ‘The Future’ in my When Are You Reading? Challenge and for Illinois in my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Related Posts:
Divergent by Veronica Roth | Book Monkey
Divergent, by Veronica Roth | The Incurable Bluestocking

Book Club Reflection Part II: Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

17 Feb

It was so interesting to have another book club discussion over Annie’s Ghosts. My other book club discussed this two weeks ago and I wrote up my book review about a month ago. Like my other group, there were a mot of personal stories that tied to this book because of the local nature of the book.

We started out the night talking about our own family secrets. I didn’t personally have one to share, but that might be because of my age. Most of the stories that came out were exposed when a grandparent or parent died and I’ve been thankful to only lose one grandparent and neither parent. We felt that most of the secrets seemed to come out at funerals and family reunions. I’ll have to keep my ears open when I go in the future.

What secrets would you keep? We felt that there was still a strong stigma on mental illness, but that there were issues we were more likely to keep. Though some people still see mental illness as some type of ‘moral defect,’ drug therapies have shaped our ability to see them as treatable diseases. Not everyone who is sad can ‘snap out of it’ and might need antidepressants to help them regain their lives. There are other things that some can blame on the individual him or her self that are more likely to be family secrets. My examples were drug addiction and crime. Our other members added incest, domestic violence, rape, and in some circles suicide and homosexuality. It looks like there’s still a lot to hide about our families.

With any family secret, there’s not always a group consensus to pursue the secret. If the secret holder is still alive, most people will let it lie, saying that it’s that person’s ‘story to tell.’ But once that person does, do we want to change our perspective of them by discovering something they purposefully kept hidden about themselves? Our group said that we would want to know, but that there’s a point of frustration and bureaucracy where most of us would give up.

Steve and his brother Mike didn’t agree about pursuing their mother’s secret at first, but Steve was in a good position to push it. When he ran into red tape, he took the time and effort to get around it. Most of us aren’t Washington Post writers who can take months off to dig into the Michigan Mental Health system.

We asked ourselves what Annie’s life would be like in today’s society, with modern abilities to treat her disabilities. We think she would have a job, have gone to school, and would overall have a more engaging life with society. Because she wasn’t a problem in the mental health system, she seemed to be swept under the rug, ignored because she was marked as terminal and didn’t make a fuss. Today, she would likely be put in a group home, made for those who cannot live independently and need a guardian but who are able to hold a job. One of our members was reminded of the play The Boys Next Door, about four men in a group home and how they deal with their own disabilities and the life they were dealt. Funny enough, I was a stage manager for this play in high school, so I’m very familiar with it. If you get the chance, it’s a solid story.

One of the most interesting questions that we discussed was if Annie would have even known she was Jewish. Being a Jewish immigrant was such a strong part of Tillie’s identity and later, Beth’s, but would Annie have known? One of our members was perusing Facebook and saw pictures from Christmas celebrations at Eloise, which suggest that the Christian holidays were practiced. I wonder if Annie had the mental capacity to even question it.

As with any story, we had to talk about the characters, especially Tillie, Steve’s grandmother. We wondered how Beth’s secret affected Tillie. We thought that the stigma of having a daughter who was mentally ill was only compounded by having her housed in Eloise, a stamp of poverty. And then she’d look at her daughter, Beth, who wanted to marry Duke so badly that Tillie kept the secret from her son-in-law so Beth could pretend she was an only child.

We suspect Beth was masking a lot of guilt as well. A few of our members felt that part of her depression that landed her in Botsford Hospital was due to that guilt eating at her for so many years. Much like Annie’s psychotic break that started her spiral downward, Beth’s covering up kept her sister dragged her deeper and deeper down.

So what was Annie’s psychotic break that started her screaming all night and refusing to sleep? The story seems to imply that it was a sexual assault. One of our members contemplated that the uncle who had promised Beth college tuition, Nathan Shlien, was responsible for this. Nathan seemed to disappear around the same time Annie was institutionalized and this member suspected it wasn’t coincidental.

One of my favorite people from this book was Anna Oliwek, the cousin who survived the Holocaust. I was glad to hear some more opinions about her that I felt rang true. Her family values were so strong after losing her own family that she fought with Beth after she denied her own family. Anna seemed to be a very compassionate person toward everyone except Beth, those who shared her values. We thought it was a great story how she wanted to find her ex-husband, even though they’d only been married for one day.

Eloise is well past the prime it once maintained. It’s still on Michigan Avenue, but it’s deterioting and almost creepy looking now. Go look at the Facebook page for some pictures.

I’ll say again how much I enjoyed this book. If you have a chance, pick up a copy. I’ll do another post in May when I hear Steve Luxenberg speak at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Until next time, write on.