Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I gave this a try. I approached it because it is written from the viewpoint of a woman who is degenerating, which is unusual for fiction dealing with this ailment. I also was very interested in the author’s approach, to show her degenerating slowly after having a successful career based on her ability to work with very high concepts.
The writing has weaknesses in areas that I just can’t tolerate. The use of dialog to provide information that would be better provided in narrative form is the primary issue. Using dialog to dump data really slows the pace, and it takes away from the internal development of individual characters. I found this too much of an issue to move beyond and so stopped reading after a short time.
1 star.

Book Review: The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

Fantastic story. This book follows a woman’s life from her youth when she used clothes to define an identity she couldn’t otherwise develop through her efforts to locate the past that was hidden from her by her parents. A great introspective work on what people find acceptable, why they might reject their relatives, and who they turn out to be themselves in the end.
The writing is lovely, spare yet with a style that touches on the emotions and turmoil of this woman at different life stages. And she does find herself in the end through some very interesting moves that force her parents to confront what they hid for so long.
5 stars!

Book Review: The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

Read about 30 pages but wasn’t impressed with the writing or the character development. It was well written in terms of how words are laid out on the page but there wasn’t really much compelling development of the characters. That’s a critical flaw in the opening pages.
I suppose if you like stories that focus on a family’s history you might enjoy this. But I didn’t find enough to hold me long.
In some ways, I’m surprised it won an award…and in others I’m not surprised. Literary contests can pick works that meander or where nothing happens, holding the prose over the story or what it might provide for a reader in terms of messaging or experience. So perhaps you have to read the first 100 pages before things really come clear.
1 star.

Book Review: While the Gods Were Sleeping

By Erwin Mortier
This work is and isn’t about World War I. Helena, writing journal after journal as an elderly woman cared for by one harsh homecare nurse and one loving homecare nurse, first shows readers what her life has become. Then we see how life was before the war…comfortable, pleasant, and in many ways a mirror image of the nurturing kindness the elderly Helena receives from the kind caregiver.
Not until long into the book does Helena finally turn to the wartime events. This is in part because the visitation of the fighting on her country was so terrible, she has difficulty coming to terms with it even at this late date. But she is driven to do so…not because she believes the journals will leave some lasting legacy; in fact, she tells the caretaker to distribute them at whim, and shows herself to be as unattached to them as falling leaves in the wind.
Really, she is writing for herself. She needs to retrieve from the mud that swallowed so many men dead and alive some understanding of what this monster was and how it changed her and her country. The sweep is epic yet is told from such a close and intimate understanding of one woman’s life that readers cannot help but feel the horror Helena had as a witness.
Then, at the end, we see that Helena’s words have had a broader impact beyond her life. The simple words of her caregiver, relaying her own family’s story of loss, resonates in a few brief pages with everything Helena has needed hundreds of pages to convey through her own efforts.
What shining beauty is in her words.
I was given an ARC (digital) by the publisher to review.
Want more fiction like this? Try Message Stick. A biracial man only faces his hidden past when forced by mysterious events surrounding the disappearance of his best friend.

Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I got up to page 138 with this. The first chapter was compelling enough to keep me interested; the author presents three viewpoints here, all with their own backstories.
Quickly, however, I found two things very annoying. First, the author talks down to the YA reader. Second, although this is set in some future time, the cultural references were all of today’s moment…and actually even outdated for today. So, even though the characters admitted using old cultural references, it didn’t come off well. Because of these two issues, it really sounded like an adult author trying too hard to reach the teen reader…and that’s a big turnoff.
Finally, as the pages turned, the author intruded more and more into the narrative and dialog. By the time I stopped reading, it felt like he was preparing to deliver a “big message,” which is also a turnoff. Not that fiction can’t deliver messages; they just need to be handled with a lighter touch.
2 stars.

3 Common Flaws that Sink Query Letters

In the twenty years I’ve been connecting authors with agents and publishers, I’ve rewritten a lot of query letters. The most common flaws that keep writers from capturing an agent or publisher’s attention are:
–Lack of a tagline. This is a single sentence that encapsulates the protagonist’s journey, the story’s universal appeal, the audience, and the category. Although queries can succeed if they don’t have taglines, the agent/publisher will have to read the entire first paragraph (or more) before their interest is sparked. That’s too long. Taglines captivate in ten words.
–Descriptions that confuse and/or fail to evoke an emotional response. The one or two paragraphs that describe the story need to relay the protagonist’s journey and the universal aspects of the story. In order to do this, these paragraphs must be clear, concise, and evoke the emotional tone of the story. Too much detail, inclusion of details that aren’t important at this initial review stage, and the wrong details are just some of the ways the description fails to open the door.
–Skipping any information about the author. Writer’s don’t have to be celebrities to get book deals. They do have to make a connection with the agent or publisher, however. This works two ways. First, it makes the agent or acquisitions editor a champion for the manuscript. Second, it proves that the author can find ways to connect with readers.
Avoid these three common flaws and improve your chances of being offered a contract.

Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Well, I gave this one a go. I enjoyed the concept but the way the author treated the overarching theme ended up drowning in dialog.
I don’t fault the author for this. It was pretty common to the time it was written to use didactic dialog to convey big chunks of information. So he was right in line with his times. I just wasn’t into reading this kind of book at this time.
I might return to it later and read the entire thing because I found the way he handled the narrative quite compelling. He was a brilliant writer, and is worth the effort. Just not this month!
3 stars.