Book Review – Lexicon

TITLE: Lexicon
AUTHOR: Max Barry
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2013

 

Poets.  No, not the type that string words together into iambic pentameter.  Worse.  These poets understand words and language in ways that laypeople do not.  They can talk to somebody for ten minutes and understand what their segment is and know what words need said to end them entirely.

Wil Parke is a man on the run, and he doesn’t know why.  He’s got total amnesia.  Hell, he isn’t even sure that Wil Parke is his real name.  Oh, and a poet has gone rogue and wants him dead.  So two men kidnap him from the airport and spend much of the book just trying to keep his sorry ass alive.

The book flips between two story lines – one starts with Emily Ruff, who is recruited in California and becomes a poet.  The other story line centers around Wil.  Who is he, how can they keep him alive, and why does somebody want him?

The two stories come together in two places about as different as they can be – Broken Hill, Australia, and Washington, DC.   I know I’m not doing a good job explaining this, but really, I don’t want to give things away too much, and I’m not smart enough anyway. Max Barry was a friggin’ genius with this story.

I loved the background about the poets and that setup, and a lot of the information they were sharing about words is true. So it made the book extra realistic.

That said, I saw how the two stories were going to come together about halfway to when they did.  I didn’t mind, and I still enjoyed the book, but I could see how that might upset some readers a little bit.  Still, I thought the book was strong enough that it didn’t matter.

Max Barry is good about making you care about his characters, so even though you’re expecting xyz, you still want to see how it plays out.

Very happy with this one.  I give it 5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Wednesday – Barbara Ehrentreu

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1. Who are you?
My name is Barbara Ehrentreu. I write under Barbara Ehrentreu.

2.What type of stuff do you write?
I write YA and poetry.

3. What do you want to pimp now?
My second novel, After, is going to be in print in September. After is a story about the struggles Lauren Walstein, a fifteen-year-old girl, has to go through when her father suddenly has a heart attack and undergoes bypass surgery. In one phone call her life changes completely. Lauren is a character with whom most teens will relate. Her best friend since kindergarten, Joey, is going out with her enemy and they have grown apart. Before the phone call all she thought about was getting a scholarship for softball, and the Mets. Suddenly she must deal with both her father’s illness and being in school. The demands on her from both ends complicate the story. In the middle of all this, she finds she is developing feelings for her best friend that are more than friendly. Is he feeling the same or is he just comforting her? In addition there is Joey’s mean girl friend Amber, who doesn’t appreciate Lauren being in the picture. Will Lauren’s father recover? How will Lauren cope with her new feelings for Joey?

Also I am working on the sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor called “Jennifer’s Story”. Jennifer Taylor, the girl who bullied Carolyn Samuels in the first book is getting ready for a very big meet that will decide her fate. Will she be training for the Olympics or will she have missed her chance? As the day gets closer for the meet she finds she is reverting back to her old eating disorder and that her parents are creating problems for her as well. Her father is running for mayor and her mother is drinking. Having to navigate these issues is making Jennifer crazy. She does have her good friend Carolyn and Brad her boyfriend to help her through it. However, Jennifer is still worried she might not get on the training team. Also, Maura, Jennifer’s oldest friend, has a new boyfriend who seems to be paying way too much attention to Jennifer. Will he cause a problem in her relationship with Brad?This is still a WIP, but I hope to submit it soon.

4. What is your favorite book?
When I was younger it was Alice in Wonderland. Then I loved Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier. Now my favorite books are by Dennis Lehane and Jim Butcher. I loved The Given Day by Dennis Lehane and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. But it’s hard, because I am constantly reading such good books from my author friends.

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
In addition to writing I am also a tutor. I am a retired Reading Specialist so I work with students who have difficulty in school due to reading problems. I am also a mother with two adult daughters.

6. What links can we find you at?
Find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraEhrentreu

Twitter: @Barbehr

My blog: http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com

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The best writing advice I can give to newbies

When I was first starting out I only knew I loved to write and the opportunity came for me when I was stuck in a hotel between places to live. My entire family consisting of two daughters and my husband, all adults, were squeezed into a two bedroom hotel room for a month and a half while we waited for our new place to be vacated. So every night I would tap on my computer and I finished writing an entire novel in that time. I revised it and had other people read it and then I thought it was ready to send to publishers. I got constant rejections and I gave up. It was a children’s fantasy and no one wanted it. Then I wrote another novel, this time it was YA and sent it to my critique group and they gave me excellent criticism. Then I had beta readers read it and they liked it. So I thought, great, this was ready to send out. I went to several SCBWI conferences and the editors gave us permission to send to them. So I started doing that and was met with rejection by every big 5 publisher. I put my novel away. I thought it would never get published, but a friend of mine was starting up a new publishing company. So I pitched it and she wanted it. This was such a long shot I thought I would never get it published. But I persevered and it did get published. First as an ebook and then in print.

My advice to anyone who is a newbie is to keep on trying. Take those rejections and save them and keep trying. Attend as many conferences as you can both physical and online. Online writing conferences are good places to meet all kinds of people. There are editors and publishers mixing with authors and writers. Physical conferences are good places to meet people too. Everyone mingles and you can meet editors and publishers across the table from you. Make the most of every opportunity to learn more about your craft. Workshops are excellent to take so you can hone your skills. Gather as many friends on Facebook and Twitter as you can and definitely start a blog if you don’t have one. Another great idea is to join writing groups both physically and online. All of this will help you to be a better writer and will immerse you in the world of writing and publishing. The last piece of advice I would give is again to keep on keeping on. Don’t give up if you feel your work is good. You are the one who is selling your work to other people. So tell people about your work whenever you can. Also if you can’t get it published the traditional way there is always self publishing these days for little or no money. If you want people to read your work you need to put it out there.

Book Review – Memoirs of a Geisha By Arthur Golden

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: 
Arthur Golden
Format: 
Paperback
Published: 
1997

Memoirs of a Geisha is the story of a young girl who is sold along with her sister into prostitution.  The older sister is taken directly to a brothel which she soon flees, while the younger is taken to an okiya to be raised as a Geisha.  In the real world, it was integral to the role of a Geisha that she is not a prostitute, but in Arthur Golden’s world Geisha sell their virginity to the highest bidder and must work as a mistress for hire to exceedingly wealthy men to be “successful”.  At 14 our young girl, who goes through three names but ends up Sayuri, falls for a man in his mid forties and spends the next fifteen years or so obsessing over him until she finally gets to be his mistress.

Skip the book, see the movie, then go read a book or two about actual Geisha.  The movie garnered its own share of criticism by casting Chinese actresses in the main roles and inaccurately representing Geisha dress and culture, but even so, it is visually stunning and well acted.  Details of the film bothered me, and I had hoped Hollywood had not done the book full justice.  No such luck.  This is a case of the film improving on the book, trimming down some of the more disturbing elements like Dr. Crab who not only makes a practice of paying large sums for the privilege of deflowering the young Geisha but keeps a collection of their blood from the encounter as well. If this guy isn’t creepy enough for you, the woman who is supposed to be training and guiding young Sayuri is fully aware of this creep’s practices but still goes out of the way to get him in on the virginity bidding for her own financial gain.  Even her love interest was involved in arranging this fate for her, though he had hoped originally to do the deflowering himself.  Basically, everyone in Sayuri’s life is using her for sex, either on the buying or selling end.  She’s positioned as a high-end prostitute with other talents, but the focus is selling her body more than her entertaining skills.

Historically and even currently young girls go through similar hardships, but it’s not the way of Geisha.  Golden has heavily sexualized one of the few outlets for women in 17th century to WWII era Japan to pursue independent careers which weren’t dependent on marriage or prostitution.  Geisha did originate in brothels, originally men but the role was adopted by women who entertained alongside high class prostitutes who had their own ranking system.  Geisha were not allowed to be prostitutes in part because it conflicted with the courtesans’ business.

Certainly a few of them crossed the line, and there were prostitutes who presented themselves as Geisha and Geisha who turned to prostitution in desperate economic times.  However, Golden presents these as standard and ritualized Geisha practices, as though he can’t believe in a world before radios or television men would pay women for their entertainment skills.

Geisha (a word that mean “artist”) are skilled performers who might specialize as singers, musicians, and/or dancers.  They also provide company and conversation similar to an escort.  And yes, it is more than a little offensive to suggest they couldn’t possibly hold onto a patron without also being his mistress or they need to auction off their virginity to graduate to a new level of Geisha.  It would be like suggesting Michelangelo couldn’t get a job unless he was also putting out.  Golden thanks the real Geisha Mineko Iwasaki for granting him an interview, even though she had asked him to keep her name private.  She in turn sued him for breach of contract and defamation of character in 2001, and published her autobiography Geisha of Gion in 2002 to help give the world a more accurate view of Geisha life.

This book made me kind of mad.  Golden sets up a pretence of historical accuracy, only to take us through a series of what are essentially rapes, have a pretty young girl obsess over a middle-aged man, and then the publisher has the nerve to call this “romantic, erotic, and suspenseful” when it’s none of these things.  If I was being flattering, I might call it beautifully tragic, because it takes a resilient person to survive sexual slavery, even with comfortable trappings, and the kimono and setting descriptions are often lovely.  If I take a deep breath and try to see past my indignation, the writing is passable with strong descriptions and believable characters but not gripping or entertaining.  Sayuri is a sympathetic but somewhat bland narrator.  The plot meanders, which is perhaps more realistic, but if you’re going to ignore realism to pander to fatalistic sex fantasy, then I’d much rather have a tight plot and clever narration.

As with the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (which is also fiction), the writer can’t even give his subject the consideration that they might be competent enough to write their own books, but must wrap it in pretense of being recorded for posterity by a “real writer” who also happens to be a male very similar to the actual male writer.  Maybe that’s to help bridge us between the male name on the cover and female narrator, but I’m developing a strong distaste for fake memoire fiction.

Final verdict is 2 out of 5.  Golden’s writing is solid enough I might try other works by him.  He comes off as a capable writer, but lazy or indifferent in the wrong places, at least in this book.

Book Review – The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

TITLE: The Invisible Man
AUTHOR: Ralph Ellison
FORMAT: Paperback
WRITTEN: 1952
PUBLISHED: 1981

The Invisible Man is about the almost surreal struggle of a young black man in the early 1950s trying to distinguish himself in a predominantly white world.  He strives first for education, but an incident ejects him unfairly from college life and into the streets of New York where he eventually finds himself a spokesman in Harlem for a political movement known as the Brotherhood.

Usually, once I get past the first few pages of a book, I see it through to the end, but I almost gave up on this about a third of the way through.  It seemed to belong to that class of “classics” where the protagonist suffers a mix of bad treatment complicated by their own bad decisions, but never acknowledges their own role in their misfortunes.  But the narrative leveled out, and I made it through the 581 pages.  I can’t say I enjoyed the book, so much as I can appreciate it.

I imagine this is one of those novels that will resonate deeply with some people, but be a little too dense and frustrating for others.  Its message was far more complex than my early prediction, and while I occasionally found myself frustrated with the narrative for not being clearer, the protagonist did not simply drift through events for the novel’s entirety.

While reading, the book felt disjointed.  The symbolism was strong in places but the writing murky, too many motives and actions left unexplained.  Reflecting on it, there was a deliberate progression, and I strongly suggest you skip neither the prologue nor epilogue if you hope for any semblance of closure.  Except, the novel ends not so much with closure but with an awakening, or sense of being on the cusp of awakening, which may make a lot more sense in historical context than outside of it.  It’s set in a time gearing up for the height of McCarthyism and the civil rights movement.

I found myself frustrated while reading that the Brotherhood’s politics were not made clearer, but suspect the general reading public of the time would have accepted them to be a communist movement.

Overall, it gets a solid 3 out of 5.  It was a popular book when first released, and it’s easy to see how it could strike a chord.  But I prefer a higher level of polish and closure when making a nearly 600 page investment of my time.

Writer Wednesday – Mark Taylor

  1. Who are you?
    Mark Taylor, author of the macabre.
  1. What type of stuff do you write?
    Um…the macabre. I jest. I started my writing career in short stories, having many published over the years. Eventually the work got longer, and now I boast novels out with a couple of different publishing houses and some more self-published work. Mostly it’s horror, a little fantasy, and some science fiction for good measure.
  1. What do you want to pimp right now?
    Small Cuts to the Psyche. It’s a collection of some of my previously published materials as well as a few unpublished surprises. It’s chock full of the dark brooding horror that anyone that knows me expects to find.
    The special edition is available on Lulu in paperback: http://tiny.cc/1wfgsx
  1. What is your favorite book?
    Nope. I can’t answer that. But I’ll name an author. Richard Laymon. The man was a genius. His twisted work inspired me when I started writing, and still does today. I’ll admit though, Nicholas Grabowski reminds me of him.
  1. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
    I’ve proofed many novels and novellas and formatted more books than I can count. I’ve also done a good number of covers for other authors.
  1. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
    My website: www.authormarktaylor.com
    And of course Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mark.Taylor.Author

 

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Pantsing it…

 

The hardest lesson I’ve learned as a writer? Well, the mistakes keep coming, so all the while the lessons do too, I guess all is going right.

At the moment? It keeps rearing its ugly head with me, and many others too, I expect. It’s the old plotting vs pantsing. I’m a pantser. Have been since the day I sat at the keyboard. Working with tales of less than say, ten thousand words, it’s fine. I have no qualms about being a pantser with novella’s or shorts.

But I took my pantsing with me when I started writing novels. I thought I had learned my lesson after two novels, where my own blood was shed banging away at the keyboard in the wee hours trying to make head or tail of what I had written.

I decided on the vague outline of my third novel, and then started to plot. It was hard. Harder than I had imagined. But I did what I thought was going to work. I mean, who researches how to plot a story, right?

I have never been so wrong.

I plotted vaguely. Too vaguely, I know now. It sprawled, out of control. I had plot points bouncing around all over the place. I expected a pulp novel, sixty to seventy thousand words, maybe, and following my “plot” I hit nearly fifty thousand still in the first act. And there were new plots being raised.

Sheesh.

So I did some research. I’m still working on the third, so I don’t know if what my research told me is right or not, but I learned that a plot should be detailed. Pretty much every plot point covered. And stick to it. One piece I read suggested the plot outline be roughly ten percent of the length of the finished work. So my plot should have been six thousand words.

I think it was about six hundred.

Lesson learned.

 

Book Review – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Format: Paperback
Written: 1847
Published: 2010

Jane Eyre is a classic that has been sitting on my “to read” stack for a long time, and I’m happy to say I have now sampled all three Bronte sisters.  Of the three, I think Jane Eyre has the strongest story.  Unfortunately it’s a story I know so well from numerous film adaptations that I could not enjoy the full effect of the novel.  The twists and mysteries were a little too familiar.

I did enjoy a fuller fleshing out of Jane’s younger years than one sees in most film adaptations.  There are some delightful characters early on who fail to appear later in the book, which is realistic if a little unfortunate.  Jane Eyre is a thick novel and my busy schedule caused the reading to spread out over several weeks.  As I read before bed and kept falling asleep in the middle of a particular conversation, there were times reading seemed a little more tedious than I can honestly blame on the novel itself.

Jane is a character easily admired, an average woman in many respects, but one who shines in her simplicity.  She is moral, kind, determined, practical, but true to herself.  My favorite parts are where she stood up to various types of bullies and manipulators.

The character I have a much harder time liking is Mr. Rochester.  I tried; I did.  I’m sure some modern aversion to older men targeting barely legal teenage girls colored my feelings.  In Jane’s society, she’s considered a woman, and I did try to frame her in my mind as such.  The bigger problem may be that I had trouble fixing Mr. Rochester’s voice in my head.  He had a sardonic brand of humor that I might have found more endearing if I had been able to interpret the tones.  But instead I found his speeches too long and his character too self-absorbed and prone to petty tricks and manipulations, like feigning interest in one woman to gain the affections of another.  I have no patience for those sorts of games.

To be fair he does demonstrate the better part of his nature before the end and does not emerge unscathed from his crimes.  Character growth is always nice to see.

The prose is fairly clean and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but as I much prefer first person narrators to be talking to someone, I found this natural and clever.  I do feel secondary characters were often cast off too carelessly.  Well developed in their introduction but exiting off screen with hardly a peep.  Which may have been a deliberate attempt to highlight the romance, but not to my tastes. There is a sense of English pride that at time borders on racism or mild xenophobia, but it is perhaps an intentional fault of Jane’s, consistent with the prejudice of the time period, and no narrator should be a perfect saint.

All things considered, I give Jane Eyre a very solid 4 out of 5.  There were a few places where I do feel it dragged a bit, even factoring in my familiarity with the story, and other places where Jane’s internal arguments got a little redundant.  However it is a classic of English Literature, and I feel it deserves that status.

Writer Wednesday – Herika R. Raymer

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Herika R Raymer reporting!

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
Right now writing short stories and working on my first novel and novella.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
Have some short stories in several anthologies, the newest being:
Children of Ghennharra in Luna’s Children – Full Moon Mayhem
Piasa Remains in State of Horror – Illinois

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
Traveler in Black by John Brunner
E Pluribus Unicorn by Theodore Sturgeon

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
Mother – this means keeper of schedules (bedtime everyone!), forager of foods (preferably sweets), driver to fun places (grandparents the most popular), tolerant of whines, healer of boo boos, maid, breakfast short order cook, and censor of movies.
Also wife (hehehe)

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
Website – http://herikarraymer.webs.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Herika-R-Raymer-WriterEditor/218450834882572?fref=ts

 

 

 

*****

How To Take Critique

The hardest writing lesson I had to learn was how to take critique. I would ask for it, listen, and then hide the piece of work before anyone else had a chance to rip it apart. I really had to learn that if I was to get better at writing, then I needed a thicker skin. Yes, all my stories are my darlings, but if I want them to be the best I can make them I have to learn to listen when someone is offering critique – especially if it is from an author I respect. It took years, but I finally learned and I like to think my writing improves with every story because of this.

 

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