Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery


This has to be the cutest book on the planet. Each chapter is light and youthful even when there is something unpleasant. Anne is the most lovable mischievous vibrant character ever in the whole world.
Reminders: 1. One brilliantly created character lets all the other characters develop easily around her. 2. Keep true to your character(s) giving them both good and bad qualities. 3. The manner of speech and casual descriptions of all that is happening paints a picture of the time period that doesn't need to be addressed directly.

Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Sendker


This was a fast read, a story that flowed easily. The turn at the end was a bit predictable, but sweet and lovely. I appreciated the theme being viewed through the lens of different cultures and different characters at different cultural positions.
Thoughts: 1. Drastic cultural differences can shed light on an idea we tend to think is universal. 2. Vivid descriptions are critical to create a scene and characters in foreign ands for your audience. 3. A good theme, no matter how often used, is still a good theme if you explore it thoroughly enough.

Lost in America, Nuland


Read this one on my own. Memories from growing up in a Jewish immigrant family in the 1930's and 40's fill this autobiography by a man who grew to be the success his father wanted him to be.
Reminders: 1. Someone out there will identify with anything you have to say, so just say it. 2. Feelings about things can't always be explained in concrete rational events. That's ok. Feelings are valid too. 3. Descriptions of the time setting is good for us that could never imagine it otherwise.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams


We read the first three books in the series. The first, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy can be read on its own. Sure, you know it intends to continue, but an episode has been completed. The second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ended in a way that forced you to continue to book 3. The characters were all over the map and nothing was resolved. Book three, Life, the Universe, and Everything ended in a semi-resolved sort of way so we chose to finish up here. Maybe we will return to the series later. We got tired of holding one enormous paperback that was trying to fall apart on us while we re-checked the book from the library three times.
Ideas: 1. Sci-fi worlds are free of all the rules. Make your own rules and stick to them. 2. If a character is introduced somewhere along the way and you re-introduce him somewhere later, there should be some reason to believe this character would be the one person in the universe to do so. 3. Cliffhangers or lead-ins into the next book or chapter are great, but each novel should certainly have some element of closure or else it's a PART of a novel.

All three of my points here can be summed up with: Don't lie to your audience. Be sure to address loose ends and give closure, be sure to give reason for a character re-entry, be sure to maintain your own rules or give good reasons for breaking them or changing directions with characters.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain


I am sure this was required reading when I was in school, so I thought it made for a good audio choice. Turns out it was pretty much a new read this time around. The only scene I remembered was the famous fence painting scene.
Take away: 1. Mark Twain inserts his own direct commentary which is humorous and lightens the story telling. 2. The descriptions of the kids and adults are time-capsules. So much individual character, voices, everything. The time and place are never even questioned - you are just THERE. 3. In song arranging and in writing, I always spend a lot of time deciding how to end things. I loved how Twain just dumped a TheEnd for now sort of ending. Always good to see an example of life/writing that is simply not rocket science.

Birds of America, Moore


I read this one on my own. Some of the short stories in this book were so detailed that I wondered why not create a complete novel. Other stories seems whole and complete in a way that would only make stretching it into a novel seem unnecessary.
Notes: 1. Each story was set apart from the one before by introducing the name of the characters early in the story. Whether intentional or not, it helped re-set my mind for a new story. 2. One can tackle many issues in bite sized digestible morsels with the short story format. 3. These were more stand-alone than most of the collections I have read before. It's possible she made each set of characters seem very much their own even if the inspiration could have come from just a few people or life situations.

The Invisible Man, Wells


I listened to this book while I did some housework and scanned old photographs. The story reminded me very much of a super hero story. Through some crazy scientific experiment, in this case on purpose, a scientist creates super powers. In the case of this character, he is evil. It's not the ill-treatment he receives because of his new power, but an evil that drove him to create his power.

Thoughts: 1. I love how Science-fiction tales are debated... could this thing really happen? If so, how, in theory, of course. Science-fiction has driven real science through its imagination and its ability to create without reality. 2. A book from 1897 has the same super-hero story intrigue of super heroes of today. Certain themes are constant to human thought. 3. Vivid descriptions kept me seeing/feeling the time period.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll


I listened to this audio book simply because I've never read/heard the original. It was a fun quick adventure and a reminder that the book was written over a hundred and fifty years ago. The language of the day is well preserved here.
Take away: 1. You can write ANYTHING if you call it a dream!!!! 2. You can disguise deeper meaning in a childlike story or dream if you so wish. 3. A child as a main character can go just about any direction because of inexperience and the forgiveness readers are willing to give to children.

Pride and Prejudice, Austen


We downloaded the list of 100 books that PBS thinks all Americans should read. I tapped into a free audio book ap and this was the first one both on the list and available for a listen. This is not the type of book I would be able to read with ease, but listening to Karen Savage read it made the task manageable.

The thing I like is that it paints a picture of the times. I truly like that. The thing I could give a hoot about is that it's essentially a book about 5 daughters, 3 of whom marry, 2 well and one with a little bit of arranging. Dating... marrying to be better off... cautiously carefully showing your interest, but not too much... Not actually knowing your suitor before there is a proposal and acceptance of marriage... Having all of your relations know your business and have a say above what you do.... ugggggg....  OK, I love the fact that it preserves a piece of the past, but oh, geezzzzzz, the drama of finding a suitable man!
Ideas: 1. The simplest theme, marrying off your daughters, can be turned into a book full of personality, speculation, etc with a variety of characters. 2. Describing a place and situation well enough preserves that scene for people of the future. 3. Write characters so vividly that it is easy to mimic their voices as your reader reads. There was no doubt, character to character who was speaking. This is not always the case in many novels.

Truth and Beauty, Patchett


I read this one to myself. The subject matter of this book is too depressing for Anne. Before writing here, I googled the title for a cover image and to see what else might have been said. The book is non-fiction, autobiography, but the main focus is not on the self, but on a friendship with a woman who eventually dies. The family of the deceased person have since stated that the publication of this book, from one person's point of view, stole from their own private grief. I have often weighed the difference, the actual weight, of writing in non-fiction versus changing details to create a "fiction" novel based on facts as I saw them. It is my firm belief that even non-fiction autobiographical books, because of their single point of view, are to some degree fictional...  at least they are fictional to another person's point of view. We all remember and tell the tale of our existence in our own way. Enhanced by our own imperfect memory, traumas, shame, glories, etc. So, the question is, could this story have been published with some detail changes to be a fictional novel? I'm just not certain that the fictional version would weigh as much. I did not find any of it offensive or so inflammatory that I found myself passing judgment or questioning the motives of the writer. Yes, some readers will decide that this is the one true version of Lucy's life. I won't, but then again, the one version isn't all that horrific even if I did. It's funny, too, that the author even mentions other friends and people that Lucy depended on in different ways... she brings in the idea that there are indeed many points of view. That said, I do wish peace for the family. She did make a mighty splash in this ridiculous world - I am glad to have met her in the pages of this book.
Thoughts: 1. Obviously I thought quite a bit about the idea of non-fiction autobiography versus a fictional novel. Which is the right road for a particular person or story? 2. Using parts of letters is a technique I have always liked. 3. This is one of the only autobiographies I've read that didn't include photos. It is also one of the more visual books I've read. The choice to stay with the thoughts, actions, and words rather than fill in the blanks with photos was a good choice.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, Alda


Alan Alda is best known for his role in MASH. The book is an autobiography that reads very easily. It's overall fairly depressing until you get to the chapter of him nearly dying. Isn't that the true sign of a comedian? He's an actor, a science curious person with an interesting but not surprising background.

Lessons on writing: 1. Writing a story as a chapter is a great autobiography technique... rather than every detail of daily life. 2. There was a passing statement made about giving without expectation, even of gratitude. Say it all because even what you think is insignificant may be insightful or at least ring true to your reader bringing the rest of your message closer to them. 3. Whatever it is that you want to do, just do it... learn and progress and do the thing.

Between the Covers, Hershey

This book was published in 1983, and what a time-capsule it is! Lenore Hershey worked her way up the women's magazine ranks and tells all sorts of tidbits in this book. If you don't know much about the popular culture of the day, you might find yourself lost every now and then, but overall, the book is a great snapshot of the day.

Things to think about: 1. People of the future may not know who you are talking about. Good descriptions and clues are good even for those who do know - they'll enjoy the refresher or your take on things. 2. Each chapter had a theme but was otherwise fairly stream of conscious... Have a way to organize themes, chronologically, separated by gaps per story, something. 3. Name dropping is great and all but if you have literally one sentence to say about a person, maybe focus on the actual stories.

Hollow City, Riggs

This is the second of the Miss Peregrine's series. I still love the concept of writing a story around these old interesting photographs. The story is moving along. There are some holes developing that I hope Riggs explains in the third book.

Notes: 1. Creating a fantasy world must be extremely difficult... don't forget your own rules. 2. Descriptions are critical to fantasy lands (Riggs does a fine job). 3. Don't be afraid of a unique book idea - go for it.

Wicked Charms, Evanovich & Sutton

We heard a couple of Evanovich's books on CD, but this was the first one that we read aloud from an actual book. I enjoyed the lightness and the supernatural ideas. Evanovich uses a lot of simple humor and characters that don't make you think too much. While driving, that's exactly what you need.

Ideas: 1. Entertainment is a valid purpose. 2. Silly humor works on adults too. 3. PG-13 is all some stories need.

Angela's Ashes, McCourt

I positively loved this book (I have heard both extremely bad reviews as well as high praise, so I was cautious). The overall story is totally depressing, but I laughed out loud over and over. McCourt's Irish style of telling it like it is is so vivid in it's rolling colorful speech-patterned that I felt like I was a fly on the wall smelling, seeing, hearing, touching everything. It helped to have heard Irish speech patterns and to know something of Irish history, songs, culture. For those not as versed, you might find yourself wading through the thick language.

Considerations: 1. I was very impressed by the way the adult man wrote through the eyes of his four year old self. As young Frank grew, the writing clearly reflected his age. 2. Writing in the manner in which you speak can be very compelling. It draws the reader in close... I understand this is difficult to pull of well. 3. You can not describe too much. Such a vivid book!

Waltzing the Cat, Houston

This is another book we picked up at the Talkeetna, Alaska library quarter sale. I chose it for the title and the fact that it looked like each chapter was a stand alone story which is good for reading in the car.

Anne read this book out loud to me in the car. She said the grammar choices made the book difficult to read, but both of us agree that the story telling was superb. Most of our books we pass on to other people, but every now and then we save a book for inspiration. This was a keeper.

Waltzing the Cat was one of the stories in the book and way less funny than the title implies. The book has some positive powerful themes. It also has death, depression, searching for answers as themes. While each chapter can stand alone, the chapters do have ties and layers with characters and a vague chronological timeline.

Clues: 1. Every time we read a book where the chapters tell a complete chapter, I am more in love with the format. These stories tied to one another more than some books. Just write you stories. 2. The author has a q&a at the back of the book where she talks about the line(s) between autobiography and fiction. I loved what she had to say and how she separates the two in her own writing. 3. Houston did a great job of weaving two stories together. Without leaving you hanging, she ties them up enough, but she may carry one story into another in the next or later chapter. Clear and inspiring technique.

Time Stops for No Mouse, Hoeye

I chose young adult novel from the 25 cent shelf at the Talkeetna, Alaska library. Books geared for younger readers are often less violent but packed with just as much clever content. Being on the road, we wanted something a little light-hearted reading, like a book where all the characters are mice, rats, moles, beavers, etc. This mystery was a cross between Patterson (minus the sex & torture) and Scooby Doo.

Notes: 1. Making up a new world must be challenging, but as a reader it's fun to see the details that build a believable animal world... don't like humans? Create a new world! 2. The rules, laws of physics, can be stretched and changed in a made up world. Creativity has new possibilities. 3. I have a thing for stories that do NOT end in the lead characters falling in love. I was a bit heartbroken for Hermux, but this is another example of how NOT getting together is really more realistic, even in mouse land.

The Black Book, Patterson & Ellis

Mom finished reading this book and told us we would really enjoy this one. She was right. There was the same Patterson style of identifiable characters and short chapters which is great for travel with unknown amounts of time to read. This plot twisted in a different way because the main character had amnesia.

Now that we've read several Patterson books, I wonder what it means to co-author with him. The short chapter format seems to be common to Patterson's books. His character descriptions are clear and concise. We guess there must be an expertise that co-authors lend, possibly plot development, that sort of thing. If a co-author writes chapters, Patterson must edit the writing to his style because the book match in the writing style department. It's very possible we will be back for another Patterson book or two in the future. For now, we have a whole shelf full of weird and obscure gems just waiting to be cracked.

Losing It, Rech

This is another book I picked up at my local library annual book sale, and I read it alone in spare bits of time on this Alaskan adventure.

The lead character has a relationship with her mother that is both close (lunch every week) and distant (mom knows virtually nothing about her real feelings of things). She has a moment of epiphany with her elderly neighbor... things happen.

Author critiques: 1. I simply do not believe that this lack of confidence character could suddenly go out to a bar and decide to pick up a man - not that that takes self-esteem, but the type this character lacked was not going to magically appear overnight (imho). I identified with her entirely until the "epiphany." Something needed to be more delicately developed - always develop characters and character-shifts to make them believable. 2. Not many stories include the idea that daughters want to be truly known as people by their parents. I identify with this... see future Abby blog posts. This highlights my idea that we should write close to our hearts because there is someone out there that would like to know that they are not alone. 3. I had very mixed feelings about the leading man. I had a hard time letting go of the youthful rapist image. Again, make sure that your character-shifts are developed in such a way that it explains away all doubt about the real-ness of the character.

I have a friend who is writing a book right now and she asked me about taking a certain character a particular direction. I could see that she had already laid the groundwork for that shift, but counselled her to be sure to develop the entirety of that shift.... Never lie to your readers. A character that turns on you in an unbelievable way is a lie! But don't we want dynamic changing characters?!?!  Yes, but give the reader reasons to believe the change. I thought about this book as we talked... It's not that Rech outright dropped the ball, maybe it was more of a dream that a character could simply decide to change. Maybe it's the fact that I identified too much with the original character and never found a way to change myself... either way, this is cautionary to me and my story telling.

16th Seduction, Patterson & Paetro

Another easy-to-read Patterson novel. This one is part of a series. We have not read the 1st through 15th. If we had, we might have understood the standard series characters better. As for "seduction"... Not sure there was a single seduction in this book. I guess titles sell. I did like that this book had multiple mysteries weaving together. It was entertaining, held our attention, and was easy to read during a hectic travel time.

Observations: 1. I don't think anyone else on the planet write chapters as short as Patterson does. I actually appreciate the pauses. I can breathe. It does not mean I won't read until past my bedtime, but the breathing space is not a bad thing. 2. Patterson has a way of creating characters that are immediately identifiable. He doesn't seem to over explain them, they just are those archetypal characters you've seen in the movies all these years. This means the chapters can be short and breathable and the story can have more focus and forward movement. 3. Entertainment is valuable. Deep messages are valuable too, but don't undervalue plain old entertainment. It's ok to simply be entertaining.