Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll

~Abby

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

~Abby

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

~Abby

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

~Abby

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.

Clothing Optional, Zweibel

We grabbed this book off the for-sale shelf at Talkeetna, Alaska Library. Humor books are nice for reading in the car. The chapters stand alone... the only tough-to-read chapters are the chapters written like scripts, but Anne did a fantastic job with that too. Zweibel is a sketch writer by trade, so these chapters made perfect sense to the humor for which he is known.

 Notes to self: 1. Write what you know. 2. A book doesn't have to be 300 pages to be a real book... though it certainly can be. 3. Life is full of stories... don't overthink, just write!

The Undomestic Goddess, Kinsella

This was part of a Reader's Digest series we got from Anne's Dad. It was a light happy read with a surprisingly good ending. It read like a Jennifer Aniston Rom Com. I would say it was the type of thing you just had to let yourself believe, but there are true stories that are far more unbelievable than a fake maid. It was cute and light and endearing and we enjoyed reading this book.


Ideas: 1. Deleting one life for a new one is a dream for many people, it doesn't have to be ultra-believable. 2. Smashing society's definition of success or perfect life is a personal plus for me. 3. There was only one loose end that dangled a little longer than we liked... be sure to have a critical friend read for such things.

Love on the Run, MacDonald

This is a light book that I read on my own. I got it from my home library in their annual book sale. The story is about a woman with a high level of responsibility toward her adult sisters and her inherited ad agency. She holds a long grudge that turns out to be a misunderstanding. Love wins - yay!


Thoughts: 1. The cover says that this book is part of a series, but this story stood alone VERY well. I never wondered for background and it didn't leave a cliffhanger of doom. 2. Love makes a good theme. Don't fear a theme just because it's common... there's a reason love is a common theme!! 3. Characters need both good and bad elements to be believable. MacDonald did this well with the sisters particularly.



Killer Pancake, Davidson

We picked up this paperback mystery at a laundromat. The story (and series) is centered around a caterer, and so, there are recipes throughout the book. I thought this was a nice idea. Liking food as I do, I took the book home.

In mysteries, it is common to push the reader toward one line of thinking and give them a completely different murderer in the end. In most cases, all characters are fairly equally developed. In this case, we were disappointed that the murderer turned out to be the least developed character in the whole story. We were also disappointed that the heroine had a past abusive relationship, but there were subtle hints of similar belittling treatment with her current "good" husband. Also, her teenage son could use an "I'm not your maid, make your own dinner" every now and then!!


The above isn't meant to be a negative review (I don't do reviews, I reflect), just that the characters who were supposed to be good, rang to us as spoiled and controlling... to someone else they may be perfectly fine as they were well developed with plenty of visual writing.

Notes to self: 1. Be sure to develop all characters that are important to the story. 2. We live in a society of growing awareness toward abuse. It can be subtle. If the new husband is truly a good guy, he needs to do more than just get happy about taking her to bed. Watch for those lines.... every character needs pros and cons to be believable, but it's ok to expect better for a lead character... 3. Use what you love. The recipes were an interesting break amidst the story.

Miss Peregrine's, Riggs

~Abby

We enjoyed this story and are currently looking for the next book! The author took old photos and created a story from them... The photos are creepy, as many old photos are. Great food for a creepy fantasy story.

Concepts: 1. There are no rules for creating a good story. Use what inspires you. Or create the inspiration. 2. Yet again, a concept I have considered, using photos or letters to weave a story, has been done really well. 3. The photos weren't the only way this book was visual. Vivid descriptions helped drive everything.

The Diary, Goudge

~Abby

I read this book on my own. It was one I had grabbed from the library sale, a short quick read that I thought would be handy for travels. It's a sweet story about two grown daughters who find their mother's diary from before she was married to their father in the attic. The book blurs between the diary and what was actually happening at the time and the daughters being confused about this mystery man involved with their mother... All without talking to their mother who might have been able to piece things together. I can't imagine ALL of the details would have been spelled out in the diary, but the book leads the reader to believe the daughters are getting this information from the diary... and if it was that detailed, why not just go for 90% diary format? Still, it's a sweet story, and one would likely infer many things if you did read old love letters.

Thoughts: 1. This is a concept I have considered with real letters or diary. Real written documents are time capsules, and the stories that one can weave around... with information intentionally left out or included could be a really interesting way to tie up a story. 2. This story is VERY simple with a short list of characters... and that's all it needed to tell this particular story. 3. Be careful about the lines between the information that really is presented to your characters and what they could or could not possibly know based on what they have... this is the difference, for me, between a truly believable story and one that is simply cute and sweet.

Word by Word, Stamper

~Abby

This book was given to us by someone who knows our mission with words and writing. This book is simply about what the dictionary IS and how it becomes and has become what it is. We learned quite a bit.. some things I had just never thought about... and a few new vocabulary words. Written by a dictionary editor, the vocabulary lessons were no surprise.

Notes: 1. This book is written in a way that each chapter could be its own short story or article. This technique rather than a timeline of events is very useful with this book's theme, and yet, still read a bit like a story overall. 2. Be yourself. We humans are funny and interesting in all of our stripes... own those stripes. 3. If you find something interesting, chances are, you will write/talk about it in a way that makes it interesting for others.