Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Writing Great Books for Young Adults Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Getting Published

This is a thorough and comprehensive guide to writing for young adults.  Brooks defines the audience, and helps the writer through every stage of the journey.  She covers the beginning of the novel, the plot, characterisation, setting, and every other aspect that the aspiring writer needs.  The writing exercises also assist. She includes helpful quotes from other editors.

It is a difficult book to just sit and read, but that is mostly because it is technical and useful.  I would suggest that readers write notes, and check their stories against the notes. 

I am not sure if I will write a young adult novel after reading this book, unless I attempt a historical one.  As Brooks writes, YA writers have to know what is going on in the world of teenagers.  My writing would probably be much too influenced by books like Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden!

However, Brooks's suggestions are useful for any writer, and I really like her breakdown of each topic into bite-sized pieces.

Seven Letters from Paris A Memoir by Samantha Verant

(Toulouse by En-Batou, Wikimedia Commons)

Samantha Verant met an attractive Frenchman in Paris when she was very young and on holiday with her friend.  They enjoyed a wild and memorable night, but Sam thought that it was better to try to forgot the 'holiday romance, even though Jean-Luc wrote her seven incredibly moving letters.

Several years later, Sam is in a bit of a mess.  She can't solve her marriage problems; she's in debt; her beloved dog is ill; and she has to go and live with her parents.  When she works as a dog-walker, the local women are incredibly snobbish, calling her only 'the dog-walker!'  Thoughts of Jean-Luc return to her, and she begins to wonder what has happened to him.  She comes up with the idea of finding him in an unusual way, and it works!

Luckily, she does find Jean-Luc, but can they find true happiness after so long? What about their cultural differences? Where will they live if they become a couple?

I just loved this well-written and magical fairy-tale like romance, and I am sure that I would really like this couple if I met them! Highly-recommended!

Samantha Verant You Tube

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead

Church at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon by Havang, Wikimedia Commons
This interesting and harrowing book tells the story of brave men and women in a small village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon who managed to save hundreds of Jewish children from the Gestapo in Vichy France.  This area had a long history of Huguenot and Darbyist resistance to authority that helped them show great courage and hide the children in remote farmhouses, village attics and pensions. Many of the leaders were eventually caught by the Germans, and some paid the ultimate price.

This well-researched story tells how pacifist Protestant pastors, such as Theis and Trocme, showed great leadership, inspiring the villagers to show courage. They were helped by several people who organised refuge for the children, including Catholics.  But when the Germans finally took over the unoccupied zone, the French had to fight back. As Moorehead writes: "Almost unimaginable brutality -persecution, violence, murder - was now being carried out by the French against the French. Whenever they could, the Resistance fought back."

There are many fascinating characters in Village of Secrets, including the beautiful one-legged Virgina Hall who worked for the SOE and the OSS.  She sometimes hid important information in her tin leg!

I am almost always riveted by stories of the French Resistance, so I liked reading the book. Unfortunately, I did find Moorehead's writing rather factual and unexciting. However, she writes about interesting subjects, so I will read more of her books.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pin: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson

According to Robert Benson, 'the blank pages are always the most terrifying ones'. This book helps budding writers overcome their fears, and provides useful suggestions and tips.  Lyrically written and full of anecdotes and lovely quotes, the book meanders through such important topics as the importance of solitude, listening for the muse and collecting stuff that moves you.  Benson also writes about imagining your audience.

Benson describes his writing process, and includes amusing anecdotes about how he avoided writing and how any writer worth his or her salt can think of numerous other things to do!  Helpfully, he states how he overcame this, and finally settled down to the discipline of writing a certain amount of words per day.  He also tells readers about his three hats - the hats that he wears in his mind for writing, editing and revising.  I liked this part of the book the best.

I also liked reading about the books that assisted Benson on his path to becoming a writer.  These include books by Annie Dillard and Doris Grumbach. I am not sure whether I agree that a writer shouldn't waste his time by reading 'rubbish'. Light holiday-reading certainly relieves stress, and it can be well-written.  However, Benson probably wouldn't approve of it!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Madame Picasso by Anne Girard

(Montmarte in 1925 from Wikipedia Commons)
Eva, a struggling seamstress at the Moulin Rouge in the early 20th century, becomes attracted to the magnetic young artist Picasso. But he already has a mistress who calls herself his wife, and Eva is ambitious to further her own career. This isn't easy when she has to deal with bossy women, such as Misinguett. Things come to a head when Picasso is accused of stealing the Mona Lisa. Can Eva still resist his charms, or will she help him?

This is the perfect novel to read in France, especially in Paris, but it's a lovely book to read anywhere. Anne Girard captures the romantic setting beautifully, and the historical characters are well-rounded and ring true to life. Eva really was shy and innocent by all accounts, and Picasso was fought over by women. The descriptions of the Moulin Rouge and the artistic scene are interesting, and made me want to find out much more.

I look forward to Girard's next novel!

The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams: A Cookbook by Rosana Y. Wan

It's interesting and fun to learn about history by reading about the food that important people from the past ate. John and Abigail Adams liked to garden, grow many vegetables, and eat fresh and fairly plain food. They ate such English foods as roast chicken, roast turkey, custard, mince pies and cherry pie, for example.

I like this sort of food too, so when I get back from my travels I hope to try some of the recipes and post pictures. Unfortunately, I can't grow the 'veggies', as we call them in Australia.

Rosana Wan has filled the book with fascinating information about the famous couple's meals and activities, and it is full of scrumptious pictures of the foods.

Salmon fillet

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron features a charming but feisty heroine, a mysterious Rochester-like hero, and a clever murder mystery. Jane and her family are portrayed in a realistic way, and Barron even manages to write in a 19th-century style without ruining it by using jarring modern expressions.

There are also interesting snippets of information about Jane and her family and times, such as information about the game of billiards. I didn't like this book as much as the first one that I read by this author, but I hope to read the whole series soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tolkien How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century Devin Brown Abingdon Press

This is a good introductory biography to Tolkien by a respected English Professor. Devin Brown has written a warm and sympathetic biography in which he studies the main influences on the great writer's works, especially his star-crossed romance, his beloved Catholic faith, his parent's early deaths and the loss of many of his friends in The First World War.

I found the description of his long friendship with C.S. Lewis and how Lewis encouraged him especially interesting. This will make any fan of Tolkien want to read and learn more about him.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Woman Who Would Be King. Hatshepsut's Rise To Power In Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Kara Cooney is at her best when she describes Egyptian society and the rich and strange rituals if Egyptian life. I found her account of the powerful and ambitious Hatshepsut interesting, but the book was very 'text-bookish'.

There was a lot of speculation in this biography, so it was full of words like 'might' and 'probably'. I thought that this made it difficult to read and annoying, unfortunately.