Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Book Review - The City of Ember

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This is one of those books I wish I had written. How does someone write a book that is as interesting to adults as it is to children? DuPrau has created empathetic characters in Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow that are both innocent and mature.

Her imagined post-apocalyptic world is both ingenious, depressing and sweet. The science is present without dominating the story-line. I think it is her strong plot, however, that made it impossible to put this book down. The elements of suspense and mystery are strong. This is the perfect book for a child and parent book club. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Book Review: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

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What I've really enjoyed about Claire Cameron's books so far (see my review of The Bear here), are her ideas. I can imagine her  wondering about something interesting and suddenly it grows into a story. In The Last Neanderthal, Cameron begins wondering about the fact that Neanderthals and modern day humans share a small percentage of DNA. So how did that first meeting go? 

Cameron tells the story through two lenses, first through Rose, an archaeologist who makes an incredible discovery in France and then through Girl, the very Neanderthal Rose uncovers. Cameron's writing style is fresh and clear. She creates empathetic characters and her stories are never predictable. I get the feeling she really cares about her characters.

My one question, as a fellow mom who has watched the movie The Croods countless times, is if this movie inspired her in any way. The opening scene, Girl, Big Mother and Him really reminded me of the Croods. I could be wrong. 
Maybe it was just settled there in her subconscious. Haha. My book Taking Comfort was partially inspired by Veggie Tales. Can't help wondering if this happens to other parent-authors!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Book Review: The Long Way Home

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This is book ten in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. I enjoyed how this book returned to the world of art. Clara Morrow takes a central role when her husband Peter goes missing. Penny is brilliant in recreating her series with each book. No book follows a formula.

In The Long Way Home the characters research and travel from Three Pines to Montreal to Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul to Tabaquen. I wonder if Penny writes about these places just so she has an excuse to visit them. It certainly feels as though the reader is travelling along with the characters. It's fascinating to have the story lighting the way.

I can't recommend these books highly enough. It was another satisfying read, although I missed having the grumpy Jean-Guy from earlier books. I'm sure he'll be back. I'm glad he got to be relatively happy for one book!

I especially enjoyed this description on p. 76. "The bar was, in fact, a library. . . Where Jane Austen could sit and read. And get drunk, if she wanted." :)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pastors' Wives Book Review

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I found this book by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen while looking for an agent for my book After His Heart, a novel imagining King David as a modern day worship pastor in a megachurch told from the point of view of three of his wives. I was charmed by Lisa's blog and her description of Pastors' Wives. The setting is megachurch Greenleaf in Atlanta. The book begins with Ruthie and her husband moving to Atlanta to work at Greenleaf Church. The story is told from three points of view, Ruthie, Candace Green, wife of the senior pastor and Ginger, wife of Timothy Green, pastor of Newleaf Church.

The most interesting aspect to me was that Ruthie does not share her husband's faith. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of Greenleaf through her eyes. From Lisa's blog, it seems that Ruthie's perceptions are similar to the author's. Lisa discovered the lives of pastors' wives while on assignment with Time magazine. She was so intrigued that after writing her article, she says "the women (she) interviewed kept bothering (her)." She was inspired to create a TV series about Pastors' Wives which turned into this novel.

I was also drawn to this novel because I am a pastor's wife. However, I would have to say the experiences in this novel are almost entirely foreign to me. I think this if for three reasons. Number 1, we have never belonged to a megachurch. Number 2, we have always lived in Canada. And number 3, this is a work of fiction so there is way more drama. Thank goodness my life is not like theirs!

Lisa is an excellent writer and especially skilled at creating layered, realistic characters. She creates brilliant twists and turns in her plot. While this novel features a plethora of Christian characters, it is not a Christian novel. Rather than trying to bring the reader to Christ, this novel uses Christian characters and setting to tell a great story. I recommend it and look forward to reading more by this clever author.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Meeting Louise

Louise Penny appears at St. Andrew's Wesley Church on Monday, August 28
I have been a big fan of Louise Penny since my friend Dianna recommended her books in 2015. I've read the first nine books and am working on book ten. I've written several reviews for her books including Still LifeBury Your Dead, The Murder Stone, and How The Light Gets In. Penny has the gift of writing intriguing, intelligent, suspenseful and compassionate murder mysteries. They also have some surprisingly funny moments. So, when I got an email from Vancouver Wordfest saying she was coming to town, I had to go.


I invited my friend Sue who is a fellow Penny fan and we arranged to go together to St. Andrew's Wesley United Church on Monday, August 28. It was a sweltering evening, somewhere around 30° Celcius. The church filled up early with hundreds of Penny fans. Everyone looked as excited as I felt to hear from this talented Canadian author. 

The moderator for the evening welcomed us to "The city's largest sauna" and he wasn't far off. Women in every direction fanned themselves with any paper they could find. But it was worth it to hear from this well-spoken former CBC journalist. 

Here are some of the things I will remember about the evening:

Louise thinks of her characters through the lens of Helen Prejean's quote "People are more than the
Some of the incredible stained glass at St. Andrew's Wesley
worst thing they have ever done in their lives." She said this gives her compassion for her characters.

Louise said writers need to write their first draft with their playful, creative selves. Leave the critic for the revisions.

Penny does research to a certain point and then makes the story work for her, even if she doesn't get all of the facts right.

Her husband died about a year ago. Louise said she took 6 weeks to two months off of writing, but when she returned to her book, she found it comforting and healing. Her husband is the inspiration for her main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and it feels like, through continuing to write his character, her husband remains close.

I am so glad I went and I am thankful I still have more Louise Penny books to read. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Book Review: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I was looking for On Writing by Stephen King to give to my Dad for Christmas. The book store did
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not carry the book, but the bookseller insisted Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was even better. "Even my friends who don't write loved this book. It's hilarious!" With no time left to shop, I took her word for it and bought the book for my Dad.

A year and a half later, he lent me the book. (I'll admit, I pestered him about it ever since I gave it to him!) While I wouldn't say it is better than On Writing, I would say it is as good as On Writing. They are, of course, writing about different experiences and genres, but they had some striking similarities. Both are recovering alcoholics. Both encourage you to write every day and both are excellent storytellers.

I highly recommend this book to all writers. It gives excellent advice on why it is important to write, even if you never get published. I gives writing dignity far beyond publication.

It reminded me that writing a book as a gift is a wonderful idea. My book Expectations was a birthday gift to my sister. I think my other books were gifts to myself; books I wanted to read. I want to try Lamott's suggestion to write a book as a gift to a writer I really enjoy reading. She also recommended writing letters to friends and family, describing important things in detail to be remembered. Lamott had beautiful, poignant things to say about writing, reading and life throughout her book. While I recommend you read it for yourself, here are a few gems:

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers." (xxvii)

(Lamott's answer to why she writes.) "Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable." (xxviii)

"Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave." (15)

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts." (25)

"The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in 'The Farmer in the Dell' standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes." (97)

"I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing?" (99)

"Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless." (233)

"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. they deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul." (237)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Summer Reading: Audiobook edition

Our family recently returned from a two week family vacation that covered 3 provinces, over 3000 kilometres and at least 40 hours in the car with two 40-somethings, a new teenager and a ten-year-old. We learned several years ago that the best way to do this is with a stack of audiobooks.

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This year, our family listened to several Stuart McLean stories from the Vinyl Cafe, Louis Sachar's Wayside School Series and our favourite The Tiger in the Well (Sally Lockhart #3) by Phillip Pullman. We listened to the first book in this series (The Ruby in the Smoke) the summer before and loved the story, so we picked up what we thought was book 2. Unfortunately we missed the book between, but we were still able to enjoy and follow the story.

Expectations on amazon
I've been hoping to turn one of my books into an audiobook. I looked into Audiobook Creation Exchange acx.com which sells audiobooks on Audible, amazon and iTunes, but at first, they weren't open to Canadian clients. Then, just before our holiday, I received the good news that acx.com now accepts Canadian authors. I signed up as soon as I could and submitted a script for potential actor/producers to read. I began to lose hope when I hadn't received an audition before I left. A few weeks later, I had a message. Someone was willing to narrate my book!

It was a thrill to hear my book Expectations, read by a British woman. I listened several times and shared it with my husband and kids. They confirmed that she was the one. She has currently accepted my offer and I am awaiting her first 15 minutes. I will be sure to post with updates. Can't wait!