cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “writers”

Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

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Reading Round Up:September


September began with a long weekend, the last hammock read-in before returning to school.

Book reading is a difficult habit to break, not that I’m looking to do so. Yet, I get paid to teach books, not read books–then again I get to read books in order to teach them. I got this covered.

Reading a book is my go-to as a means of getting my brain to stop jittering after a day of teaching students about how to read, and why they read, and what they read. There are also those essays I need to read about what they have read. After a walk around the block, a snackish dinner, I find myself easing into my nightly routine of my backside cushied into the easy chair, and finding the calm that is derived from turning paper pages of plot. No screen time.

Even with all that goes with my day job, including catching a virus, because I essentially work in a Petri dish, I still managed to read around ten books in September, and what a book bag of goodies! Lots of new-to-me authors as I tackled my TBR.

Recommended:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Epic hero journeys. Once a checklist theme of classic novels, they are rarely found in today’s novels. Journeys yes. Perhaps a hero is involved. But an impromptu journey of a recently retiree walking over 600 miles to say good bye to a friend in boat shoes? That’s epic and Harold Fry is a new kind of hero.

Such a wonderful story of raw, revealing emotions that it’s hoped a film is not made. Some stories are best read and not viewed.

Recommended for those who enjoy A Man Called Ove and other stories of older citizens who must face their past to order to cope with their present.

I so enjoyed Harold Fry I had to see if Rachel Joyce had more to offer. I then read the companion of Harold’s journey, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which had its moments, rating of ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️, and that got me wondering about Joyce’s other books, leading me to The Music Shop, a four star only because I am not fond of the f-bomb being tossed around indiscriminately around in a story, which after three novels I found Ms. Joyce seems to prone to do. However, The Music Shop as a story did rate ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rachel Joyce combines the eighties, vinyl records, and a most amazing love story all intertwined with the joy of music. The assortment of astonishing characters is part of the story’s charm. I discovered many, many songs including the haunting “Beata Viscera.”

Another new author is Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the Mysterious Benedict Society. A delightful find and a solid ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

An orchestral genius of a story. Four children, a mysterious benefactor, a secret plot to overrule the world, nefarious henchmen—wonderful! A debut of creative charm sure to please fans of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, and other books where clever children overcome perplexities and villainous plans.

Julia Stuarts’ quirky The Tower, the Tortoise, and the Zoo rated a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️–a fun weekend read.

After the tourists leave their gawking of the 900 year old history of the Tower of London, the Beefeaters, those impressive hirsute men of red, and their families, carry on. They cope with round tower living, smoldering rivalries, and the usual oddities that come with a place that has the distinction for being a keeper of the royal jewels, a prison, as well as a zoo from time to time.

Several unusual characters, along with subplots involving relationships and miscommunications, makes for an enjoyable read. Stuart has a way with descriptive phrases that are memorable, such as describing an older gentlemen as having middle age having run through his hair. And the ancient tortoise—a quiet, yet essential character of note.

Other books started out strong, only to fizzle, including the fourth installment of Madeline L’Engles’ A Wrinkle in Time. Many Waters did not live up to the quality of plot and characters of Wrinkle.

Saying farewell to my summer hammock creates a sniffle of sadness, then again reading next to the crackle of a fire with a mug of cocoa laced with shots of peppermint brings out of spark of anticipated happy time.

Author Spotlight: Brian Selznick


I confess: I’m a binger (interestingly spellcheck kept turning that into “bungee”–flexible strength in reading? hmm, maybe…).

Once interested in something I latch on and absorb as much as possible. Sample binges include: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, the educational geography game, the reboot of Dr Who, and of latest interest, Brian Selznick’s works.

I can’t remember which I read or watched first concerning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both the film and the book and the audio book are stand alones, yet complement each other emphatically.

The bonus DVD disc in the audio book is an engaging interview of Selznick explaining his creative process. He is quite personable and his enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring.

The next book I read is his first published title: Houdini’s Box. His understated humor in both his drawings and story are evident and it’s hoped he writes more of these shorter humorous stories.

Selznick’s trademark seems to be a unique approach to storytelling in which it’s a bit of graphic novel, somewhat of a fable in text, that leans toward a wordless flip book. His talent for story and illustration is equally balanced–quite the gift.

Speaking of illustration, Selznick has illustrated for numerous authors besides his own writing, including Ann Martin Pam Muniz Ryan.

Having recently finished Wonderstruck, I, of course, needed to watch the film adaptation. Turns out he wrote the screenplay. This man’s talent and energy is astounding.

I rounded out my reading-fest with The Marvels, which I had mixed feelings about due to the graphic story being far more interesting than the accompanying text. I look forward to his next title.

I came across an enlightening New York Times interview with Selznick that revealed some interesting facts:

  • Yes, that Selznick. He is related to the legendary David O. Selznick of Hollywood fame.
  • Ray Bradbury sent him a fan letter.
  • He researches extensively.
  • Splitting his time between three homes in three different parts of the country is a norm.

If you are not familiar with his works, I suggest starting out with Houdini’s Box, moving onto Hugo (do listen to it while you read it–such a double treat), then watch the Scorsese film of Hugo (the book is the book, the movie is the movie). From there? Explore, enjoy, maybe even binge a little.

A Librarian/Teacher View on #metoo


Image: Etsy.com (vintage book cover)


Although I am a bonafide English teacher, I remain a librarian at heart and keep an invested interest in matters of school and public libraries. This month’s School Library Journal ran an article on how the #metoo movement has affected the juvenile literature world with the news of authors Jay Asher, James Dashner, and Sherman Alexie’s admissions and accusations. One result of these disclosures is for many librarians to contemplate whether the books of these authors should be pulled from shelves. Bill Cosby’s Little Bill picture book series is part of this conversation.

Banning, censoring–controversial terms that create a myriad of reactions. When books or the authors of books come into question, often the reaction is to pull, box up, and cleanse in the name of protecting young minds and upholding values. This is can become problematic.

At the public library level the response I usually observed was to ride the tide–if patrons objected to the material they had the option of not checking it out. Simple and neat. As one librarian noted: considering Hitler’s atrocities against humans should Mein Kampf remain on the shelf? If you don’t want to read hi as book, then don’t.

Somehow this philosophy of ignore and move on changes when it comes to material found on school library shelves. Social commentary and opinion frequently challenge books based on content, as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Fahrenheit 451 and other novels fall under scrutiny depending on public mood and cultural times. Yet, this new round of challenging is based on the behavior and actions of the authors, not the content of their books. Their objectionable behavior is in question, as rightly it should be, especially in these times of sensitivity upon the rights of individuals. Young readers aren’t necessarily going to be politically minded when they go to select a book to read. But their parents often are. 

I find it interesting that distance tends to soften outrage. Charles Dickens led two lives, all the while perpetuating Victorian values of domestic happiness, yet we embrace his books and promote them in our literature courses. Oscar Wilde was jailed for his preferences, and his books are not abandoned. Ernest Hemingway, well-known for his womanizing, is still part of the recommended literary canon. 

For me, as a teacher with a librarian’s directives, who is also a writer, I am reflecting on the responsibility I have as I recommend books to my students and as I write them. The #metoo movement, as it drifts over to the literary world, is certainly setting up a new awareness of the impact of words. 

What are reader thoughts on pulling books from shelves in light of the conduct of the authors?

Still Waiting on the Platform


About four years ago at a writing conference the buzz word was “platform-building.” I diligently built a platform with this blog you are reading after much searching, deciding, redeciding, and procrastinating. Now, I wonder why I waited so long. I’m a weak writer if I don’t post at least every seven days. (hahaha–right?)

Seriously though, I’m waiting for that Costner moment, when the headlights of the fans come trailing down the road to my baseball field. Metaphor insert.  Build the platform and all sorts of fans drop in and rave–I think that’s what’s supposed to happen.

It hasn’t, and I’m okay with that, because, quite frankly, I’m still waiting to get published. Wait, am  I supposed to write the book before or after I build the platform?

I’m learning that to be really successful as a writer, I need to multi-platform. I doubt I’m up for Twittering, Instagramming, Pintresting and the like. I manage to keep up with my blog and I’m really, really okay with that. I’m into the keep it simple approach. I’d be really, really, really be happy with publishing my book and sit back and let people buy it because it’s that good. Harper Lee did that, didn’t she?

I did find this snifty article about what are impressive stats for platforming.  I’m now depressed. My platform stats only impress me. Maybe I should give out coupons with every new follower. Or have a Happy Face counter for every view I receive. Does that actually mean something though? Instead of worrying about the effectiveness of tossing my writing out to the social media winds, I would rather concentrate on writing an amazing book. Wouldn’t that be more effective in connecting with readers? Or do the amount of likes and follows indicate whether I am an effective writer?

 Maybe I will get back to writing that novel and not worry about my blog stats.

By the way, if you decide to follow my blog, here is your coupon.

 

If you viewed it, here is your smiley face (with a bit of its history).

 

Smiley

theguardian.com

Oh de plume


Being a gregarious hermit means I have moments of friendly banter mixed with overpowering needs to keep myself to myself. This is why I hide behind my plumey of Cricket Muse. I chirp when in the mood, and spend the rest of the time ensconced thoughtfully in my little world of teaching, reading, and writing.

I have played around with what my pen name should actually be. So far I’ve been published under three. The Chicken Soup people wouldn’t let me publish my essay on “Piece of Quiet” as Cricket Muse–too, umm, cute. They did relinquish under my compromise of C. Muse. Friends and family responded with “why”? As in why not use my real name. I guess I could have used my own name, but where’s the mystery in that?  I am in good company. Look at these wonderful authors and their real names. See–it worked for them.

          Name               Nom de plume                           
  1.  Anne Bronte–Acton Bell
  2. Benjamin Franklin–Alice Addertongue
  3. Anton Chekov–Antosha Chekhonte
  4. Charles Dickens–Boz
  5. C.S. Forester–Cecil Smith
  6. C.S. Lewis–Clive Hamilton
  7. Charlotte Bronte–Currier Bell
  8. Washington Irving–Diedrich Knickerbocker
  9. Ray Bradbury–Douglas Spalding
  10. L. Frank Baum–Edith Van Dyne
  11. Emily Bronte–Ellis Bell
  12. Eric Arthur Blair–George Orwell
  13. Georges Remi–Herge
  14. James Alfred Wight —James Herriot
  15. Michael Crichton-John Lange
  16. Daniel Handler–Lemony Snicket
  17. Agatha Christie–Mary Westmacott
  18. Edna St. Vincent Millay–Nancy Boyd
  19. Isaac Asimov–Paul French
  20. Hector Hugh Munro–Saki
  21. Stanley Martin Lieberman–Stan Lee
  22. Victoria Lucas–Sylvia Plath
  23. Francois-Marie Arouet–Voltaire
  24. William S. Burroughs–William Lee
  25. Vladimir Sirin–Vladimir Nabokov

While I figure out under what name my masterpiece shall be published, I will keep playing with possibilities. I found the nifty pseudonym generator. So far I like:

Dewey Raferty

Grange Moser

Dalli Easton

Here: give it spin and see what you come up with…and do share it you get a doozer.

Name Generator

Writerly Wisdom: Quotes on Setting


One reason I read books is because I dread ever so much to travel. I do like the “here I am” of arriving. It’s all that packing, squishing into miniscule airline seats, fretting about schedules, realizing I brought the entirely wrong things to wear, that make traveling drearisome. I do like the exploring, discovering, reveling that is part of going somewhere new. This is a big reason why I read novels. Reading, especially fiction, takes me places that doesn’t involve packing a bag. This month’s Writerly Wisdom set of quotes focuses on that aspect of writing involving place: setting. How does a writer put me in the “there” of their writing?

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.”
Tony Hillerman

Eudora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…”

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Chekov

How important is setting for you when reading? Is it more important than visualizing the character? What memorable settings have you discovered in reading–which authors are able to transport you to that place in the writing?

Conference Crumbs


image: wordsharpeners.files.wordpress.com

Recently I attended a writing conference and I will freely admit I attended primarily because I knew my time had arrived. Yes, this time I would be discovered. My critique editor would be so impressed with my submission that she would pat the chair next to her and state, “I’ve waited all day to finally meet you. I adore this * points to my pages* and we need to talk about contracts.”
This, of course, did not happen and I doubt it will. Or if it does I hope the actual moment will not be as corny as my version.

I didn’t always used to be conference goer. I used to be a conference nayer. “Pfft–I don’t need to spend money, drive miles, and sit and listen to people who have made it. I have my books and magazines to tell me what I need to know.” That’s me turning down a suggestion to attend a SCBWI conference. My critique group sagely retorted, “You go because it’s all about networking.” And she was right. Making connections is primary, and gaining knowledge is secondary for me.

When conference invites drop into my mailbox I first check the line up–who is going to be there? Getting to hear a favorite or well-known author or to glean industry insights from a respected editor, publisher, or agent might entice me to reach for the calendar. Yet, what gets me actually going to the conference is the critique, having the opportunity to learn and to receive an assessment of my writing from an industry professional. If I can get a renowned publisher, editor, or agent to look over my work and get their attention for 12 minutes, I’m all in. Critiques range in price and my pocketbook can handle the $60 variety, which translates to roughly $5.00 a minute . I consider this a good value since I willingly pay a dollar a minute for my ten minute chair massage at the farmer’s market. Both are invigorating focused sessions, yet only one is beneficial towards my career.
Once at the conference  I diligently sit through the various speakers, deftly mining worthy industry nuggets. Admittedly I’m only half tuned into the program because I keep glancing at my at my watch after continually rechecking my critique appointment slip. Bad form, really. It would be much better to relax and relish while waiting.

This year I did do just that.

My appointment was probably the last one of the day which meant I needed to pass the time. I actually decided to really listen to the speaker presentations and not just flick through the bin of offered treasure trove of advice but to really savor the meal before me. Yes,a muddle of metaphors.  As for the actual conference I had a productive meeting with a publisher of a respected, well-known publishing house. She liked my approach, style, and even appreciated my humorous bits in the manuscript. She had prepared an amazing critique page–the best organized I’ve ever received. No, she did not offer a contract. However, she did hand me her personal business card and invited me to send my proposal for another project to her directly *no slush pile*. And she said I could resubmit the piece she had critiqued. Better than six chair massages, I’d say.

So, if are on the fence about attending a writing conference I would give you a bit of a nudge and so “Zip out the credit card and go absorb and mingle and learn.”

Oh–I would appreciate some good thoughts towards the project I just emailed her.  Having just received a rejection for a manuscript, I wouldn’t mind some good news around the corner.

Book Booster Beckonings


 

Book Booster

I have been quite remiss in my blog hostessing. Usually I invite new followers to add their name to the Book Booster roster. If you are a recent follower, please accept my apologies for not having invited you sooner. What’s a Book Booster? This is the detailed link and here is the short version:
Read books? Recommend books? Buy or checkout books by the armload? Have a TBR list and stack longer and taller than Superman can leap over in a single bound? Consider yourself a Book Booster and consider this your invite.

What are the benefits?
If you are hoping for a Barnes and Noble discount, I’m afraid the details are still sketchy on that one.
And reserved parking at the library is still being negotiated.
I am still working on that secret handshake.
However, you can revel in the knowledge you are in great company and you can spend hours clicking to connect with other Book Boosters.

While I can’t guarantee all the links are still active I can ensure you will no doubt discover a few new blogs to follow, and in turn they will no doubt find and follow you and that Six Steps Separation thing gets one step closer to becoming a big blogging bunch of Book Boosters.

What? You’re not on the list and you thought you were? I can fix that…

So send me your “Of course add me to the roster” approval and then it’s happy browsing.

Blue Skies and Happy Reading,

C. Muse

Doodle-Doo, A Contest for You


image:mikeallegra.com

The above is Mike Allegra and he is a children’s writer.  Yes, he is a wild and crazy guy.  Kind of Steve Martin and kind of Billy Crystal– entertaining ,witty and the author of :

 Which is about how one lady, namely Sarah Hale, got Thanksgiving on the calendar as a national holiday.  Even if you aren’t into picture books, you should stop by and say “hi” to Mike. For one, he is very friendly and will say “hi” back.  For another, he tells great stories–they are hilarious more times than not.  And the best reason is right now he is offering a free personal doodle for some lucky winner.  Check out the details here.

for YOU

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