Tag Archives: reading

Friendship Friday: How to create book reviews that write themselves.

Last week I created a post about getting free books from big publishers, including links on contacting them. This week, I’m making things easy for you: creating reviews that write themselves (almost). Granted, this won’t turn you into Ron Charles, but maybe someday…or even better!

DON’T BE NERVOUS

I’ve run into several people who are nervous about writing a good review because they got a free book from a publisher. Two things:

  1. The publishers rarely read your reviews.
  2. Everyone else rarely reads your reviews.

CopyBlogger.com says that only 2 out of 10 people that click on your posts actually read them. If you don’t believe me, let’s take two quick tests. First, here’s my review of Jonathan Franzen’s PURITY. Did you click the link? No? Point proven. You did? But you didn’t read the whole review, right? Point proven. Second, have you ever hit “like” on a Facebook post that your friend posted of their 3-year-old daughter in a ballet recital (but you didn’t really watch the video)? Point proven.

Here’s a great comedy sketch from comedian Louis CK about that same thing:

In my review of SUPERBETTER, Jane McGonigal says that we can reprogram our brains by telling ourselves that our nervousness is energy. It works! I’ve also found that having a plan helps, too.

WRITE DOWN QUOTES FROM THE BOOK YOU’RE READING

I love book quotes. Warning: sometimes book quotes can bog you down. Capture your favorites and log them. If you want to be really lazy (aka cheating) you can go to Goodreads and see some of the best quotes from your favorite book, selected by the community.

If you followed the advice I gave last week about getting free books, you may have discovered that many publishers include press releases or publicity sheets. These may include anything from a longer version of the book’s description to copies of news coverage. It’s awesome! Some people may balk at possible “spoilers”, but I prefer to call them a roadmap of what you’ll be reading. They help you read faster and retain more.

START WITH YOUR HEADLINE FIRST

In one sentence (come on Twitter users!!) come up with the one thing you want to tell other people about the book. The more salacious or captivating, the better. If you want to tell us about the sex scene with the Martian queen, awesome!

This may be the most difficult part of writing the review. That’s a good thing. This exercise will inspire you and set a direction for the rest of the review. The co-founder of Twitter said that confinement inspires creativity. Give yourself one sentence to get our attention; you’ll be amazed at how everything flows from this.

WRITE DOWN AT LEAST THREE SUBHEADINGS

Book reviews are like the cheesy movie trailers from the 80s. The best reviews give a flavor of the book with a bit of commentary. Like those trailers from yesteryear, you’ll get scenes from the movie/book and you’ll get narrative that tells you what to expect. Look back at the headline you wrote and now write down three or more bullets that capture the main themes from the book.

Let’s pretend we’re going to review THE KARATE KID, the book. The headline may be: “Can a kid find love and win the karate championship?” Your subheadings might include:

  • Bullied in L.A.
  • Karate fixes all
  • True love (note: ALWAYS have a subheading about love)
  • Wax on, wax off

DUMP YOUR BUCKET OF QUOTES

Remember your bucket of quotes that you collected? Dump them out! Give your subheadings some space and put the quotes in, under the appropriate subheading.

Let’s go back to THE KARATE KID for example:

  • Bullied in L.A.
    “Friend? Oh, yeah, those guys.”
    “No the problem is, I’m getting my ass kicked every other day, that’s the problem.”
  • Karate fixes all
    “Go, find balance….Banzai, Daniel-san!”
    “Karate come from China…hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa.”
    “I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that.”
    “You too much TV”
  • True love
    “Hey, you got a name?” “Ali…with an I. Hey, what’s your name?”
    “Why next time?” “Because we didn’t bring a bathing suit!”
  • Wax on, wax off
    “Make block. Left, right. Up, down. Side, side. Breathe in, breathe out. And no scare fish.”

PLAY A GAME: CONNECT THE DOTS

You don’t have to be a grammar wiz to string this together. Say something you like or something you don’t like about the book, and then lead to a quote. Say something about the book’s premise or happenings, then lead to another quote. Bounce from quote to quote until you feel you’ve completed the picture.

Don’t feel like you have to use all the quotes. Don’t use any if you don’t want. They are there to help you if you want them. Make sure there’s plenty of YOU in the review. Talk to ME. It’s a conversation of you, telling me, about the book. These are tools to help you.

USE MULTIMEDIA (CUE SONG)

As you can tell, I enjoy a good GIF image. I’ve also been known to include links to other reviewers, outside sources, and my own, horribly drawn pictures. It’s all about telling the story. The more pictures and media you include, the less people read, the more people say “great review”. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. (Admit it: you do it, too.)

For example, here’s my favorite music from THE KARATE KID. No, it’s not “you’re the best…there is….”. It’s the beautiful song that plays as Daniel practices his crane kick on the beach in front of the setting sun.

Fast forward to about 1:20 into the video for the MOST BEAUTIFUL music and scenery you’ve ever witnessed.

Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leonora is a writer who is used to living alone. She’s got some issues with a dude named James who supposedly did something terrible ten years ago. This was so terrible that most of her friends went by the wayside. Fast-forward to today: a hen party invite arrives. (For my fellow American readers, a hen party is a bachelorette party—this one requiring an overnight stay.) So, lots of questions for the reader: who is this “James” and why is Leonora being invited to a hen party?

Enter the dark, dark woods. This environment is creepy as [choose your own adjective/explicative]. The hen party’s arranger has an aunt with a glass house in the middle of woods, located in an extremely remote environment. Let’s paint that picture a little better: dark woods, see-through house. Folks on the outside can see you; you can’t see potential people/creatures/bigfoot/murderers on the outside.

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IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware is an expertly crafted thriller in the likes of GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN, with one caveat: there are not alternating perspectives. Time flips from present to past, slowly unwinding the clues to what the heck are these folks doing in the middle of the woods, and—MURDER!!

The book is quickly paced, really winding things tight toward the end. By the time Leonora discovers footprints in the snow, you won’t be able to stop reading. The conclusion is, well, conclusive. Much better than that story about the girl that Ben Affleck went looking to find. I would even say the pacing is better than that story about the drunken girl solving crimes from her window seat. In other words, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD stands alone as a must-read title.

Being a debut book, I do have some nitpicks. First, the “big secret”. Don’t worry, no spoilers. Leonora’s secret with James is kind of hard to hide. We don’t find out about it until near the end, but I’m thinking most of her friends, not just one, would have known about it. Second, drinking tea with the murderer. Huh? Read the book and then we’ll talk about it.

Here’s the kicker: I purchased this book to take with me on a trip into the deep, deep woods (somewhere along the border of New Hampshire, Maine, and Canada). Needless to say, I had to keep the fire burning bright. And, yes, I’m a bit crazy.

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P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway!! The link is in the above paragraph about the trip into the deep, deep woods.

And, if you are looking for more reviews of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, Cleopatra Loves Books really liked this one! She said, “it raised a few hairs on my neck means that this book fully deserves all the accolades it has received”.

UPDATE: Tea talk with author Ruth Ware

Review: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt – You may get squeamish, but what the hell—it’s worth it!

Undermajordomo Minor
Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Tim Burton and Wes Anderson collaborated to write a novel in the writing style of Ronald Dahl, it would turn out a lot like Patrick DeWitt’s UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR.

The story is about Lucien (Lucy) Minor, an inconsequential young man from the town of Bury. Seeking to escape the undesirable and uninteresting, Lucy finds his way to Castle Von Aux. “…a decision which led to many things including but not limited to true love, bitterest heartbreak, bright-white terror of the spirit, and an acute homicidal impulse.” As he notices, “Lucy couldn’t shake the notion that there was some malicious anathema about in the castle.”

“…we’ll die here.”
“That’s not how we see it…”
“How do you see it?”
“We’ll live here.”

Through quirky verse and fanatical happenings, DeWitt tells the tale of life and love. I REALLY enjoyed it all. As he writes: “Undemonstrative manner of reportage; and yet he was moved by the tale as well.” This is more than a story; it is a pondering of a quick life boiled down to a summary that can be bound up within an epitaph. At times the events may not make sense, but then it strikes your heart.

“I have no regard for a man so willing to give his life for an idea…”
“Yes, and what is the idea?”
“Precisely.”


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“May I ask who it is they’re fighting?”
“What are they fighting about, do you know?”
“Well now, what does anyone fight about, boy?”

There are two wars taking place in this book: a war between men with an unknown cause, and a war of love. “What a violent thing love is, he thought. Violent was the word that had come to him.” Not only does Lucy battle, figuratively and literally, with the concept of love, but so do the others around him—in all manners and forms. “For if love had so degraded a personage of the Baron’s powers, what might it do to him?”

The person Lucy goes to work for is twisted within his own heart’s constraints. Lucy also battles to become significant in within his own life. “Lucy recognized his taking solace in giving up; he was familiar with the comfort which existed in the acceptance of failure.”

“All that I’ll say is that there is an unwellness rampant in the castle.”
“A pervasive unpleasantness…”

A word of warning. This paragraph has minor spoilers about animal cruelty and sexual pervasiveness. Twice you may think harm befalls a puppy—take comfort, it does not! However, a rat is devoured by a crazed man (the things love will cause!). And, yes, there is a tart-induced orgy in the castle. As for violence with humans, heads are blown off via cannon balls and fingers are chopped off via envy. End of spoilers.

This book was a fabulously fun ride with quite a bit of meaning. Its story is simple, its effects complex. DeWitt is a magical author with tons of character. You may get squeamish, but what the hell—it’s worth it!

OH!! Stay tuned for a giveaway announcement with this book….

And…here’s the trailer for the book:

UPDATE: be sure to check out Reading in Bed’s review of this book. She’s struggling to give it a rating, even deciding on if she “likes” it, but it left her with a smile and some reading enjoyment!

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top ten reasons to do a top ten list…on a Tuesday

I’ve been avoiding top 10 lists like the plague. Why? Because I’m lazy. I thought book reviews could be my bread and butter–and they still are–but there are reasons to do a top 10 list. And here they are:

  1. TO BE LIKE THE OTHER COOL KIDS

Seriously. Everyone on my friends list seems to be doing Top 10 lists. The Bookish Barrister and Caught Read H&nded follow the protocol of what specifically to do each week. They are quite talented and have huge followings. Then folks like Shaina Reads breaks the mold and goes with a Top 10 list of “giving a shit”. So, I’ll start here with my first ever top 10 list.

2. TO DRAW ATTENTION TO MY LATEST BLOG POST

My latest blog post: a book review.

3. TO DRAW ATTENTION TO MY GIVEAWAY

Do you want to win a copy of ARMADA? Sure you do! Click here.

4. HEY LOOK, HERE’S MY INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

Whoever thought taking pictures of books could be so much fun! There’s a great community of book take-a-picture-ures, too. AKA bookstagramers. Here’s mine.

5. TO ESTABLISH AND FOSTER CREATIVITY

Two things foster creativity: constricted space and a long list of things to come up with. Examples: Twitter and Top Ten lists. By the time you get your brilliantly constructed sentence to fit within 140 characters or struggle to come up with those last two items, your brain will have expanded to twice its size. Or something like that.

6. OH LOOK, I’M ON TWITTER, TOO!

Speaking of Twitter, here I am: @Ryan_Reads

7. TO HAVE SOME FUN

Life isn’t always about pulling out the tissues and reading Man Booker listed books like THE FISHERMEN. Though that’s “fun” in its own right, it’s nice to relax a bit, get connected with the community, and post a bunch of GIF images. Like this one:

8. BECAUSE IT IS DIFFERENT

If you scroll down my blog, you’ll see the constant headline:

REVIEW:
REVIEW:
REVIEW:
REVIEW:

Oh, look, another GIF!!

9. PAGE VIEWS, FOLKS

I’m convinced that people’s eyes cross when they see the onslaught of reviews. Add in a Glee or Homer Simpson GIF and the page counters light up. Well. They increase by one or two. Hopefully more.

10. CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY

And that’s one of my biggest goals. Blogging, Tweeting, Bookgramming: it all equals community. I want to share what I’ve read with you, and I want you to share what you’ve read with me. We’ll learn together, grow together, and find great book together.

Group hug time:

How about it? Do you participate in Top Ten Tuesday? Should this be a regular thing?

Book Review: F*CK FEELINGS

WARNING: Naughty language.

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Despite the cheerfully bright yellow cover and salaciously curt, morally outskirting title, F*CK FEELINGS is a landmark of psychological help. With tongue-in-(hopefully)-cheek mocking of every Dr. Firstname (Phil, Deepak, Oprah) book out there, Dr. Bennett and his comedic daughter seek to dispense actually useful advice with wit and practicality. To the point: this stuff works.

Whether feel like an ass, are trying to get a piece of ass, or if you’re tired of living with an ass, the doctor and daughter prescribe an overdose of “f*ck off” to the feelings and cuts to the chase: you can’t change shit. Live with it. Deal with it. Because we’re on the “s” word: one of their favorite idioms is to say not to trust your gut—it’s full of shit. Instead, work it out in your mind, control what you can, make the best of it. In this book, the Bennets give the script, provide examples, and bullet point it, too. (Wow, I’m really going to have to edit this review heavily before posting on retail outlets.)

“In our world, feelings don’t rule, many things can’t be changed, and acceptance of limits, not limitless self-improvement, is the key to moving forward and dealing effectively with any and all crap that life can throw your way.” The two-Harvard-degree Bennet knows his stuff. He’s ivy league2 educated with three decades of practice. He’s got a sick sense of humor (wouldn’t you?) that his daughter helps convey in print to a wisecracking T.

Make no mistake—this is not satire or a side-splitting laugh at toothless Uncle Joe. This is a practical guide, with large portions of humor-infused advice that helps you survive an eight-hour Thanksgiving engagement with that same toothless Uncle Joe and his insufferable turkey-induced flatulence. This book also serves as help to kick your kissing-cousin Jack Daniels to the curb (most of the time) and survive most of the goals that motherly Jenny Craig sets in unreasonable expectation. It’ an f-you to self-help books and an indispensable survival guide to be the best person that we can be. Old Army cliché mottos, aside.

Here’s the gist: “What you can’t really control but feel you should:” (straight from the book)

  • Income
  • Relationship status
  • How others feel about you
  • Your offspring
  • Ability to refuse the gravitational pull of a “party-sized” bag

“So while other self-help books guarantee the path to happiness, F*CK FEELINGS guarantees that said path is nonexistent.” “Instead, assume you’re stuck with shit and ask yourself what a good person should do in your situation.” “A good person is not someone who is trying to be happy, because that’s not possible, but someone who is trying to do right.” There, a whole paragraph of selected quotes. You get the idea.

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Using examples and quotes from Trump to RuPaul (never seen them compared before, have you?) this book will help you raise kids, ward off drugs, stop picking scabs, and tolerate kisses on the (hopefully) cheek from Aunt Mildred. This stuff works because it’s practical and achievable. For once, stop sharing that smiling preacher’s quotes on Facebook and give this book a try. F*ck those feelings!

Note: in case you haven’t picked up on this—the book is FULL of naughty, potty talk. The grandest curse word of all, the mighty f-bomb, literally appears on every page (as a heading, with no asterisk). Be forewarned. Be entertained. Be the better person because of it.

Oh, and thank you to Simon and Schuster for not telling me to f-off and for sending me this book to review. You’re the best!

And…here’s the short video on YouTube featuring the authors talking about this book:

Worthy of all its praise, Man Booker listed The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The Fishermen
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James Agwu tells his sons, “What I want you to be is a group of fishermen who will be fishers of good dreams, who will not relent until they have caught the biggest catch.” He wants the best for them: Ikenna, to become a pilot; Boja, to become a lawyer; Obembe, to become a doctor; and for Benjamin, perhaps a veterinarian or college professor. Yet, poignantly, in their Igbo tribe there is no word for “scientist”.

Paulina Adaku Agwu, a spiritual and caring woman, is heavily devoted to her children. “In this part of Africa, married women often went by the name of their first child.” Paulina is known as Mama Ike. She gathers her children like “the falconer”. She defends them in a place where doors are locked at night due to the frequent armed robberies of homes, during the time of M.K.O. and after “the war”.

Although miles and oceans away, the village of Akure in Nigeria is not that different from where I live, just down the train line from the city of New York. Author Chigozie Obioma is heartfelt in THE FISHERMEN, showing the stark contrast, yet relating us one to another. “As people waived the Nigerian flags in the summer heat in faraway Atlanta, Akure slowly drowned.” Connected, yet troubling different. He shows, like many of our families, that mothers and fathers care—that brotherly bonds are near inseparable.


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“Although Christianity had almost cleanly swept through Igbo land, crumbs and pieces of the African traditional religion had eluded the broom.” The Agwu family’s village lies in close proximity to the once worshipped Omi-Ala river, now accursed by Christian zeal. The brothers, ranging in ages from 9 to 15, are like any boy in 1996, playing Mortal Kombat or watching Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Their boyish desire lead them to the river, not to become fishers of good dreams, but fishers of fun and profit.

This is where things turn. The boys meet Abulu: “he often dismantled vain kingdoms of people’s thoughts and lifted shrouds from the swaddled corpses of buried secrets.” In painstaking, near poetic tones, Obioma tells their story through the young voice of Benjamin. He talks sadly about the brothers: “It altered the shape of our lives and ushered in a transition of time when craniums raged and voids exploded.” And: “but the passion we’d developed for fighting had become like liquid frozen in a bottle and could not be easily thawed.” The brothers have trouble shaking Abulu’s prophecy: “People began to see his visions as ineluctable, and they believed he was the oracle of the scribbler of the telegraph of fate.”

This book is easy to read, yet heart-heavily difficult to absorb. Benjamin notes a saying he heard that when fear takes possession of the heart of a person, it diminishes them. We as readers are witness to that diminishing: health, faith, well-being, and relationships. The most painful of all: family.

“Hatred is a leech: the thing that sticks to a person’s skin; that feeds off them and drains the sap out of one’s spirit.” Ben’s tender spirit is evident in the writing, as he compares everyone to animals, both gentle and extreme. This makes THE FISHERMEN even more wrenching to partake as the story progresses. Ben writes, “I once heard that the heart of an angered man will not beat with verve, it will inhale and bloat like a balloon, but eventually deflate.”

This is a novel that shows similarities and contrasts. This is a novel that speaks truly. This is a novel worthy of reading.

Let’s not leave on a downer: here’s the opening to the Agwu brothers’ favorite show, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Sing along, if you know it.

UPDATE: September 15, 2015, THE FISHERMEN was just Short Listed for the Man Booker Prize. Congrats to all involved!!!

Review: Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnon

Fortune Smiles
Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FORTUNE SMILES is the result of a Pultizer-winning author setting out to define the delicate line that separates the nearly indistinguishable facets of our lives. From East Germany to South Korea, in times past, present, and future: the line runs, thinly. As author Adam Johnson writes here, “The tricky part…is telling the difference between the two.”

Father, son; husband, wife; punisher, victim: in six short stories, Johnson articulates the interwoven perspectives of each. His show: we’re not all that different, you and I.

Nirvana
“I just needed to save somebody, and with the president, it didn’t matter that it was too late.” With his wife paralyzed and suffering from Guillain–Barré syndrome, our narrator sets about to resurrect the President via personal iProjectors. In a not-unfamiliar futuristic state of Google lanes and Android glasses, Johnson through soft-toned, clear-as-day descriptions such as the “long lashes and big, manga brown eyes” or “bad sushi chefs ward[ing] off Twitter trolls”, cuts to the heart: whom do we love?

Hurricane Anonymous
Randall’s father is dying; his son’s mother: missing. In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, embittered Randall finds himself driving UPS routes with his still-in-diapers son, where “instead of seeing yourself in the windows of passing hosues, your reflection falls into their dark rooms.” He’s upset at seeing “what happens when Wal-Mart is your first responder” and that “nobody gave him free clothes and prepaid calling cards after he was evicted last year.” More importantly, he discovers what it means to be a father when all hell—familial and societal—surrounds him.

Interesting Facts
Adam Johnson steps in as the voice of his wife, telling a story full of autobiographic moments. Like nothing I’ve seen; my heart has been uniquely touched. Full of her “interesting facts”, she struggles with her husband adoring her “even though I had a double mastectomy.” Hilarious at times, judging other woman’s assets as being able to “do everything but chew bubble gum and make Hello Kitty hearts”, and then turning with phrases like ““Then it really hits you that you’re trapped inside a dying woman. You’re being buried alive.” Truly, this story shows: “The most vital things we hide even from ourselves.”

George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine
The daughter poses the challenge to the former German Prison warden: “I grew up with milk wagons driving down our street.” No, not milk. There holds a symbol of deception, especially of oneself. He says he wasn’t a bad father or a horrible man. Though, the narrator questions why his wife left along with being constantly reminded by the “recovering their voices” of his once imprisoned, no longer anonymous captives. He ponders with “all this information” today, “yet the world is more mysterious than ever.”

Dark Meadow
“In the world I no longer inhabit, where people exist only online, fantasy and deed are indistinguishable.” Similar to Tom Perrotta’s LITTLE CHILDREN, Johnson questions who is the thief and who is the victim. “You have to understand that I have never hurt anyone in my life and that I am the one who gets wounded in this story.” It is hard to tell the wounded, who felt “stubble against the back of your neck” during early childhood, and the sad, yet want-to-do-good remains of today.

Fortune Smiles
Johnson returns to the land of THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON. Two defectors: “the longer they were here, the more it seemed their roles were reversing.” Viewing South Korea’s westernized culture of double-stack burgers and K-pop shoes, the philosophy of losing a country begins. Gone is the simple life, the nights of electric-less conversations. Now, the nights are illuminated via vast commercial-full television channels. Though a world away, the application is local.

Adam Johnson’s writing goes beyond the skill of craft. As Ron Charles of The Washington Post says of this book, “FORTUNE SMILES will worm into your mind and ruin your balance for a few days.” Reading this will give you an all-points vantage of the world we live. A must, must read.
There is a preview of this book, along with other reviews, here on Amazon: Fortune Smiles: Stories

Happy Reading!!