Tag Archives: The Writing Life

I’m Cleaning Out the Junk Drawer

Be honest, you have one too. That drawer in your kitchen where you put toothpicks and matchbooks and coupons and birthday candles and bits of string and old coupons and the set of coasters that only has two left and cat treats and all the other randomness that doesn’t have a good place where it “belongs”.

I have two junk drawers in my life- a kitchen junk drawer, and a blog junk drawer. The first is filled with all the aforementioned junk, plus all the kitchen gadgets they tell you you simply cannot survive without when you do your wedding registry, but then you only use once. (Exhibit A: silicone basting brush. Exhibit B: egg separator. Exhibit C: tiny measuring cups that say things like “pinch” and “dash.”) The later is filled with all the little bits of humor and observations that don’t really “go” with any other post but are too good to just forget, and books that I read but never felt inspired to review.

In an effort to start the new year clean and fresh and organized, I attempted to organize my kitchen, but I was quickly defeated. So here instead are my condensed thoughts on some books that have been floating about, waiting for their moment in the sun:

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The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle: Adam Eddington, of A Ring of Endless Light fame, is on his way to Europe for the summer to intern with a famous scientist. But on his journey there he gets wrapped up in a plot thick with intrigue, international politics, and danger, and suddenly his summer is no longer relaxing. Or safe. This is not L’Engle’s best work, but the action is fast paced and well written with just the right amount of tension sprinkled in.

The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick: A little girl goes missing at the local zoo, and her brother and two best friends must hurry to help find her. But strange occurrences meet them at every turn, and a mysterious shadow man is hot on their tracks, leading the kids to question: is this zoo really just a zoo, or is something more sinister bubbling underneath? A really fun concept, one any kid (and many adults) will relish. I enjoyed this series first, although I was a little disappointed by some of the characterizations, especially one little girl with an obnoxious attitude that Chick seems to glorify.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard: This little book is stuffed with plenty of insight and advice for writers. I really appreciated her wisdom, and I learned a lot, but the fragmented style of writing made it hard to read in long stretches.

The BFG by Roald Dahl: A little orphan girl, Sophie, is snatched away by a giant. Fortunately he is the Big Friendly Giant (BFG), and not one of the little girl eating ones. But the nasty giants are about to go on a child-eating rampage in England, and it’s up to Sophie and The BFG to save the day. This delightful little adventure was fun to read- I especially enjoyed BFG’s fun way of mixing up and mispronouncing words. Also, I felt like Dahl’s undeniably dark undertones were a little more dulled in this story versus, say, The Witches, which is, at least for me, a plus.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: Written with Lamott’s usual warmth and candor, the chapters of this book were fun and companionable. Even though I really enjoyed this book and found it chock full of good advice, I’ve come to the conclusion that any book about writing is hard for me to swallow in the usual amount of sittings a book of this size would require. Writing books are best savored in little bits, not devoured in heaping spoonfuls. But, overall, I preferred this book to Dillard’s Writing Life.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo:

    ‎”Do you think,” she said, “that elephants have names?”

    “Oh, yes,” said Sister Marie. “All of God’s creatures have names. Every last one of them. Of that I am sure; of that I have no doubt.”

DiCamillo is, without question, one of my favorite authors, and possibly my very favorite children’s author. She writes with warmth and understanding that touches adults and gives children an invaluable sense of security. You cannot read her works without believing, even the tiniest bit, that the heart of life is beautiful. This story is no exception as it finds an orphaned boy, a displaced elephant, a disillusioned magician, a blind dog and his beggar companion, a hopeful policeman, and a host of other lovable folk discovering that the impossible can happen; that sometimes dreams do come true. Plus there’s an elephant. What’s not to love? Take an afternoon and read this one. You won’t regret it.

Lucky Child by Thomas Bergenthal: This memoir tells the story of how young Thomas survived the atrocities of the Jewish ghettos of early WWII, several concentration camps, and finally the Auschwitz death march, before being miraculously reunited with his mother at the end of the war. I really appreciated this account, which was written without sentimentality and with straight-shooting, unflinching honesty and grace.

The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart: With it’s whimsical setting, fun title, and critical praise, I really thought I was going to love this one. No such luck. I forced myself to finish it, but it was without relish. The story is bogged down with too many subplots, and the quirky details which at first were mildly amusing quickly became a drudge. The light tone belies the many sad circumstances the characters are dealt- infidelity, unrequited love, unwanted pregnancy, the death of a child, a crumbling marriage, crushed dreams- which results in a lack of depth, and a missed chance for a deeper connection with the audience. I get what Stuart was trying to do, but it just didn’t work out for her.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: At 21, Nell’s world falls apart when her father reveals a long guarded family secret: Nell is a foundling of unknown origins. She goes in search of her roots, but it isn’t until after her death that her granddaughter Cassandra is able to get to the bottom of the mysterious little girl who was abandoned on a ship bound for Australia all those years ago. Written in the same vein as Diane Satterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Morton masterfully weaves the stories of seven women spanning hundreds of years in this multilayered mystery that will, if not keep you guessing, keep you deeply involved right to the end.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: The last installment of The Hunger Games trilogy is just as fast paced and thrilling as the first two. I was a little unsatisfied at the resolution of the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, but ultimately pleased with the result, so I can’t complain too much. My final verdict? Read this trilogy! It is the singularly most satisfying pure pleasure read I can recall to date, and the commentary on human nature and the role of government were unexpected but ultimately timely and thought provoking.

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Wednesday Book Review: Floors, and a Huge OMG Moment

First, my OMG moment. Look!

That's Me!!!

That’s me on the front page of wordpress.com, in their FreshlyPressed section! I always thought it would be cool to be up there one day, but I never expected it to actually happen. I mean, most of these people are amazing bloggers, and somehow I and my crappy iPhone photo made it up there. And for it to happen with a post that came about because I was being lazy, well, that’s just ironic. Maybe I’m at my best when I’m also at my laziest…hmmmm…. They’re probably just taking pity on me anyway. The WordPress gods are probably sitting there thinking, “Poor kid suffered through half an english major and journalism, and this is all she’s got? We can throw her a bone. Afterall, it won’t cost us anything.” To which I say, thank you WordPress gods. May you be blessed for your charity.

And now, moving on to the real reason you’re probably here…

There is no better remedy for a stressed out mind than a little lighthearted adventure. And there is no better place to find that adventure than on the Juvenile Fiction aisle. And I really have been rather stressed. There’s just no two ways about it, moving is stressful, and I am in the thick of it. Thus, I turned this week to Patrick Carman’s newest offering: Floors.

It was the ducks that got me, really.

I’m a big fan of Carman’s The Land of Elyon series, but I’ve skipped out of his last few capers because, for whatever reason, they just didn’t interest me. But this premise sounded fascinating: an excentric hotel filled with wacky inventions and hidden floors? A mysterious disappearance? Ducks that could save the day? Yes, please!

One part Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, one part A Series of Unfortunate Events, and two parts pure fun, I really enjoyed this little book. Leo and his widower father, Clarence, are the maintenance men at the Whippet Hotel, a strange, fascinating place with exotically themed rooms such as a room made of cake, one that functions as a giant pinball machine, and a room run entirely by robots. There is also a park on the roof, which is home to the hotel’s six pet ducks.

It’s an idyllic life for a young boy, until his best friend, the hotel owner, Merganzer D. Whippet, goes missing, and the hotel mysteriously begins to fall apart. As Leo and his dad rush to keep things running, Leo begins to suspect someone is trying to sabotage his hotel. But who? Could it be Ms. Sparks, the grouchy hotel manager? What about the snooty Yancy’s, the hotel’s newest guests, and their bratty daughter, Jane? With so many odd people inhabiting this place, it could be almost anyone! He also starts receiving mysterious boxes, apparently from Mr. Whippet. Leo doesn’t know what’s going on, but one thing is clear: it’s up to Leo and his new friend, Remi, to get to the bottom of this, and save the hotel!

This was a really fun, quick read, and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t Carman’s best work. His Land of Elyon series was more enthralling, deeper, and I thought it was more original. The elevators and innumerable secret floors and rooms smacked of Roald Dahl, and though he began to touch on important subjects, like deceased or absentee parents, he never brought those topics to any fruition. But, I could be proven wrong. During the last chapter, I closed the book for a moment, and discovered that this is just the first book sin a series.

Surprise!

Notice the sign above the elevator? How it's pointing at one, but can go as high as three? How much you wanna bet that there will the three books in the series? Tricky, Pat. Tricky.

So maybe he will hit on those things in later books. He certainly left it open for subsequent editions with a clear-cut nemesis (Ms. Sparks), and a recipe for trouble (a ten-year-old hotel owner? Yeah, that’ll turn out well).

I really did enjoy this little journey, though. And ten-year-old me would have enjoyed it even more. I’m not sure, however, if I’m committed enough for two more books. We shall see.

Currently, I am still plugging away at Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, though it’s something that I find myself reading in spurts. I’ve set aside The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb for now, not because I couldn’t get into it, but because I don’t have time to move and read a full-sized novel all at once. So instead, I’m reading these two skinny books:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and Annie Dillard's The Writing Life. I apologize for the blurry-ness. Remember, crappy iPhone pictures?

I’ve wanted to read both of these for a while now, and I only have the time/attention span for something short right now, so it’s perfect.

What about you, friends? What are you currently reading? Have you had any OMG moments of your own this week?

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