Book Review: The Secret

The Secret by Sophie Masson

After a mammoth adult book, I quickly turned back to the smaller, easier to read children and young adult books I have lined up in my bookshelf waiting to be read.

The first one was The Secret by Sophie Masson. First published in 1996, it felt a little aged with the main character being named Florence, but other than that I had no complaints.

The story is about acceptance and new beginnings. This was shown in a number of ways and, I felt, the topic was handled nicely in each thread. I didn’t have a sense of where the story was “acted out”, but that didn’t bother me either. My imagination was happy to fill in the gaps.

It took me two hours to read, so it will take most people less than that. Young readers will enjoy this story, as will some adults. I enjoyed learning about Polichinelle – the original puppet that is well known as Punch in the Punch and Judy act.

Recommendation: It’s a bit outdated, but still worthy of a read.

Book Review: False Impression

False Impression by Jeffrey Archer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

False Impression uses the 9/11 tragedy to capture the reader’s interest, but it is mainly about conspiracies in the art world – or, if you want it in simpler terms, it’s a murder mystery.

This book didn’t compare to the other book I’ve read by the same author – As The Crow Flies – but it is still a good story, set in the real world, with believable characters. At first, I felt a bit confused with all the characters (not to mention the head hopping), but the confusion settled after about six chapters. Luckily, the chapters in this book are quite short, so it isn’t as bad as it sounds.

The fact that I read the first six chapters and then put the book aside for two months didn’t help either. However, chapter seven saw the action really begin so I was drawn back into the story quickly once I started reading again.

Although I don’t know for sure if the facts stated in the book about the art world are true or not, it sounded true to me. As a reader, that’s important. However, I suspect that the author did do the necessary research and if I were to check up on any of the facts I think I’ll discover that they are correct. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn anything from these facts except Van Gogh painted a self portrait with a bandaged ear; however, it was actually the left ear which was really bandaged, not the right ear as shown in the portrait. Van Gogh used a mirror when doing the painting. I also learned that Van Gogh died by suicide.

Recommendation: If you have an opportunity to read the book, do it. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

Book Review: Green for Danger

Green for Danger by Emily Rodda

Green for Danger is the latest book I’ve finished reading. It is book 6 in the Raven Hill Mysteries series. I haven’t read any of the previous books. Admittedly, whilst reading I thought there was a lot of “padding”, but by the end I realised that every scene did advance the storyline (in other words everything was there for a reason).

The book isn’t a fantasy, it’s a mystery. I’ve decided to try and read a bit of a variety of genres now. I think you can have too much fantasy. I needed a change and trying to solve a mystery before the characters in the book figure things out is a good distraction for me.

With this book, I guessed one of the “baddies” but couldn’t work out where the jewels were hidden. The ending was tied together nicely and the characters were nicely fleshed out.

I do have another mystery by Emily Rodda, but I don’t think I’ll read that yet. I’m not sure what I’ll read next, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Publishing with Lulu

Lulu is a self-publishing company. Anyone can use this service and this is where I have a problem with self-publishing. If anyone can use it, then there are bound to be badly written books out there. Let’s be honest, it’s a fact that there are.

But…if a book is badly written, or if there is no storyline, or if the characters are two dimensional, then readers will quickly avoid anything else written by that author. They would have wasted precious money on buying the book, and most people don’t like that. Even if a real gem, written by that author, is released many years down the track it can easily be swept aside and ignored (even if it is published by a mainstream publisher). Once bitten, twice shy. This is a risk writers face when self-publishing.

On the other hand, good writers have been noticed through self-publishing. Some writers have made a name for themselves and sold thousands of books. They are often approached by a main stream publisher for publication of the second or third print.

And let’s face it, just because a book is published through main stream doesn’t automatically make it a good book. How many books have you bought that you thought were a waste of money? It happens far too often.

For me, as a writer, I dream of being contacted by a publisher who is excited about my writing, and wants to publish the book. That would be the ultimate moment for me, followed closely by the first time I walk into a book store and see my book on the shelf.

*Day dreams for a few minutes.*

As writers we think all that needs to be done is to write the story, but there is so much more to do. So many other decisions to be made. Writing is NOT easy, no matter what the woman next door thinks, or what your parents/partner might say.

I’ve always believed that for me the only way to go is main stream. I still believe this to a large degree, although I do think that things in the publishing industry will change in the future. However, I’ve recently found myself wanting to know more about self-publishing, wanting to experience it. How can I run something down that I’ve never tried?

And it is for this reason that I’m considering a new project for Scribe’s next year. The anthologies of past did not work out the way I had planned. That’s fine, I learned a lot from those projects. It’s just a pity that I couldn’t manage to get the stories published. Next year, the anthology will be different – completely different – but I’ll share that news at the appropriate time.

For now, if you have thought about self-publishing, but know nothing about it. Deborah Woehr is writing posts on her experience with publishing with Lulu. The first post, Self-Publishing through Lulu: The First Step in Creating Your Book gives tips on getting started. This post is followed by many others. I’m positive you’ll find the series interesting to read.

Book Review: Scum of the Earth

Scum of the Earth by Pamela Freeman

This is actually the second book in a series of three. However, if you’re a goose like me and tend not to realise these things until after you’ve finished reading the book, it doesn’t matter.

I read Trick of the Light first, which turns out to be the last book in the series. So I’ve started at the back and am working my way forward. Typical. But, as I said, it doesn’t matter because the books are stand alone.

Scum of the Earth isn’t as good as Trick of the Light. It’s slower and it took longer to get to the “juice”. There was a lot of setting up required for the plot. Technical jargon (which was simply, and quickly, explained) slowed the pace, but was necessary to make the book work. And the message behind the story didn’t stand out as much as it did in Trick of the Light. In fact, I can’t tell you what the message behind Scum of the Earth is.

All in all, it was a good story, but not my favourite by this author. I might add, at this stage, that I’ve only read two of her books.

Book Review: Trick of the Light

Trick of the Light by Pamela Freeman

I finished reading “Trick of the Light” last night. Shocked? So am I. Taking two sittings, a total of about 2 hours, this must be the fastest book I’ve read in ages. Admittedly, it is a thin book (120 pages), with quite large print, but the story was well thought out and executed. 🙂

I found it easy to read and I enjoyed the story. The author stuck to the facts, foregoing the need for flowery, “by the way” information, which I actually appreciated. The author allowed the reader to fill in the blanks, so the setting was what I wanted to see, not what Pamela Freeman tried to make me see. I like that in a book.

There is a good moral behind the story too – let go of racist thoughts and feelings of the past and move on.

I’ve got “Scum of the Earth” written by Pamela Freeman too, so I’m going to read that next.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m embarrassed to say this, because I’ve read many good reviews on this book, but last night I abandoned A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. I think my expectations were high, but in all honesty, I’ve never read anything by this author before and I found her writing style to be “stuffy”.

The way she phrases her sentences, and her choice of words, were distracting. The book had potential, but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the excitement to happen. I didn’t care about the main character and when I realised I didn’t care for the plot either, I tossed the book aside.

Life’s too short to waste time reading books that don’t catch hold of you from the first page, or by the end of the first chapter at the very least. I suffered 60 pages and that was enough. I’m through with forcing myself to read books I’m not enjoying.

Right, what will I try next? I have a Pamela Freeman mystery that looks interesting. I can’t remember the name right now (“The Twist in the Light” or something similar). I’ll correct this oversight later when I replace the image in the sidebar.

Edit: The title of the book by Pamela Freeman is “A Trick of the Light”. I couldn’t find an image for the sidebar, and I’m too lazy to rig up the scanner. I’ve started reading the book and it pulled me in from the start. This is the first non-fantasy book I’ve read in a very long time. Perhaps I needed a change. 🙂

Being Invisible

Excerpt from The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author’s Tips on Writing Children’s Books and Publishing Them, or How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book for Kids by Aaron Shepard.

All at once, in the middle of the story, I “woke up” with a shock. For just a few seconds, I had completely forgotten I was sitting in a hot tent with a thousand other people – forgotten even that I was listening to Connie Regan-Blake. She had drawn me into the story so completely that I was aware of nothing but that story’s unfolding within my own mind.

That moment taught me that the height of storytelling – oral or written – is when the teller becomes invisible.

Part of becoming invisible is to engage the reader’s imagination with concrete images, as discussed earlier. If the imagination is busy enough, it will wrap the reader up in the story and draw attention away from the writer.

Have you read a book where this has happened to you? I have and I found that I felt that I was part of the story. In fact, I was part of the story. I tend to imagine myself as one of the characters and I ‘live’ the plot.

The difference it makes to the story is enormous. The pages turn automatically, the setting and characters move before your eyes. And before you know it the story has come to an end and you are left with a feeling of wonder…and disappointment because it’s over.

On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of stories where I find myself flicking forward to see when the chapter ends. Or I might continually look down at the page number to see how I’m progressing. Naturally, doing these things means I’m not right into the story. I’m distracted by the words, the author (maybe), everything around me, because something about the flow or plot doesn’t grab my total attention.

As a writer, being invisible must be a talent because I think it must be hard to do. I can’t say that I’ve tried to achieve this when I write, but I certainly would take it as a compliment if someone told me this happened to them whilst reading one of my stories.

Writing is like painting a picture. An artist uses colour to place an image before our eyes, whereas, a writer uses words. To become invisible, we have to pick the right words, a good balance with description and setting, rounded characters and realistic dialogue and action. It’s not easy, but can you make yourself invisible when you write?

Where to Start

As a reader, no matter what I’m reading – a children’s book or a book for adults – I always enjoy the books that start right in the middle of the action. It’s exciting! It makes me keep reading to find out who the characters are and what is happening to them. Yet as a writer, I sometimes feel the need to “set up” the character and setting first.

Excerpt from Writing a Children’s Book: How to Write for Children And Get Published by Pamela Cleaver.

Begin at the moment of change or crisis in the key character’s life. Don’t start with an explanation with his circumstances, or a description of where he lives. If you feel you need scene setting or character establishment to get you going, write it for yourself and go on until you reach an action point. This is where your story should start:

  • Start where the trouble begins.
  • Start on the day that is different.
  • Start where the main character comes up against something he can’t stand.

Don’t discard the previous material but feed it into the narrative as snippets as the story unfolds.

This is simple advice. Yet I feel that it’s the perfect way to find the best starting point for your story. I now know that I have to rethink the beginning of Cat’s Eyes.

I found this advice by using Google Book Search.

Book Review: Elidor

Elidor by Alan Garner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was written some years ago, and it shows in the choice of words used. I did find this distracting at the beginning of the story. In fact, some of the phrases used were so weird that I had no idea what was meant. This did give the book an old fashioned feel to it, and I think this is the reason it wasn’t popular in the library. Hence, the reason it found its way to the “bargain bin”.

Putting this fact aside, the story itself was well done. It is a typical children’s book, where the adults don’t play much of a role and if they do they are made to sound stupid (which I think is wrong). The four children find themselves in another world, and they are given artefacts to take care of in the real world. However, in the real world, the items cause problems with the power source and give off static electricity.

The older children are oblivious to the signs, but the younger ones are not. So when the other world reaches out for the items, the children are not prepared and keep missing the signs. Naturally, things get worse before they get better, but the kids do end up having to take action and solve the riddle.

It was a good read. Although I think children’s books have evolved a lot since the time this book was written, but that doesn’t mean we should give older book a miss. We shouldn’t. There is a lot to learn from them.