Posts Tagged ‘books’

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The group read is part of the Once Upon Challenge hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings. This week’s reading covers the prologue through chapter six.  Next week we’ll cover chapters seven through fifteen. To join the group and read other discussions, please visit Stainless Steel Droppings.  

A thousand years of ash has fallen. A thousand years of oppression has befallen a people. A thousand years of rule by a “divine” ruler has gone unchallenged. That span of uninterrupted years is about to come grinding to a halt as Kelsier, bold thief and one of the Mistborn, gathers to himself a group of talented rogues and fellow allomancers to pull off his biggest job yet: the toppling of Lord Ruler’s reign.” Stainless Steel Droppings

1.  This first hundred or so pages was packed!  What things are standing out for you in the story thus far?

I was pleasantly surprised by the author’s ability to pull me into the story in a span of several first pages – and no metals or magic involved! Sanderson strikes a good balance between dynamic dialogue and descriptions, moving the story forward at a good pace, although I stumbled a bit at the scenes that involved the use of allomancy (novel-specific magic). From the very beginning, I was intrigued by the epigraphs preceding each chapter. At first I was under the impression they belonged to one of the main characters, Kelsier, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, which makes it even more intriguing.

2. What are your thoughts on the magic system that Sanderson is unveiling in this novel?

The magic system is quite elaborate, and it took me some time to actually get the hang of it. It helps that there is a glossary available at the end of the book. I am burning tin to know who the Lord Ruler really is – at this point he appears to be some kind of anti-god; I also want to learn more about Steel Inquisitors and what kind of magic they are using.

3.  Kelsier and Vin have held most of the spotlight in these first 6 chapters.  As you compare/contrast the two characters, how do you feel about them? Likes? Dislikes?

These two complement each other nicely and work well together, however, I am growing weary of Kelsier’s constant smiling and Vin’s constant frowning; besides in my opinion more varied facial expressions could add some depth to these two characters. I am yet to be convinced about Kelsier’s motives to overthrow the Lord Ruler. Don’t take me wrong, Kelsier has a great appeal as a character, but in my view he is far less interesting than Vin, whose internal conflict holds a promise of dazzling character development. At this point in the book, she is torn between her almost visceral fear of betrayal and her desire to belong, trust others and find her rightful place within Kelsier’s crew. Beneath her timid exterior, I sense a great curiosity, strong will and determination, which I am sure will play a much bigger role later in the book.

4. Finally, how would you assess Sanderson’s storytelling abilities to this point?

This is my first book by Brandon Sanderson, and I have nothing to compare it to. But so far I’ve enjoyed both the story and the characters. To me it seems like more of a plot-driven novel with a great entertainment value. I like how Sanderson builds the book’s fantasy world, doling out details bit by bit, and I am enjoying the flight of his imagination. In a nutshell, so far so good. If you like fantasy, you won’t be disappointed with this magical action thriller.

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Emory's Gift by Bruce Cameron

I was so captivated by the adorable canine character in A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron, I absolutely had to read Emory’s Gift (not to say it wasn’t also because it featured an image of a cute grizzly bear on the front cover, maybe because in real life grizzly bears scare the dickens out of me, especially when met face to face.)

Emory’s Gift is a heartwarming story about a boy named Charlie Hall, who lost his mother to a terminal illness, and was about to lose his father – so absorbed was his father in his grief. Charlie is both the protagonist and the narrator, a very likeable one, if a tad unreliable. Since he is a teenage boy, torn by conflicting emotions and still grappling with the reality of his mother’s death, his perspective on things is often obscured, and we get a hint here and a hint there that his version of events may not be what it seems. Even at the end, it’s not clear whether Charlie Hall himself believes in the tale of a grizzly bear who was possessed of such uncanny intelligence and literacy that would put some humans to shame, and whose very existence shook the spiritual foundations of an entire town.

According to Charlie, Emory the grizzly is a very special bear. Not only does Emory save the boy’s life, he also helps revive and strengthen the relationship between Charlie and his father and bring closure and peace to the Hall’s family. A formidable predator becomes a messenger of love and harbinger of good things to come. Of course, the fact that a message of love is delivered by a grizzly bear sparks controversy and stirs up a small community where Charlie and his father live.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, a page turner chock-full of drama, suspense and humour; although at times Charlie’s erratic behaviour put a considerable burr under my saddle. 🙂 I also wish I could have read this book when my son was Charlie’s age – that would have surely eliminated some misunderstandings and helped better appreciate the inner world of teenage boys.

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I took this week’s theme to heart and went to town — literally and figuratively — indulging myself.

First, I visited a home decor store and treated myself to some colourful displays:

Home Decor Store


Shiny Stuff

Shiny Stuff


Brooms with Character

Funky glasses

Fragile & Funky


Comfy & Indulgent

After I’d had my fill of shine and colour, I went to a bookstore next door:


Fiction Section

and got myself some books:


Bedtime Stories, Stories of the Sea, Dog Stories

What’s not to love about this week’s challenge?! That was FUN! I should do it again some time.

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Before I delve into the review proper, I have to tell you this. Don’t make a mistake I’d made when I picked up this book from a bookstore shelf, lured by a sticky note “staff’s pick.” Do your homework: Read the reviews. Or if you tend to read the reviews only after you’ve finished a book, like I do, heed my advice – GET KLEENEX. Under no circumstances read A Dog’s Purpose while enjoying a ride on public transit. Have pity on fellow commuters — don’t put them on the spot with outbursts of laughter followed by uncontrollable sobs. Don’t read this book before bedtime, because you’ll wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether you’ve got four legs or two and get all bent out of shape to discover you’ve only got TWO and NO TAIL TO WAG.

Don’t take me wrong. I am not saying you should not read the book.

You should read the book if you love dogs.
You should read the book if you have a dog.
You should read the book if you are thinking of having a dog.
You should read the book if you are thinking of never having a dog.
You should read the book if you are afraid of dogs.
You should read the book if you don’t have dogs, will never have a dog, and couldn’t care less if there were no dogs in the entire universe.

I am afraid you are not getting my subtle message.


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Thanks to Cassie’s recommendation, I am now enjoying this awesome book about writing fiction and all the personal drama of a novelist that seems to come with it. To tell the truth, I am in awe, stunned, speechless. It blows my mind just to think that a book about writing can have such profound effect on a person. As if the sky opened up, and, for a brief moment, I’ve glimpsed a reflection of something bigger than life. The sense of awe (and acute awareness of it) struck me even before I arrived at the following sentence: “This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of – please forgive me — wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered world.” Wow! That was Lamott’s intent all along! Not only am I delighted with her ability to produce such magic, but also with my ability to be part of it as a reader. Within every page, things are revealed that I didn’t know, didn’t pay attention to or couldn’t put into words before; with every sentence, my mental picture of writing and the reasons why we write is gaining more clarity, vibrancy and depth. I understand now why we love to write so much – it gives us a chance to transcend our personal limitations and connect with Beauty, Love, Compassion, God — even though to do it, we have “to open veins and bleed.”

Half-way through the book, when I was reading about creating believable characters and letting them do their own thing, a thought crossed my mind that it may be so that I haven’t got even an ounce of literary talent. I stayed with the thought long enough to look at it from this angle and that, waiting to see which emotion would rush to surface. Shockingly, it was relief. Now I can put my worries about “talent” (or lack of it) to bed and simply go about my business. This discovery, however, makes me wonder whether I will harbour any dreams of ever writing a novel. Oh, forget the novel, how about a short story for a start? Memoirs?.. At any rate, I’ve enrolled in Creative Writing 101 and decided to include in this blog a few posts about my experiences growing up.

Back to the awe-inspiring book. I actually don’t have much to add, except that the book is funny and insightful. You’ll learn a ton about being a writer and maybe even how to write fiction. You’ll learn about being a reader too, which is also important. (Just for perspective, along with Bird by Bird I was also recommended Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. No doubt, it’s a good book, very well written, but after reading the first 20 pages, I gave it up, because I was bored out of my skull. Maybe some other time.) Bird by Bird is like a breath of fresh air: lighthearted, humorous, delightful. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

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I should have called my post “If you want to cry, read Kelly Cutrone.” The book is about a tough life of a publicist/warrioress in New York, thriving in the field of fashion public relations.

While reading the book, I had to suppress the urge to erase it entirely from my Kobo. Not because it made me angry or frustrated (rather a bit itchy and scratchy), it just seemed so irrelevant and outlandish, it might have been written by an alien from a faraway galaxy. My curiosity, however, always gets the upper hand. So, I kept plugging along motivated by the thought that sometimes it behooves us to get a different perspective on things, even if it seems totally foreign.

A different perspective wasn’t the only thing I struggled with. The writing style and tone of the book are rough and uneven. It’s partly a memoir, partly ramblings about spirituality and a woman’s role in the society, partly a manual on how to get and keep a job in fashion PR industry, and, finally, partly specific requirements that you need to meet if you want to work for Kelly Cutrone. The tone of the book ranges from encouraging and supportive to patronizing and condescending. Therefore, I am dubious as to author’s genuine respect and appreciation for her audience. Obviously, I am not a part of the target segment, which I would define as “aspiring female publicists or fashion PR wannabes, young and ambitious.” Conversely, I am a 40-something woman, who moved to Canada from Russia 14 years back, on my own, husbandless at the time, with my nine-year old son in tow. Unlike Cutrone, I never used drugs and can’t boast to have had any addictions that I’ve successfully overcome, which would pave my path to spirituality. Speaking of which, I do not belong to any organized religion, but am a strong believer in the law of attraction and, though inconsistent, tend to gravitate to Buddhism. (This is just to give you my perspective on things, for objectivity’s sake.)

But this is not about me, after all. Based on the book (as a single source of info about the author in my neck of the woods) I do get that she is an exceptionally talented entrepreneur, a publicist extraordinaire, who has a lot of respect for herself and takes pride in her own accomplishments. I totally understand and sympathize, because I can’t even imagine how big my head would grow, if I had to go through all that personal drama and end up a top female alpha wolf in that cutthroat fashion jungle. It makes for a good story though, and I appreciate that. But no matter how extraordinary the author, it can’t make up for the book’s obvious flaws. And by the way, if you can’t stand seeing the “F word” in print repeatedly, consider yourself warned.

It’s my rule not to write about the books I didn’t like. This book, however, is an exception, although I can’t say I hated it or something. In spite of its flaws, the book can not be denied some  redeemable qualities, like authenticity and candor. I also share Cutrone’s idea of empowering women, and no matter how much I disagree with some of her other views, I totally support that following one’s heart with 100 per cent commitment eventually leads to success. I only hope that young women don’t make a conclusion, based on the book, that the only way to accomplish anything in this world is by being a “bitch” clad in black every day of the year. 🙂 Also, it’s only fair to add that I admire Cutrone’s courage, vision and focus and her seemingly infinite capacity to remain true to herself and speak her mind without fear of consequences.

If you’ve read the book and have an opinion, don’t be shy to share it. Did you love the book or did you hate it? I suspect there are a lot of people who love it, as well as those who totally hate it. That’s  publicity at its finest.

Related posts:

Thought Provoker: Kelly Cutrone – If You Have to Cry, Go Outside (instantaffection.blogspot.com)

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Blogging is writing, for the most part. Even though good writing can’t guarantee a blog’s success, it is, nevertheless, highly desirable. There are numerous books and online resources with advice for writers, but not all of them are equally interesting or helpful. I’ve compiled my own list of books that, in my opinion, are most insightful and educational. Some of the books contain instructions and exercises; others are memoirs, a window into a writer’s mind; some focus on fiction writing, others — on nonfiction.

1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
As the title suggests, it is the classic (and I would add the “ultimate”) guide to writing nonfiction. There is a piece of advice I found extremely relevant both for writers and bloggers. Zinsser writes:”…To succeed you must make your piece jump out of a newspaper or a magazine by being more diverting than everyone else’s piece. You must find some way to elevate your act of writing into an entertainment. Usually this means giving the reader an enjoyable surprise. Any number of devices will do the job: humor, anecdote, paradox, an unexpected quotation, a powerful fact, an outlandish detail, a circuitous approach, an elegant arrangement of words. … Given a choice between two traveling companions – and a writer is someone who asks us to travel with him – we usually choose the one who we think will make an effort to brighten the trip.”

2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
As S. King writes in the second foreword:”This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers…don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.” I can’t agree more: no bullshit here. In the book, King shares his powerful insight into fiction writing, at the same time providing readers with a glimpse into his life and career as a writer.

3. What I talk about when I talk about running, by Haruki Murakami
It’s not a book about writing in a strict sense. It’s a memoir, in which Murakami talks about running, for the most part. Yet, being an accomplished fiction writer, he can’t avoid talking about his craft, and that makes it a great book about writing.

4. Keys to Great Writing, by Stephen Wilbers
The book delves into a variety of writing techniques and approaches, which are demonstrated with a plethora of examples. Wilbers maintains that “anyone with average intelligence and commitment can become a competent writer. As Marvin Bell, a poet and longtime faculty member in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is fond of saying, talent is cheap. What counts is determination.”

5. Becoming a writer, by Dorothea Brande
This is a different book on writing: it doesn’t talk about writing techniques, but focuses solely on writers’ hearts and souls by addressing the root problems, such as self-doubt, lack of confidence, creative blocks. As Brande writes in her introduction, “This book is all about the writer’s magic.” (The book was first published in 1934.)

6. The Writer’s Way, by Jack Rawlins and Stephen Metzger
This was my textbook in the Writing Well course I took recently. It covers in great detail the main aspects of writing different types of essays and can also be used as a guide to any type of nonfiction and persuasive writing. I found the part about purpose and audience most helpful. The book contains many examples of good essays, as well as writing exercises.

7. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
It’s a classic. Although some criticize the book’s simplistic approach, I would like to remind that the book is intended as a guide for beginning and aspiring writers who are in the process of finding their own voice and developing their own style.

How about you? What books about writing you found helpful or inspirational?

Related posts: Looking for a good writing course?

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When I decided I wanted to read this book, I didn’t know what to expect: I was unfamiliar with the author and her work and didn’t bother to read any reviews. My decision certainly had something to do with the title, and the synopsis sounded intriguing enough: a research scientist travels to the Amazon jungle to search for her former mentor and to learn about the circumstances of her colleague’s death. Maybe I was fooled by the title, even if a little bit, hoping for great adventures, similar to those of Indiana Jones’ or Lara Croft’s. (Please don’t give me that funny look. I just love adventures and action super-heroes.) This story, however, is different, with a much stronger appeal. Apart from the fact that most of it is set in the Amazon jungle, far from modern conveniences and where some of us go only as tourists, the book puts a spotlight on medical dilemmas and ethical issues of scientific research, rekindling a never-ending debate about whether science should mess with nature, and where and when it should draw a line. That in itself is food for thought aplenty.

But the human interest part of the book is much more fascinating. Marina Singh, the protagonist, is a scientist for a pharmaceutical company that is developing a new drug. She is an ordinary person with her own emotional baggage, the company’s president Mr. Fox for a lover, and an unfortunate incident in her distant past that radically changed the course of her career. She certainly doesn’t look like a super-hero on a treasure hunt, but in her own way, she is. Marina stoically endures hardship associated with the tropics and emotional upheavals that life throws at her in abundance. When, after a period of uncertainty, Marina finally meets with her former mentor, Dr. Swenson, and arrives at her destination in the jungle, she faces challenges and nightmares she couldn’t even imagine possible in her previous, comfortable and civilized, life. Her courage and determination are put to the test and stretched to the limit, and her core beliefs undergo a major overhaul. At the same time, in the jungle, among people of primitive culture, her existence stripped to bare basics and her soul of all pretense, she finds redemption and deliverance both from her past and the nightmares that have been haunting her since she was a little girl. But most importantly, through loss and sacrifice, Marina experiences a fundamental shift toward greater love, compassion and forgiveness.

State of Wonder struck a chord with me on a deeper level than any “great adventure” would. Will I read more books by Ann Patchett? You bet.

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image by reflectioninapuddle

I am convinced we are all born creative and gifted in a field or two. Even though only a relatively small number of people generate ideas that are truly fresh, revolutionary, and ground-shaking, we are all capable of conceiving original ideas and expressing them through various media. We are all capable of making our lives more fulfilling and rewarding by tapping into the source of creativity that undeniably resides on a plane other than our ordinary existence. If you don’t fancy me a particularly credible source on the subject, I don’t blame you, but you are welcome to read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle. The book is amazing. It will give you wings. (Hopefully, not the short-lived variety supplied by Red Bull.) Or, maybe it won’t. Results vary, as they say.

So, how exactly do we tap into the source? Unfortunately, that part is quite personal and mysterious. Now I am not even sure that we are the ones who do the tapping. It might be the opposite is true: the source tapping into us. The good news is, if we’ve heard the call of the source, which often manifests as an overwhelming desire to create, we have no other choice than just do it. That, however, doesn’t mean our path will be paved with gold and covered with roses; rocks and thorns, more likely. To paraphrase, hope for the gold and roses and prepare for rocks and thorns. Then there will be no reason to lose heart over minor hick-ups, but there will be enough courage to face major challenges with sangfroid befitting kings.

Now, there is a reasonable question: What do we need to do? Try bowling. Seriously. This piece of advice was given (indirectly, of course) to some less “talented” attendees at a writing workshop, described by W. Zinsser in his book Writing Places (a seriously good book about writing nonfiction). Leaving speculations about what talent is and who’s got it and who’s not to critics, I interpret this go-bowling business as a warning: before we plunge (I am talking about serious commitment, not just toe dipping) into a creative pursuit, be it writing or doll making, we need to make sure that what we want to pursue is really what we want. Pressfield in his book suggests checking our commitment by asking ourselves: “If I were the last man/woman on the planet, would I still keep doing it?” I personally can’t fathom being the last woman on Earth, let alone what I would do in such situation — searching for others and going crazy, maybe? The question simply doesn’t work for me, because it brings a host of other questions with it. How about an alternative? Would I be still committed to my creative pursuit even if I knew I would not be paid a dime for doing it my entire life? It’s a tough question, but it has to be answered. Yes or no. If the answer is yes, then I must gather up my courage, focus my vision, arm myself with patience, and just do it. Show up for my calling every day. No sick leaves. No vacation. For the rest of my life.

Think you could do it?

PS: Are you wondering what the pretty picture at the top is doing in this post? It actually demonstrates my point. That little flower, the name of which I don’t know, grows in Alberta’s foothills and is at the peak of its beauty in late spring – early summer, when the nights are still cold, and it may snow any time. Yet, there it is, a tiny yellow wonder.

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How to pick a good book?

image by reflectioninapuddle

Since preschool, when I first learned the magic of making letters into words and words into sentences, I’ve consumed books voraciously and in large quantities. There were times in my life, when I only read books on a given subject or certain genre, but there was never a time when I didn’t have a book to keep me company. I’ve even overcome motion sickness and learned to read on a bus and as a passenger in a car – without an urge to throw up; although my stomach is still a pretty good judge of a driver’s skill and responds to every bump on the road.

With all my love and passion for the printed word, there is a limit to how many books I can fit in my busy schedule. Regular visits to local Chapters-Indigo stores, a public library, Amazon.com or the Kobo store elevate my spirits, yet, I always get a tinge of sadness: there are so many good books out there, and there is so little time to read them. Would it help if I had a system in place and my priorities all ironed out? The problem is, when it comes to books, my mind works like the mind of my two Sheltie dogs: they drop everything, including their most favourite treats, to chase after a squirrel or rabbit that happen to be passing by.

My squirrels and rabbits come in a form of book covers: the artist in me can be easily seduced by a good cover design, advice not to judge the book by its cover ignored and forgotten. More often though, all the cover has to do to grab my attention is to bear an image of a dog’s face. Not an image of a dog looking away,  but a dog looking straight into my eye. Having succumbed to the powers of a dog’s gaze, I recently bought “The art of racing in the rain” and “A dog’s purpose.” “The art of racing” had only lasted 10 pages (Kobo pages that is, in medium type) before I put it aside. Call me narrow-minded or lacking in the imagination department, but a dog telling its story as if it were human  (a middle-aged male, to be exact) in every aspect other than its body, gave me a bout of motion sickness. The second book, a paperback with a cute doggy face on the cover, is still waiting its turn. I honestly hope the dog in this book is actually a dog and not a human in a furry coat.

Lucky for me, a dog’s visage on a book cover is not that common, and common sense is not entirely foreign to me. Even with my random selection technique, the majority of books I pick don’t disappoint. But there must be better ways. What do you think? How do you choose what’s next on your reading list?

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