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The reasons why I’m considering trying my hand at creative writing are another story for another day, but today I’d like to tell you about a book that has been indispensable in my self-directed learning on the topic. Despite having a BA in English I have never, ever taken even a single creative writing class. I simply had no interest in writing fiction, and the concept of creative nonfiction was unknown to me until very recently. All of my English classes focused on literature and theory and I wrote a lot of papers, a few poems, but never a single story.

I know that one does not simply write a book without any prior knowledge or experience. I knew that writing the kind of book that I would like to read would be difficult. I had no idea where to start the process of learning how to write fiction. So I googled and read reviews and this book was a clear frontrunner. The paperback version is relatively inexpensive on Amazon, but because I wasn’t sure whether this would be more than a passing interest I checked it out from my local library instead. I should’ve just ordered it straight away because it is excellent. I’ve been taking copious notes and will probably purchase the paperback to keep for reference. I checked out another title on creative writing in audiobook form and didn’t even finish it because it was so theoretical. The Making of a Story offers concrete guidelines, examples, and exercises. It really is like taking a class, but it was free and I don’t have to go anyplace (my two reservations about taking an actual class).

If you’ve ever wanted to get into creative writing but didn’t know where to start, or if you’ve tried it and weren’t pleased with your results, give this book a read. I feel so much more confident now and am excited to start writing soon (I’m still in the planning and contemplation stage now).

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I started out this summer devouring several books in a row, but lately I’ve hit a bit of a dry spell. I’ve started a few books and just can’t get into any of them. So, what are your favorites that you’d suggest? I like to really be able to get to know the characters, bonus if there’s a romantic element. Here are some I’m considering:

The Secret Keeper: A Novel During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother. Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

Margot: A Novel Anne Frank has long been a symbol of bravery and hope, but there were two sisters hidden in the annex, two young Jewish girls, one a cultural icon made famous by her published diary and the other, nearly forgotten. In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind. Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history.

The Secret Life of Bees When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

The Invention of Wings Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better. This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

I know the easy solution would be to download a free sample of each to my Kindle, but I wanted to ask your opinions, plus inquire as to whether there are any others I might like. So what say you?

(all book descriptions are from amazon)

I have been tearing through some books lately, y’all. I’m behind on all my favorite blogs and TV shows but it feels amazing to be immersing myself in one world after another through literature. Reading was my favorite pastime through childhood and adolescence but all the reading required for my English degree kind of took the fun out of it, then I was really busy through grad school and my first few years as a social worker and then I started a blog and had a baby and only now, ten years later, am I finally diving back into books with the kind of enthusiasm I once had.

I’ve had The Mad Scientist’s Daughter on my list for a while now and decided to download it to my Kindle for our beach trip. I quickly became obsessed and picked it up every chance I got. I’m actually re-reading it now that I know more about Finn’s background and how the story ends.

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A robot love story could easily stray into silly or tacky territory, but this is more like Her than Mannequin and I found myself rather enthralled. The gist of it is that Cat’s father, a robotics expert, brings home a startlingly lifelike android to live with them. Finn is the first and only of his kind and the circumstances surrounding his creation are unclear through much of the book. We spend what feels like a lifetime with him as Cat grows from a young child into an adult. The story takes place in the not-so-distant future, but despite the dystopian setting and element of robots I wouldn’t call it sci-fi. The outside world is background to what is really a study of Cat’s very flawed character and the affection she feels for Finn. It raises questions about whether self-determination is a right or a privilege, the future of feminism, and civil rights in the age of artificial intelligence, in addition to themes of metamorphosis, mortality, modernity vs. decay, and nature vs. sterility. The challenges of Cat and Finn’s relationship could even be compared to those of same-sex couples, especially prior to the changing attitudes of recent years.

What The Mad Scientist’s Daughter lacks in prose and a relatable protagonist it makes up for in Finn. As weird as a handsome android robot sounds I couldn’t help but be charmed by his thoughtful and unwavering nature. In fact, I wish the author had spent more time with him, especially near the end.  I hope this book gets made into an awesome movie just so I can see his character fleshed out a little more. The juxtaposition of a human who is too much like a robot and a robot who is too much like a human was fascinating, and the issue of age difference reminds me of The Time Traveler’s Wife with a dash of Edward Scissorhands.  Fair warning: there are some sexual scenes and quite a bit of profanity, so I wouldn’t suggest it for sharing with your pre-teen who’s recently taken an interest in robots. The next Twilight this is not. But if you’re into romance or character studies give it a gander.

**Amazon affiliate link. If you make a purchase after following that link I will receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.

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This book was wonderful in that it was a total pageturner but didn’t feel like binging on junk food. And bonus: it took me over a week to read! I hate when I get really into a book and–bam–it’s over. By the time this one reached its denouement I was ready, but it by no means dragged on past its prime. It takes a great story to keep a reader engaged for 755 pages and The Goldfinch rose to the challenge.

I tend to gravitate toward art that is character driven–in literature, film, and even in music–which means that the stuff that speaks to me is often lacking in more technical aspects and considered cheap and tacky by critics. But in The Goldfinch I found humanity that drew me in as well as layered and subtle themes of beauty, mortality, and obsession. The book follows Theo from early adolescence into his late twenties as he grapples with trauma, grief, addiction, depression, and guilt. It sounds sad, and it is, but it’s also somehow life-affirming and reassuring. I don’t want to spoil the outcome, but if a nihilist like Theo can say something like this, then that gives me hope:

The Goldfinch

Some questions were left unanswered at the end and that’s okay, because it leaves me free to imagine what I hoped became of Theo without alienating other readers who would have wanted something different. There is no happily ever after in real life–not because people can’t be happy, but because the story doesn’t end there. I love that this story was left open-ended without it feeling like an obvious open door for a sequel (as is so often the case in the cheap and easy reads that I devour like potato chips). In short, it’s like public radio–at once entertaining and intellectually stimulating. It’s a beach read that you won’t feel guilty about or embarrassed to be reading in public (ahem Fifty Shades of Gray). I highly recommend it.

**Amazon affiliate link. If you make a purchase after following that link I will receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.