Book Review: The Hypnotist’s Love Story

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This was a fun read, but a little different than I was expecting.  It was set in Australia, which interested me, but I was expecting a Hitchcockian thriller (I should’ve known better, from the cover design), but what I got was a stalking story shadowing an unconventional love story (meaning the “hero,” as they would call him in Harlequin romance novels, is quite the dullard).

Though it was what one might label a beach read (which is rarely a compliment), the characterization was phenomenal.  Even the supporting characters all had personalities that set them apart from what I would call stock characters.  It was light on plot, but character has always trumped plot for me, for I fall in love with characters, not stories, but for the characters involved in them.  (Hence, why I read The DaVinci Code only once.)

Though the hypnotist was meant to be the main character, she competed with the stalking character, whom the author made sympathetic, even though I didn’t approve of her actions.  However, the dueling stories didn’t hurt the book, because both women’s stories were compelling (which is no easy thing to do).

I did learn a little about hypnotherapy, but I wasn’t bogged down with details about it.

I hope the author will refrain, in future books, from adding “their heads,” or “their hands,” when referring to someone nodding or clapping.  Those redundancies drive me crazy, but other than that, it was nicely written.  The pacing was spot-on, for I didn’t skip through one bit of it, and the mini lead-ins to each chapter were a nice touch.

What I got from this book is that relationships are complicated, and how important it is to explore them further to make them work.  I also got that sometimes letting go of a person doesn’t always mean letting go of just that person, but also their family, which is why it’s important to have relationships that aren’t based on our relationships with our significant others–people who will still be your friends, even if the relationship ends.

This book had a breezy feel to it, even though it tackled some heavy topics.  It was a nice balance, with occasional touches of humor.  I will definitely read more of Ms. Moriarty’s books.

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Book Review: Father’s Arcane Daughter

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Years ago, I watched the made-for-TV movie, Caroline?, based on this book. As it was one of the few Hallmark productions that left an impression on me, I figured the book had to be exceptional.

Though the book had a memorable title (i.e. the original title, not the renaming), it was also quite short (I read it in a few hours), so I guess there wasn’t enough time to develop the characters of Winston and Heidi’s/Hilary’s parents. (There was much more character development in the movie.)

The book was set in 1952, and I would’ve appreciated more time and place details. We are told the year, but not shown it; we are told it happened in Pittsburgh, but not shown enough of it. The lack of sensory details in this book is jarring, making it seem more dreamlike than real. I felt more like a casual observer than a reader getting to know the characters.

 

Father’s Arcane Daughter would’ve been much better without the present-day chapter prologues, which were intentionally vague. The bits about the comic strip were lost on me (akin to an inside joke), and the fact that Heidi/Hilary was never specifically diagnosed only added to the unevenness of the story. I appreciate specific details in a book. If someone dies from cancer, I want to know what kind; if a child is developmentally-delayed, I want to know how. (Abstract doesn’t do it for me.)

The epilogue, however irregular in its choice of narrator, worked, and made me wonder how many other people felt the same way the narrator did. Though I rarely say this, I believe this book would’ve been much better if Konigsburg had done what I call a “Picoult” (a la Jodi) and written it from multiple points-of-view—those whose lives Caroline touched.

I’ve never been a fan of stories about children who sound like adults, which was how it was in Winston’s (the primary narrator’s) case, though I attributed his maturity to his affluent upbringing and having to be his sister’s caretaker. However, the letters Winston wrote to various individuals and companies added a bit of humor and insight into his character; I wouldn’t have minded more of those letters.

 

The idea of a deeper secret between Caroline and her father was an interesting angle, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of woman—this latter-day lady in white—she was to give up what she did for the sake of a pubescent boy (I assumed Winston was around the bar mitzvah age). Perhaps that is the real mystery, not “Is she, or isn’t she?”

Though I was left wanting so much more—not necessarily more words, but just more—I will read more of Ms. Konigsburg’s books in the future.

 

Influences on my early writing

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It has been at least fifteen years since I’d read My Sweet Audrina.

I’ve always considered V.C. Andrews novels a guilty pleasure (like the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella). They are easy reads, and, considering I do most of my reading in bed at night before I go to sleep, it’s what I need.

I was afraid of reading Audrina—afraid that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered—but even though V.C.’s novels aren’t considered literature, Audrina touches on a variety of important topics: self-hypnosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, brittle bone disease, autism, and how parental favoritism can destroy the favored child.

What is haunting about V.C.’s Southern Gothic horror novels is their timelessness. Reading this book made me nostalgic for that time when I was getting into more “adult” novels.

 

The first time I came across a V.C. Andrews novel was at a “Friends of the Library” sale (https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfWFPL). It was Dawn—the first book in the Cutler family series—a crisp, hardcover edition sheathed in a dust jacket with a haunting family photo on the cover. I was immediately intrigued, and of course, I had to read everything she wrote after that.

When I was a teenager, I wrote part of a sequel about the Lamar Rensdale character in Audrina, bringing him back from the dead. I wanted Audrina to ditch Arden and marry Lamar instead—a man who helped her—even as Arden had failed her the first time, a second, a third…

I think my juvenile attempt to write a sequel to My Sweet Audrina was my way of living in that crazy Whitefern world just a little longer.

What’s more, I’ve always wanted to give characters happy endings—just like I wanted to give a happy glimpse of Ginger (from Black Beauty) in the afterlife.

 

Audrina is unputdownable, for it drew me into this strange, Whitefern world. Coming from a caring, but odd and somewhat dysfunctional family (a neighbor of ours, I found out, once referred to us as the Addams family), I related, however distantly, to the Whiteferns/Adares, for they live in an old house where things don’t always work and consider themselves outliers in the community. (My parents don’t even watch the local news.)

 

I think, when we read a book, we either like to be taken away or see ourselves in someone else’s work, to feel less alone—Audrina was both. It was also well-edited, unlike some of V.C.’s other books, where last names are spelled two different ways and middle names were changed altogether.

 

I don’t recommend any V.C. books after the Logan series, because the quality tanked and they all started to sound the same. I have no plans on reading Whitefern, the sequel to Audrina that Neiderman wrote, though I will try the televised version of Audrina. (The original flick, Flowers in the Attic, though not a masterpiece, had a haunting quality about it the TV movie lacked.)

 

V.C. Andrews had one hell of an imagination, and it’s too bad she passed away before she got to write more books. She was an influence on me in my early writing (who doesn’t love dark family secrets?), just as the breezy, Shopaholic series lightened what V.C. darkened.

 

Even though I read many novels by different authors, I think series books will always have a place in my heart, because I fall in love with the characters, and don’t want to let them go. I think that’s why I’ve always preferred novels over short stories, and short stories over poetry. It’s always been about the characters for me. Even the poetry I write is often about characters (many of them wacky).

Plots may keep you reading, but characters will keep you rereading.

 

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #396: Historical Persona

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“…well-behaved women seldom make history,” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

This poetry prompt happened to coincide with a scholarship essay I started yesterday. The topic: A book that changed my life.

Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson, by Daniel Mark Epstein, was the book that changed my perspective on women serving as pastors.

For years, I was a member of a church that did not allow women to serve in the priesthood. I never had a problem with this, because if you don’t like a church’s policy, you’re free to leave it. (I didn’t leave for this reason, but for numerous others; however, that’s another story for another day.) I honestly didn’t have any desire to be ordained—enough demands were already made without that responsibility. I’m not the type to want something just because I can’t have it; I’m the type who says you can keep it.

I remember the reason behind this was explained quite eloquently: Women were innately more spiritual than men, and because they could bear children, men needed something to bring them closer to God, that being the priesthood. (Black men couldn’t be priesthood holders till 1978, so I’m thinking the policy on women will change in less than 100 years.)

I’ve always been one to follow the dictates of my own conscience, but one’s conscience is often clouded by the imperfect ideas of others. I realized the only reason it didn’t seem right for a woman to be a minister was because that’s what I had been taught.

I read this book because I was fascinated with the idea of a female evangelist—a twice-divorced woman and sometimes single mother who founded her own Church and helped feed the hungry in the depths of the Great Depression.

I think the illustrious life of Sister Aimee is summed up perfectly with this portion from an article by John Updike in The New Yorker:

She brushed aside the distinction between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor, and that between legal and illegal residents. One Mexican, the actor Anthony Quinn, who as a teenager acted as a translator for her, told an interviewer, “During the Depression . . . the one human being that never asked you what your nationality was, what you believed in and so forth, was Aimee Semple McPherson. All you had to do was pick up the phone and say, ‘I’m hungry,’ and within an hour there’d be a food basket there for you. . . . She literally kept most of that Mexican community . . . alive.” (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/04/30/famous-aimee)

~

Ten Dollars and a Tambourine:

The Ballad of Sister Aimee

“True Christianity is not only to be good but to do good.” –Aimee Semple McPherson

I am an imperfect messenger,
relaying the perfect message.

I am the voice on the radio—
feminine flesh spreading the Word.

I am a widow, a mother,
a minister who feeds the hungry mouths,
who feeds the hungry soul.

I see the divinity in humankind—
the opposite of Darwin’s evolution—
where men and women are made in the image
of their Creator,
not the created.

I lost a husband in Hong Kong,
but gained a daughter.
My second husband gave me my second child—
my only begotten son.

I followed God,
but my husband did not follow me.

From tent to temple,
I preached that everybody is somebody to Jesus,
for everyone should matter to someone.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-396

Note:  I seem to enjoy writing persona poems from the perspective of strong, conservative women.  Here is the home for my third-person persona poem on Grace Coolidge: https://sarahleastories.com/2016/01/26/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-337-theme-persona-poem/

 

 

Book Review: The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms

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This was one of the required textbooks for my college-level poetry class.  Through this book (and class), I was introduced to the pantoum poem, which has been my favorite form:  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/02/19/pantoum-poem-an-exercise-in-repetition/

There is something about the lull of repeating lines and how a single lane can relate to multiple lines that illuminates how texts can be interrelated—a form of intertextuality.

The book not only provided, in simple language, explanations of different forms, but excellent examples.  My favorites included found poems (which makes me want to get creative with Post-It notes), calligrams, such as Guillaume Apollinaire’s “It’s Raining,” epitaphs (Mom and I have already written my dad’s), spoonerism (which I define as nonsense that makes sense), and apostrophe (in which you address something, either tangible or intangible, directly).

For so long, I’ve been writing “stream of consciousness” poems; this book helped me become more aware of how my poems look on the page, rather than just the content.  This is “the go-to book” for poets who want their prose to read more like poetry, and who want to break away from rhyme.

This book didn’t just help me become a better poet, but it also led me to other poets whose work I enjoyed reading, and want to explore further.  It’s a chore for me to find good poetry (I am still, at heart, a lover of stories), but when I do, it’s like finding a piece of dark chocolate in a bag of milk [chocolate].

Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

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The title of this book is misleading, for the daughter (at birth) is more of a catalyst than a main character. We never get into her head. Perhaps the author wasn’t comfortable with speaking from the point-of-view of someone with Down’s Syndrome, but it would’ve been a stronger book had she attempted to do so.

This is what I call literary fiction, being more character-based than plot-based; the plot happens in the beginning, and we see what happens to the characters from there. I love the idea of how one decision made in haste can bring about unintended consequences.

I suppose the author expects her readers to sympathize with David, but I could not sympathize with any person who would give their less-than-perfect child away, and deceive their spouse into believing that child had died. What’s more, a father who would commit his daughter to an institution, to spare his wife the pain, at the expense of causing pain to his daughter.

Opening a few windows into David’s childhood did nothing to endear this reader to him. His decision was selfish and unjustified.

He was a modern-day Solomon who performed a separation; the real mother took his daughter, and so we never find out, “What would Norah have done?” Not the Norah at the end of the book, but the Norah at the beginning.

Rather than Sophie’s choice, it was David’s choice.

Though I cannot condone Norah’s (David’s wife’s) actions later in the book, as a woman, I can sympathize with them. Alienation of affection combined with the withholding of something precious is a powerful combination that can lead people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

I know the author was using David’s photography as a metaphor, but the metaphor never came together for me. It was interesting, nonetheless, and, being a healthcare student, I found David’s observations about things in the world resembling what is inside us illuminating. (We are made of the dust of the earth, so it would only make sense he would see the unseen parts of us in creation.)

Generally, I find myself more drawn to one character’s story than another, but I didn’t find the switch back and forth from David’s story to Caroline’s story jarring; both were equally interesting.

“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” is the story of how a secret can grow between two people like a tree, until their arms can no longer reach around it.

The character of the pregnant girl, Rosemary, as well as Paul’s girlfriend, Michelle, added nothing, but I loved the character of Norah’s sister, Bree. I would’ve preferred her story to be fleshed out further, as well as the character of Al, but then he was a mysterious man without a past.

Like life, this book was full of unanswered questions and unfinished business—it left me feeling bereft, like I’d been walking through a blue-hued London fog for hundreds of kilometers, never seeing the sun. It was an interesting read more than it was a good one, but worth the time.

Book Review: The Laws of Subtraction

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To be fair, I didn’t finish this book (which is why it gets one star). I was only able to finish the Introduction (which was promising), and most of the first chapter. When Mr. May talked about design (and I’m not even a design major, much less an artist), I was engaged, but as soon as he started talking about cars, I could feel myself enter outer space.

I like to say that “Brevity is literary minimalism”; Mr. May broke his own rule by using the phrase “shrug our shoulders” (xii)–what else would one shrug?

I was actually looking for a book on minimalism (not the art, but the lifestyle), and this book just seemed to go on and on about other things. I must say, the title was clever, but the six simple rules he comes up with don’t make a lot of sense to me, such as “Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing”. (One could replace “doing nothing” with “doing something else”.) That said, I did like his “better with less” (xiii) adage (in conjuction with, but not opposed to, “more with less”). Another quote I liked was “The ability to use patterns to create meaningful relationships from seemingly unrelated elements is a uniquely human attribute and the hallmark of creativity” (12). This has to be one of Glenn Beck’s favorite quotes.

However, he lost me when he said, “If I could figure out how to get this particular portfolio of insight and inspiration into your head with an affordable form of magic that removes the written word entirely, I would” (xv). A writer wishing the abolition of the written word? I don’t think so. Not enough people read now.

I do believe that “what isn’t there” is as important as “what is there”. We always talk about the need for plenty of white space in writing or “reading between the lines”.

I tried to read a few of the contributors, but couldn’t get into those either. This book might’ve made a good series of heavily truncated blog posts, but that’s about it.