Book Review: The Arrow Finds its Mark (A Book of Found Poems)

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This is a cute little introductory volume on the concept of “found poetry.”  I love the idea of “finding a poem” because it shows that poetry is omnipresent–in dictionaries, crossword puzzle clues, book titles on a shelf (the word version of a “shelfie”), advertisements, social media posts, et cetera.

For me, the difference between poetry and prose has always been strategically-placed line breaks, but then, everyone has their own definition of what a poem is.  (It definitely doesn’t have to rhyme.)

Some of the “found poems” are a stretch (ironically, “A Bird Poetry Reading,” for example, which would drive one nuckin’ futs to read) and “Texto” (a column of meaningless texting abbreviations which were found on some teen website), but others are gems, like “Man’s Best Friend” (an excerpt in a speech by George Vest–U.S. Senator from 1879-1903–and one of the leading orators of his time) and “First Wins” (from selected words in a SPRINT newspaper advertisement).

The cover is eye-catching, the illustrations cute, the font and layout pleasing to look at, but the book is much more useful as a tool in getting an idea of what found poetry is, as well as a guide in how to find your own poetry.  (Maybe more poets should work in advertising.)

This book helped me see old things in new ways, or rather, look for poetry in the most unlikely places.

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Book Review: After Anna

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So this book, on plot alone, was “unputdownable,” but does that make it a good book?

Not exactly.

I’ve read a number of Ms. Scottoline’s books (except the Rosato and Associates series.  I tried reading one and hated it), and they’re generally interesting enough to keep you reading till the end.  However, these kinds of books (not character-based, but plot-based) are the ones I get at the library, read once, and never read again.

Such was the case with After Anna.

Maggie, the mother of Anna, comes across as a dolt and a doormat.  So her ex-husband uses her and whisks their daughter off to France, but instead of learning French and moving to France so she might at least be able to see her daughter, she is content to let her ex-husband raise her (or rather, dump her off in schools) and have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTACT with her for sixteen years.  No pictures, not anything.  Wouldn’t any mother move Heaven and Earth (or at least move to Europe) to see their child?  She didn’t even put up a fight.

What’s more, Maggie remarried and has been married for several years, yet she never got around to adopting her stepson?  Where is this woman’s priorities?

And when Maggie is talking to her teenage daughter about sex, she tells her about the time she slept with some guy one night (a guy not even her boyfriend–she just wanted him to be), and how he ditched her, saying “It happens,” like it was no big deal, was irresponsible.

The whole time, Maggie was trying to be Anna’s friend and not her mother, and I realize that may have been out of guilt, but still.

Furthermore, wasn’t it obvious to her that this girl was destroying her family?  Hasn’t she ever watched The Hand that Rocks the Cradle?  After all, this girl was raised by someone who sounded like a sociopath, which is why she should have fought for her child.

That said, I’m glad that Maggie ended up redeeming herself, but how can a marriage continue if your spouse thought you murdered her child and didn’t defend you in court, even if she still had her doubts?  Maggie knew her husband a lot longer than she ever knew her daughter, who was basically a stranger.

As for her friend, Kathy, when she and Maggie were together, they sounded like college girls (i.e. like the women in Bad Moms), not grown-ups.  I’ll bet they were doubly obnoxious in high school.

I generally don’t like having to switch gears from chapter to chapter, as it disrupts the momentum; such constantly takes you out of the story and dumps you somewhere else, but Scottoline made it work.

There were numerous other details another reviewer pointed out (things I didn’t catch–someone must have been taking notes!) that made this book lose credibility.  I’d think someone who sells as many books as Ms. Scottoline does would have a team of competent editors (even the best of writers need editors), but if her books sell without editing, then why edit?

Lastly, everything was tied up too neatly at the end–a happily ever after which rang false.

Book Review: Don’t You Cry

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So I’d read The Good Girl by the same author. I finished it, but it was forgettable. (When you can’t remember a single character’s name, it was not a good book.) However, this one sounded intriguing, so I gave it a go.

Now a cover isn’t everything, but from an aesthetics point-of-view, the backwards R (like in Toys R’ Us) somewhat pissed me off (like businesses that spell “quick,” “kwik,” just to be different). I would honestly like to know what that backwards R was supposed to symbolize, if anything. (I just think it’s there so that people walking by will say, “Hey, a backwards R. Gee, this must be edgy.”

I think more thought should’ve been put into the title, rather than the way the title looked.

As for what was between the cover, all the nodding of heads and shrugging of shoulders drove me bonkers. What else do we nod or shrug but our heads and shoulders? “He nodded” or “she shrugged” would’ve sufficed. (These are the kinds of things you notice when you’ve read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.)

Furthermore, I found that the teenage boy, Alex, being enamored of Pearl’s “ombre” hair an odd word choice. What teenage boy would even know what ombre hair is (I had to google it), especially one so socially awkward?

That said, both points-of-view from which the story was told were equally interesting. The fact that we don’t get to know Esther before her disappearance made her more mysterious; learning who Esther is/was through the filter of her roommate was great. I’m glad the author didn’t get inside the killer’s head, because that’s a place I don’t want to be. There’s no way I could ever relate to a character like that.

Though I didn’t think the romance between Quinn and Ben was necessary, it didn’t take away from the story either. However, I think too many authors are guilty of plugging in a romantic angle—can’t two good-looking, heterosexual people of the opposite gender just be friends? Is that really so much to ask?

So even though I enjoyed the journey (the characters we were supposed to care about were solid and sympathetic), the destination (i.e. the plot) was like ending up in Ohio rather than Disneyworld. The denouement did not seem baked in, but rather tacked on; it was jarring, rather than an “ahhh” moment.

Yet, despite all of these faults, this book was definitely worth reading once.

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.

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/