Posts Categorized: Writing

Review: Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson is a complex fantasy novel that, thankfully, is not part of a trilogy. I don’t have anything against trilogies, but it’s nice to read a self-contained fantasy novel without waiting a few years for the follow-up books to come out. Point-of-view and rapid pace make Warbreaker such a compelling read. As a reader, entering a fantasy world is a shift in perspective. It takes time to figure things out and understand the system the world is built around. For instance, take the novel Dune, while not a fantasy, it establishes a world in which spice is the dominant currency. The system in Warbreaker is that of religion, as occasionally, people come back from the dead. (more…)

Scintilla Issue 2

I published the second issue of Scintilla yesterday. It feels great to have the issue up and to support so many wonderful writers. You can read the current issue here and the first issue here.

The artwork was from a submission, which I was graciously able to use as the cover. As with Issue 1, I learned a lot and the publishing process is now faster and more sustainable. I use WordPress to publish Scintilla and love it.

Now that the issue is up, we need people to read it. Please, check it out and share your favorite poems and stories on Facebook, Twitter, and through email. If you’re feeling especially generous, like us on Facebook and we’ll like you back. Thanks!

Review: Swamplandia! – Karen Russell

Exclamation points, like so many symbols, have a specific function and many unintentional meanings. Technically, an exclamation point is a sudden cry or yell that can be full of emotions ranging from anger to excitement. However, exclamation points are the all-caps-email of punctuation. They often feel out-of-place and come across as unnecessary yelling, like that email from an aged relative that says, HOW IS LIFE IN THE BIG CITY? CAN’T WAIT FOR YOU TO VISIT. THE TURTLES MISS YOU. Of course, there is the ironic exclamation point in names like Yahoo! and Swamplandia!, but really, beyond an exclamation, what is the point?

All this is to say, readers, beware. Take one look at the exclamation point after Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and turn back, because nothing on this trip through the Floridian swamp can save you.

Currently Reading: Moonwalking with Einstein

Recently, I picked up Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. It blends scientific literature about memory with an interesting narrative, Foer’s quest to compete in the USA Memory Championship. The result is a book that’s fun to read, useful, and educational. So far, I highly recommend it. As an aside, I’ve just received word that a Memory Palace has come on the market, as we all know, it’s a buyer’s market.

Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy by John le Carré is an inaction-packed suspense novel about a high-level mole in British intelligence and one man’s mission to uncover the traitor and take him down.

I say inaction-packed, because most of the novel involves George Smiley, the former second in command of the service, sorting through old files, interviewing former colleagues and contacts, and piecing together the puzzle.


Review: Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath

How do ideas stick in our minds? What is it about those ideas that makes them so hard to shake? In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath answer these questions and more in a way that’s entertaining and easy to understand.

In the introduction the Heath brothers lay out the keys to making ideas stick. Ideas need to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and contain a story. Each chapter that follows focuses on one of those topics.

One central idea to the book is the curse of knowledge. How do experts communicate with non-experts? In other words, how does our knowledge blind us to the perspective of a novice? The more familiar a person is with a topic or an area of study, the easier it is for them to talk abstractly and assume their message comes across. Meeting your audience in the middle ground is not the same as dumbing down your message.


Review: Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides reminds me of a gilded mirror with intricate details swirled along the frame. The novel is a mixture of family history, coming of age, and gender identity. The mirror metaphor works, because the narrator, Callie/Cal Stephanides, spends so much time exploring who s/he is. That’s a difficult enough question for most teenagers and adults, but  how does that question change when a person’s body seems to mislead them? While the narrator focuses on their identity, the novel suffers at times by diverging into the past and getting lost in details. It’s obvious Eugenides loves language, but it comes at a cost in terms of rhythm and pace.

Some details I loved about the novel were the descriptions and metamorphosis of Detroit. I’m from Michigan and Detroit is a place that inspires both pride and sadness. Pride because of its greatness, because of the auto industry, because of all that Detroit used to mean. Sadness, because of the past tense, because words like used to linger on. To see Detroit described in its height is wonderful. To see how the city languished in the last 40 years is important.

Middlesex spans three generations and is full of rich characters. It navigates around sadness, but perhaps that is part of the immigrant experience. Lefty and Desdemona upon arriving to the United States are completely out-of-place. They can’t speak the language, their clothes stand out, and they’re unsure how to earn money. What must they give up to assimilate? More importantly, what must Cal/Callie give up later on?

Black and white are easy. A light is either on or it’s off. A thought either occurs or it doesn’t. Black and white seem easy, because it’s so limiting. A child is either a boy or a girl. Except when they are not. Same goes with the light, it’s not always just on or off. It could have no power, it could be broken, it could be anything less or more than on and off. Immigration takes this idea a step further. Is a person Greek, Greek-American, or American? Why is a choice even necessary? Depending on the context any label may fit.

So what is Middlesex? It it a novel about gender identity? Is it a mix of fiction and memoir? Is the novel about what it means to be American or an immigrant? Middlesex broadens the lens through which life is viewed. Depending on the reader, the novel may illustrate how life is more nuanced than they previously thought.

Middlesex was published in 2002 and is available through Amazon.

Review: Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

If you listen to NPR, then interviews with Jonathan Franzen may have wormed their way into your consciousness as he hit every talkshow, selling his book, Freedom. If you don’t listen to NPR, Freedom was a book written by Jonathan Franzen, published in August 2010 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux under the Picador imprint. The novel revolves around a Midwestern family, the Berglund’s, and chronicles the ways in which they break apart and come together. Imagine the ways lakes thaw and refreeze in the north, that’s a good metaphor for the Berglund’s. In subject manner, the American Midwestern family under pressure, it’s similar to The Corrections.

Obviously, due to the title, it’s clear that freedom is explored in the novel. Also, competitiveness is another concept developed in the pages. What does freedom mean? How is freedom given? How does freedom develop? We are a nation that holds freedom as sacred even though we look the other way as freedom is restricted. Freedom taken to the extreme is lawlessness or anarchy. When children are given the freedom to be who they want to be, that doesn’t mean they will be the people their parents wish them to be. That is the case for Walter and Patty’s son Joey.

Joey grabs for his freedom and challenges his parent’s authority from the outset in Freedom. His parents try to stop it, but aren’t supportive of one another. On the one hand, they love seeing their child so independent and grown up. On the other hand, they hate being challenged and not needed. To make things worse is the competition, which develops between Patty and Walter.

How do you win in a marriage? Or for that matter, how do you win as a parent? When someone is ultra-competitive and then moves out of that environment, how do they cope? Patty was a star basketball player who sustains a career-ending injury. In order to compete with her sisters and parents back east, she decides to settle into the role of homemaker and mother. It goes against the feminist, high-achieving ideals of her family and one way to win is to compete for a different prize. While Patty is not engaged in the arts, like her sisters, she has a husband, a beautiful home, and two children: things which signify success in many parts of the country. Still, this need for competition evolves as Patty wants to be the parent who is most loved by her children. She doesn’t back up Walter. She indulges Joey’s misbehavior. Patty gets the kids to laugh at Walter. In that way, she seems similar to Gary’s wife in The Corrections.

This competition is what drives the family apart. Joey, realizing his relationship with his mother is not normal, moves out and on with his life. Facing that defeat, the family soon moves to D.C. The signs of Patty’s success have all been torn down. Throw in a love triangle with a rockstar friend and things become even more complicated.

Richard Katz, the rockstar, is the other main component in the book. While the novel is about Walter, Patty, and to an extent their children (Jessica is more like an afterthought compared to Joey), it’s also about Walter and Patty’s relationship with Richard. Walter and Richard love each other and compete with one another. For Richard, women and music come easy. He’s handsome, a jerk, and seems to have no problem talking women into bed and then leaving. It drives Walter crazy, but he loves his friend. He also wants to do better than his friend and sees a chance by becoming involved with a billionaire who wants to establish a non-profit, under Walter’s leadership, to provide habitat in West Virginia for the Cerulean Warbler. The only catch is that before the nature preserve is established, the coal will be mined. In addition to the close friendship between the two men, Patty also loves Richard and is lusted after by Richard. As things disintegrate, it’s unclear if anyone will make it out of the relationship unscathed. This is especially true as Walter becomes obsessed with removing “feral cats” from the environment around his cabin.

Freedom is a wonderfully rich novel. The characters are complex, interesting, and the writing is superb. This book is definitely one to read.

Review: Temperance – Cathy Malkasian

Temperance by Cathy Malkasian is a quirky graphic novel that explores the relationship between the concepts of war and security, and freedom and trust. The narrator is a tree, which has been fashioned into a wooden leg, and then later into a doll/child. The narrator tells the story of Pa, who is this mythical concept that infects people’s minds. The people, spurred by the lies of his foster daughter, live enclosed into a fortress they call BlessedBowl. It’s a ship on a sea of fire, but really it’s a compound.

Pa is no longer there, but the people follow the words and stories of his daughter, Peggy. The story is surreal, and at times, heavy handed. The metaphor comes through fine, but it definitely seems like this is targeted toward a young audience. Maybe a reader between 8-12 would get more out of this work.

With a lighter hand, the artwork is simply wrought and beautiful. A dreamy quality instills the drawings and the lines are sharp and crisp.

Temperance is a graphic novel that tries something different, and for the most part, it succeeds.